After a few minutes the owner arrived and both he and the driver carried our bags up to the third floor. It was a great little apartment with a balcony that nestled in the boughs of a tree and overlooked the street. We ventured out on the first evening to get the lie of the land and find a place to eat. We made our way to the main street and after a short walk we came upon the bars and restaurants. A number of establishments had not reopened after covid, I guess they were unable to ride out the storm (no covid payments here). But there were still many places open and they served every cuisine you could want but all I wanted was a steak. We hadn’t realised that Sri Lanka was in such dire straits, economically until after we had left but you could feel a quiet desperation in the air. Everyone was desperate to get our money. Don’t get me wrong no one was trying to steal from us but there were so few tourist that everyone from tuk tuk drivers to restaurant owners were aggressively vying for our business. So we find ourselves in a very up beat restaurant with the type of food I was looking for, Róisín would eat anything and enjoyed new food experiences but not me. Our food had just been placed on the table in front of us when there was a power cut and we found ourselves in total darkness.
Luckily, this establishment had a generator, not common as you may remember from our visit to Fort Galle, candles were brought to the tables to cast light on our fare during that power cut. I had googled to see why there were so many outages and discovered that the country was zoned for power cuts at different times in the day or evening. This place was a bar restaurant and I could imagine it would have been queues at the door to get a seat then but now there was just a handful of tourists there. Róisín and I had taken a table upstairs by the balcony that over looked the floor below. Of the 20 or so tables only two were occupied. Róisín and I at one and a group of four French tourists sat at another. Below we could see an English couple and in a far corner a small group of Irish, the staff outnumbered the customers We finished our meal and strolled slowly back to our accommodation.
Early the next morning we located a shop nearby and bought a few supplies for the apartment, snacks and lunch we would eat in and venture out in the evenings for our dinner. I was very surprised by the price of just basics groceries, milk, bread, eggs were comparable to European prices it was working out more expensive to eat in rather than out and it was getting harder to haggle with tuk tuk drivers as the price of petrol was raising daily. Desperation hung in the air and everyone seemed hungry for our money just short of aggression. This part of our trip was in February 2022, just a month or so before the riots started. I had heard of hyper inflation but reading about it and seeing it play out really brings home its full impact. We felt like voyeurs in someone else’s tragedy and could only justify our presents to ourselves by knowing we were at the least bringing in much needed foreign currency. The people seemed positively defeated and hopeless. We didn't venture out much other than to stroll on the beach at sunset and find a nice place to dine each evening.
Sunset on Negombo Beach
On our final evening we did manage to find a very lively bar/restaurant. It was run by a very friendly English man who had relocated to Sri Lanka 20 years ago and set up his business. As a side line he also ran a dog rescue where most of his profits from the bar went at this time, he told us he had 49 dogs living in his home. On my travels through India and Sri Lanka dogs were very low down the pecking order, the vast majority being strays. You would see them on dumps or rummaging through bins only rarely did you see one attached to an owner. Besides being dirty they mostly seemed in good health but for those that became sick it was a whole other story. I wont describe the state of them because just remembering them is stomach turning but these were the dogs this man was helping and for that he has my admiration. He had only reopened that week and had pulled out all the stops. Pre-covid, I imagined, this bar would have had queues around the corner or perhaps even invitation only, it had everything. Live music, great food, very professional staff, and a wall of those pedicure fish. The fish tanks stood on the ground and ran in a semicircle just to the side of the bar. Low benches straddled the edge of the tanks so that patrons of the bar, if so inspired, could have their little drinky-winks while the tiny fish feasted. The benches could hold approximately 12 people very comfortably. I did try to give it a go but never got further than dipping my toes in the water before rapidly removing them, no fish came close. Roisin gave it a go as did others. It was so funny watching the fish swarming toward the new entrants to the fish tanks. Lords Restaurant Complex was the liveliest bar on this strip and like ourselves it seemed to have drawn every tourist in the district all eager to party and have fun. You entered from the street down a very long hallway before arriving at the club, it was utterly removed from the world outside and remenistant of clubs and bars you would encounter in any of the Spanish resorts or notorious Ibiza. This was the closest to holiday vibe I had encountered since leaving home. Easy atmosphere and friendly people and on that note big HELLO to Angela! A lovely English lady who we ended up chatting with for a time before Róisín and I called it a night and headed home.
