Colombo, Sri Lanka
Having dragged up the kayaks on land, we took to the seafront for some more relaxing days, eventually ending up in the vibrant capital of Colombo.
On a roll again
With one day less of kayaking, we found ourselves able to explore the west and southwest coastal towns, in particular Unawatuna and Galle. The former was a quaint yet touristy* town with market stalls, dive shops and seafood restaurants. Unfortunately, the season for diving on this part of the island had yet to begin, so the deep would have to wait this time. Instead, we sampled the local seafood at a beachside restaurant on a uniquely non-rainy evening.
An active trip still, we had another go with the two-wheelers. This time, we were presented with Merida BigSeven 300:s, fitted with regular MTB tyres, but the cruise was a fair bit more relaxed than what we had up in the mountains. Down here, almost every conceivable plant of the island can be found. Rice, coconut, papaya, wood-apple, tea, cinnamon, and so forth, and so on. And with a variety of flora comes, as so often, a variety of fauna. Monitors, bats, monkeys, squirrels, and a plethora of birds roamed the area. Taking frequent stops in the scorching heat, we had a full serving of freshly opened king coconut water in the breeze by Koggala Lake. There are 33.000 artificial lakes, but only three natural, Koggala being one of them.
Our fearless tour leader had managed to provide a surprise almost every single day. It had been sampling of local street food, picking tea, a sip of arrak, a wood-apple floater and so on. But this day’s surprise was something extra as we were driven up to a frontyard of a cosy yet elegant house. Greeting us at the entrance was a woman and two little girls, and we were invited to our tour leader’s home by his wife and daughters.
Restaurants hire professional chefs, and their job is to make delicious food. A home cooked meal can, with quality commodities and a nice dollop of tradition, love and care top the finest Michelin efforts. The combination of his mother’s saffron-and-cashew rice and his wife’s various curries was just irresistible.
The sheer Galle
Galle is an old colonial town, first utilised by the Portuguese and later expanded on by the Dutch. The core of the city is its fort, inside of which lies a stroll-friendly shopping and restaurant neighbourhood. We had a guided walk around the bastions, the old gunpowder storage, the light house and the warehouses, passing by several impromptu cricket games**, and ended up on the fortifications for a view of a stunning sunset.
After a few cold ones at the old Dutch hospital, now housing several bars and restaurants, we got in the bus for the last time and arrived in Mt Lavinia a bit too late for dinner.
As Negombo more or less is grown together with Colombo to the North, so is Mt Lavinia to the South. Along the beach, the area draws many visitors, but is considerably more packed than its Northern counterpart. Traffic is intense, and the place is generally a bit shabby. Nevertheless, we had a day without any scheduled activities, so we took a stroll to the laundry place and onwards to the beach. Not dirty by any objective standards, it was still a pretty meh beach. The local police academy had some sort of try-out exercises, both in the water and out of it. Passing a few fooderies that failed slightly to look inviting, we eventually found a nice little place away from the beach, as well as from the bustling traffic.
In addition to laws prohibiting serving alcohol on election days*** and frowning upon doing it on Sundays, the Island of Random Booze Laws also forbids its serving on days of full moon, between 14 and 17. So, one has to wonder: does the definition of full moon nights follow the werewolf logic, in which the fullest moon night and the one before and the one after qualify? Presumably so, since we encountered the same hurdle the next day. But if so, shouldn’t the ban instead be at night, when the full moon is actually out for all to see? I know that the moon is out during the day as well, but it’s not clearly visible, and we’re not exactly being logical here, are we****?
The Island of Random Booze Laws also forbids its serving on days of full moon
The owner of this particular establishment needed no significant convincing to realise the non-sequitur nature if the weird-ass law, and found it in his heart to wave it, which of course made the lunch even tastier.
