Roll up, roll up ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls (although I hope no children are subjected to this) and prepare yourselves for another great two for one offer brought to you exclusively by fergysrambles.org. I am your friendly global purveyor of world-class nonsense by appontment to nobody except the haematologist, the hepatologist, the opthalmic surgeon etc. Sorry, wait a moment, that is having appointments with, not by appointment to, I got confused.
I shall now pre-empt the next two questions of my long-suffering regulars, the answers to which are no and now. The questions obviously were, “Is he drunk or stoned” and “When is he going to drive us mad with that ‘go back to the start’ link”?
If any new readers have not yet left in complete bafflement as to what this is about, it is a regular practice of mine to inform people like your good selves that this is one of a series of posts about a three month trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014 and I start each one by telling the world at large that it will all make more sense if you read from the beginning which you can do here.
If any of you are still there, please do read on, I enjoy the company!
If you have read through you will know that I had spent the 26th of January in the lovely city of Matara and it had “got to me”. As I mentioned in the last episode I had jumped off the ‘bus and almost immediately fell in love with the place although it is pretty well off the tourist beat, doesn’t have too much in the way of attractions. It doesn’t overly push itself to go for that market, perhaps that is why I liked it.
I certainly do not think I am an arrogant or boastful man but I tend to make snap judgements of places and people and I am generally proved to be right, at least insofar as they affect me. For example, I can tell within about one minute of walking into a bar whether it is “trouble” or whether I am going to like it although the two often merge in the grey area that I seem to inhabit.
I was erring on the side of a day or two at least in Matara later on but I still had a couple of days left in the Galle Centre Home which was aptly named as it certainly felt like home so I thought another wander round Galle would be in order as I had concentrated mostly on the old Fort area and there had to be more to see.
There were also plenty of other seaside places I could visit for a day as the bus service along the A2 Southern (coastal) Highway was cheap, frequent and never too far from the ocean to find a village.
Whilst researching this series I have found out that a month after I left Sri Lanka on this trip they opened further portion of a new superhighway called the E-101 and I hope the buses will not be using it as that will spoil all the fun. I doubt the non “intercity” buses will and hopefully the hideously congested A2 (the current coast road) might ease a little but enough of my dissertation on the transport infrastructure of Sri Lanka and I have not even started on why the road goes to Hambantota!
You may well be wondering why I have included above, and apparently totally apropos of nothing, an image of what I think is a squirrel although it may be some other exotic Asian creature and a beast in the road, which I can recognise with some certainty as a cow so I’ll tell you. I just looked at the amount of text I have already knocked out and it really needs a little visual relief!
After the not terribly arduous “exertions” of the day before I had allowed myself a good lie in and was not on the move until early afternoon when my first move on awakening was to get the kettle on and then head out to the beautiful verandah for a coffee and a smoke.
It appears the monkeys and the birds were having an even longer lie-in than me. I wan’t galled at all, and I know that is my worst pun yet, more contrived than a Michale Frayn farce. Not galled in Galle, that is pretty awful even by my lamentable standards. I had a couple of the cheeky chappies shown above performing the most incredible acrobatics on power lines to amuse me and when the coffee was done I went out to face the singularly non-galling day.
I think we had better go for a walk before this descends into the afore-mentioned farce.
I wandered down the the sea just past the international cricket ground I have mentioned previously and leaving the old Fort behind me on the seaward side and I came to a small beach. This was not the palm fringed expanse of virgin sand so beloved by stock photographers and travel brochures, this was a narrow stretch somewhere in between the wetness of the Laccadive Sea and the tarmac of the road. Not only that but it was obviously a working beach and not some place to lay down your towel and catch some rays.
As the images show, this was obviously home to what remains of the Galle fishing fleet after the devastating tsunami of 2004 had destroyed most of it. Being an island, fishing is of great importance to the Sri Lankans and I suppose it has been thus since man learned how to hollow out a tree trunk and make a boat. I have already shown in previous posts the quality of the fish and other assorted seafood here and will do so many times again. If, like me you are a culinary fan of all things aquatic, Sri Lanka is very much the place for you.