Bar in Negombo
We had booked our accommodation for a day more than we needed as our flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. The owner of the apartments and now our driver picked us up at 8 pm that evening and deposited us at the airport in plenty of time to get our flight. Check in opened at 9 pm and we were about sixth in line. Unbelievably, we stood for the best part of an hour while those in front tried to argue the most bizarre items on to the plane. A woman who had about six small children and a 35 kg bag for each of them refused to accept that the children didn’t have the same baggage allowance as her adult ticket allowed. A man with a Buddha statute equal to the size of a 35 kg bag and a bag of his father's ashes stood his ground until the check-in staff gave in and let him pass. People with cardboard boxes held together with string lobbed them into check-in. After an hour it was our turn. We showed our phones with the PCR test and flight details to the attendant who asked us for a hard copy. It was unbelievable especially after the stuff I had just witnessed being let through. Moreover, this was Covid so no other airport was accepting paper copies of anything. No point in arguing we had to wander the airport looking for some way of printing our papers. The problem was we had no cash and no way of getting to an ATM which was on the other side of the security we had past through coming in. I was fit to cry. Róisín did manage to convince the bag wrapping people to print our papers and take a card payment but by the time that was done we were now at the back of the queu. It was eleven thirty by the time we got back to the check-in desk with the same mean faced sullen women who had sent us off two hours previously. She turns the papers over. Read every detail. Asked totally unnecessary questions which included where we were staying in Thailand. I was now really fed up and her supervisor sitting at the next counter was listening to our conversation. When she asked where we were staying, I told her it was none of her business as she could clearly see from the papers she had in her hand we had our thai visas. The supervisor instructed her to print the boarding passes and let us go. It was now 11.45 our flight was leaving in fifteen minutes, so we ran. When we got to the next floor, we had to pass through another security check I really thought this flight was going without us but with minutes to spare we arrive at our gate and board the plane. Sri Lanka I will see you again hopefully in better times. On to Phuket!
The journey took us 40 minutes and was twice the price of the 3 hour drive from the airport. So I call that "swings and roundabouts". Perhaps it would have been cheaper if they had let me pay for the curtain damages.
Weligama and Mirissa
This leg of the journey was going to be rest and relaxation. We had been on the go constantly so decided to take a few days to catch our breath and this was the ideal spot. From the bedroom you can see the sun set on the horizon. I used to spend my evening watching the sun go down while bobbing up and down in the waves. Never too old to splash about in the water, forgotten what fun it was to just mess about, no skill required. Should add that this beautiful white sandy beach was pretty much ours so no point in showing off my sychronised swimming strokes. The location was perfect with just a few guests staying in the hotel. I noticed that there were a number of young people staying there. They would spend their days sitting in the garden overlooking the beach. Maybe go for a little swim before lunch and then at about 6 pm they would disappear. I eventually figured out that many of these travellers were remote working. When it was 6 pm in Sri Lanka the work day was just starting back in England, where most of them seemed to be from, I couldn’t help but admire them and envy their fortune. The perfect way to explore asia is with a reasonable european income. The euro or dollar go a long way here and cash is King!
