Archives for posts with tag: galle

I’m now in Kandy, and everyone around me is preparing for the 2 day New Year celebration later in the week. The streets were so crowded today that every corner was blocked with pedestrians trying to get through with their shopping!

Yesterday was a travel day, as I made my way from Galle in the south, to Kandy in the hill country. 120 kilometers to Colombo by bus, and then another 120 by train to Kandy. Doesn’t sound that far. Well I got the bus from Galle at 9am and arrived in Kandy at 4pm. Because of the roads, and the amount of traffic, you have to plan very differently for travel in Sri Lanka. But it all adds to the adventure!

Two things happened that still make me smile as I think of them.

After getting the luxury A/C minibus to Colombo, I found myself at Fort Station – Colombo’s main rail terminal. I knew there was a train mid-afternoon with 1st class as well as an observation carriage and I thought that would be a nice change after traveling 3rd class the other day – and the air conditioning wouldn’t go astray either! But after a bit of back and forth between various counters I discovered there were no reservations available for the 3.30pm train. The attendant suggested I get the 12.40pm train in 2nd or 3rd class – but I needed to decide then as the train was about to pull in! So yes! Why not?

Walking onto the platform amidst the crowds, I asked a young guy who was changing track numbers for a nearby information board, which end the 2nd class carriages would stop. He indicated not far from where I was standing. As the train pulled in there was a surge of people pushing and shoving to get into the doorway and to find a seat! Next thing the guy who had just helped me, leaped ahead of everyone and seemed to jump over seat backs indicating that I should follow him! I made my way, slightly slower, to find him guarding a window seat for me – he had opened the window and also found a spot for my bag. I can’t believe how quickly it happened! And I’m not sure where I would have ended up if he hadn’t done that! It was more than worth his tip! And even as I think about it now I burst out laughing!

Of course we sat there for another 15 minutes, and the train continued to fill up. It was so stifling hot in those carriages! Sweat running down my back, and everywhere I put my hands, another damp patch would appear. Everyone sighed with relief as we finally pulled out of the station and the overhead fans began working and we had the natural movement of air from all the wide open windows.

I hadn’t eaten much the day. The original plan had been to eat lunch between the bus and the train. About half way through the 3 hour train trip, as we were winding slowly through the hills, getting higher and higher, the traders began to make their way through the train. With 4 spicy samosas, a bottle of water, and some Indian-style sweets that the gentleman next to me shared. What a simple lunch but what a delightful way to be enjoying it! The samosas were wrapped in the re-used pages of a child’s math notebook – as they were calculating how to turn fractions into percentages.

I have a few days in Kandy, and then hope to get across to the west coast. But travel may be difficult over the next few days as everyone goes home for the New Year celebrations, and many things close or have altered schedules. So we’ll see how it goes! I’ll keep you posted.

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I started writing this post on the 6th April. A significant day for many – Christian Good Friday, the start of Jewish Passover, the Muslim holy day, and the Buddhist Poya (Full Moon).  It was on another significant day, the 26th December 2004, that the lives of many Sri Lankans changed forever.

You can’t come to Sri Lanka without thinking about the tsunami. And even though it happened more than 7 years ago, its affects can still be felt and noticed. That’s not to say everyone is talking about, or living in the past – not at all. I had the opportunity to speak to 3 people about the disaster. Each spoke about it from a different perspective.

Mr Suji, confirmed bachelor, passionate about learning, and always willing to share his love for all things Sri Lankan, and his knowledge of birds the world over, was at work at a beach side resort about an hour south of Colombo, the day the tsunami hit. He lost his mother as the house they lived in together was destroyed.

As we drove from Kalutura to Galle, he told me about the 10s of 100os that were lost in Sri Lanka. He pointed out decaying foundations of homes that have never been rebuilt, communities that have been lost. We passed the railway track where 100s lost their lives as carriages were overturned by the water’s force. There were areas where we could barely see the ocean due to the fortifications that have been built to hopefully protect low lying areas in the future. We paused momentarily at the memorial. Traveling through such beautiful countryside it was hard to imagine such destruction, but every so often there was a reminder as we passed a sign stating ‘evacuation route’.

Juliet Coombe, an English journalist, sent to Sri Lanka to cover the tsunami, married her translator and is still living in Galle Fort with her family. On her walking tours she shares stories of the city and its intriguing history, but of course the tsunami is also mentioned. The old city flooded but saved because of the fort walls. But the new city was completely flattened. Before the wave hit, the water in the bay that laps the town completely receded for 20 minutes, leaving the ocean floor exposed. People didn’t understand what was happening and were amazed at what the seabed held – the wrecks of ships from every major era of the fort. Many people lost their lives as they went to explore, and the wave then hit…

Juliet’s life changed forever as a result of the tsunami, marrying into one of the original fort families. She is passionate about Galle, and through the cafe that her husband runs, her publishing company, her photography, and her walking tours, she shares her love for her new home town and its people.

