Hello to one and all, welcome back to the 14th edition of my series about a trip to Sri Lanka for three months in the early part of 2014 and I’ll get it out of the way early by telling new readers that they may want to start at the beginning of the story which they can do here.
Now that that is out of the way, my regular readers will remember that in the previous post I promised you a day-trip and a day-trip you shall have. Please feel free to read on.
I was very happy in Galle where I was staying but outside the wonderful old Fort area, which I had explored every inch of, there is not a whole lot to do in Galle and the newer part of town is not really that exciting. I had therefore decided to take a bit of a tour to explore somewhere else and Unawatuna had been recommended to me although it is a seaside resort and I am not much of a beach bunny but it was only going to be for a day.
It wasn’t exactly much of a trip as Unawatuna is only about four miles South of Galle but it was very hot that day and I didn’t feel like slogging along a busy main road with all the fumes. I didn’t know how much pavement there might be and I was similarly unaware about the situation re: walking along the beach so it was the bus for me. This is no hardship for that length of a journey and I was there in no time.
One word of warning here, the bus does not actually follow the coast closely so when they drop you off on the main A2 it is a bit of a trek down to the beach and whilst there is nothing in the way of footpaths (sidewalks) there isn’t too much traffic and they seem to be pretty aware of tourists wandering all over the road.
At this point I could do worse than share my contemporaneous notes with you.
Not really my kind of place.
“I visited Unawatuna on a daytrip from nearby Galle and frankly I am glad that that is all the time I spent there. As the title states, it is just not my type of place.
In the short time I was there, I had a few beers in a delightful, friendly place, one beer in a totally unfriendly tourist trap bar (unusual in Sri Lanka), an excellent rotti, a walk round some completely nondescript backroads lined with unfinished building projects, a visit to a fairly ordinary Buddhist temple and I think I had about exhausted the possibilities of the town.
Frankly, if you ignored the skin tone of the waiters on the many completely tourist orientated bars, the guy walking along the beach with a snake round his neck and the very occasional Sri Lankan flag you might as well have been on any Mediterranean beach in mid-August and that is not really my gig.
I do not like to write negative pieces here and the beach is clean and very attractive so if lazing by the sea is your thing, by all means go for it. Judging by the number of travellers there, it is certainly popular and there are plenty of eating, drinking and accommodation options.
I have tried to be as objective as I can here so hopefully the reader can make up their own mind”.
Before I headed for the beach I had a little something to do as some more original notes will explain.
Excellent place for a drink.
“I have always tried to be completely objective in my writing and have always declared an interest should there be one. This is the case here. On my daytrip to Unawatuna my good friend and expert on all thing Sri Lankan, a London based South African called Jo (wait till you see the images of us washing elephants!) had asked me to drop in and say hello to a friend of hers, a fellow South African who ran a resort in Unawatuna so I duly obliged.
The place in question was the Kahuna Club which I found easily enough, having previously looked it up on Google maps. It is on the road down from the main highway on the left hand side and well-signed.
I wandered into a well-kept complex with a main building and various cabanas dotted around the place. It all looked pretty quiet but I was greeted by a charming young lady who I believe was the manageress. Having explained the situation I was shown to Mally’s private cabana and we chatted for a good half hour. In case you had not guessed, Mally is the owner. He is a most amiable chap and it was a pleasure chatting but he had to go to market to obtain the produce for the evening’s meal as he always liked to have it fresh. He entrusted me back to the care of the young lady and took his leave.
The place was fairly quiet, as I say, and I can only presume everyone had gone to the beach which is the main attraction in Unawatuna. I drank my beer on the delightful verandah and had a bit of a wander round, including the “sneak peek” of the cabana included above, which was left open, presumably for airing after being serviced. It looked charming.
I know some people write tips about places they have not stayed at on the basis of having had a look at the rooms and obtained the tariff etc. but I do not like to do that although the room looked fine, as you can see.
If you want a quiet drink away from the hurly-burly of the main beach strip and perhaps read a book or catch up on your e-mails in very pleasant surroundings, this place may be for you”.