Sunset in Weligama
Finding a Tailor
Our hotel lay just feet from the beach but it is approximately an 8 minute drive from the town centre. So if we wished to explore we needed to hire a tuk tuk and this always entailed a vastly shifting price point. We booked a taxi through the Grab app which cost 180 Sri Lankan rupees in an air-conditioned car with windows and doors. When we went to make the return journey we were asked for 300 rupees from a windowless, doorless vehicle with as much finesse as a ride-on lawnmower. I really put my haggling skills to work and mostly got the price point I wanted. We needed to go to the town to get some laundry done. In our travels we had discovered that the hotels charge by the item which can very quickly run to big numbers. But the laundries will charge by the kilo usually around 2 to 3 dollars for a wash, dry and fold. So, we have taken to organising our laundry whenever we plan to stay in one place for more than 3 days. A quick google search brought us to a little side alley off the main street in Mirissa. The reviews had been mostly good with only one complaint that the clothes hadn’t been washed but rather kicked around the shop aggressively (you could see the foot prints in the pictures he posted). This appeared to be the worst transgression. Perhaps the big USA underwear brought out the dark side of the worker being asked to wash them, we shall never know. There were only one or two complaints of clothes going missing. So off we went hoping for the best, honestly if they had asked I might have paid them to loose some of my wardrobe, it really was starting to look sad. Realising how much I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe I decided to check out local tailors. I had been told by everyone that tailoring was so cheap. So again I did the google search for tailors and found a few. After sifting through the many reviews I decided on one who had over 200 reviews and only 1 bad review. It was really bad but I decided that it was possibly just some disgruntled shopper who could get the price down to Primark levels. We moved from the laundry and made our way down a number of side streets. We were heading deeper and deeper into suburbia and people were starting to stare which led me to believe we were lost and lost we were! We flagged down a tuk tuk which brought us up and down every by-way but still could not find the tailor. At this point we decided to call and see if we could get direction to the shop but the shop had closed pre-covid. The lady who answered told us she was working from home so we handed the phone to our driver and he brought us to the location. From the street we could see a neglected garden and what looked from the outside as an abandoned building. The taxi driver told us to go in and that we were at the destination but I honestly thought we were going to be mugged. I negotiated with the driver to wait which he was happy to do. I had every intention of running out the house if anything seemed amiss. The madness was thinking of going into a house where things might be amiss! The house was very dark and had a cluster of cats, some on the floor and others on every available seat. The entrance porch had bolts of material from floor to ceiling, so I started to feel a little more confident that we may be in the right place. I was invited to sit down on the couch occupied by the cats which were not asked to move. I obliged rather than cause offense to any cat lovers but hugged close to the arm of the chair. Trying my best not to draw attention to my nervousness around cats. ‘Cat’ I can do but gangs of them pushes the boundaries of tolerance. Thankfully, after establishing what I was looking for I was asked to stand to be measured and no one ever moved as quick as me in that moment. Measurements taken I was then asked to pick out the material I wanted from the large selection on the porch. We were leaving in three days and I was assured that everything would be ready. I returned to the hotel glad to be shut of the cats.
Róisín always seemed to find those out of the way places which required a mile walk in the dark, my nerves would be fried by the time we got there. But in fairness the food was always exceptional and a beer or two would always take the edge off the return journey. Transport would always quote 300 rupees and I would always say “Ah Lads, will you get real. I want local prices not tourists prices”. They would drop to 200 but I would do a Maggi on it and say the lady’s not for moving. Róisín used to get really embarrassed and we became a bit of a double act, me being bad cop and Róisín good cop. I think they used to take pity on her as she would always end up calling me back saying they had changed their minds and were now willing to take 100 rupees.
