You sure got a lot of Galle!

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End Mar 25, 2009

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A friendly smile with no malice
a rickshaw driver who does not ask
a local bus for a few rupees to Galle
Bluer and cleaner water.

A yellow coconut full of juice
Wind making waves too choppy to surf
pink table cloth in motion.

A tiny striped squirrel among the rafters
sheet metal clacking
A crow hoarsly calling
Constant waves.

Palm trees lean out as if reaching for the sea
Rock and reef distant in the ocean haze
Mildewed semi-doric columns
support concrete lintels.

Mandala shadows on the floor.

Alright, enough of bad image-producing poetry, on to the story. Our "crew" hopped the local bus to Galle, some 20 kilometers away yesterday. Now, I don't know if you have ever been on the local bus, but firstly, take the maroon/red ones, they are run by the government, and have the best price. Secondly, hold on to your hat! The red ones are the fastest ones as well, overtaking everything in sight, on curves, over bridges, in the riskiest situations. But you will get there fastest for sure. 19 rupees as well, about 15 cents american. Not too bad a price when a van or rickshaw driver will charge you at least a thousand.
The prices have gone up here in Sri Lanka a bit, or at least on this coast. It being the wrong season, I will not go up to the hill country or to Arugam bay this time round. In fact, I have just paid all my rent up until the day I leave for my room at the Surfing Beach guest house. It's all about the view. And the coffee. Mama makes the best cuppa joe I've had since I left home, and somehow she knows exactly how I like it, I mean, like perfectly. The coffee is ground fine, and added to the water, so you have to give it a minute to settle (kind of like a good stout), but oh yes, so heavenly! Two cups of that stuff (and big cups too, mind you, not the tiny Indian style milk coffee size), and one is ready to go!

So back to Galle. Apparently Sri Lanka was originally "controlled" by the Portugese, then taken over by the Dutch, who lost it to the English for some time. All of those elements still remain, but it is the portugese heritage that seems to stick out the most. Many people have portugese surnames, there are a fair number of christians, and in places like Galle, the architecture reflects the taste of the original "conquerors." I put this in quotes, because just as the British found out the hard way, you cannot actually conquer such a people. You may get them to grow tea and spices for you, but in the end, the culture remains with the natives, the people taking what they like from the invaders, and discarding the rest.
Galle Fort, of course is the main attraction for most people visiting the town. It is probably a couple of kilometers in circumference, and in the interior is a little village housing any number of antique, gem, coin, and history "museums" that one can stroll around in. The lanes are narrow, and offer some protection from the blazing Lankan sun, that is if you walk on the shady side of the street.
We five did first the circumnavigation of the whole fort, discovering another unexpected facet of the fort's function: a hideaway for young lovers. We saw any number of young Sri Lankan couples in the small spots of shade under a doorway or even an umbrella, doing what they would call in the old days "necking." Though SL is a bit more permissive in a sexual manner than India, it still is not all that acceptable for young couples to flagrantly display such intimacy in public. In most countries of course, sucking face in public is merely considered rude, but here in this south asian island, it is simply unacceptable, and may be even illegal, according to some signs we saw forbidding "illicit" and "licentious" behaviour. So I guess the young lovers are consigned to the back corners and dark archways of the fort for any kind of flirtation. Perhaps it is young couples on honeymoon, perhaps they are not yet married, who knows? I'm not the one to break up a tender moment to ask such a personal question. Let them have their fun. .

The walk around the fort's perimeter offers magnificent views of the ocean, rocky reefs, the harbor and river, as well as, of course the cricket stadium built fairly recently next to it on the cityside. Cooler breezes blow in from the blue blue sea, and as with any tourist destination, there are touts. Coins which ostensibly come from wrecks, colonial times, and earlier are sold by men patrolling the ramparts. One rang a coin to show that with its bell-like tone it was silver. However when such a coin is in your palm, anyone who has held an old silver dollar can easily tell it is some other alloy, perhaps even brass with a silver plating. Others are all worn and copper, another easy thing to fake. With the exorbitant prices requested by these dubious vendors, I would urge even the most dedicated numismatist to have a second thought before shelling out real money for fake.
Of course there are also the usual old ladies selling everything from beads to shells to "hand woven" bracelets, but perhaps the most lucrative business goes to the cliff-divers. Apparently for 500 rupees, one of a number of young fellows will make 3 jumps from about 20 meters into a small deep spot in the coral-encrusted shoals for you to photograph or video. Take care not to snap a shot when someone else pays though, or you may be also asked to contribute. 3 or 4 jumps per day, and the guy is making a good living by sri lankan standards, and down below there are many more youngsters swimming around, climbing the cliff and jumping from lesser heights for practice. It is highly possible that, the pool being so small and the jump out and down so far that there may be a high turnover in such an occupation, so when one goes, the next one comes up a step on the cliff until his own luck changes. . .
There is a lighthouse, chapel, and many other old colonial structures within the walls, the small village being a destination for many a pasty and overweight package tourist to spend a night or two. The antique apparatus of the english, dutch and portugese still on display in many shops and the mansion "museum" which is a combination actual museum and shop is quite interesting, especially the gem cutting and polishing, and the furniture caning and carving which goes on in the courtyard. As is proper with many Sri Lankans, you can go in and have a look, and they do not pressure you to firmly to buy anything. If you walk out without spending money, they will still bid you a good day, and mean it.

Walking in the hot sun is hard work, so after walking the fort, wandering the village within, and walking through the passageway toward the bus stand, there are a number of vendors selling chicken and rice, vegetable rice, or similar in the shade. A very good value, and delicious. If you don't like "spicy" though, be careful of the small bag of red sauce. It has a tendency to burn not only on the way in, but on the way out as well.

The rest of the story will be in the pictures, as it is almost time to take my longboard and go out to catch the afternoon swells. I hope you are all warm wherever you are, especially you who are stuck back in the north country.
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starlagurl on

Why didn't you ask them...
If they were married? Inquiring minds NEED to know!


bloomer on

Not sure. . .
if they were married. I think it's all a little clandestine, but nowhere near as repressed as India. . .

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