Well, I certainly spoke too soon when I stated that neither of us had gotten ill from food. Note to self: lay off the prawns : (
We decided to get a bus from Ella to the south coast of Sri Lanka (£40 cheaper than a taxi), opting for a one night stay in Matara before heading to Unawatuna. I had read that the bus was likely to be packed, so wasn’t surprised that we had to stand at the start. What I didn’t bet on was that we had to stand for the entire 5 hour journey! Run that past you again – FIVE hours of standing on a packed bus in the blistering heat, health and safety rules out the window! It didn’t help that a lot of the locals decided to bring all sorts of luggage with them, fruit, veg, flowers, the biggest bag of onions you can imagine. Random. There was only a handful of tourists like us on the bus, you could see by the end of it they were losing the will to live. It got busier the further along we went. When we finally reached our destination, dripping in sweat, we celebrated with an ice cream, thee most enjoyable ice cream I think I’ve ever had! Needed.
As we were in Matara for just one night we stayed in a very cheap hostel. Not too shabby I guess, aside from the broken door lock, towels with questionable brown stains on them, and the plug socket hanging from the wall! It didn’t really matter, after five hours of travelling, we checked in, dropped our bags, walked over the road to the beach and was amazed to see two turtles popping their heads up in the ocean! I loved Matara, my first taste of what I would call ‘paradise’. The sand, the water, the waves, the quaintness. A scene from a postcard, it really was. We ended up sitting in a restaurant bar staring out to sea, watching the surfers tackle the waves whilst the sun went down. All perfect, apart from one too many Lion beers and woke up with a dozen mosquito bites (never learn)…I blame the bus journey.
The following day we took a short bus journey to Unawatuna (or as I pronounce it, ‘oonatuna’). Stevie found a bit of a steal on Expedia – a recently-opened boutique hotel had just opened and was offering very good rates on their rooms. Best hotel we’ve stayed in, had everything you could ask for, with some lovely staff to assist as well. We settled into the room and then headed straight to the coast for a hair of the dog and to watch the evening sunset. Due to the 2004 tsunami and recent coastal erosion, the bay here is a mixture of different sands. Tourism is so important here that they have to ‘top up’ the beach with imported sand every few years, so it isn’t that nice to walk on really (feels fake!) and wasn’t as naturally beautiful as Matara. Regardless though, this stretch of water is full of great bars and restaurants, you’d never get bored (or hungry).
One ‘touristy’ thing that the guides recommend is a few hours at ‘Jungle Beach’. The name is spot on! You have to walk through the ‘jungle’ to get to it, a nice walk but the humidity was unbelievable. Cute little spot. I had a swim in the sea, it was quite cool to look back on the coast and see monkeys jump through the trees.
Unfortunately, this was the last day that I felt rosy. Obviously still not 100% over my cold, I foolishly took on the heat, sun, beer and prawns all in one day, so by Saturday morning I was a shivering, crippled wreck. It was either the heat or the prawns, or a bit of both. Who knows, these things happen. Anyway, luckily for both of us the weather was similar to a British bank holiday for the next three days; grey skies, nonstop rain and actually quite cold. So, I didn’t feel too guilty for resting in bed. I felt sorry for the regular two-week-holidayers – imagine your annual beach holiday being rained off! Don’t see that in the brochure.
I felt a lot better by Thursday, so we decided to head to Galle, a 15-minute bus journey from our hotel. Galle is (another) ‘must see’, an ex-Dutch port city that sits on the south west corner of the country. The fort area of the town is very nice indeed, and the travel guides really recommend you visit this area as it’s so different to the rest of Sri Lanka. We spent the afternoon just strolling up and down the streets of Heritage Town, enjoying the calm cobbled streets. We were quite surprised that the area had a strong Muslim community and there were a few mosques dotted around, as well as plenty of gem and jewellery shops. It reminded us of Pondicherry immensely (the streets of Pondy were also Dutch design, so very grid-based), but lacked that ‘edge’, that Asian-ness. Everything here seemed aimed for tourists, a walking museum, no local culture to soak up.
We waved goodbye to Unawatuna on Friday and hopped on a bus to Negombo (I keep calling it Um Bongo!)
The bus was a horrible journey again, a tightly-contained minibus zooming up the Galle Road for four hours (these drivers are insane!). The only pleasant thing was watching the sea go by, just fantastic colours from the sky to the water to the sand. We passed some villages that had obviously been hit quite hard by the 2004 tsunami, there were a few posters up promoting a Tsunami Museum too. I couldn’t help think this was wrong at first, don’t know why, but then I guess if it raises money to help repair the damage, it can only be a good thing. The death toll from the accident was a staggering 30,000 people, so you can only imagine the devastation it did to the landscape and communities. 13 years later they are still repairing the damage.
Negombo is the closest town to the airport, so not much to write about! People come here either when they first arrive or just before they leave SL. The beaches and resorts are only 10km away from the airport so it’s a nice place to wind down and relax before heading off. We spent Friday topping up the tans, as we’re not spending much time on the Malaysian coast. Found a nice little café/bar at the edge of the beach with a gorgeous garden. We hid away in the corner on the sun loungers and worshipped the sun all afternoon. We stayed at an AirBnB, and you couldn’t have asked for a nicer couple hosting us. They were from the US, but Elmo (the husband) was born in Sri Lanka originally. They had lived in Malaysia for a few months last year too so gave us a few old tips. Gave us a lot of inspiration for the future too…
So, it’s farewell Sri Lanka, and I have mixed feelings. The natural landscape, coastline and historic culture is amazing, probably the most beautiful scenery I will see on my entire travels to be honest, but the constant hustle and blatant tourist traps forced our way every day really put a damper on things. Also, being asked if you want a tuk tuk and what country are you from a hundred times a day, especially when hot and ill, reeeeeeally tests one’s patience! 3.5 weeks of that every day just got to me. Lastly, the food most of the time just wasn’t that great. I could count on one hand where I have had a decent meal, the only place which was consistently good was at our Unawatuna hotel. For foodies, it’s not a place to get excited about unfortunately.
Apologies for the negative summary. Both of us getting ill here didn’t help things of course, it can turn things sour. Perhaps we’ll tackle Sri Lanka again another time.
Onwards and upwards. We fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, tonight. A new chapter in our travels, new religions, new cultures and customs. And plenty of good grub to tackle (I hope!).
Bring it on : )