It appeared that the fleet was in as the small expanse of sand was covered in beached boats which I wasn’t paying too much attention to until something caught my eye which made my jaw drop and subsequently filled me with immense pride. You can see what it was in the left-hand image above. At first I thought I was seeing things but my subsequent research has shown that I wasn’t. Along the side of the boat you can see the words “Polocitis addere facta (Larne Grammar School)” and I thought, “Surely not”.
Regular readers know that I come from the tiny country of Northern Ireland and Larne Grammar School is situated about 30 miles from where I was brought up. I used to play rugby against them twice a season. It was only when I checked later that I found out that the pupils, staff and parents of that excellent educational establishment had raised funds in the aftermath of the tsunami for the beleaguered people of this island and those funds had evidently gone to re-equipping the destroyed fleet.
The Latin (which means “Fulfil your promise”, if you are interested) is the school motto, and more interestingly, the school crest is a Norse sailing ship on a fairly swelling sea but it didn’t end there as a few boats along, having had my curiosity aroused, I found another small vessel bearing the legend “Dunboyne Senior Primary School”. I didn’t know then exactly where Dunboyne was (it is in County Meath in the Republic of Ireland) but I had heard of it.
By now I was feeling pretty proud of my countrymen and women and those of our closest neighbours. Still very much recovering from our own civil war the good people of the island of Ireland had seen fit to dip in their pockets to assist the people of this equally small country who were recovering from their own civil war and a natural disaster of such proportions. It still wasn’t over.
Another few boats along was the craft you can see in the right hand image with the legend “Ireland’s Ulster Canal”. I do not know if it was by accident or design but a goodly amount of the monies raised by those on the island of my birth appeared to have been channelled into the refloating of this fleet and it appeared the men of Galle had put their funds to good use as there were a couple of stalls set up selling the latest catch.
I knew that cooking was not really encouraged in my digs (there were no facilities!) which was a shame as I would have loved to buy one of the very fresh looking beauties here, had a quick trip to market and that would have been my daily meal sorted nicely. I am guessing, at least hoping, that this was only a proportion of the catch and the rest had gone to market.
I was standing taking in the sight of the effects of the fund-raising efforts of my compatriots when I heard a bicycle bell ringing, accompanied by a repeated cry, obviously a hawker of some description and so it was to prove. This was the Ginger Tea man.
As you can see he had his Thermos flasks of ginger tea which he dispensed for a few pennies. That would do nicely and it was gorgeous. I love all sorts of spiced teas, a habit I had acquired in India years before and to this day I occasionally prepare all sorts of concoctions. There are plenty of recipes online, give it a go.
Obviously, communication was always going to be non-verbal due to lack of a common tongue but somehow we “chatted” for a few minutes and I asked him to pose for a “VT flag” image which I explained in the previous post.
I was buzzing now. The boats funded from my homeland, a nice pick-me-up of ginger tea and a flag image secured, I knew it was going to be a good day. Having said that, of the nine months or so of my life I have spent in Sri Lanka, I cannot think of many “bad” days. What was going to happen next?
What happened next was that I walked a little further but it quickly became evident that I was walking out of town and so I headed back to my beloved Fort area. I had seen most of the interior of it but I thought I should explore the ramparts, the very reason for the place’s existence. The image above I have posted alone rather than in a collage as I just love it and am so proud of it even if it had nothing to do with any small photographic skill I may possess. I didn’t even notice the bird until I checked my images later on!
I have spoken in other series within my blog, although not in this one as far as I can remember, about my “travel gods” which may sound odd as I keep talking about my atheism as I am indeed one of that persuasion.
I find it difficult to put into words, a situation I know most of you will find laughable given my usual volubility but I am quite convinced that something looks after me when I am on the road. The overwhelming volume of positive travel experiences weighed against the very few negative ones convinces me of this.
Whatever the veracity of this belief system, my “whatever they are travel gods” were certainly perched very firmly on my shoulder that day. Here are my original notes about my walk on the ramparts and a couple of images.
Walk the ramparts.
“This tip is in relation to what is almost a rite of passage in the wonderful town of Galle and involves nothing more strenuous that going for a pleasant stroll. I should mention at the outset that, like much of this excellent country, there regrettably is no provision for the mobility impaired.
