In Ambalangoda I spent a morning shopping for masks; I had mentioned them in my last email and so a friend asked me to buy a couple for him, too. The six shops were all interesting and seemed to have quite different prices and so with a little bargaining and lots of running around from shop to shop, the deal was made. Then on to the Post Office to send them (I can’t carry them), which was quite a process but now they are (hopefully) on their way to my house and to my friend’s house.
Yes, I liked that guesthouse. Over breakfast I met a British family of four who just started a two-year service in Sri Lanka with VOS (Volunteer Overseas Services) a British do-gooder organization. They’re based in Colombo and asked me to call them when I return.
On Sunday I took a bus to Hikkaduwa—which if it isn’t heaven, is close. I had the most marvelous place to stay on the most beautiful beach that I’ve ever seen. The guesthouse had its own tree-filled garden with hammocks (where I did my daily Italian lesson) and rattan loungers, with hibiscus bushes and king coconuts, all overlooking the blue, blue. There were thatched-roofed restaurants up and down the beach where I drank Lion Beer and ate jumbo (gigantic) prawns while watching the surfers.
On one beach walk, I saw two green sea turtles very close to the shore. A woman was hanging on to one turtle’s shell having him pull her through the water. The shells of the turtles were about 24 inches long, I think. I waded out as a local man fed them some green sea grass while I took pictures! And speaking of wildlife, on my walk one morning I spotted what was probably a three-foot long monitor lizard swimming in a stream as I walked across a bridge.
A bit of incongruity—Muslim women completely covered except for their faces waded into the ocean on the arms of their husbands (in Western shorts and tees, of course) but soon hiked their long skirts up above their knees baring their legs for God and all the world to see!
On Tuesday I hired a tuk tuk to take me around. I saw four (destroyed) railroad passenger cars from the train that was caught by the tsunami—1270 died on that train.I remember one young girl being interviewed on TV who survived the train but her mother had been killed.
The lake was pretty and peaceful—not like the ocean as it was a full moon day (poya) and the waves were very high. Some right in front of my hotel were four to six feet high that morning, and the surfers were out in force.
I asked the tuk tuk driver where he was when the tsunami hit—he was driving his tuk tuk down the main road. As he was washed inland by the first wave, he managed to grab hold of and lift himself up on a second floor of a hotel. He lost his father in the tsunami. No, this was not the same tuk tuk; that one can’t be driven.
Another bus on down the southern coast to Galle, Sri Lanka’s second port city. This was the big 17th century Dutch port from where all the spices and gems went out. There is a fort around the old town, which did its job in protecting the city from the tsunami—the new town was damaged but has recovered.
I stayed in a hotel in the fort area that was a former Dutch building, now heritage-listed. The whole fort area is full of old Dutch buildings built in the 1700s including the Fort Galle Hotel. This is an up-up-upscale redone Dutch merchant’s building where I had a gin and tonic in their Raffles-type bar and lunch on their verandah. What an interesting ambience in this town!
My niece, Laura, googled ‘Geoffrey Bawa,’ the renowned architect and suggested that I do the same, which I did. I see he designed one of the big hotels in Galle where I am presently. I saw it on the way into town. I guess there’s not much you can’t find on Google.
The people in Sri Lanka seem very kind and gentle. Each morning on my walk almost all of the women smile and say, “Good morning, Madame,” and many of the men do, too. On my third morning in Hikkaduwa on the same walk, a woman smiled and said, “Each morning you walk here.” I answered, “But this is my last time as I’m leaving today.” She replied, “Oh, I’m sorry!” I haven’t seen a single drunk or drugged person yet, which I find unusual. And when they hand you your check or your change, they touch their left hand to their right inner elbow as they present it with the right hand.
After identifying and photoing all the old Dutch landmarks in the Fort area yesterday, I decided to eat lunch (if I could make myself understood) at the Young Men’s Buddhist Association. Since there was no English sign (they weren’t expecting ME) I had to try to ask which building it was by signing eating and a man directed me. Yes, there was a little restaurant populated by young men. One of them could speak a little English and told me where to sit. Then he brought me a platter of rice, and then bowls of pappadum, fish, pineapple, potatoes, dal, some green stuff, and jackfruit, topped off with a ginger beer and some yoghurt for dessert. Wow, was that good! Each dish had many ingredients and was cooked to perfection. The ginger beer was quite intense but an interesting experience.
I’ll be moving on down the coast tomorrow. Thanks to all of you who have emailed me back.