Written by Lennart & Anu
After reaching Colombo airport at around 4a.m I am repacking my stuff.
In Hamburg I had to be a bit tricky with the kilograms for my luggage, adding some stuff to the board bag before handing it in at the excess luggage counter (btw Etihad with Air Berlin didn’t charge as long as you stay under the weight allowance).
Ready to walk off with all my luggage, some of which I was only bringing as Australia was my final destination. I was focusing on looking for a ride to the hotel where my girlfriend Anu was awaiting me. She told me roughly how much it should be and to take a legit taxi with a meter. Seeing some taxi offices as you exit the airport I am thinking wow that’s too easy, tell the first guy where I am heading and expect to be brought to my legitimate metered taxi. Instead I receive a receipt showing three times the price I was expecting to pay. So I guess the meter thing I was talking about didn’t quite come across. Similar to the airport in Bali i.e. there are no legitimate taxis at the airport and you are better of walking to the main road. In this case I didn’t see any main road in walking distance with about 50 kilos weighing me down. (However it's not far if without luggage, but then you may as well consider taking a bus.)
In the end I was happy to pay a little more than expected, luckily to a guy with a decent van who knew the address, so everything went smoothly.
Sri Lankan way (not hard to adopt to) we decide to take it easy. Anu was fit again although she had imported a fever-type flu that she had contracted from her sister. She wasn’t too bad when I met her last night though and I didn’t know at this stage that this bloody virus wasn’t yet out the way! But anyway, Anu and I relatively fit decide to go for a brunch and then decide to head down to Matara. A place her uncle had offered to pick us up from. As we hear that we would miss the last train from Colombo our only option was to bus it down. The predicted travel times end up to be a bit unrealistic so we find ourselves reaching Matara around 11 pm and are happy to find someone with a phone to tell Anu's uncle to make it the next morning. Of course the phone guy also knew a room guy and so we spent our second night as basic (yes ok we had asked for basic) as can be, but right near the station and for only 700 LKR for the room. Luckily there were no bed bugs although the place would have made you think otherwise.
Bala Bapa (mng. little uncle) and Kushan (Anu’s cousin) come to pick us up. It is still quite a ride from Matara to the village of Hungama. We are welcomed with a tasty lunch and a nice outdoor shower that was quite a pleasure after having to wash with a head lamp last night as the bathroom bulb was too weak (thanks Hella- head light already came in handy!), having to wash away a family of cockroaches before stepping under a little drip I was trying to use as a shower.
Family day at the beach. Swimming and playing before I get to help the guys to pull the fisher nets in. Bala Bapa and his fisherman friend get some fish as compensation for our work. Everyone is happy about a decent catch. The next day the sea was empty we were told later, although sometimes they can make a 20 000 dollar catch in a day. After the net owner takes about half, the fishermen who helped bringing the net in share the other 10 000. I hope that happens when we return as this means PARTY for the whole village. When we get back we were also told we should come on the boat with Bala Bapa’s friend .. let’s see!
My sleep was poor last night as a little fever set in. I straight away worried it might be from the little cut I got on a rock when swimming yesterday... either way, this full moon (‘poya’) public holiday I would be spending in bed most of the time feeling up and down but mostly down. Came to show later it was really just the flu Anu had kindly passed on to me (I was happy as an infection would have been much worse). So I am mostly dosing off, sleeping and waking up from laughter as lots of family came to the house to greet Anu. I could come out a couple of times for some foods play with the kids and go back to bed.
Great! I am feeling much better. Today we can start our trip to Hikkaduwa one of the more popular surf spots in Sri Lanka during this season. The bus we need to take is just any bus going to Colombo but boy are these buses cramped! So we have to let one through and wait about 30 minutes. After some hesitation we get the conductor to open the storage in the back of the bus for the board bag. I wonder why sometimes they seem to be in such a rush and then again there is no actual timetable which would make them have to be certain places at certain times. But maybe that’s just the professional working rhythm for the bus people? (added: I later found out there are actually certain times for hub stations, people just don’t really seem to care/ know much).