The Galle Fort is the heart and soul of the town and a walk on it’s ancient battlements seems to be absolutely de rigeur amongst locals and travellers alike. I should add here also that a complete circumnavigation of the walls is not possible for reasons both practical and military. Much of the East side does not actually have a walkway and there is a functioning military base on the Northwest corner.
Thankfully, the awful civil war which only finished five years ago, is no longer an issue but the guys in green don’t like you tramping about their camps and understandably so. If you do stray too far, as I did inadvertently, you will be very politely (with the usual Sri Lankan smile) but firmly pointed back in the direction of the main road by a young man carrying an assault rifle. Probably best to do what you are told.
Don’t get me wrong, these are not gun-toting thugs and I never felt threatened in the slightest but just be a bit careful how far you walk and the walk, as far as you are allowed, is well worth it.
You are literally walking in the footsteps of history. Who knows how many Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists walked these very walls in years past. OK, the Portuguese didn’t as they only built a wooden palissade here but you get the point. It really is a thing to do.
This is a wonderful attraction and, as I mentioned in another tip here, if you don’t have a ticket for a cricket international at Galle International ground, this is where all the locals gather to watch for free as you can see right into the ground.
I would recommend early morning or late afternoon to do this as the daytime heat can be brutal if you are not used to it. Best of all, it’s free!
Whilst patrolling the ramparts I found myself occasionally humming an excellent song called “Perimeter Walk” (part of the Blind Curve suite) with lyrics by my favourite rock singer Fish, who you may remember from the 80’s prog band Marillion. It is strange that whilst writing this so many years later I have to look up even the simplest details of places visited but I remember vividly such a piece of trivia as this. Music affects me that way.
Having walked the perimeter, or as much of it as the Sri Lankan Army allowed, I thought I would head back into the Fort area and further explore some of the side streets I had hitherto only ambled along without paying much attention. I have included a few images above which are fairly generic of the type of thing you will see in the Fort area but, even then, there are a couple of points of interest.
In one of the images you will see a lovely old colonial building reasonably centred in the frame. Again, it was only later that I noticed a small detail to the left of the image, just above the front of the red tuk-tuk. If you look at the top of the building you will see the monogram “VOC” which denotes the Dutch East India Company who I have mentioned before and therefore dates the building to before 1796 yet it is still in use, today as a jewellery shop. Given the Dutch propensity for precious stones, specifically diamonds, it may always have been thus, who knows?
Incidentlly, the main building, whilst more than worthy of an image, now houses a fairly tatty “bazaar” (their term and indicating the Moorish influence on the country) which is filled with tourist tat souvenirs, don’t bother.
A further indicaton of this Arabic influence was very evident nearby with the B.I.A College (don’t ask for the real name, it is very long), dating apparently to 1892. I had no particular interest in it as seat of learning, I just liked the look of the building. I am sure it is a fine institution as the Sri Lankans place a very high price on learning.
After that it was a fairly predictable stroll back to the Galle Fort Hotel for a “sundowner” beer or two and then the Sea Green restaurant (yes, back there again) for a meal of kebab, chips (fries) and salad. Yes, kebab and chips as it was what the boss recommended. Apparently the wife had made a batch fresh that day and they were gorgeous which probably goes without saying by now. I have not included images here as I again was reticent to use flash even though I was again inexplicably alone in the restaurant and the images are awful.
Off once again to bed and this would make a very convenient place for a break but I promised you a “two for one” deal and that is what you shall have. I do not posess much in the world, nor do I wish to, but “my word is my bond” as the old saying goes and so on we shall go to……………..
28th January, 2014.
Having had a wonderful but local day previously, I thought it would be an idea to go and explore a little more of the coast and I hit upon the idea, as always more or less randomly, of going to Hikkaduwa, so that is what I did.
Whilst waiting for the ‘bus I took the left-hand image above which is Buddhist as evidenced by the wheel at the top, a very typical sign of that belief system. The bus, as always in Sri Lanka, was pretty packed, adorned with the religious symbolism of the driver / owner (in this case apparently Hindu), slow and cheap. That is effectively what ‘bus travel is in that lovely country.
I have occasionally heard foreigners lamenting the frequent stops, the state of the roads etc. on their infrequent bursts of conversation between trying to find an internet signal on their multifarious electronic devices and I feel that this misses the point entirely.
