72 days travelling and we swam with our very first turtle.
1st December 2018
As always, when you know you have to wake up early, it’s impossible to fall asleep. This seemed to be true for us and made waking up at 3.30am for our train down to Hikkaduwa almost impossible. Our host had kindly said he would drive us down to the station, but as time ticked by with no movement in the house we realised he must have slept through his alarm. I decided to give his mobile a call in the hope it would wake him, and sure enough he emerged from his room immediately in a slight panic and apologising profusely. We were slightly anxious to get going as we knew this train had unreserved seating, but luckily we reached the station early enough to secure two seats for our 5 hour journey down south.
I wish we could have caught a later train but this was the only direct one and it saved us having to change at Colombo, hang around for an hour or so and have no seat on the second leg (it’s a popular route). The journey itself was pretty uneventful and we were glad we had our seats, as the train started to fill up with people along the way – we think it might have been the start of the school holidays. As we neared our final destination, the train ran alongside the seafront which provided us with a nice view and sea breeze through the large open windows. Just what we needed as the day started to heat up.
On arrival into Hikkaduwa at around 10am, we caught a tuk tuk to where we would be staying – the delightful Dreamtime Hikkaduwa. It’s run by an Australian lady and her Sri Lankan husband and is set in beautiful jungle, complete with salt water swimming pool and just a short stroll from the beach front. It turned out to be perfect for us, as it was an incredibly quiet side of the long, stretching beach.
After we had settled into our room and had a quick shower in our second outdoor bathroom of the trip, we popped over the road to have lunch cooked by our neighbours. It was served in their garden and was delicious authentic food at a very reasonable price. The one thing we had pretty much managed to avoid so far on our trip was mosquitos, but it was a different ball game here – it actually hurt when they bit you. During lunch alone and despite putting on endless amounts of insect repellant, my wife counted 10 mosquito bites on her legs alone. We had been saving our UK bought DEET for this very occasion.
That evening we decided to wander down the road to one of the restaurants on the beach front, Thambili. The view of the beach from the deck was stunning and my wife was delighted to see they served hummus (what else?).
2nd December 2018
Our first full day in Hikkaduwa started with a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast served at our guest house. Toast (maybe not quite Sri Lankan), fresh fruit and more string hoppers with curried eggs were on the menu this morning. After filling our bellies, we decided to venture to the beach for a spot of snorkelling. We rented masks and fins from a local company before making our own way down to the sea. To our delight, it was full of tropical fish and we even managed to spot our first turtle. All of which was just meters from the beach, absolutely incredible. After an hour, we decided to come back again the next day, as we had hired the snorkels for two hours in total and the small currents and waves were proving a bit much for us.
After lunch back at Thambili, we decided to spend the afternoon exploring the nearby town of Galle. Famous for its fort, the town was founded by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century and expanded by the Dutch. We decided to take the local bus there, as it was a fraction of the cost of a tuk tuk and there was a bus stop 5 minutes from our guest house. Little did we know that the bus would be the fastest bus we’ve ever been on in our lives, with the driver careering around corners at breakneck speed. You got used to it after a few minutes and it definitely meant we got to Galle far quicker than expected. My wife was stressing for most of the journey, as I had convinced her to hop on a random bus that didn’t have Galle written on the front.
On arrival in Galle (note I was right all along), we explored the old fort and walked along the old sea walls to the lighthouse. We had lovely views out over the sea and you could definitely see the Western influence through the town. We had heard that there was an excellent crepe shop which did gluten free options, so we made a swift beeline for it and weren’t disappointed by the vast crepe menu that greeted us – my only regret was not having a second one. After gorging on crepes, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring Galle.
Walking around the town, you could have almost been in a European city. We finally managed to replace my wife’s sunglasses, as she had broken her only pair about a month previously in Mysore – it was hard to find affordable sunglasses which actually offered protection from the sun. Although we were pretty full from our crepes, we decided to have dinner at a highly recommended local restaurant. It turned out to be an all you can eat of 5 curry dishes and we just weren’t hungry enough to make the most of it. It was a real shame.
We then made our way back to the hotel for the evening. However, it became apparent pretty quickly that a local bus back wasn’t going to be an option. They were all packed to the brim, with people hanging off the sides. A couple of these buses went past before a slightly smaller bus pulled over and we hopped on. Not only was it an air conditioned bus, but it also seemed to be playing some sort of hymns. We awkwardly sat at the back as the only westerners and hoped it would drop us off at our stop.
3rd December 2018
Although the start of our third day was relatively sunny, it was due to rain for the afternoon, which influenced what we decided to do for the day. In the morning we went back to the beach to finish our snorkelling session and search for more turtles. The sea was a bit rougher today due to the incoming rain and unfortunately we didn’t see any more turtles, although there were still plenty of tropical fish. There was a school of at least 40 fish just 5m into the water.