We are really lucky to grab the last two seats on the bus. About 4 hours later (just our gut feeling) we reach Hikka. We are residing at the Co-op with beach access!
When the swell is small the surf is actually only happening a little further south from where we are staying at the so called ‘main reef’- who would have figured. So my look this morning when I just rose to check the swell was for nothing but a clear conscience to go back to sleep as the jetty reef was flat. So after a nice little brekkie (as the Aussies call their morning meal) we stroll down to main reef, looking at a crowd of maybe 10-15 people at a time waiting for the odd set. Oh anyway I don’t wanna get into surfing details here. I decide to come back in the afternoon.
On the walk back we find a nice hat for Anu as I want to pay I realize to be short on money and we tell the guy we’d be back in ten. As we reach the room I am checking for more money when I realize I got short changed at the restaurant this morning by 4000 LKR (which is almost 40 Aussie dollars). As we leave to go ask the waitress if they had realised that we had payed too much and didn’t get the right amount of change back, the guy from the restaurant already comes to our accommodation saying he'd been looking for us because they had realized also. Very kind!
When we went to bed last night we agreed that the first vibe we got from the place and people in Hikka was not so great. You know when little impressions add up and you start to wonder if it’s the place or the people that make the vibe. No greetings nor smiles, people trying to dodge you with a price or guys shouting nonsense, alongside traffic, noise and other little hassles. It’s of course always both, place and people but also time. So this time around I have to readjust my first impression.
As I am walking back from my surf, some local guys start a little chat with me. Of course its just small talk but they don’t seem like complete assholes after all (from what I had read about the locals on a surf blog last night). I am thinking this place might actually turn out to be nicer as you stay a little longer. The evening seems to want to prove me right. We actually find that the more touristy part of town where the restaurants etc. also stay open a bit longer (last night we had a hard time finding dinner) is also a fair walk further south (at least 20 min.). At a beach bar we also find good live music, and I really mean good, cause if you ask me I am more the DJ type of person when I go to a bar. We play ping pong and enjoy the music while sweating and still digesting our Kottu Roti (recommended dish btw).
Day 7 and 8
It’s raining outside. Getting used to staying here. Finally did our laundry with the help of the manager at our accommodation who encouraged us to wash it ourselves and sourced a couple of buckets for us. Also bought and cut up our own fruits and bought a 5 litre bottle of water.
We wanted to move further into town but couldn’t really be bothered yet, thinking also that we might wanna leave tomorrow to head south. The surf isn’t great and relatively crowded, apart from that Hikka is a nice place but also not exceptional. Most of the beach front is covered by hotel blocks and a few smaller guest houses. So if you're looking for something a bit more tranqil and secluded, this isn't the place for you.The locals rather live on the other side of the main road, further inland behind a railway. This small town is built along a stretchy road which means there is no real town centre except maybe for a little run down kind of mall near the main bus stop. If you want, you can go out for drinks alright here I think, and every night they shoot up fireworks (we instead decided for an early beach walk and surf instead)...
Snorkelling is also fine here although I didn’t get a shot of the giant turtles that are around. Local guys just came to offer their goggles as they saw me taking pictures without. By now we really have met a lot of nice, genuine people. Although there may be a few punks around (I guess like with anywhere you go) I feel that Sri Lankans in general are very kind, caring and friendly people.
Left Hikka for Wijaya beach (2km tuk tuk ride from Unawatuna). Catching another one of those big and loud public busses (and costing 61LKR- bargain!) we arrived at Wijaya beach around 4:30pm. Our first impression was that it was more of a family friendly beach, little tourists and fancy beachfront hotels. However this makes it also harder finding cheap accommodation which can rather be found inland behind the rails again. But at least there it is also less noisy from the road.
