17 February, 2014

SRI LANKA - Day Two & Three

We awoke to a lovely morning at Black Beauty Guesthouse.

The morning (as did all our mornings with this guest house) began with fruit and a pot of tea. The fruit was then followed by the more substantial part of breakfast, generally consisting of toast and the offer of eggs.

Not wanting to waste the beautiful morning we hopped into the guesthouse's swimming pool, before getting ready for a day of adventure.

This is the pathway leading into the property. The blue building on the left is a series of rooms, whilst the building just visible behind them is the four story building where we stay. Meals were taken on the top floor.


We made a short stop in Galle Fort to do buy some things were had looked at the day before, but which we needed time to think on first. We only had so much spending money and we didn't want to spend it willy-nilly. We wanted to be sure of our purchases.


In the fort we came across this lady who was making lace in the traditional way. It requires various strands on fabric on little rollers and a lot of pins. The pins hold the fabric in place whilst the rollers are flipped over each other. Then a pin or two gets moves and the process continues. It takes a long time, but the results are good.

Unfortunately for them, lace was not something we were looking to buy. This lady, however, did get some money off of us. It turns out people encourage you to take pictures of them and then ask you for money. A snake charmer tried to trick me the same way, but I refused to take out my camera for him.

Before leaving Galle Fort we retired to a small non-descript café for lunch. I think it's safe to say that the simple meal we had there was the best meal of our trip.

There was also an unfortunate incident of accidental theft. I took the time I had in our break from wandering around to write off a few letters and postcards. While packing up afterwards I ended up nicking three of the café's menus which happened to be under my pile of books, postcards and envelopes.
I discovered this back at the guesthouse and returned them the next day.

After leaving Galle we hopped on our hired scooter and took a trip east along the coastline to Mirissa. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving along the road, stopping at various spots and enjoying the beach.

I got my hand in... or rather my foot in at one spot along the beach. I began practicing my Mandarin Chinese.

Here's to all the other South Africans out there.

We pulled over at one point so I could take a picture of a massive flock of birds that I saw flying around a canopy of trees. Sadly when we could pull over there were trees and buildings in the way and this was the best shot that I could get.
On further inspection it turns out that these weren't crows, as I had first suspected, but rather bats. It was odd that they were flying around during the day.
If you look carefully you can see hundreds of them as black dots in the trees.

A bit further south we came upon some of the traditional fishermen that Sri Lanka is famous for. These men pirch on stick frames that protrude from the ocean and cast their lines into the sea from there.

As you may have guessed, after taking this picture I was promptly set upon by a man who asked me for money for the. He wouldn't listen when I said I didn't have any on me (which was true - it was in my bag at the time) and I ended up just walking away from him.

Sri Lanka runs on tourism. Without it they have no economy. That means that many of them will do all they can to take you for a ride. It also means that everyone and their dog is trying to find some way to draw the tourists in.

It seems the beach we stopped at was politically aligned.

There was also wildlife everywhere.


This cat was from a small coffee shop that we stopped at on the way back from Mirissa. Run by (what I think was) a German lady and her Sri Lankan boyfriend, it was most charming, exuded a sense of relaxation.



On the morning of our fourth day my girlfriend slipped off down to the beach to catch a few final pictures before we finished packing our bags and began the trek inland to Ella, one of the many areas in Sri Lanka famous for tea.

Staying at Black Beauty Guest House was the best decision we made on this trip.
Taking their advice was the worst.

We made a decision on the morning of the fourth day that proved to be disasterous, but more on that in the next post.

10 February, 2014


Welcome one and all to the Year of the Horse!

And what better way to celebrate the Chinese New Year (the Lunar New Year) than escaping the Chinese speaking world and the crowds that a week-long holiday create? Rather than compete with the other toursists flocking to the more scenic areas of Taiwan, or battle for space in the Philippines - the other favourite - or even stay in Taibei to be witness to the inevitable fireworks display around 101, we decided to head west to Sri Lanka.
This move was spurred on by various considerations. We did wish to be free of cities and the thronging masses, and being a country of Indian culture Sri Lanka wouldn't be celebrating the Lunar New Year. It also offers the advantage of Indian food without the crowds of India. Of course there's also the lure of fine fabrics and well-made, affordable clothing.

Let me begin by telling you something about Bangkok airport. It's frustrating. We flew to Bangkok airport where we were to transfer to a connecting flight with a different airline to Colombo. On leaving the plane we traversed a single corridor where we were greeted with a sign indicating the transfer section. We tried to enter. The guard at the gate stopped us and asked us for our flight details. We told him the flight we were on. He shook his head. Again he asked, saying that we needed proof of our flight.
Now at a normal airport everything is digital. One's passport has all the details required and a simple scan can send passengers merrily on their way. Not here. Instead we were turned away.
We began questioning the ladies at the information section, worried that we might miss our flight. They gave us a passcode to the airport's wi-fi and my girlfriend, hoping her battery wouldn't die, loaded her emails on her smartphone and began the long process of scrolling through them in search of our flight confirmation.
Phone in hand we re-approached the guard. This time he let us through and we were put through a security check. Bear in mind this is immediately after landing. Why a security check was needed I will never know, but they stole my toothpaste on the dubious grounds that it was a little too big.

