Greetings and salutations, dear readers and welcome to yet another post in my Sri Lanka 2014 series which has somewhat surprised me by attracting quite a few readers and some lovely comments which are very much appreciated.
A quick line for any new readers is that if you read the entire saga, for that is what it is turning into and we are not yet one third of the way through, then you can do so here.
With that out of the way, let’s see what we can discover today.
10th February, 2014.
I shall start by clearing up a little teaser I left you with at the end of the last entry when I said I was a little sad this day. The reason for that was that I had very reluctantly decided this was to be my last day in Matara at the lovely Nawathana Hotel which, if the hoteliers maxim that their job entails making the guest feel at home, had exceeded all expectations.
I could easily have stayed there longer and I find myself saying this a lot as I have already made similar comments about Wellewatta and Galle. This is not a case of rose-tinted spectacles by any means but rather a statement of fact. I hope that by now anyone who has read any of my other posts will know that I strive to report honestly and objectively. Whether I am just naturally fortunate or not I could not really say, although I consider myself so, but the negative experiences I have had in a total of nine months in Sri Lanka I could count on the fingers of both hands and still have fingers left over.
There was no pressing need for me to move and I certainly wasn’t bored but I reckoned by then that I had more or less exhausted the possibilities of Matara and it’s environs. It was time to get back on the road but I still had a day to fill and I decided to do that in my usual fashion with a day sitting in the hotel trying in vain again to catch up on my travel writing.
I have mentioned before that I had a habit in those days of setting up a Virtual Tourist HQ in any place I stayed for more than one night. The requirements for such a base were a power source, wi-fi connection and beer and the image above shows that the hotel was ideally suited to the purpose. I had a bit of a lie-in, got up, showered and dressed and set up shop starting with my usual coffee and then moving onto a proper liquid diet.
The images above just about sum up my whole experience at the Nawathana. The evening before, the redoubtable Weere had seen me using my VT flag to mop my brow (not that I was doing anything overly energetic at the time) and he had demanded it off me saying he would wash it. I told him there was no need as I just rise it out in the sink but he insisted.
You can see that, whilst I was happily sitting typing away I looked up and he was only ironing the damned thing, I was mortified with embarrassment but he seemed to be enjoying himself as always so I let him get on with it.
There was else for it but that I had to take a VT flag picture which regular readers will know was a piece of silliness we used to indulge in on that excellent website where we tried to get images of the flag in the most exotic / unlikely / amusing situations and submit them. Childish possibly, idiotic probably but great fun nonetheless and wait till you see the one with the elephant!
Nihal the manager had been chatting with me and asked what my plans were for dining that evening to which I replied, completely honestly that I had none. He told me that chef had sourced some particularly good fish at the market that morning and wished to prepare it for me as a sort of “last supper” if I fancied it. It would have been churlish not to and I knew it would be as good as anything in town for reasons I shall explain shortly and so I agreed readily.
As the afternoon wore on I remembered there was one thing I had not yet done, not in Matara itself but in nearby Dondra East and as I was feeling a bit lazy I asked Nihal if he could arrange a reliable tuk-tuk for me to take me to see the lighthouse. No problem, when did I want it? Now would be good and by the time I had packed my kit away and finished my beer the tuk-tuk was sitting beside me, ready to go.
The image above will be one of the abiding memories of any traveller to Asia as they will have undoubtedly spent many a journey looking at a similar view. One thing to notice is that there is no meter on the taxi despite my earlier advice to always only use metered vehicles.
Back in 2014 meters were still being introduced and they were common enough in greater Colombo but rare elsewhere in the country. Also, Nihal said he knew the guy and he had fixed a price which was obviously a little more than local’s rate but undoubtedly cheaper than I could have negotiated. No problem there then.
The drive to Dondra was unexceptional, following coast on the A2 which was becoming my “Yellow Brick Road” as I just seemed to keep following it. We arrived safely at our destination and here is what I wrote.