For the second time I think to myself ‘man sometimes it would be good to have some kind of travel guide book or something- even the stormrider guide. It can make things easier and you straight away think you know where its best to go.' I have never been a fan of these books as it just makes it too easy for anybody to go wherever (leaving little room for exploration), for one, but also cause I think some of the real insights you don’t get from the books -although this damn stormrider guide is quite extensive for surf spots... Anyways in the end I kind of change my mind again. We get to speak to a Sri Lankan who moved to Regensburg/Germany who also surfs and tells me a lot about the region. Right after the first hotel manager tells us there was no cheap accommodation around, we bargain ourselves into a beachfront villa*, however with a room facing the noisy road. But 'mama' seems happy to have some company to chat, chat, chat... :) So Anu could tell you just about the story of her life as well as the story of the town after the tsunami hit. To make it short, the family owns a whole strip of land along the beach but rifts around ownership claims now stand between certain family members. She felt ripped off but her handsome son who ‘married into Switzerland’ (in her own words) provides her with the necessary financial support from 'working in the cold' as she says.
The evening surf session was a lot of fun with friendly locals in the water sharing waves.
This beach is also a nice place to do some yoga or exercise on the beach- just as Anu was doing- with views not only of the ocean but also of huge rock sitting just off the sand with a beautiful coconut palm hanging over the rock- an amazing sunset view!
*(In the book this place would probably be around 45 dollars a night, we payed 20-might have helped that Anu speaks some Sinhale as well ;) )
Mama is really taking care of us! Today she did our laundry and even hung it up before we had the chance. After we made her some fruit salad she had organized some lunch as a present to us (I think she wanted me to put on some pounds). The only problem with this place really is the street noise. We ended up moving to the couch in the lounge in the morning as the noise were too hard to bare. Our last night we’re here so we decide to go all fancy, have prawns and I have grilled chicken. Just what I needed after a nice arvo* surf :)
*Aussie for afternoon
Wow I just realized that it’s Christmas today. Oh sorry it’s not, Anu’s laptop is on Australian time. I decided to also add dates to our blog from now on so that we can make sure we’re writing for the right day. We had dinner at a place that looked a bit like a summer tavern with colourful lights and open to all sides, music playing, people chatting and every now and then the kottu rotti cutting noise. Egg hoppers* deluxe it was, together with some pan rolls, roti, very great tasting sambol and chicken broth.
You know how some people leave their furniture covered in plastic? I also know the feeling when you hesitate to take the plastic cover of a new electronic device for example but in Sri Lanka they push this habit to new limits. They cover plates in cling wrap prior to eating on them. Since this wasn’t the first time now that we encountered this, Anu actually asked for the reason behind this habit. “For hygienic reason” we were so casually and proudly told. We assumed it was for something like that. They still wash the plates as well though after discarding the cling wrap!??
Looks like we hit the jackpot here in Kabalana. We’re staying in our own little apartment building on a family’s yard. The mother passed away three years ago when cancer got her and left her husband with three girls and a son. They seem like nice people and apparently it’s the place to be for the surfing (swell magnet and all..) So we might stay a while...
Egg Hoppers are a Sri Lankan style crepe served with an onion sambal
Day 12 (24/12/13)
Now it’s Christmas at least in Germany. I hope we get to upload this writing today. It would be a nice little present to lupesi :) Merry Christmas!
I just returned from the beach. The waves were small so I just went for a dip to come back and get Anu but she favours a yoga session. So I am waiting for her to get ready. Alright.. she ready.. I'll be back.
How good a yoga session can make you feel. We had ordered our breakfast for 10am thinking that'd be a good time after surf or yoga or whatever.
