Good day one and all and a warm welcome to you, I really do appreciate you taking the time to read my efforts here. I’ll start with my usual word of advice that this post is one of a series about my Sri Lanka 2014 trip but you may well have guessed that from the title.
Sadly #25 does not indicate my 25th visit to that lovely country nor even that I was aged 25 when I was there – I wish! If you wish to read the story in it’s entirety you may do so here, and if you already have, then please read on.
12th February, 2014.
I awoke reasonably early in my comfortable room in the Serein Beach Hotel where I had slept very well. The sun was already up but it was nice to sit on the balcony for a smoke and watch the day beginning whilst looking out over the Indian Ocean. I am correct when I say that this time as the Laccadive Sea had been left behind on the bus journey from Matara the previous day and technically I was looking out over the Bay of Bengal (which is part of the Indian Ocean), strange as that may sound.
I was just about looking out over it as Point Dondra, where we visited the lighthouse a couple of posts ago marks the Southern extremity of that Bay so I was only about 20 miles inside it. I am learning a lot about oceanography writing this series! No doubt I’ll bore you with some facts and figures at a future date but for now I’ll let you enjoy the view.
In my usual fashion, I had no plans for the day but I thought a walk into town and a look round might be a good idea so after my breakfast coffee I set off down the upaved road outside the hotel. I passed the first of the many mangrove-fringed lagoons that are so common along this stretch of coast. The something a little startling happened. You can see what it was and read about my thoughts about it from my contemporaneous notes below.
Beware the serpent.
I realise that I live in a very cossetted environment. I come from Northern Ireland and I believe there are no indigenous snakes on the island of Ireland. The legend would have it that they were banished by St. Patrick but a more likely explanation is something to do with the last Ice Age and the fact that they just didn’t get that far. I now live in England and the chances of running into a snake are remote except in very specific areas where we have adders and vipers, mostly on the South coast of the country.
In Sri Lanka, however, like most Asian countries, they are a fact of life and, often, of death regrettably.
I should say at this point that in the three months I spent in that wonderful country, I only saw one snake, and here is an image of the creature. I was walking along the beach road (for which read track) in Tangalle one day and very nearly trod on the poor animal. The fact that I was wearing flip-flops (thongs) at the time did nothing for my peace of mind. He or she, I am no herpetologist, scared the living daylights out of me.
Fortunately, I had the wit to remember what I had read and remained totally silent, moving very slowly and deliberately away from it. I believe that snakes are actually very private creatures and will not attack unless cornered or provoked. Well, at least that is what I was hoping against hope!
Looking at it now from thousands of miles away it is a wonderful creature but I would rather look at it behind very strong glass.
The image might look reasonably close but, believe me, it was at a great remove and using the extreme zoom function of my compact camera, I really am no Bear Grylls. OK, this is a fairly jokey tip but snakes are a major problem in Sri Lanka. I quote this from a reputable website, “More people die of
snakebite in Sri Lanka than in any other comparable area”. I have
no idea what this particular serpent was and if any reader could assist me as to it’s species I would be most obliged and provide suitable acknowledgement here.
All I can say is that it was a, shall we say, “interesting” experience but on a serious note do have a read of what to do in the case of snakebite in Sri Lanka, you may be some time away from medical facilities. Snakes are a very real problem here and although, as I stated, they are generally fairly secretive creatures you need to know what to do if you encounter one. No point looking for the guidebook when you have been bitten”!
Strangely, the anguine encounter had not really frightened me which surprised me on reflection as I continued walking. I thought I would have been scared witless under such circumstances but I somehow remembered what to do, did it and everything ended happily for man and beast.
A bit of a walk brought me into town which was very lively as the images show. It is a settlement of just over 70,000 people and apart from the fairly advanced tourist industry which I was taking advantage of, it has one of the biggest fishing fleets in Southern Province which was to prove very useful on the eating front.
Perhaps the most notable resident of Tangalle is Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa, current Prime Minister and former President of Sri Lanka although presumably he is living in the Prime Minister’s residence in Colombo now. He first entered Parliament in 1970, seven years before qualifying as a lawyer and, apart from a period between 1994–2001 when he was a minister, he continued to practice law in Tangalle.