For those in peril on the sea.
“My reason for visiting was two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to see the lighthouse and secondly I wanted to visit the Southernmost place in Sri Lanka. OK, I know it is a bit of a strange thing to want to do but I just fancied it having travelled all the way to the country.
I had hired a tuk-tuk in nearby Matara although the place is easy enough to get to by public transport, just get any bus South from the bus stand there and ask for Dondra, then walk down towards the sea. Trust me, you really can’t miss the lighthouse as it stands and impressive 150 feet high or thereabouts.
Constructed in 1889 it is still active in protecting the busy shipping lane which runs just off the coast here. The image here shows the still very much active staff quarters.
I was put under considerable pressure from my tuk-tuk driver to pay the entrance fee (500 rupees if memory serves) as he was obviously on commission but I didn’t really fancy the 222 step slog up to the top. Also, readers of my other pages will know that I am not great with heights and a relatively recent trip to another lighthouse on Lundy Island (UK) in the company of my dear friend John Gayton was still fresh in my mind. I knew that I would get a bit queasy if I went up there so I contented myself with taking photos from terra firma.
This image shows the Ceylon (sic) Survey Dept. bench mark. If you look at the delightful seascape pictured and standing there on a gloriously warm day it is hard to imagine that if you sailed straight away from the shore the next landfall you would make would be Antarctica well over 9,000 miles distant and undoubtedly about 40 degrees cooler. From palm trees to penguins with nothing in between, it somewhat reinforced to me just how vast the oceans really are.
The opening hours are apparently a bit of a moveable feast but generally daylight hours and obviously, by it’s very nature, the lighthouse itself would not be suitable for mobility impaired travellers although the grounds are reasonably flat.
Definitely recommended if you have a head for heights and still worth seeing even if you remain firmly on the ground”.
Since I wrote this piece all those years ago I have discovered another little piece of geographical trivia. At the time of my visit I doubt I had heard of the Laccadive Sea and thought I was looking out at the Indian Ocean but as the title of one of my previous posts attests I know about it now.
The Laccadive Sea is a body of water to the South and West of India and borders that country, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Point Dondra is one of the boundary points and a line drawn from here to the most Southerly point of Addu Atoll (wherever that might be) forms the Southern extent of the Sea. So now you know!
Whilst walking around the site and taking a few images I spotted this boat and I must apologise for the smudge as the camera was still playing up but I think it is worth sharing here. If you remember a few posts ago I mentioned that many of the fishing boats in Galle appeared to have been purchased by people from Ireland after the tsunami and here I spotted another example. I do not know who Heather is but I can tell you that Newtownbreda is no more than two miles form where I was brought up in Belfast!
I have included the image above not because it is of any great interest per se but to demonstrate a point I have made many times about the standard of driving, or should I say aiming, in Sri Lanka. It was taken on the way back from Dondra. Without looking it up, try to guess what side of the road you are supposed to drive on in Sri Lanka.
OK, I’ll tell you. Like many former British colonies you are supposed to drive on the left as we do but you would hardly know it. Remarkably we made it back in one piece and, almost unbelievably, I have never been involved in a collision on Sri Lankan roads although I have been far to close far too often. That is just the way it is.
Once back at the hotel, that was me set for the night, I was going nowhere. I got the computer out, had a few beers to work up an appetite and I suppose now is the time to tell you something I have ben hinting at since I got here. My notes were originally written as a restaurant review which explains the style.
Food fit for a king.
I have mentioned on a separate tip on this page that I stayed at the excellent Nawathana Hotel whilst I was in Matara and I do recommend it. However, even if you do not stay here, it is well worth dropping in for a meal whilst you are in the town.
It has a pleasant seafront location within the blissfully quiet area of the old Fort where you can sit and watch a lovely Sri Lankan sunset should you be there at the right time of day. The service is extremely friendly and relaxed which is the general tenor of the whole place and the food is outstanding.
