Day thirteen: Historical Galle Fort and turtle hatchery centre
After breakfast continue your coastal drive towards Galle, well known for its fort (UNESCO HERITAGE SITE). This old city, built by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century, is the intersection where classic Dutch architecture meets a tropical setting, creating a vivid atmosphere in beauty. Galle Lighthouse stands proudly on the southeast tip of the fort.
Afterwards you will travel to Kosgoda to visit the Turtle Hatchery Center. Both locals and international volunteers are battling for the protection of sea turtles since they are endangered creatures. This vibrant tourist destination sitting calm along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, apart from its traditional fishing industries and cinnamon cultivations, was later recognised by the Wildlife Protection Society, which studded the region with a Sea Turtle Conservation Project that operates on a formidable scale.
In the evening, you will relax at your beach hotel in Hikkaduwa, a typical tourist trail beach destination, where you can laze on the sand and soak up the sun. Hikkaduwa is also popular with young and independent travellers who are drawn to the nightlife and surfing. There is a wide range of activities that can be enjoyed here, such as diving, snorkelling, and a boat safari at Madu River.
Sometimes a simple incident can turn into something so bad that you are unable to do anything but watch with horror before attempting to fix the situation, but knowing deep down that your pleas for fairness have fallen on deaf ears. That is what happened to us this morning.
We plan our strategy over breakfast. We will ask to be taken to tonight’s hotel, some twenty kilometres from Galle, then we will return to Galle and spend the entire day exploring the ancient fortified city. But like all well-planned events, a spanner is thrown into the works almost immediately. But first things first.
We leave our beautiful room reluctantly, as, despite its isolation, we’ve had a lovely stay at Sooriya Resort. We are independent travellers, managing our suitcases without requiring assistance, but as we leave our room, one of the cleaning staff directs her young charge, a teenage lad, to assist us. Bringing over a trolley, he packs our cases onto it and accompanies us down in the lift then proceeds to the reception area, which is in a separate building. Tom walks with him over to the car, which our driver has parked near the entrance whilst I check out.
The bellboy materialises from somewhere. He’s not a boy. He’s a middle-aged man and he heads straight for the young man who is now placing our suitcases into the boot of the car. Grabbing one of the cases, he tries to push the young man out of the way. Tom steps in and asks the bellboy (I hate calling him that) to go away. As I’m completing my transaction at reception, the bellboy/man stands at the reception desk in a location where he can see the entire lobby area. Tom follows the young lad and gives him a tip. The bellboy/monster chases the boy and demands the tip right in front of our eyes. Tom steps in again and asks the bell creep to go away. He, in turn, chases the boy around a corner. Heaven only knows whether that boy is being beaten up. Turning to the staff member at the reception desk, we ask him to step in to ensure that the boy gets his money. I’m gobsmacked when all we get as a response is a head bobble.
We are not only disappointed with the behaviour of the staff, but are unsure whether that boy got a beating for simply doing as he was directed by his own superior. I understand there is a pecking order, but the young lad had only carried out a task as instructed, and his gratuity should be his own. This incident, which has already been reported through Trip Advisor, put a very sour taste in our mouths as we start on the arduous journey back to the main road.
Today we don’t interfere with the driver’s desired route, but secretly, I hope that the road is worse than the one we took yesterday. We come to a stop. Suddenly. The front tyres are balancing on a precipice. Well, not quite. Not in the real sense of the meaning, but the distance in height between the two parts of the same road is steep-ish, to say the least. But the Toyota Prius in which we’ve been travelling for thirteen days is not at all suited to the rough roads we’ve encountered in Sri Lanka. This one, however, prompts the driver to ask us to leave the car. There is a certain gleeful spring to my step as I get out, camera in hand. After all, this is the road we were meant to use yesterday. But I’m also acutely aware that should our driver rip the arse out of the undercarriage of the car, we are stranded. Possibly for the entire day. We're not so far from civilization, but our tour company would not be able to replace a car and driver so quickly. So, I keep my nasty thoughts to myself as Tom helps the driver get over this bump. We are back in the car for a few minutes when the driver’s head sort of swings from right to left to right to left. I tap Tom on the shoulder and ask whether we are lost as the driver winds down the window and asks a passerby for directions. Fortunately, we don’t have to cross the ‘precipice in the road’ again, for that would definitely derail us. Eventually finding the main road and heading towards the coast road again, Tom drops the little bombshell we’ve planned for the appropriate moment.
‘Please take us directly to the hotel, so we can check out our room then we can return to Galle.’ The hotel listed on our itinerary is a mere twenty kilometres from Galle.
‘Not possible,’ says the driver. ’We’ve changed hotels and it is sixty kilometres from Galle.’ If you’ve ever had that feeling of your stomach dropping to your ankles, you’ll understand how we feel at this very moment. We have been outsmarted by a couple of clowns; one driving the car, and other one on the phone. The cars stops. The driver makes a call. We continue. It's the same pattern as yesterday, but this is worse, because the operator is constantly calling the driver.
We try to explain to the driver that Galle is the town that we intend to spend most of the day, as it is one of the highlights of visiting Sri Lanka. It falls on deaf ears, as the driver simply wants to drive us directly to our hotel over the next four hours or so. He's given up being a driver and wants to get rid of us. Our next hotel is 160 kilometres away and the driver is not budging. I check the price of a couple of nearby hotels just in case, but I also find a number of text messages from the tour company explaining that if we go to the hotel sixty kilometres away, they’ll include a buffet dinner. Hello? According to my itinerary, the buffet dinner is already included. As we settle into the drive along the coastal road, I ask about the stilt fishermen.