If you are on a Sri Lankan ‘bus (or indeed any transport in another country), just accept that it may be slow and bumpy and have a look out the window at the passing life. If you can get your heads away from your electronic leashes for a moment you might just appreciate why you supposedly travelled in the first place. Rant over!
I arrived in Hikkaduwa and just started to walk which is what I do. As usual I had no plan and no timetable, I was just exploring. I didn’t have far to go until I saw what you witness in the image below, it just tickled me.
I know that Sri Lanka is officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka but I never thought of it as being particularly Marxist / Leninist and yet I saw many tuk-tuks inexplicably bearing images of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the pretty boy doyen of teenage revolutionaries worldwide. Yes, I have to admit that as a boy, before I grew up, I had a Che poster on my bedroom wall. The mis-spelling and call to rebellion amused me.
So what did Hikkaduwa have to offer? I had little idea as my guidebook had just mentioned it as a seaside town and promoted some accommodation options and restaurants, presumably in return for financial or other inducements. I am sorry to sound so negative about guidebooks but I have experienced at first-hand how some of them work. This is why I like the internet idea where even a complete dunce like me can share travel experiences without those opinions being tainted by commercial considerations.
The very first thing I did on arriving on Hikkaduwa was to go to the train station and, no, I had not immediately taken a dislike to it but I was being unusually organised and I checked the timetables in case I decided to return by train rather than ‘bus. I must say the station was very clean and tidy and quite modern compared to some although the one fish in the completely barren fish tank did look a bit lonely. When I had that all sorted I went for my walk.
Having made my customary late start it was by now already midday and I was getting a bit peckish with only my morning coffee in me so it was time for a spot of lunch. Original notes as usual.
A decent, friendly little beach place.
I don’t normally eat during the day, especially in the heat of a near equatorial sun as you get in Sri Lanka in January, but for some reason I found myself fancying a snack lunch when I visited Hikkaduwa and wandered into Parrot’s Paradise which proved to be an excellent choice.
I was welcomed in by the delightful manager and shown to a table by the beach, which I must say I find over-rated, but it is pleasant enough. I was not sure about the availability of beer here as places differ in Sri Lanka and so I ordered and EGB purely out of curiosity. I had seen advertising posters carrying the slogan, “No EGB, no food” which I thought was rather an extravagant claim and so I thought I’d give it a go.
What it turned out to be was Elephant Ginger Beer and I have become rather fond of it, it really is delicious. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get good ginger beer in the UK so this was a treat in itself.
The menu was provided and I opted for the beef rotti and with the usual question of whether I wanted it spicy or not. Well, I do like spicy food so that was easily answered and chef certainly did not disappoint as it was verging on the volcanic and great stuff.
Obviously, they will make you a tamer version if an almost suicidally amount of chilli is not your gig.
A further examination of the menu indicates that they offer all the usual standards like Western or Sri Lankan breakfast, jaffles (toasted sandwiches), devilled dishes, fried rice, various mains which feature seafood and fish heavily as you would expect and an extensive range of desserts.
There is not much more to say about Parrot’s Place and I still do not know if that is a nickname of the owner or if the birds of that species actually frequent this bar! Incidentally, if you do fancy a beer, you can get one here as I subsequently found out.
At 300 rupees for the rotti it was certainly not overpriced.
This is a very pleasant little beachfront eating joint on a strip probably over-subscribed with them and I recommend it.
Address: 290 Galle Road, Hikkaduwa”.
Suitably fuelled I set out again and the first thing that caught my eye was the statue you see in the images. More contemporaneous notes to explain it.
Monument to a local legend.
I was wandering through Hikkaduwa one day on a daytrip from Galle en-route to a Buddhist temple I had read about (see below) when I happened upon this statue and decided to investigate. It was a fairly dismal day and so the edifice was certainly not seen to best advantage. Also, Sri Lankans seem to have a penchant for adorning statues with gold paint which does not seem to stand the test of time that well in a country with such diverse weather patterns.
I looked at the statue, took the relevant photos and wondered who the gentleman commemorated actually was as the limited English text on the plinth didn’t help much. Well, I know now and he is an extremely interesting man.
