Trip Start Jan 09, 2005
95Trip End ??? ??, 2007
Tissa, as the locals call it, is the town that most travelers come to spend the night for an early safari ride at Yala Park the next morning. We got the distinct impression that not many foreigners that come to town eat at the places we ate at nor walked the main street like we did. It was nice to be back in an area that charged us what the locals pay for food. We were back eating at places where the servers rushed about making sure you have everything you need, and genuinely wanted you to enjoy the food. It was nice!
There was one night I walked out alone down the main strip (some of which wasn't lit but I had my headlamp) and it was hilarious how many guys were out and about and felt the need to make some comment to me. I didn't feel threatened but I could see how some might if they were alone. Sri Lanka is interesting because it has seen tourism so there are certain things in place and ready for it yet there are certain areas where the culture doesn't seem to accept foreigners lifestyles (especially solo female travelers).
While we didn't spend too much time in Tissa, it was nice to bike outside of town and watch the locals fishing or harvesting rice. When we first arrived we borrowed bikes and explored a little and got invited to watch some guys finishing up their days work with the rice. I love learning how the whole process works but unfortunately, the group didn't speak much English. There was one man that seemed to own a rice field that came out and excitedly explained part of the rice harvesting process but everything was pretty much all finished when we came. It was nice to hang out with some locals even if we didn't understand one another.
Things we checked out:
Yala National Park- I had read in the book we have that Sri Lanka is the next best spot to check out big wildlife after Africa. I tried to not get my hopes up too much since we didn't see much at the park we checked out at back in India. We had an amazing sunrise over the lake and rice patties so I was ready for whatever came our way that day.
We started the day before sunrise so that we would have a better chance of seeing the animals before it got too hot and they hid in the shade. Within about half an hour we saw a HUGE male leopard who just sat right in front of us for over 20 minutes. A smaller female leopard came around and the two began a mating ritual which is pretty much one of the coolest things I've ever seen. We were not the only jeep on a safari though, and there was the constant sound of jeeps pulling up and rearranging themselves so their passengers could get a good view. Eventually the male got scared off by all the noise and the female ran after him.
The rest of the day we continued to be spoiled with all kinds of awesome animal sightings. We saw baby black bears playing around a lake edge eating grub from a fallen tree. A huge spotted brown owl. A hawk, family of elephants and an adorable baby elephant, tons of crocodiles, tons of water buffalo, kingfisher and bee eater birds, horn billed bird, a fox, another leopard, wild boar, and monkeys. There was also a Tsunami memorial for the foreigners and locals that were at the park (most of which were eating at the now gone restaurant). The memorial is really pretty and is basically sheets of metal made to look like waves.
We had tried to get a feel for how the day would play out from the man that sold us the tour (the owner of our guest house). One of the things that was not explained to us was that we would have to wait for 4 hours on a beach with absolutely nothing to do. Had we been told beforehand we would have brought a blanket to sit on so we could be comfortable or a book or something. As always, when we tried to explain that you can't drop people off for 4 hours on a beach with nothing to do as part of the tour we got no where. There were even prisoners working on the landscape with police supervision right in the area we had to wait at.. um something is not right with this picture.
Despite our frustration at being left alone for half the day, we really loved the tour and were more than satisfied with all the amazing wildlife. I don't know how much of an affect all the noise the jeeps make has on the animals... I was surprised at how much noise it took to scare off the leopards so maybe they are used to it. While I'm not sure a full day safari is really necessary, especially at this park with so many animals, we were really glad we did it.
We took a multiple bus ride journey along the beautiful west coast of Sri Lanka to an adorable town called Galle. The sleepy town is built within a fort that amazingly withstood the tsunami. We ended up staying at this really cute place with a garden by the rooms that was right off the wall overlooking the ocean, very peaceful. The owner actually saw the wall of wave 30 meters tall heading towards town during the tsunami and rushed around driving his family up to higher ground as the wave crashed down. It was amazing to hear what he had to say about how the townspeople worked together in the aftermath.
According to our guest house owner, foreigners came into Galle about 15 years ago and started to buy up property. In the beginning Sri Lanka sold the land/property to foreigners and they didn't have to pay any taxes on the purchase at all. Several years after that though, the government changed and all of a sudden foreigners had to pay 100% taxes. Despite several cafes and shops obviously owned by foreigners, the town within the fort is still quite low key and was wonderful for walking around snapping up pictures.
We were dealing with the broken laptop at this point so a lot of the time was spent at a computer shop.. otherwise we were exploring around and checking out town outside the fort. Other than spend your money on upscale food or at one of the really nice gem shops, there isn't too much to do within the fort. Just outside the fort there is a cricket arena and we had been trying to see a match for quite some time but it turns out some of the teammates were injured by a bomb while in Pakistan on a bus so games were canceled during our stay. Beyond the bus stand there is a downtown market an d it is the noisiest, busiest place ever!