After a quick shower and dip in the pool back at our guest house, we decided to head to a place called Salty Swarmies for lunch. Although not cheap, the food was amazing and just what we were craving – a huge veggie burger and chips for my wife and a fruit smoothie bowl for me. The burger was so huge that my wife only managed about half of it, admitting defeat reluctantly.
After a satisfying lunch, we jumped in a tuk tuk and headed off to the local turtle hatchery, which collects turtle eggs from the beaches and releases the young turtles back into the sea once they have hatched. They also provide care for injured older turtles. It was sad to see some of the turtles with missing limbs due to boat propellers or fishing nets, but the guide showed us around the different turtles they had there and explained their process of releasing them back into the wild and teaching them to swim on their own again. We could only hope this noble cause was above board.
Many of the areas we are visiting on our trip was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami and Sri Lanka had some of the highest number of casualties. We therefore thought it was important to visit the tsunami education centre, which was set up to educate people on the causes and dangers of tsunamis as well as acting as a memorial for the people who died. The place was small but well set out, with lots of detail about the scientific causes of tsunamis, as well as information about what to do if a tsunami hits and how to be prepared for an evacuation. There were also many photos of the devastation caused in the area, as well as photos of victims which was very upsetting. We both remembered the tsunami happening in 2004, but you feel very removed from the situation back in the UK. Being in the area where it hit and seeing such graphic photos of the damage for ourselves really brought it home for us.
After a busy and emotional day, we went out for dinner that evening to a restaurant called Aroma which did a delicious rice and curry – this seems to have become a staple of ours in Sri Lanka and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
4th December 2018
We had an early start today as we had booked a surf lesson with our guest house host, who has been surfing for over 12 years both in Sri Lanka and Australia. My wife was full of confidence as we headed down to the beach at 7am, due to one surf lesson she’d had about 12 years previously. After some quick instructions and practice on the beach, we headed into the sea to try and catch some waves. Luckily we had our instructor with us, as he not only told us which waves would be best to catch but also gave our boards a little push as we tried to catch waves to give us a better chance of success.
Despite all this, my wife didn’t manage to stand up on the board at all and I only caught a wave properly once – not that it’s a competition, but if it was I smashed it (much to her annoyance). It was still great fun and a tremendous workout, our muscles definitely felt it the next day. We were treated back at our accommodation to the usual delicious breakfast and hoppers done in a different style – shaped as a bowl with an egg on the middle to mix things up. It’s something I will definitely be replicating when we get back home. The day was rounded off next to the pool and another return trip to both Salty Swarmies for lunch and then Thambili for dinner as we watched the most beautiful sunset.
5th December 2018
Our final day in Sri Lanka started with a less than successful cash withdrawal/snack run in the morning. The only thing we managed to find was postcards and a stressful situation at an ATM resulted in us having to withdraw cash twice, entirely self inflicted, and getting hit by an unnecessary withdrawal fee the second time. We decided to have lunch at our neighbours house again as it was so delicious and very cheap, plus only 10 seconds away. We wolfed down as much curry as we could, savouring our last taste of Sri Lankan food.
We then had a pretty long drive in a mini bus to the airport back in Colombo. The journey was pretty uneventful except for when our driver momentarily fell asleep on the motorway and then pulled over into a service station for a quick drink of water – my wife watched him like a hawk for the rest of our journey. I must admit I didn’t nod off again after that happened either.
Columbo airport leaves quite a lot to be desired, with hardly any shops and even less in terms of food to eat (especially for someone who can’t eat gluten). We were also slightly confused how the airport only accepted US dollars and refused to accept Sri Lankan currency in certain shops. We ended up at trusty Burger King, but probably the most expensive and mediocre Burger King my wife has ever had. We paid $18 for one meal and a portion of cheesy chips and it was hardly anything to write home about – the sort of thing you’d see on the saver menu in the UK. With a lack of gluten free options, we ended up filling up on chocolate at duty free.
We were very excited about our flight to our next stop, the Maldives, as this flight was with Emirates. Rushing onto the plane, we selected movies on the in flight entertainment as quickly as possible to maximise our 1 hour 30 mins flying time – not quite enough time for a film. Let’s hope I can finish off Deadpool 2 soon, as it had cut out at a really interesting point. Once we landed in Male we had some issue finding our transfer and some kind gentleman from a resort ended up helping me. Annoyingly we had to wait around for one last person and meant we got to our hotel ridiculously late and fell asleep gone midnight.
Until next time.
P.S. We opted not to bother chasing after the picturesque fishermen leaning off their wooden poles in the sea, as our host told us it is now done for show (asking for money) as opposed to the real thing. We’ve fallen for enough tourist traps this trip and gave it a swerve.