That was a good start to the day but I wanted a look round so I took my leave of the young lady and headed on. The village, for it is no more than that, is basically one long road running from the A2 down to the beach where all the restaurants, shops (including numerous dive shops) and a lot of the accommodation are concentrated. There are a few side roads but not many and you certainly won’t get lost.
I eventually got to the beach and decided a beer looking at the ocean might be a good idea. The idea itself was perfectly sound but the but the application of the concept was less so as you can read below.
Very, very poor and not typical.
I should preface this piece by saying that my experiences in Sri Lanka have been overwhelmingly positive and I intend to return here as soon as circumstances allow. However, as I stated in my intro page for Unawatuna, I really do hope that this is not the future for this lovely country as I would hate to see it go like some other places in Asia have gone.
The tourist trap I am writing about here is the Thilak (alleged) restaurant and bar on the seafront towards the end of the beach where the Buddhist temple sits on the hill. It really is the worst place I have been in the country and I am writing this after over two months travelling there.
There are dozens of these places all along the front and I merely picked this one at random. A mistake but one that was rectified at the (inflated) cost of one bottle of beer.
I walked in past what were obviously the staff, so the excuse they did not see me does not hold water. They proceeded to totally ignore me for about ten minutes (normally my threshold) when one of them deigned to amble over and ask what I wanted. I ordered my beer and waited at least another five minutes for it to be served. They were not busy, everyone was on the beach, they just could not be bothered.
I know standards of service vary in different places but this was just blatant idleness and ignorance by any cultural standards.
One of the images I have included should tell you all you need to know about this place. They don’t even serve food at sunset, which is when a lot of travellers like to come out and eat. Obviously, they are too busy selling overpriced alcohol and cannot be bothered to employ sufficient kitchen staff.
I re-iterate that it gives me no pleasure to write negative reviews but I will do so when required and this place certainly requires it. Avoid at all costs”.
Obviously such appalling standards could not sustain a business indefinitely and this establishment appears to be no more which is no loss to anybody.
After my one unfortunate beer I did take a walk on the beach and it seemed fairly clean even though it was packed with tourists and local families but that is understandable as it was a Saturday and the weather was glorious.
One thing that did surprise me slightly was that most of the local bathers, male and female, were wearing T-shirts which was in stark contrast to the obvious tourists who were all wearing the least that decency would allow. This was presumably to keep the sun off and it reminded me of the Philippines where I had been two years before and where people will do anything to avoid the sun’s rays.
I think the reason is that in Asia dark skin denotes you as a “peasant” i.e. someone working in the fields all day whereas in the West a good suntan is seen as a sign of prosperity with foreign holidays etc. Strange.
My walk on the beach had lightened my mood somewhat but it was not to last although not for reasons of human indolence but rather a story of the almost inconceivable human suffering caused by the underwater earthquake and subsequent tsunami of Boxing Day, 2004. I remember watching the aftermath on TV and being appalled and you really cannot go anywhere in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka without finding reminders of it but just a few facts and figures for you here as they are staggering.
The earthquake occurred deep underwater off the West Coast of Sumatra, Indonesia which registered a massive 9.3, the third largest ever and it actually caused the whole planet to vibrate by up to 10mm. Of the estimated 230,000 or so casualties worldwide, 35,000 were in Sri Lanka where the tsunami wave, up to 16 feet high in this area, hit two hours after the earthquake and cost untold carnage. 1,700 of the dead in Sri Lanka were all on one train that was simply washed clean off the tracks at Perilaya which is a mere few miles North of here.
I found the inscription on the left hand image very touching and, if I have done my research correctly, the gentleman commemorated here, Mr. A.K. Gnanadasa, had founded one of the diving schools in the village and he and the building both perished although his son now runs the operation. The little eulogy is quite moving.
The very much simpler memorial on the right commemorates Lotta Skogulf, one of over 500 Swedes who perished in the disaster globally, a lady who had built her dream retirement home in Unawatana where her dream turned into the ultimate nightmare as she too sadly perished. It gives me no pleasure at all to tell you that this awful event is one we shall be returning to many times over the course of my travels in Sri Lanka, there is no getting away from it.
