Sunset Sri Lanka

Trip Start Dec 26, 2013
Trip End Aug 05, 2014

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, February 17, 2014

Continuing our tour of historically important Indian Ocean trading ports, Dennis and I made our way to Galle, which was the main port in Sri Lanka for more than 200 years, and was a popular stopping point for ships traveling between Europe or the Arabian peninsula and East or Southeast Asia. Though eventually eclipsed by Colombo as the country's preeminent port, Galle enjoyed a long period of prominence. As with many ports along the Straits of Malacca, the Portuguese, Dutch and British each laid claim to the city at some point, and each left a cultural legacy.

We arrived in Galle mid-afternoon on February 17, after a particularly difficult 2.5-hour bus ride where we had to share our narrow bench with another person, making us all squished together on a long, sweaty (no A/C on these buses) ride. I don't know how someone with hips any wider could manage on these buses; they are not designed for Western girths. I had the window seat, so could breathe some fresh air, but also felt very penned in as a result. We were relieved when we finally got to Galle, and happier still when we saw how pleasant and picturesque the walled old city is.

The old city, contained within the walls of a fort, feels a bit like a medieval European city plopped down in a beautiful tropical setting--albeit a European city with a mosque and Buddhist temple. The Portuguese built part of the fort in the 16th century, but the Dutch took over in the 17th century and are primarily responsible for the fort and city as it looks today. The fort area is filled with remarkably well-preserved colonial architecture crammed into its lanes and alleys, the smell of abundant spices mixed with the salt spray of the Indian Ocean and the sounds of schoolchildren playing cricket in the wide fields beneath the walls. It sounds cliched, but the World Heritage Site fort really was a feast for the senses. The fort is also notable because it remains a living, working community. Sri Lankan residents have been living there for generations; our guesthouse owner's family has lived within the walls for eight generations. Courts and other government offices continue to operate within the fort, alongside the numerous shops, boutiques and museums that cater to the tourists. We could peek in at judicial proceedings while wandering along the wall.

That first afternoon, however, we spent running errands in the new city, outside the fort's walls. I have to apply for an international driving permit to drive in France and Spain and Brazil, which we didn't realize until a few days ago. I had to get an IDP five years ago in order to drive in Italy (unfortunately the permits are only valid for 12 months), and I just went to my local AAA office where they took care of everything in 10 minutes. It's a lot more complicated when you're already overseas. After three hours of visits to several Internet cafes for printing, a photocopy shop, a photography studio, an envelope shop (yes, an envelope shop) and two trips to the post office, we sent my application off. It *should* arrive in time for my brother to bring it when he joins us in Turkey in April--fingers crossed!

Worn down by the hassles of the bus and tasks, we took it easy that evening and stayed close to our guesthouse. We had a beer on the rooftop deck during sunset, ate delicious seared tuna and rice and curry on the rooftop deck of a restaurant a few doors down and sat on the wall dangling our feet over the ocean in the moonless dark after dinner. 

 We woke up refreshed and ready to spend the day exploring the fort. We started by wandering up and down every street, soaking in the atmosphere of the bustling town, then made our way up to the fort walls and circled the city. The views from the top of the walls, especially at the bastions, were fantastic. And the walls are really impressive in their massiveness--they withstood the 2004 tsunami and left the old city intact, while many people were killed just outside the fort walls. It has been sobering to visit several places in Sri Lanka that faced such devastation from the tsunami nine years ago. You don't see remnants of the destruction today, but you know that it was there, and that thousands of people lost their lives that day. Sri Lanka was hit hard by the tsunami, and in some ways it was damaged doubly, as I read that the post-tsunami turmoil caused the civil war to heat up again, just when it seemed like the country was on the brink of peace. Thousands more lost their lives in the next 4.5 years of war.

We also visited the maritime museum, because that's what we do in these historic Indian Ocean trade route cities. We got gelato (we were so happy to find gelato again!) and went back to relax at the guesthouse until sunset. We climbed back up on the western walls outside our guesthouse a little before sunset, and joined the crowds of locals taking their evening stroll while children splashed in the water and plenty of tourists nestled in for the sunset. After sitting and admiring the sunset, we walked along the walls to a restaurant overlooking the lighthouse for our last rice and curry. We are really going to miss Sri Lankan rice and curry. I've done some online research and it doesn't look like there are any Sri Lankan restaurants in the DC/Baltimore area, but there are occasional pop-up Sri Lankan supper clubs. I'm going to have to keep an eye out for those when we get back home.

We got gelato again (we have really missed ice cream) and eventually headed back to the western fort walls to look out at the ocean at night again. This time, however, the cops busted us. We honestly had no idea we weren't supposed to be on the walls at night--there were no signs or anything, and we had run into another couple on the walls the previous night--but the cops were none too pleased with our presence on the walls. They actually followed us all the way back to our guesthouse to make sure that we really left the walls. We figure we must have been more visible on our second night on the walls; the moon was hiding behind clouds the first night. Chalk that up to our (completely harmless) first run-in with the police on our trip around the world.

February 19 (Day 56), we woke up early and ran a couple of laps around the wall, to the sound of morning marching band practice as the children paraded through the streets. They continued to bang their drums around the streets for the next two hours. I think the sights, sounds and smells of Galle make it feel like a movie set (in this instance, a Wes Anderson movie). We really loved Galle, but after two weeks in Sri Lanka it was time to move on to a new country. We took a tuk tuk to a bus to another bus to a tuk tuk to another tuk tuk to the Colombo airport. As we watched our last Sri Lankan sunset through the airport windows, we bid adieu to this wonderful country with one final Lion Lager--whose slogan, incidentally, is "The Legend Lives On."

Cat Tally: 67
Weddings Tally: 14 (saw a bride and groom getting their photos taken while running around the walls)
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