Depending o time of day or if the head chef is off, the wonderful Weereseera will knock you up a very decent feed, either Sri Lankan or Western, and I think he is wasted doing the ironing and gardening which comprise the majority of his duties. If you are staying here and want something genuinely local, just ask him and he will turn you out a proper rice and curry meal or a bit of a snack should you have less of an appetite.
Whilst Weere, as he is known, is an excellent cook, the main draw here has to be the head chef who was formerly employed in the kitchens of the Qatari royal family, hence the title of this tip. You don’t get that gig unless you are very good, and he really is. He is also extremely friendly, speaks pretty good English and if he is not busy in the kitchen he is more than happy to talk cookery with you which was such a joy for a very amateur cook like myself. Speaking of the kitchen, I was in it many times and it is spotless.
Hotel Nawathana has a fairly extensive menu, both local and Western and even what we in the UK would probably describe as Chinese, although it is nore properly pan-Asian.
Being so close to the sea (you can hear and even see it as you eat depending on where you choose to dine) it will come as no surprise that I am going to recommend the fish. The menu is really a fairly flexible affair, depending entirely on what the local fishermen have caught but I love that concept.
If a place steadfastly offers cod, mullet (the fish, not the haircut!) etc. then you will be thinking that if none of it was caught that day locally it is coming from the freezer. However, if you have to ask chef or the waiter what fish he has, you can be fairly sure it has just come off the boat.
As a final word, they also make some of the best chilli paste I have ever tasted, so good in fact that I have included an image here.
Given the delightful surroundings and first class food, I have no hesitation in highly recommending this place and an additional bonus is that it is all one one level which would make it accessible for mobility impaired travellers which is not always the case in Sri Lanka.
Favorite Dish: Very hard to pick a favourite but any of the daily fresh fish is always excellent. The mixed seafood platter also deserves an honourable mention”.
I think you will have gathered that I enjoyed the food here so back to the meal this evening. There did not appear to be any other guests and this really is not a place for passing trade so I decided to dine slightly earlier than I usually would to give chef an early night. It wasn’t difficult to order as I had been sitting chatting to him and I didn’t need a menu as he already knew what I was having.
Off he went to the kitchen and beckoned me to come with him which I obviously did. He produced from the fridge two gorgeous looking fish steaks although what particular species they were I had no idea. He fired everything up and started creating his magic which was well worth watching. Talk about Chef’s Table, you would pay a fortune for this in London and, jumping ahead a bit, I doubt any London chef could have done a better job.
I went back to my beer to await the outcome of chef’s labours and, shortly thereafter out he came with a huge plate of chips (fries) and another of condiments. I wondered had he had a touch of the head staggers as the fish was nowhere to be seen but I didn’t like to say anything. Off he went again and produced the other plate you can see, the beautifully cooked fish with another portion of chips that would easily have satisfied me.
Oh dear, I was going to have to make a fairly valiant attempt to get through all this so as not to appear rude. That did not prove to be a problem as it was just so delicious. OK, I didn’t quite finish it but I gave it a damned good try. There is so much to be said about eating simply cooked fresh fish semi-outdoors with the smell of ozone from the sea about 50 yards away. As culinary experiences go, it is hard to beat.
After chef had cleaned down he said he was off home and I began to say my goodbyes but he told me he would be there in the morning to see me off. To this day I do not know if he was doing that specially as I never used to see him in the morning, he worked long enough hours in the afternoon and evening, but that was fine by me. The ever-present Weere was there to provide the necessary liquid sustenance.
I do recall having my last beer of the evening on my lovely verandah, listening to the utter silence of the Fort at night which was only broken by the sound of the sea which I could see from there and reflecting on my time in Matara. I crawled into my canopied bed for the last time and wondered where I would be laying my head the next night. No, I still had not decided where I was going, just that I was.
If you want to find out where I decide to go, or indeed if I even do (never a certainty with me), you’ll just have to stay tuned and spread the word.