I do not know how many times I have mentioned the 2004 tsunami before and I know I shall do so many more times before this series is finished but there really is no escaping it, heartbreaking as it is.
Although I do not read Sinhalese I do not need to as it is fairly obvious by context but also because the date is shown in Western numbers which led me to wonder, as I had done before, about this phenomenon. Sinhalese is a unique script derived from the Brahmic script of Northern India but it does not appear to have numbers or else why would they use “Western numerals”? Obviously, I had to look it up and I’ll tell you.
There were specific Sinhalese numerals in use until 1815 and the fall of the Kandyan kingdom, after which the old system was mainly used for horoscopes. Interestingly, what I have just referred to as “Western numerals” are known to etymologists as Hindu–Arabic numerals which I only just found out and I shall refrain form my usual comment.
Whatever way it is written this memorial commemorates 41 lives cruelly snatched by a wall of water which obliterated everything in it’s path. I have no idea why the name of poor Flory Joelle Berger, aged only two, was apparently added later. As usual when I see these memorials I was a little sombre as I continued my walk.
I did try to find something, anything of interest in the town but it appears to be very much a modern, commercial sort of place and unusually for me I found neither temple, church, mosque, museum or even post box to look at and if you don’t understand the reference to the postbox you’ll just have to read back through my previous posts!
In the absence of any sights / sites in the urban area there was only one thing to do and that was to head to the beach, at least I knew that was good. Off I went, flip-flops off and started walking back out of town, vaguely towards my hotel although I had no intention of returning there just yet.
I have noted often here that I am not a huge fan of beaches per se. I love the sea but the idea of spending whole days lying on a beach frying myself really does not appeal. There is, however, something almost primevally enjoyable about feeling warm sand between your toes. I know it is such a cliché but it is true.
It helps if the beach you are on is virtually deserted and spotlessly clean which was the case here. I was a little surprised about the lack of people as this is supposedly high season for tourists but I was not complaining.
All this walking in the hot sun had the desired effect and so it was eventually time for a very belated breakfast beer, more properly a brunch beer I suppose, and there is no shortage of venues along the beach. The first place I came upon after my beer decision was the Ibis guesthouse and in I went.
As had been my experience all morning and indeed just about everywhere since I had left Colombo, the bar / restaurant area was completely deserted. I could understand this if everyone had gone to the beach but they hadn’t, I’d just been there!
I really do not know if the country was still suffering a very long hangover from the civil war and tourists were still reluctant to visit or if there was some other reason but I saw precious few of them all along the coast. I saw far more in the inland areas, places like Kandy and Ella. On the evidence of what I had seen thus far I was surprised there was a tourist “industry” at all.
There was no problem getting a beer which was Lion and not, as the cool holder suggests, Bintang which surprised me a little. A few years previously I had spent some time in Indonesia where Bintang (literally star) is the national beer even if it is brewed by Heineken.
I had had some great days and nights on that stuff, not least when I ended up playing with the Wina Café house band in Kalibikbuk and usually crashing out with the band on the drum riser on sleeping mats because I could not be bothered to walk home to my beach hut. Ah, the memories but back to Sri Lanka.
It was very pleasant just sitting in splendid isolation watching the waves breaking gently on the sand so a second pseudo-Bintang was called for. Looking around a bit, it appeared that the Ibis was in the middle of quite a little cluster of establishments of the beach bar / restaurant variety and I could see another one not 100 yards along the beach. Well, it would be rude not to and it was to prove the find of my short time in Tangalle. Here’s what I wrote which more or less describes the rest of my day.
Stunning location, excellent food.
“There are a number of excellent little eateries along the beach East of the lagoon and I certainly didn’t try all of them in the short time I was in Tangalle. I did, however, find this place relatively early and returned for more than one meal as the food really was so good.
The location is picture postcard perfect as you can see from one of the images here with views of a fairly deserted white sand beach fringed by palm trees and lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. As places to have a meal go, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.
The next thing to mention is the service which was always prompt and extremely friendly. Whilst friendliness seems to be a national characteristic in Sri Lanka, prompt service is perhaps not their strongest suit so this was a pleasant change.
Initially I had only popped in here for a beer on my barefoot walk along the beach as the sun was high and very hot and I thought I could do with a rest and something cold. Yes, I know, a barefoot walk along a tropical beach, how clichéd is that?