We are being treated like high guests but in a very friendly, genuine way. See our breakfast set up below. The father here is doing event hire, renting out tables, chairs etc. But apart from him having the equipment I think its because there doesn’t seem to be much tourism although its supposedly high season. Our place is also a bit inland past the rails and wouldn’t just be found by anyone as it looks like a private residence from the street (and what we think is the welcome sign is also written in Sinhalese- see last pic) so they are also very happy to have us I think.
We found it through a tuk tuk driver, Pradeep, who said he could hook us up with a nice place when he saw us walking along the main road yesterday.
Now we’re heading to Galle to see the Dutch fort and buy speakers, use the internet and upload this stuff here.
Day 13 - 17 (29.12.2013)
Our visit to Galle was a nice trip. When we hopped off the bus we went straight for a coconut and fresh mango with chilli/salt- delicious! We walked around the Dutch fort and through the town that is surrounded by the fort.
Since I last wrote we have really settled in. The Kumudu's (our host family here) have helped us set up the kitchen and the dad went shopping with us to show us all the best shops and familiarize us with the shop keepers.
It's amazing to go vegetable shopping. Veggies are obviously all organic, fresh and additionally ridiculously cheap, even compared to other local products. Coconuts and Aloe Vera we get from the yard. The town of Ahangama is only 2 k’s from Kabalana (pictures 11-14).
Surf’s been pretty good with sufficient swells and little winds early mornings and in the afternoon. In the mornings I've also been teaching Anu at the beach break five minutes down.
- Buffalo Curd with peni "Meekiri" (yoghurt style dessert with local honey);
- different style pan rolls; and of course
- having speakers now :) (never go without!)
Day 17 (epilogue)
It’s somehow become a custom to swap dishes at dinner time. This came about when Kumudu’s daughter, Tushani, first brought us up some dhal she had made for the family. Two nights ago, our host dad, Kumudu showed us how to make soy meat curry and I must add: 'the dish was absolutely delicious'. As he showed us how it’s done, we took pictures along the way. It's only fair that we share it with all our readers.
See how it’s done and give it a go- you won't regret it!
Note: soy meat should be available from a Sri Lankan store in your home country and if not try other Asian stores.
This night’s dinner was fit for a king- rice, soy meat curry, jackfruit curry (complements of Tushani, who seems to be the chef in the family) and Thai okra and bean curry (complements of Lenn) went really well together- all with a kick of spice.
We concluded it was the best meal we have had so far in Sri Lanka.
18 and 19 (30-31.12.2013)
Had my third surf lesson with Lenn this morning! I’m making progress slowly and I’m really hoping I can learn to balance myself on the board without too much effort by the end of this trip.
We also made plans with Kumudu to take us to the Koggala bird sanctuary in the evening so Lenn decided he’d go in for a midday surf. Later on we found out that Kumudu had hurt his back lifting timber at work so our trip to Koggala was postponed till after the new years. Kumudu also said that it was probably a better time to go anyway because it’ll be less crowded after the holiday season.
It's now past midnight Down Under so for all you Aussies reading this Happy New Year :)
After getting ready (without electricity!), we're now ready to head into Unawatuna with our SL buddy, Ashan, for some party!!! Happy to have the electricity back for some tunes...
Happy 2014 to all!!!!!! :)
Day 20-25, (1.-5.01.2014)
For new years' we ended up at Mirissa beach with several parties and fireworks right on the beach. Ashan had a friend pass by Kabalana to pick us up with his driver. He was an Amsterdamian who for many years spends the cold Dutch winters in Sri Lanka. His friend was dejaying in one of the parties and he had decided to come all the way down to the south coast (Mirissa) from Colombo. He was a very funny guy.
The next day we slept for most of it trying to recover from the Arrak.
The surf has been pretty average since the end of last year.
Now since yesterday evening the waves are better again. On the 3rd of Jan we went to Kottawa forest, a little inland from Galle. It was quite a trip after all, at least we both returned well tired but that could be because we are not so used to walking far distances since we’ve been here. Not that the trail was that long- but still...guess it could also be the heat.
