Gem Shops, Touts and Crappy Museums

Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
Trip End Aug 15, 2012

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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Southern,
Thursday, August 18, 2011

by Karl 

People come to Galle to visit the huge Dutch fort. I've walked around the town itself but there is not much to see unless you like endless rows of gem shops. If you arrive by bus or train then you are opposite the fort so you don’t have to go far to visit it. The fort itself is very imposing and if its message was to convey that the Dutch weren’t leaving, then it did its job well. The walls are massive and thick- no amount of bombardment would get through those walls!!! The guide book said that the Dutch governor who built the fort was such a swine to the locals that the Dutch themselves took him away and executed him. Now that’s a bad piece of work if your own side will execute you!!!

The fort covers a large area and there is a little town inside. It still has kept its colonial character and reminds me of Penang in Malaysia. Churches and schools are dotted around the fort. The fort is a nice walk- tiny streets and quaint little houses packed together. As I walked around I looked into some of the tourist boutique hotels and they looked very nice- much nicer than anything I’d seen so far in Sri Lanka and they also looked expensive. So no chance Kat and I will be staying there!!!

We wanted to go the archaeology museum yet somehow ended up in the Maritime museum (300 LKR each plus extra for the camera). I really enjoy archaeology and history and it is Kat's and my passion after curry and beer. I was looking forward to viewing Galle's maritime history and the many ships, wrecks and battles that this coast must have seen in its many thousands of years of history. There must have been notorious pirates who raided the coasts, huge sea battles as the British and Dutch fought for control of the country and the many trading vessels that made the dangerous journey from Sri Lanka to Europe with hulls full of tea and exotic spices. Inside is one room with a skeleton of a whale, a ship's steering wheel, an exhibit of a fishing village, a description of the various coastal ecosites and some photos of the 2004 tsunami. What a rip!!! I even started looking around for the other rooms I obviously must have missed- nope, that was it. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but it seems lame for 300 LKR. Plus you had to pay extra for a camera- why would you want to take a picture of anything in here? It was all crap.

(Kat: I was really confused looking at the before & after pictures from the Tsunami, until I realized that the "before" pictures were North side up and the "after" pictures were South side up!)
We visited the old Dutch church as well. At least it was free. While the church wasn’t much to look at you could read the gravestones and see just how hard and precarious life was for the first Europeans. There was one grave of a 17 year old girl who had died of a fever after two days. What can kill you in two days? Half the people seemed to of died on the way to Sri Lanka. Holy crap!!! If you reached 30 years of age, then you were exceptionally lucky. It reminded of Penang which had three governors in four years.

One scam that seems to be popular in Galle is one where a man approaches you and, after asking you which hotel you are staying at, announces that he is the cook there. He then adds that his wife is very sick and needs money for medicine (can you loan him the money and he will pay you back at the hotel). Needless to say, the man is not a cook from your hotel and you shouldn’t give him anything. I told the guy to bugger off and he just went to the tourist behind me and tried the scam on him. That’s what I call shameless persistence.

Out of all the places we visited in Sri Lanka I would say Galle was the most "touty". By touty I mean that touts were trawling the tourists for the naive or stupid to pay whatever inflated prices for handicrafts or gems they thought they could get away with. Having been through India it’s still pretty low key but by Sri Lanka standards there is definitely pressure from touts to buy from their stores. In the north “no” means “no” but the touts in Galle will keep at you if you let them. How do I know this you ask? You name it and I’ll fall for it- a special one day sale, a great view from the roof, the only handicraft/gem show with no commission and a cat with kittens. Naive I may be, but stupid I am not- and even though I look at all the rings, necklaces, devil masks, hand carved elephants and giant Buddhas, I never buy a thing. It drives them nuts!!! The manageress at my hotel said it was because I had an innocent and trusting face but I think it’s really because I look like a complete idiot most of the time- I’m either completely lost or tripping over something.

(Kat: It's 'cuz we look like fat wealthy North Americans, at least when our clothes are clean and pressed....)

So- Galle was fun but we were very happy to head back to our hotel in Unawatuna at the end of the day, for some peace and quiet at Nooit Gedacht!  
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