The tour was nearing its end. We had already said our goodbyes to the drivers and his all-purpose right hand man (bearing a slight resemblance to Morpheus actor Laurence Fishbourne), and now it was time for the farewell dinner. I had seen the empty cans threwn about, but I had yet to try Lion Stout. So far, the only choice had been Lion Lager, so it was a nice change of pace, and it went great with the fish and the laughs we had. Eventually we went our separate ways, and Caroline and I headed to the capital, after the final breakfast.
A highly recommended app is PickMe, an Uber-style app for ordering transport. With prices being presented right there in the app, as well as ETA and live positioning, it gives clear options. That particular day, few cars were available, but plenty of tuktuks instead, and eventually we sat in that most iconic of South Asian vehicles on our way to Colombo.
I wouldn’t say that the Sri Lankan capital is of ill repute. It’s just that it is huge, with insane amount of traffic, no public transport, and precious little to see and do. There are gems, for sure, but, like dredging the muddy bottom of Kalu Ganga, it’s not really worth the effort, especially in comparison to how beautiful and laid-back the rest of the country is. One day was plenty. Our hotel was very nice, fresh and well maintained, and we found a real cool restaurant were they served delicious South Asian food and even deliciousier South Asian desserts. Unfortunately, they were stark proponents of the Werewolf approach to beer serving, so we had to stay dry.
After a night of rather restless sleep (whatever construction work/demolition/nuclear tests they were doing just outside our hotel window all through the night would put old Soviet industrial complexes to shame), and a yummy brekkie at the roof terrace, we PickMe:ed ourselves to the airport, leaving Sri Lanka behind, and bringing all the memories, the sights, and the flavours. Stuti!
End of kayaking . But still wet. We got to change in the company of an unruly (but friendly) gang of chicken. The rooster kept a close eye on us as well. But the cutest of our watchers were the little puppies. Small, black and very well kept. No community dogs here. Only small, collared sweet little dogs. I melted. We ended up in a quaint little seaside town catering primarily to surfers, divers and Russian sun worshippers. We saw some abandoned houses along the way. Houses that had belonged to families wiped out by the tsunami…. It put a sombre glow to the otherwise glorious day. A lunch, a shower and a nap later we were ready to hit the town. (I guess I would have preferred to the order of shower, lunch and then nap. But the company was just as marinated in Black River water as I plus we were the only ones in the hotel restaurant so I soon forgot about my rather hoboesque appearance. The chairs were soft and oh so soothing for my tender derrière.
We had a lovely bike ride. The heat was a bit rough but our fantastic guide had organised plenty of refreshments. I finally got to have my fresh king coconut drink. Happy life. An then we got to met the family of our fearless guide. They invited a bunch of strangers into their home. The little girls were initially very shy but after a nice get to know each other the sang beautifully for us. Our fine guides wife and mother had spent the morning cooking a wonderful meal for us. I were touched beyond words. So sweet, so generous and so tasty. A privilege, and an honour.
The beautiful old town of Galle and more accurately Fort Galle got a proper walk trough. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the Brits and of course the Lankese had all put their stamp on the small peninsula. A touristy place but at the same time a home to many. It had a nice feel of authentic mixed with the touristy notes. After a lovely sunset we left the fort to drive up north to our final destination, Mount Lavinia. A suburb to Colombo. I did not like it as much as Negombo. It was loud, dirty and well, i longed back to the highlands. But as all adventures go, we had to finish this one. A group of strangers had become a lovely group of co-travellers. It was nice to have shared this adventure together but now it was time to leave.
My partner and co-conspirator took the tuktuk to spend the last night in Colombo before going to the next leg of our adventure. Bye Sri Lanka. We’ll be back some day.
*) Judging by the many posters and signs using Cyrillic, the majority of the tourists are Russian
**) Many of whom had the batter skilfully, yet irresponsibly, hitting the ball out from whichever patch of grass, parking lot or whatever served as the cricket ground and into the surrounding traffic
***) Unless, of course, if cleverly concealed in a tea pot