Galle and the 2004 tsunami
Trip Start Aug 12, 2011
9Trip End Aug 22, 2011
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After they had gone on the jet skis we decided to do the hour boat ride up the Bentota River
We were taken into a Mangrove Lagoon where we could see Fruit Bats hanging in the trees. You had to watch the branches as some of them came pretty close to you as you sat in the boat. It was an amazing place to float into the mangroves amidst the tangled roots and vines that hang down. The coolness offered by the trees was a welcome relief to the hot sun and because it was quite dark the waters looked almost inky black in colour.
We had seen quite a few kites being flown since we had been in Sri Lanka but it was quite a surprise to see a Union Jack one on the boat trip. There it was floating over the river but we couldn’t see who was flying it. It just seemed rather surreal.
Sri Lanka is an important place for turtles and our next stop was one of the many turtle hatcheries in the area. There are five species that visit Sri Lankan shores, Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and the Olive Ridley sea turtle. The hatcheries pay people to bring the eggs to them and they are then hatched in the safety of the hatchery. There are mixed feelings about these hatcheries as many feel that the natural process of imprinting is lost as they are immediately transferred to tanks where they swim continuously so that the likes of me and other visitors can come and watch them. We were shown some one day old turtles in a tank and I wondered whether this was good practice, but surely when they are released they must still have a greater chance of survival than naturally. I think the jury is out on that one.
We were shown albino turtles who could never be released; incredibly the shell is so thin he was able to tickle it. He also showed us some handicapped turtles that couldn’t be released in the wild either. One was blind and another only had two well formed legs.
From here as we got closer to Galle we saw more and more ruins of houses destroyed in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. We stopped off at the Tsunami Memorial a huge statue of Buddha donated by the Japanese government. It struck me as deeply ironic that 7 years later they would have their own devastating tsunami. It has been built on the site of a huge mass grave believed to contain 800 bodies. It also commemorates the Galle to Colombo train swept away in a huge 18ft wave when the tsunami struck, killing 1,700 people. It was almost inconceivable.
The Dutch influence in Galle is unmistakable here with the Galle Fort one of the best preserved colonial sea fortresses in Asia
The museum is housed in an old Dutch house that has been fully restored and contains an eclectic collection of items. Everything from old cameras, to pottery, guns and lamps, even a collection of record players complete with old LPS!. Most of it was either Dutch or British and I even spotted a pair of plates depicting a very young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. As we made our way through we watched a couple of craftsmen polishing and shaping gems by hand. At the end there was a gem shop and of course although the museum was free there was the catch as they hoped you would buy something from them. Actually I found a lovely pair of moonstone earrings and was persuaded to buy an equally lovely moonstone pendant. The moonstone is lovely as you get that marvelous blue shimmer known as 'adularescence’ when you move the stone around
We walked around the Fort ramparts and looked out at the beautiful sea views. The heritage value of the fort has been recognized by the UNESCO and the site has been inscribed as a cultural heritage UNESCO World Heritage Site. There were large rocks out to sea and the waves crashed against them. An old clock tower dating from the eighteenth century is an important landmark. From here we could see the Galle cricket ground reconstructed after the tsunami that destroyed it. We also had great views of the port. Many of the buildings were damaged in the tsunami but the walls of the fort did help to keep out some of the sea water and it seems incredible that it was able to withstand the force of the water.
Back at the hotel it was a beautiful evening with a fantastic sunset and as I looked out on the Indian Ocean I tried to imagine the horrors of seven years ago and found it very difficult to imagine just what it would have been like.