He is a chap called Dhamma Jagoda, a local man, and was something of a leading light in the Sri Lankan dramatic field for many years. The attached website gives a summary of his work. He was undoubtedly of great importance to the Sri Lankan dramatic body of work as actor, director, patron and much else and appears to be credited with inventing the genre of Sri Lankan tele-drama amongst other things.
Again, this is a tip that will undoubtedly be of minimal interest to most readers but I offer it on the off chance that there is someone that may be interested and in the hope that others walking that road in search of the beach delights of Hikkaduwa may pause for a bit of a look and think about a man that apparently contributed so much to the culture of the country they are walking in”.
The images above show a) what an awful day it was weatherwise and b) a lovely little canal I came across which pleased me as I love canals.
Sri Nagarama Temple.
The first thing to know about the Sri Nagarama Temple is that it has two names as it is also known as Nagaramaya and I believe the locals use both. I was looking for this place as my guidebook had recommended it and otherwise you would never find it as it sits about a mile from the beach strip up the Baddegama Road.
This relative isolation actually works in your favour as this place is described variously online as being rarely visited by toursts which makes it a great venue to see the Buddhist monks going about their daily business and ritauls. I did not see another foreigner and I stayed quite a while giving the camera a good workout, some of the results of which you can see in the slideshow above.
The temple is not of any particular religious significance and it is certainly nowhere near the grandest Buddhist temple I have ever visited but it was interesting to see an ordinary functioning monastery. The one thing that I noticed and which still slightly intrigues me is that some of the architectural decorations and cons seemed to my untutored eye to be Hindu rather than Buddhist. I have included a not very good image here of what I am almost certain is a depiction of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god who I had “adopted” on a trip to India years before. It is definitely worth the trek to get here.
I need to offer a word of explanation about the next few paragraphs or they will seem like even greater nonsense than my normal offerings. I mentioned that all these tips were originally written for the Virtual Tourist website which is now gone.
VT was divided into categories like hotels, restaurants, things to do etc. One of these categories was entitled “Off the beaten path” which I included this in so hopefully it will make a little more sense now.
This really is off the beaten path.
“I have to say that this category of tip here on Virtual Tourist could have been designed for the particular short stroll I am going to describe.
I had been to the Sri Nagarama, a Buddhist (and possibly Hindu) temple a short walk from the centre of Hikkaduwa and didn’t really fancy walking back down the fairly busy main road and so I chose to take a little path (pictured) which I knew was going in vaguely the right direction. What a good choice!
I appreciate that I must look pretty odd to Asian children (even Asian adults) standing 6’5″ tall with long almost white hair and a beard that could happily house a family of rodents. I am used to that and it amuses me but some of the reactions I got from small children along the way were so charming. It seems like every child in the area wanted to wave, smile, say “Hello” or whatever, it was such a treat.
I suspect that most tourists to Hikkaduwa never get off the beach strip, indeed probably never get out of their all-inclusive resort but they really are missing so much. It was a short walk but such a delight and a humbling experience. It is easy to do and I do recommend it.
Sadly, you will meet reminders along the way of the appalling tsunami of 2004. I do not wish to dwell on this, as I suspect the residents of this superb country don’t, but it is inevitable. It is far too recent and far too raw and I empathise.
If you walk the little path I have suggested here, you will pass a housing project provided by the good people of Austria to assist in the wake of the carnage of that day. You simply cannot ignore it. It is a very odd feeling to see reminders of such horror in what seems like an island paradise and it sort of puts your beach resort holiday in perspective.
It is right and proper (in my opinion) to remember and perhaps I even do it slightly more than those who were affected and lost loved ones. Sri Lankans seem, by and large, to have moved on.
I merely set out here to write a small tip on a lovely little path that would take the reader through some gorgeous country and meet some lovely people and look what happened!
Should you want to find it, come down the steps of the temple, cross the bridge and turn left, it will take you back into town”.
I would like to point out that what happened next is completely atypical of Sri Lanka where my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive but there is always the exception that proves the rule.
Avoid like the plague.
“I was only in Hikaduwa for one day and, frankly, I did not need to waste my time here. This tip will be short, as was my visit. I wandered into Mama’s, on the suggestion of my guidebook and managed to find a seat at the seafront eating area. Note that I found it, there was no assistance whatsoever from the staff.
I sat and waited for a menu. Then I waited some more. When that was over, I waited again. Nobody came near me.
