We took the train to Hikkaduwa where we planned to stay a few nights, but ended up staying for one night and leaving first thing the next morning. We ordered an avocado roti at a little place when we arrived. When it came, it had cheese in it. We sent it back and the cheese was replaced with hair.
As a holiday destination, Hikkaduwa is pretty perfect for anyone wanting to surf, drink, party with other tourists and eat fairly overpriced food. Everything is in one place. Hikkaduwa beach is lined with pretty bars and restaurants which blast out western music. Since we have little interest in any of what was on offer, we scooped up Maia and set off for Tangalle.
We booked a house for the three of us, sold on the fact that the owner was called Uncle Cyril and that there was a blender in the kitchen.
The vibe in Tangalle was totally different from Hikkaduwa and we were chuffed about that. The place has its fair share of touristic restaurants and bars, but they are nowhere near as intrusive or loud. We had a very relaxing stay with a lot of time spent on the beach. It was so amazing to be able to hang with our girl Maia. She has a beautiful and creative mind and as always, being in her company was inspiring. We spent many hours pondering the meaning of “now” and of “being”. I always feel like my brain has had a little jiggle around after my chats with Maia and I know Tom does too. It’s like, if your head was a snow globe that hadn’t had a shake for a while, Maia helps you bring out all those thoughts and ideas that had been buried away, like all the flecks of plastic snow, getting a new chance to come to the top and fall down in a different spot.
Our living space was set over two floors and so when we wanted to escape the sweltering midday heat, we could retreat to the downstairs room which was a good half degree cooler. We had lovely big rooms and a huge balcony which overlooked the garden which seemed to be a popular hangout for lizards, mongooses, monkeys, birds and loads of cows who came to rub their itchy heads in piles of sand.
At the end of the garden was a river which lead into the sea. In a few minutes we could be at the beach, or in the town centre if we headed in the other direction.
I got sick on the second day, probably from a particular restaurant which I can’t bear to name and shame, because the people were so lovely and aside from our experience, it has glowing reviews. Two days later, it was foolishly agreed that we would give the place another go. I opted for something very plain. Maia on the other hand had an incredibly exotic version of the traditional Sri Lankan Kotthu. It contained one long strand of hair, some fluorescent orange plastic and a chargrilled fly. This was accompanied by a dish of fish flavoured ice.
Tangalle beach is absolutely beautiful and goes on and on. Since we visited off-season, it was also very quiet. It isn’t really possible to swim in the sea though as the waves are huge and the water gets quite deep very quickly, so we headed to Pariwella Natural Swimming Area, which is a bay surrounded by a reef. It is protected by the marine navy so no fishing is allowed. The water is calm, so it’s a popular spot for local families and is ideal for kids as there’s always a lifeguard there. We were told it was good for snorkelling, so we hired some kit and had a little bob around. (If you plan to go, early-ish morning is better, before the sand starts clouding up the water). Unfortunately, what we gained in fish sightings, we lost in electrical appliances, when a huge wave totally wiped us out while we were lying on the sand catching some rays. My phone took an absolute beating and is now in phone heaven.
We visited a few virtually deserted beaches, recommended by tuktuk drivers. On one of them, Maia gave Tom a surfing lesson. The journey there was a bit touch and go though, as the only way to bring Maia’s surfboard in the tuktuk was for her to hold it outside, which, as you can see from the photographic evidence, was a little bit terrifying for her.
On our last day, we had planned to go to the lagoon and take a boat ride, before heading to turtle beach to watch the baby turtles hatching, or doing whatever they do. The first tuktuk driver we came across tried to overcharge us so hard that we didn’t even haggle. Instead, we approached another driver who we would end up spending the rest of the evening with. He was incredibly laid back.
“How much to Rekawa?”
Our new pal Dillip took as to the lagoon, but as he pointed out, our timing was completely off, as the sun was already going down, so taking a boat out would be a pretty stupid thing to do. Instead, he took us to a quiet and stunning little spot, where we watched the sunset and took in the beautiful view.
Turtle Watch in Rekawa is a conservation project which claims to look after turtles in the area by protecting nests on the beach which is patrolled 24/7. Turtle eggs are a delicacy in Sri Lanka, and while it is illegal to take them, they still need a lot of protection from poachers. The night watch tours start around 9.30pm and so we had a few hours to kill after sunset. Fortunately this gave us some time to research the night tours a little further. While it seems that the organisation itself seems to have very good intentions, there were a number of issues that were raised in the online reviews which didn’t sit well with us. While some people absolutely raved about their experience, others described groups of hundreds of tourists making lots of noise and touching and taking photos with the turtles. Ultimately, we decided that although it would be a wonderful experience to see these creatures, we would probably be doing more harm than good. Instead we spent the evening on the beach hanging out with Dillip and sipping a couple of beers.
It was both fascinating and heartbreaking to talk to Dillip about the 2004 Tsunami, which absolutely devastated much of Tangalle, taking with it many lives, including that of his nephew. Interestingly he explained that many Sri Lankans had become very strict about not eating beef since the disaster to avoid upsetting the Gods.
About 6 hours after dropping us home, Dillip collected us one more time to drive us to Blue Beach, which is apparently quite legendary among surfers. We left at 5am so that we could enjoy the sunrise from the beach and Maia could enjoy it on her board in the water. It was lush.
We said goodbye to Dillip at Matara train station, where we would take a 3.5 hour train ride to Negombo. No biggie. Trains are nice.
Not this one. This journey was nothing short of hellish.
We would have traded all previous journeys put together for this hot and sweaty ride. The train moved painfully slowly, so there was no breeze at all. Drinking wasn’t much of an option because weeing was definitely not one. Despite repeatedly getting Tom to drench my face with water, it was impossible to cool down. As more and more people crammed onto the carriage, we focussed our minds on our next accommodation which would smother us in delicious icey conditioned air. Oh yes. We were splashing out on more A/C for our final night in Sri Lanka and nothing was going to stop us from getting to it.
When we finally arrived at Colombo Fort Station, we had to barge our way off the train. We then had to find the bus that would take us to Negombo. For about half an hour, we fought off pushy tuktuk drivers who wanted to rinse us. With our big bags on our back, a surfboard and the midday sun beating down on us, we pushed through the busy Colombo crowds for about half an hour. Tom tripped up a step and broke his flipflop. Finally we found the bus stop. After a fairly long wait, we alighted our private A/C bus. To our horror we discovered that what cool air was blowing on us was counteracted by burning hot air blowing onto our feet. “Think of the fans” we told ourselves “Not much longer and we’ll be inside with heavenly cold air and cold water”. HAH.
We then piled into a tuktuk. It was a squash.
Finally we arrived at the most beautiful villa. We were greeted by the sweetest bunch of guys and shown to our gorgeous room.
“Unfortuately there’s a powercut”, said the three guys running the house.
At that moment, a small part of each of us died inside.
The bed was hot. The floor was hot. The water was hot. As it turned out, we weren’t alone in our sweaty misery, as in fact the whole of Sri Lanka was without power. A slight delirium set in. Our hosts set off into the darkness in search of a generator. Thankfully, after several hours of naked starfishes, fully-clothed hot showers and circuits around the house to try and create a breeze with our arms (!), our heroes returned with this huge magic metal box of joy which they hooked up to the mains. We then all said “abracdabra” and began to shed tears of joy as the lights began to flicker and the fans began to rotate. HOORAY.
In spite of the dramas of the day, we did enjoy some truly beautiful food at Castle Villa and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer crew to take care of us.
The following morning, we said goodbye to our dearest Maia and hopped on a flight to Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala for the next leg of our adventure.