After that we got to the check-in counters and secured our seats on the next flight. From there we flew to Sri Lanka, arriving late at night (though for Taiwan it would have been early morning). We exchanged half our spending money on arrival and went looking for our lift. A man with a sign was waiting to meet us at the airport. He Led us over to the carpark, bundled us into his van and drove (what I've now come to think was) the long way round into the city.

Our guest house - Hotel Sunshine - was waiting for us. Their rooms, as shown below, do not match their advertisments. Spartan is the word that springs to mind when descriptions are called for. We were greeted on arrival in our room by a cockroach, which did its best to avoid my shoe. It failed.

It was at this point that we realised we had lost our Sri Lankan guide book in transit from Taibei. Much upset by this, as we had earmarked certain pages of interest, we went to bed and began an early start of planning the steps of our trip.

Day One

It's always good to see wildlife in a city.


Our first step had already been decided. We were booked at the Black Beauty Guest House in Unawatuna - just south of Galle on the south west coast - for the next three nights. That meant a bus ride was in order. We caught a tuk-tuk to the bus station.
We passed a market on the way. I caught a few snaps of the lengthy line of stalls.


The bus station was... an empty plot of land. A man in a shack told us where to wait for the bus. One noticeable thing was a large advert towering over the parked tuk-tuks, offering them a blessing of shade. It was interesting to see an advert that (finally) turned men into objects rather than women.

One buys one's bus tickets on the bus once it's already on the road. This bus took the motorway, a relatively new road. Unlike the usual roads, this one is inland and is robbed of the coastal view, but it's a lot quicker.
The left the motorway to join the coastal road when we got close to Galle. What fascinated me the most was how the climate and vegetation, both inland and by the sea, mirrored South Africa's southern coast so precisely.
From Galle we caught a tuk-tuk to Unawatuna.

Here let me say a word or two about tuk-tuks. Many people in Sri Lanka can speak English. If you're asking a driver about a place you want to go, and they seem confused, or simply repeat "okay, okay", but don't seem to know what's going on - just walk away and find an English speaker. Trust me - it'll save you in the long run.

Also, make an agreement over price before you get in. Don't let them simply run the metre, because there are those who will take extended routes to get more out of you. A trip from Galle to Unawatuna should cost about 300 rupees. Always bargain and always start lower than you're willing to pay. In popular tourist spots (i.e. most of the coastline) they will do their best to overcharge you. It makes sense - their economy is run on tourism.
You will need change. Get lots of one hundred rupee notes. These guys are terrible with change.


Black Beauty Guest House

Choosing this place was, unquestionably, the best decision my girlfriend made the entire trip. Everything about this guest house put us at ease.

The rooms are gorgeous. They came equipped with mosquitto nets, fans and AC. Ours even had an international plug socket in the wall. Our room was on the first floor, which gave us a view down over a tree which a particularly playful chipmunk was playing in for most of the first day. We had our own verandah (complete with a rocking chair for some reason).


Meals are served from the third floor of the building - an open-walled roofspace that gives a view spanning 270 degres. Two sides end in mountains and forest, whilst the third inculdes a view of the pool and, in the distance, the sea which provides an constant, gentle murmur. One can hardly hear the cars on the road - a rare treat for one living in the heat of a city like Taibei.


Our first meal in Unawatuna.


After a bit of down time to recover from our travelling and to let lunch settle, we caught another tuk-tuk back to Galle and up to the Dutch fort, which is now a fully-fledged village. As well as being a residential area complete with houses, shops, restaurants and schools, it's also a tourist hot-spot. Not surprisingly the prices are there to match and negotiation is still possible.
If you find yourself in a position staring down a pricetag that won't budge - don't worry. Just leave the item and walk away. No matter what it is, you WILL find it again in another shop in Sri Lanka. Many of them stock the same items and some are more stubborn with their prices than others.

Some of the beautiful old streets on Galle fort.

Stick No Bills - a shop that specialises in reprints of old posters and postcards. They are a little pricey, but if you must buy something, make sure it's a poster. Their postcards (and similar) can be found elsewhere for more reasonable prices.


More wildlife. It seems there is quite a large a murder that lives around this fort.

Trust me to find the post office. My family can confirm that from home.


A tuk-tuk. They may drive like crazy, but they don't go particularly fast. That's probably why I didn't see any accidents. Whatever apprehensions you might harbour toward such a vehicle, riding in one is always fun.

Possibly the most untrustworthy looking attorney's office I've seen in my travels; what with the crumbling walls, the abandoned look and the rusted bars over the door.


We reached the fort wall close on sunset.

With the sunset in view we retired to a small cafe called Hula-Hula and there enjoyed a delightful supper as night came on.