At this point I probably needed a moment of quiet reflection and I knew exactly where to get it.
Worth the walk up.
“I have mentioned above that the main draw here is the beach and that is undoubtedly what the vast majority of travellers come here for. There is, however, one other thing to do if you are not intent on topping up your tan and that is to visit the Buddhist shrine called Unawatuna Devol Devalaya at the “far” end of the beach from the main road.
The temple sits on a rocky promontory and you cannot miss it. In terms of Buddhist places of worship it is neither old nor of huge significance but it is worth the walk up the not too taxing steps to get there if only for the view.
I believe this place may not be very old and may even be a modern response to the appalling effects of the tsunami but I would issue one plea to the traveller. There are a few signs at the bottom requesting you to remove your footwear, and please do so, this is the standard practice in a Buddhist place of worship.
I winced somewhat as I watched a group of four young Australian men, all fully shod and tramping about the place shouting, laughing loudly and swearing in their conversation. It was appalling behaviour, would you act like that in a Church? This place is holy to the local people, please treat it as such.
As I said, it is not hugely exciting but then little in Unawatuna is save for the beach and it is worth the effort to climb up and have a look, the views are worth it.
Directions: Walk to the end of the beach furthest from the main road and you cannot miss it”.
Two unconnected images for you now, just to save space and to make a couple of points. Firstly, I was struck by how many half-completed buildings there seemed to be in Unawatuna and I have no idea whether these were ongoing projects not being worked on due to it being Saturday or projects where the money had dried up for whatever reason. Somehow I got the impression it was the latter rather than the former.
Secondly I was amazed at the amount of Cyrillic script I saw all over the village, a phenomenon I had not seen before (or indeed much since) and which seems to be concentrated in this one spot. It reminded me a lot of Cyprus the last time I went there, specifically Pafos where there is an entire street with nothing by Cyrillic scripted shops, restaurants etc. I even ended up in a bar one night where the manageress was Russian, as was the entire karaoke programme, they even imported Russian prostitutes if the Russian fleet was in town!
It was now mid-afternoon and I hadn’t eaten yet although I wasn’t overly hungry, I rarely am in hot climates, so a snack was called for and there is certainly no shortage of choice but when I saw the rather unimaginatively named Unawatuna Roti Hut, I knew I had hit my mark.
A fine roti hut.
“For those of you who have not been lucky enough to visit Sri Lanka, I should explain the concept of the roti (or rotti) hut. It is basically a place that sells an unleavened bread, either sweet or savoury, and it forms a staple of the Sri Lankan diet, they are everywhere. Roti huts range from the most humble little shacks to quite upmarket places attached to hotels and they invariably serve up the most delightful snacks.
I had decided that I was going to eat back in Galle that evening and so just popped in here for a quick bite. It proved to be an excellent choice.
I opted for the cheese, tomato and onion roti at 250 rupees which was made up as I watched the fascinating cook go about his business. It really is a thing to watch a roti cook in full flow, especially a kottu rotti cook. I shall try to upload video of some of them in action at some point, it will amaze you. These guys really are magicians on a hotplate.
The roti was absolutely perfect, straight off the griddle and provided exactly the afternoon pick-me-up I required. Should you require something a little more substantial they also have a limited fried rice menu.
Whilst eating I was joined by the very amiable owner for a chat and he insisted on giving me his ‘phone number. Of course, you don’t need a number, you are hardly going to order ahead ((although in 2021 you might need to)) and this place is easy to find and well worth the effort. It appears to be very well patronised by travellers and deservedly so”.
I popped back in to the Kahuna Club for a few more beers as I had enjoyed it there. After that it was a simple matter of jumping a bus back to Galle and an almost inevitable trip to the Sea Green restaurant, which I was becoming very fond of. Another request for a recommendation brought this delightful looking repast to my table although after this time I really cannot remember what it was but it has the look of a devilled dish about it, then off to bed yet again.
I know that Unawatuna was a bit of a disappointment to me although I hope the reader found something of interest in my writing but in the next episode I get back on the road so if you want to find out where I end up, stay tuned and spread the word.