It was a nice trip, however Kottawa Reserve is separated by a road so the noisy buses can be heard quite far which is also why it didn’t feel like a complete nature experience.
At the end of the one hour hike, we had a fresh king coconut at a roadside stall and roti with dhal and a coconut sambol. While I was enjoying the coconut, Anu chatted with the shop owner who told us that peacocks can be seen if we arrive early in the morning. It’s a shame because of the forest’s close proximity to the road, I think most animals (because of the road noise) move deeper into the forest. At least monkeys didn’t seem to care much and hung around right near the food stop!
Day 26 (06.01.2014)
I went in for a dip in the ocean with Lenn late afternoon. Its nice to go for a dip around that time when the water is still warm and the sun isn’t burning as much anymore. The only hours where you have to be quite careful are between 11am and 1pm. But overall the sun is much more enjoyable and less aggressive than in Australia. Later that evening we went to Ahangama to replenish our kitchen stock.
More Sri Lanka Impressions...
(Day 27 onward...)
Ancient Tempel near Ahangama on Poya Day
Life on Sri Lanka
Last couple weeks
We haven’t reported for a while and have left the country by now. A good time to upload a few more pictures and sum up a little of what happened and which impressions this Sri Lanka trip left.
We stayed almost the whole time in Kabalana. Having found a great place makes it quite unnecessary to keep moving around. There we had our own place; self contained in close approximity to the beach. (For anyone interested in finding out about that accommodation or other options to stay in that region, please contact lupesi for further info).
From there we also took several day trips. Since the last update we went to see the Gatabaruwa temple and a waterfall near the Sinharaja rainforest together with a friend- a guy I had met in Costa Rica over ten years ago who suddenly paddled up behind me in the surf.
It was pooring rain as the tuk tuk driver managed to manoeuvre his vehicle through the tiny path towards the waterfall. The rain was so heavy that we hesitated to get out of the tuk tuk. We almost went back to the main road when we decided to go for it. We had to run through a tea plantation riddled with leeches to reach the waterfall.
It was well worth it...
Our trip to the Gatabaruwa Temple and Waterfall
Towards our last week, Anu’s family, her mom, sister, nephew and brother in law came to pick us up with their rental van. Together with them we got to see some of the sights around the country that were a bit further inland and towards the east such as Yala, Ella and Kandy.
From Ella to Ratnapura
As a highlight Anu and I saved the hike up the pilgrimage trail to the peak of Sri Pada aka Adam’s Peak. We came from the Ratnapura side where we had met another cousin named Kalum, and his family. They were really nice and took us to yet another waterfall and to the Maha Saman Devale temple where people tent to pray to the lord of Sri Pada prior to climbing the peak. On a clear day we could have seen the peak from there. Maybe it’s good we didn’t, it left us naive enough to start the hike full of confidence and ease. We were a bit worried about timing the climb right so that we would reach the top for sunrise- sure enough for a good reason.
Sri Pada aka Adam's Peak
The last bus from Ratnapura was at 6pm and dropped as at the ascending point around 7:30. We started walking soon after knowing we would reach way before sunrise even if we took our time. The hike is estimated at around seven hours for about 14 kilometres of steps. We underestimated the temperature drop up there and were huddling up on several occasions on the way up to get some sleep and kill some time until sunrise. The last phase of waiting we managed up top with other pilgrims in a little Buddhist building. The sunrise although not clear was a great reward and getting heated up again in the early sun rays was a pleasure before descending.
I can still feel my carve muscles as I am writing this. After we got back to Ratnapura we straight headed for the airport to catch our flight that night.
My Tip for the hike: The Ratnapu ra hike is beautiful to stunning. There were only locals on this trail as most tourists choose the shorter trail from Hatton. Along this trail there are several huts with foods and drinks that are priced fairly. Make sure to bring warm clothes or even a blanket if you plan to close your eyes.
What a nice place, what a nice trip