We got as far as Aluthgama, about half way to Galle where the train stopped (apparently they were re-doing the track for the rest of the way). The locals piled out in a hurry. Bloody hell, first time we'd seen anyone rush - and then we found out why. One local bus meets each train, and goes on to Galle.......but the bus can't take everyone from the train, so those that take their time getting off , ie us and another few tourists, get stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to negotiate with the three wheeler drivers to get us to Galle
. It was actually a good move as our eventual three wheeler driver, good bloke that he was, turned it into a little tour. We'd wanted to get to a turtle hatchery and found a great privately run one relying on donations to try to boost turtle numbers. Locals have traditionally eaten the eggs and as parts of the west coast get more built up (just north is a parade of package holiday resorts favoured by Germans on what used to be the turtle's home ground) they lose the quiet dark beaches they need to lay eggs. The Centre do some excellent work - they saved a couple of the big turtles that would not be able to survive on their own during the tsunami by picking them out of their tanks and running off into the high ground with them. As well as hatching and releasing the babies, they look after the blind or deformed turtles, including an albino that would be too easily picked off by sharks. This area marked the beginning of where the tsunami hit Sri Lanka on Boxing Day 2004. While Indonesia seemed to the major coverage in many countries, almost 50,000 people died and almost 400,000 people were displaced in Sri Lanka. One woman had set up her home as a photo museum of the effects of the tsunami and she told of what happended to her village and the country as a whole. 1,500 people died when the tsuami hit a moving train travelling along the coast. Many people jumped onto the train quite reasonably thinking it would offer them protection. It rolled the train carriages and turned the tracks into mangled metal, such was the force. The sea went out to the horizon, and some people went to the beach to look at the sight or collect fish, while others sensed the danger and tried to run, though few were a match for a 10m high body of water that just kept coming and coming. As well as graphic images, there were dozens of young kids drawings of their memories, dead people with no heads hanging out of trees, bodies flating by the remains of houses. To think so many children saw such horrific images was very sobering, and the museum to be honest was pretty upsetting
We arrived in Galle and stayed in a lovely little place in the old fortressed town. Galle was an old Dutch fort town built in the 1660s and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ironically while the new part of town was heavily damaged by the tsunami - the pictures of buses turned end over end at the bus station were unbelievable - the almost 400 year old fort wall protected the old town and minimised damage to the old Dutch architecture inside. Its a quaint little place though quiet, and wandered the lanes and walked round the tops of the fort walls, and cruised around the markets. Much of the accommodation on the inside had always been mid to top end, even back in the British colonial times, though speaking to local business owners, numbers were way down this year. Normally tourist numbers filled the hotels and guest houses to capacity at this time of year, bu this year was a different story. Seemed the economic situation in Europe had pretty far reaching effects.
We left Mt Lavinia on the train for Galle next morning. Train travel still has some of the appealing old Britishness about it - the station masters in their crisp uniforms, the old thick cardboard tickets handprinted and punched on a 50 year old machine.........and usually late! But who cares, we're on holiday. Apparently the lateness of the trains are measured in fractions of a day - quarter day late, half day late etc - yes, just like the old British railways!