Chami served me the most delicious pumpkin curry for lunch on Saturday, at a tiny restaurant right on top of the beach and rocks of Unawatuna. Everything along the bay was washed away that day, and many foreigners and locals lost their lives here. Chami was working nearby and got swept up in the wave. He fought to get out, smashing his wrist, nose and check bones badly. For a week he had no access to any sort of treatment or medication, his wrist setting in a twisted position, and in a huge amount of pain. Once he did receive treatment it was six months before he had full use of this hand again. His mother, his only family, also survived. They spent 6 weeks living in an aid camp before being re-housed.

He recalls looking for friends and trying to find them amidst the rows of corpses, all bloated and swollen.

Unawatuna has been rebuilt (probably overbuilt) and the tourists are back in force. The new city of Galle is back in business. And with the official end of the civil war, things are indeed looking better for many people in Sri Lanka. I appreciate people sharing their stories. And of course there are so many stories. Their resilience and strength came through, as well as hope for their own future, and that of Sri Lanka.

Chami thinks that Sri Lanka does have a good future – as long as another tsunami doesn’t come.

Ah! What a delightful change Galle is after Colombo! Although to be fair I only really had one day in Colombo.  But on the other hand there is many a person that recommends skipping Colombo all together when coming to Sri Lanka!

I love traveling by train. And whilst Sri Lanka doesn’t have an extensive train system, some key places are accessible by train. So I opted for the train from Colombo to Galle. But even that wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought. Half of the line from Colombo to Galle is under reconstruction. So rather than look at other options, I decided to catch the train half way, and once I got to Kalutara then I’d work out how to get the rest of the way!

Because of the limited train service I travelled 3rd class. And considering the Lonely Planet recommends that solo women travelers do not take the train at all, I was a little apprehensive (as in other parts of the world, women traveling solo can experience problems here). But after meeting a mother and daughter who were traveling the same route, I had a safe trip, enjoying sitting at the open window, as we followed the sea south. This was certainly no inter-city express – we stopped at stations every 5 – 10 minutes all the way, barely getting up to full speed in between!

I met the delightful Mr Suji (more about him later) as he was finishing his shift at a beachside resort just before the last stop. He helped me negotiate a tuk-tuk to continue the journey – taking advantage of this option to get where he needed to go too!

But 2 hours in the back of a tuk-tuk on a relatively busy road takes it toll. And whilst it is nice to have the constant movement of air, the layers of dirt and grime that came off me once I arrived were incredible!! I began to question my adventurous determination – why didn’t I just take the A/C bus all the way?! Coming into Galle we made our way through the new city – with its bustling bus station, touts looking for unsuspecting travelers, a busy market, and the cricket oval where the 1st England/Sri Lanka test match was held last week. It was hard to believe that the city was decimated by the tsunami 7 years ago.

I am staying in the fortified old city of Galle (Galle Fort) – surrounded by the fort wall on all sides, and beyond that water on 3 sides. Arriving as 1000s of students were being dismissed, all traffic routes become one way, and could only leave the Galle Fort area not enter it. So I walked through the gate, and surrounded by the girls in their pristine white uniforms, instantly felt the stress of travel and uncertainty fall away.

Galle Fort is full of traditional homes built from the only material that was available – coral. Many are being lovingly restored with dark wood and brass fixtures, each painted a different beachy hue. The area has a large Muslim population – many things close or partially close on Friday. There are galleries, and restaurants, and guesthouses. And in the midst, the locals going about their daily lives – warehouses, training barracks, law courts, small businesses and manufacturers.

Once the sun’s strong rays begin to lessen at the end of a day, everyone heads to the walls of the fort – to play cricket, fly kites, enjoy an ice-cream, take the breeze, or steal a moment with aloved one – culminating in a beautiful sunset.

Yesterday was the full moon, but arriving on Thursday, the moon was still fairly impressive! I was watching the sun set to the west, but looking back to the east, the nearly full moon was rising, and the surrounding clouds colored by the opposing sunset.

Life seems more relaxed, it is easier to get about, people are welcoming; I can see why for some it is their only destination in Sri Lanka, and for others it becomes their home. Wherever I travel I ask myself whether I could live there – and it is a resounding ‘yes’ for Galle.