I had picked Little Pumpkin more or less at random but it was the genuine warmth of the welcome (and later the fresh seafood) that kept me there. Within minutes I was laughing and joking with the staff, comparing tattoos and so on. Don’t worry, tattoos are not obligatory, although I did see a few about.
I was sitting enjoying the view and a Lion lager, watching the people splashing about in the water which brings me back to an earlier point ((in a previous post)). It looks lovely but be careful, it can be very dangerous to swim here and I won’t labour the point.
Whilst happily in somewhat of a little dream world, one of the waiters wandered over with the plate of raw crustacean you can see in one of the images. To my shame, I don’t actually know what they are. The are not lobster and they are far too big for prawn so I am guessing some sort of crayfish perhaps.
Whatever their scientific classification, they looked absolutely delicious and he enquired if I would like some. I replied that it was far too early for me to eat and also that I needed to go back to my hotel and freshen up whereupon he informed me that he was only enquiring if I would like to reserve some of them for the evening as he said they might sell out. Looking at them, that didn’t surprise me at all and I duly put my name on a couple of them. I asked what time the kitchen closed and he told me 2300 hours which is quite late by Sri Lankan standards, so another plus point.
I wandered off and returned later, suitably sluiced down and refreshed, had another couple of beers and decided it was time to eat. In the early evening the restaurant was absolutely crowded and I would suggest that pre-booking is essential particularly if you have a large party. As a solo traveller, they managed to fit me in OK. ((This was about the only restaurant of my whole road trip where I would recommend a reservation)).
Then came the next hurdle when the waiter asked how did I want my crustaceans cooked. Frankly, I had no idea as I wasn’t even sure what the things were and so I told him to let chef get on with whatever he thought was best and did add the comment that I could eat spicy food (sometimes in Sri Lanka they seem afraid of burning the mouths off Westerners). With a cheery, “Certainly Sir, no problem” off he went. I suspect he was glad that I was letting chef get on with whatever suited him and wasn’t making strange requests.
I sat back, drank in the atmosphere (and another beer), waited a not unreasonable time considering the number of diners, and it duly arrived. Chef had excelled himself.
The first thing I noticed was that there were three of the beasts on the plate. When the waiter had offered them earlier, I thought that was just a display plate and that one or perhaps two would have been the portion but no, there were three on the plate as you can see. I certainly wasn’t going to go hungry.
Next item on the agenda was to try the sauce which I would describe as being what Sri Lankans called a “devilled sauce” and the best way I can describe it is to liken it to a Chinese sweet and sour sauce but more sour than sweet and with a definite chilli kick to it. This version of it was possibly the best I ate in three months in the country, it was perfectly balanced and whilst there was certainly enough chilli in it to wake up the taste buds it was not ludicrously hot. It was served with a delightfully fresh tomato and onion salad and a small bowl of rice.
There is only one way to eat these things and so I dived in with the fingers. I have been lucky enough to have eaten some wonderful seafood in various countries but this has to rank up there with the best of them. It was so fresh, so sweet, so tender and so beautifully cooked that it was exactly what you spend time and money on long-haul travel for.
I assure the reader that I am not being paid by this establishment, nor do I have any connection to them. I always try to write accurate and honest tips and I genuinely did rate the food this highly.
Had I been in London, I would happily have paid a lot of money for this meal although in the event I paid 1200LKR for the meal which is a bit more than I was normally paying but, in context, equates to about £6 or perhaps $10US which I reckon is excellent value in anyone’s book.
So impressed was I that I returned the next night ((I’ll deal with that in the next post)).
If seafood is not your thing, the menu offers up the usual suspects of sandwiches, breakfasts and other Western food as well as rice and curry etc. but I really do recommend you go for the seafood as it is very, very good.
An absolute must in Tangalle”.
That is what I thought, that is what I wrote and, even now I am salivating looking at the images. A couple more beers and it was time for the very short walk home and with all the sea air, good food and beer I can tell you that I did not need much rocking to get to sleep.
In the next post I’ll tell you about my next meal in the Little Pumpkin and then we shall be back on the road. If you want to find out where just stay tuned and spread the word.