Regrettably, travel websites and guidebooks are very much a double edged sword. As soon as places get featured in, shall we say, Lonely Planet, they think they have made it (usually correctly) and don’t even make the effort. Sadly, this is one of the very few places in Sri Lanka that has disappointed me and I do not offer this as a denigration of that wonderful country, which I love.
Perhaps I should have employed the Russian system of bellowing at the waiters (there were many Russian speakers there, as there seem to be all over Sri Lanka) but I just could not be bothered.
After about 20 minutes of being totally ignored, I walked out and went to a decent restaurant. Forget the guidebooks, this place has lost it’s way badly”.
The decent restaurant I mentioned in the previous paragraph was the Fortune Guest House and Beach restaurant where I only went for a beer or three and did not eat but it restored my faith in the Sri Lankan hospitality industry after the awful Mama’s.
I took a wander along the beach for a little way and stopped for a look at the sea and a touch of reflection about the awful destruction it had brought. I committed some of my thoughts to video which you can see here but I warn you it is a bit depressing.
After a couple more beers and a less than average sunset on what had been a very overcast and even rainy day I took myself back to Galle by which time I was feeling a bit peckish again as it was some time since I had eaten. Another original tip for you now.
Part samba, part cooking, all brilliant.
I had read about a dish called kottu rotti before I arrived in Sri Lanka and yet, after about a month there I still had not had one which was a situation I was determined to rectify.
Coming back on the bus one evening from nearby Hikkaduwa I was a little hungry and so I dropped into an obviously locals place called Vinn’s. I was certainly the only white face in there at that time of night. It is really close to the bus station and very easy to find.
There did not appear to be a menu, certainly not an English one and so, dragging something out of the disordered space that calls itself my brain I asked for the aforementioned kottu rotti. There didn’t appear to be a lot of English spoken but that brought a spark of recognition to the guy’s face. I should add that there is no full waiter service as such here, you order at the counter and it is brought to you.
I was aksked beef, chicken or fish (I think I have that right) and opted for the beef. I was asked, “spicy”? and answered in the affirmative, indicating by means of mime that chef could go as hot as he liked. He was not to disappoint me!
What followed next was pure culinary theatre and I thoroughly loved it. Kottu rotti is effectively a type of bread served usually with meat or fish and vegetables but battered into an almost mince consistency by means of the use of two things that I can only describe as looking a bit like oversized paint-scrapers. If you imagine the type of things a magician uses to prove he has “sawed a woman in half” only about six inches by four then you will have the idea.
I have had dishes flambéed at table and done so brilliantly, and seen all sorts of public creative pantomime in restaurants but this is really something else. The young cook proceeded to chop all the ingredients on a hotplate with what I can most closely describe as a samba beat. The lad could have easily played percussion in a decent band if he can make a sound like that. The whole thing was mesmeric in the proper sense of the word which is probably why I didn’t take a photo. I will get a video of one of these blokes in action before I leave and post it when I get back to UK, I promise. You have never seen anything like it. ((2021 update, the video is coming in a future post)).
All this is well and good but if the end product doesn’t taste good then it is merely window-dressing. No fear of that, it was absolutely delicious and very spicy as I had asked for. The cost of this whole dining experience, for that is what it was? Well, it came in at a bit under £2 sterling (perhaps $3US).
Absolutely brilliant. Get over your hesitancy about your lack of the language and dive in here, they are friendly as anything and the food really is as good as it looks. Also, there is only one very small step to the front which should render it accessible to mobility impaired travellers, always a good thing.
If you want a taste of authentic Sri Lankan street food, this is as good as it gets. It is, regrettably, unlicensed but still highly recommended.
Directions: It is on the small un-named cut-through road just to the North of the main bus station about halfway along, a few doors to the West of the Sydney Hotel”.
After my excellent meal there was just time for a couple of illuminated Buddha images before heading back to my digs. I have mentioned before that I had been asked to move to the owner’s private guest room due to a group booking and, as the image shows, it was certainly no hardship with another comfy bed and another good night’s sleep after all the walking and sea air.
In the next episode I actually get on the road again and I have already hinted earlier about where I move to but if you have not worked it out, or even if you have, stay tuned and spread the word.