Stilt fishing is one of the most unusual traditional fishing methods of Sri Lanka. Apparently starting after World War II, this method of fishing had been widely used all along the coast until the tsunami in 2004, which caused the fishing to cease until recent years. Though stilt fishermen make it look easy and comfortable, stilt fishing requires much skill and balance. A vertical pole with an attached crossbar is embedded into the sea floor among the shallows. The crossbar allows the fishermen to sit a couple of metres above the water causing minimal shadows on the water. The stilt fishermen then use a rod from this precarious position to bring in a good catch of shallow-water fish, which are stored in a bag tied to the pole or to their waist. I should have realised that stilt fishing is no more than a gimmick since the tsunami took out this entire coastline. We stop in an isolated place where three fishermen are sitting, fishing poles in the water. They are not fishing. This is a setup. They are gossiping amongst themselves and they have little to no interest in anything or anyone, except for their pimp on the shore, who hustles me for money. This is no different from being on Hollywood Boulevard, where ‘superheroes’ harass tourists for money, just because they are dressed up in lycra and jump into people’s photos. I’m not feeling too charitable today, and although I know these guys are just trying to make a living, it would be nice if they understood that tourists want to share an experience, not be made a fool of.
We arrive in Galle and ask the driver to leave us in the fortified part of the town and we'll call him when we want to be collected. We've given up trying to sort out the hotel fraud fiasco. He drops us off with warnings. Don’t eat anything. Don’t go shopping.
Located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, Galle has been an ancient port city from the time King Solomon drew ivory, peacocks, and other valuables from the country. It was known as Tarshish then. Cinnamon has been exported from this port from as early as 1400 BC. Ancient Greek and Roman geographers may have known about Galle and Ptolemy referred to as Odoka. The Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta visited Galle in 1342. He called it Qali. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Sinhalese refugees, fleeing from Tamil armies from the north began to settle in Galle and other nearby areas. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th Century, extensively fortifying the port to protect it from future marauders. One hundred years later, in 1649, the Dutch moved in, extending the fortifications and remained there until the British took over Sri Lanka in 1796. The British preserved the Dutch fortifications, including the three bastions, known as Sun, Moon, and Star.
Eagerly escaping the car, we immediately find ourselves a coffee shop, where delicious homemade treats and coffee are served. Enjoying watching the passers by, we plan our next few hours. This part of the city is full of history, full of colour and full of vibrancy. This isn’t an old historic relic; it is a fully-functional and working city, which includes schools, churches, mosques, homes, and a variety of interesting and unique stores. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as we walk along the cobbled streets, we are drawn into the quaint architecture, whilst at the same time dodging the small vehicles that use the same cobbled streets. We want to explore the little streets before going out to walk along the wall.
We pop our heads into the Historical Mansion Museum, Sri Lanka’s largest private museum. Nearly thirty years ago the owner had purchased an old Dutch-era house in Leynbaan Street, where he had set about restoring it and housing his personal collection of artefacts and antiques. The central courtyard features a well, which dates back to 1763. As we chat to one of the curators, we learn much about the history of the Portuguese and the Dutch era prior to British Rule.
We ask about the tsunami in 2004 and whether the fort had been damaged. According to the curator, the walls held up to the surge of water, protecting everything inside. However, the nearby cricket stadium had been almost completely destroyed, since two sides of it face the Indian Ocean. Built in 1876 as a race course, it became a cricket stadium in 1927. After upgrading it to international cricket standards, the first test match played here was June 3, 1988 between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka won, and it has since been considered the luckiest stadium in the country. After the Tsunami, Shane Warne and Ian Botham got together to raise money for the repairs to the stadium, and to this day, these two iconic cricketers are considered heroes in Sri Lanka. We feel good about hearing this story, and as we continue to explore the building, we are shown traditional lace-making techniques, which date back to the Portuguese era. Tom is attracted to the well as he demonstrates his skill at collecting a bucket of water from the deep source of water. He even tastes it ... and survives.
We spend some time walking in and out of buildings; museums and churches and accidentally even a house. I follow a group of people into a home, with the most amazing garden courtyard. This style of building is so practical for these hot countries, deep patios built of stone provide relief from the relentless sunshine. It was as I approach the fountain that I suddenly realise that all these people know each other and I have inadvertently gate-crashed an afternoon soiree. Mumbling apologies, I exit through the same door, feeling dozens of eyes boring into my back as I leave.
As the shadows lengthen, we arrive at the wall. It is possible to walk around the entire fort on the ramparts. The Dutch had designed much wider walls to allow for cannons to be mounted. This innovation gave the walls the extra strength they needed to withstand the surge of water that occurred on Boxing Day, 2004. We position ourselves close to the lighthouse in a spot where we can observe the sunset. Since we are very close to the tip of the country, you could basically look in one direction in the morning at the sunrise and turn to look at the sunset in the other. We wait for the sun to slowly descend, splashing the sky with a bolt of orange before disappearing behind the horizon. The sunset tonight is probably the best we’ve seen so far.
Despite the issues we've had today, our time in Galle is special. It's a pity we have not had the opportunity to engage a local guide to show us the fort and to provide us with some history. However, we've seen one of the most iconic places in Sri Lanka before tomorrow's journey back to Colombo and the end of this tour.
TOUR: Across the Best Sites of Sri Lanka - Capital Lanka Tours
ACCOMMODATION: Eden Resort and spa, Sri Lanka. https://www.brownshotels.com/edenberuwala/ A little bit tired and in need of an upgrade. Tip: Check your room before moving your luggage