Galle will always have a special place in our hearts since it's such an adorable place. We are really glad we were able get to know it now before tourism comes in and changes it forever. It was a great to just sit on the wall and watch the sunset over the ocean below. We loved strolling around inside the fort at night chatting up the locals. I loved talking with the men that worked at the lighthouse since I honestly never knew what their job was. It was also nice to splurge on a delicious meal of fresh fish and banana fritters with vanilla ice cream, yum!
Things we checked out:
Lady Hill- This super upscale hotel on the top of a hill is totally worth checking out just for the view of the town below alone (though it's a pretty cool hotel to check out as well).
Gem Shopping- I am not really a jewelry person but the rings in the shops in the fort are really fun and worth checking out. I went around to several different shops and picked out a few pieces until I met a local that explained all the shops in the fort have to bump up prices to make enough of a profit for when tourism is low. Our new friend sent us to a wholesale shop outside the fort by Lady Hill with unbelievable prices (less than half what I was quoted in the fort).
Fishermen fishing on poles- While we didn't have time to actually get out and talk with the fishermen, we did get to see them in action during our bus rides through the beach towns. They stand on a wooden pole that is dug into the sand in the water so it always stays in place and the footrest is like a t section at the bottom.
Any time we told someone that we were headed to Sri Lanka they always asked if we were going there to surf. Hikkaduwa has one of THE best spots to surf at and it's really amazing to see the surfers ride the huge waves. After shopping around for a decent priced guest house, we finally gave in and stayed at the most expensive place on our trip. It's hard to do anything cheap in Hikkaduwa because anything walking distance is overpriced and targeted at tourists. It wasn't until we tried to take a day trip on a bus that we finally saw the area where the locals hang out and eat at in Hikkaduwa (which was not walking distance).
The tourist strip is really only about a street long though and unfortunately it's the only road to Colombo which means lots of traffic. While it was frustrating that food prices were so high, it was nice to have yummy food options that we hadn't seen in other parts of the country. One of our favorite spots is Roti Restaurant which serves all kinds of gourmet rotis including my favorite; avocado, tomato and cheese, yum (kind of like a crepe)!
Our guest house was right on the beach and coincidently had the best views of the surfers. Not only did we have a prime spot for checking out the surfers, we also heard the waves pounding away in our room which lulled me to sleep. We spent a morning walking up the beach from our guest house and found a huge group of sea urchins just hanging out at the waters edge. We were told that if we continued past the guest houses and went to the big resort we could see a 100 year old sea turtle.
While I'm never a fan of feeing the wildlife, I know sea turtles and their eggs are a hot commodity for soups in Sri Lanka so I didn't feel too bad feeding the huge sea turtle seaweed. There were two pretty large sea turtles that clearly know they can get food if they get close to the resort. As always the guy that found the seaweed and coaxed the turtles up wanted a nice tip which kind of soured the experience (but we saw it coming ;).
While we enjoyed our time in Hikkaduwa I can't imagine going back to that town since there is so little to do there and I don't surf. It was nice to be back near the beach and hear the surf pounding at night, though. While we had planned on having time to check out Colombo before we left our last minute plans to catch a flight to Thailand nixed that idea. We hadn't heard of much going on in Sri Lana for NYE (it's more celebrated with the family at home than out in the streets) so we decided to celebrate in Bangkok. Goodbye Sri Lanka!
Things we checked out:
Kosgoda- This turned out to be a very frustrating and pointless trip. I had been so excited petting the older sea turtles that I wanted to visit a few of the hatcheries that release baby sea turtles into the ocean. The sea turtles have quite a few obstacles they have to avoid before making it safely into the ocean water. There are all kinds of poachers and the hatcheries do their best to try and buy the turtle eggs at a rate slightly above what they would get from a restaurant. There is one specific hatchery that lets visitors release the baby sea turtles at night so that was number one on my list of things to do.
Unfortunately, the skies opened up and a huge rain storm started just as we began our adventure. The man that collects money on the bus didn't understand where we were trying to go and since it was raining so hard we couldn't read any signs. We ended up staying on the bus over an hour out of our way and then had to brave the rain storm without umbrellas to try and get a bus back. We eventually got a mini bus to take us back towards Hikkaduwa but by the time we got back to where the hatcheries are it was too late and they were closed. Lame!
Pix and Video:
Tissa and Yala National Park
Yala National Park - A male leopard stares us down
Galle Fort - Sunset over the Bay of Bengal
Waves crashing on the beach at Hikkaduwa