Whale Watching in Mirissa
One of the great adventures of this trip was the early morning whale watching trip we booked. We were required to be up at 5:30 am so as to be at the pier for 6 am. These early morning trips really kill me it makes a great day out feel like work but I reassure myself that I can sleep on the boat. I have become a dab hand at sleeping upright, between cars, buses, and ferries nothing daunts me. We arrive at the pier to find there are hundreds going out. This is one of the big tourist attractions in the area and I am assured the crowds are small compared to pre-Covid days. This is also another one of those locations where each man helps his neighbour so that not all boats go out on the same days. There isn’t that dog eat dog competition that is so familiar with everyone vying for the same few tourists. They take turns so that everyone has a few shackles to take home at the end of each week. In this instance its fair to say crisis has brought out the best in these people. We are hammered onto the boat, no social distancing here. Only about 6 of the 20 or so boats docked here will go out today. When we are all packed in off we head on the high seas chasing the illusive whales. We are bouncing around n the waves for about 2 hours before we see some dolphins. The dolphins start to chase the boat and weave over and back in front of us. This is enough for me, dolphins are such fun creatures just don’t get that feeling from whales. There’s a Russian guy just in front of me and he starts making noises like I dolphin. He’s leaning out over the side of the boat making those whop whop and click click noises I believe he believed the dolphins understood him. Six hours we floated around and not a whale to be seen anywhere. The captain gave us a choice of either heading back to port or we could head up the coastline to enjoy the views as a compensation for the no show whales. Amazingly, everyone with the exception of an American couple voted to head back to port. The American couple were ignored as everyone on the boat could see the added value being offered in a jaunt up the coast and back. Personally I don’t care it has been a beautiful morning looking at the scenery and taking in that beautiful sea air. I have travelled enough in Asia to say at this point in my trip that everything is an ‘ish’ time and I like it. Constant time keeping really wears you down. I appreciate that time schedules for work are a particular matter but we are on holidays, I do believe we have to be that bit more flexible. But clearly the Americans are always on the clock and of those I have met there are few exceptions. Just in case anyone is wondering they had no pressing engagements that precluded them from the extended boat trip at no extra charge. So off we went up the coast with our happy Russian friends, our scowling Americans and of course the Irish contingent of the “I’m easy, no bother” brigade. Suddenly, there is a buzz of excitement spreading through the crew and the captain sends a guy to climb up a flag pole to survey the horizon. Jack Sparrow would have envied the moves of this guy as he shielded his eyes from the sun while holding onto the pole with ankles and one hand. He points out into the ocean indicating that there was a Whale there. Now, we are talking one whale and what he is describing is a change in the texture of the water which indicated that a whale was under the water rather than visibly on top. He also knows that we have no chance of even seeing a glimpse of this creature if we are focused on the specific location. By now there are around 10 boats loaded with upwards of 100 passengers. The passengers on the boat all move toward one side of the boat to get a better view (if any) of the elusive whale when the captain starts roaring for everyone to sit down fearing the boat might capsize. Thankfully everyone followed the instruction, returned to the seats where they stood in anticipation of the majestic whale. It was a whale but not your blue orca or basking or even a great white. The little fellow we and all the other boats were chasing was a sperm whale, one of the smaller varieties of whale in the ocean and honestly not much bigger than a dolphin. But contract complete, I as well as many others on the boat saw the tail end of the whale so we could now return to shore and back to the hotel for some R&R.
Dolphins in Mirissa
Final Day in Mirissa
My dressmaker contacted me the day following my visit. They were wondering if I had a pair of trousers I particularly liked and they would copy the design. They even offered to come to the hotel and collect the pants which I felt was above and beyond but happy that I didn't have to haggle another fare to town which was by now beyond a joke. We were leaving the next day so I needed and received reassurance that the clothing would be ready by the time of our departure and that they would deliver them to our hotel before our departure. They arrived not long after and took the trousers with promises to return prior to checkout the next day. That sorted, Róisín and I headed out for the evening with a detour by the laundry on our way. The laundry seemed a bit chaotic. It didn't add confidence that we looked through the contents of everyone’s washing to find our own. We nearly left one bag behind as it was only by chance that I spotted a familiar pattern in another bag on the way out of the shop. The reviews did say they lose stuff so figured we had headed that demon off. Dinner complete. Tuck tuk haggled. And we returned to our hotel to pack our belongs for the journey to Tissamaharama the next day. It was easy packing as most of our clothes were packed, ironed and folded from the laundry.
My tailor returned as promised just before we were leaving. I had intended to try everything on but our taxi was waiting and we just didn't have the time. Besides she was a lovely lady I couldn’t see her cheating me. Paid the lady and thanked everyone for looking after us, hotel staff included and off we went to our next destination.
I tried another card but again the same problem. I was fit to cry. I am a total coffee addict and was counting on a good hit of caffeine before our flight. There was absolutely nothing to do but put everything back and go on our way as there were no ATM machines after security check-in. The staff had said their machines that could only cover local cards not international so we were stuck, it would be at least four hours until we reached Sri Lanka. While sitting at one of the café tables trying o figure out what could be the problem with the cards a staff member approached us, I was sure they were going to ask us to leave. The girls and the guy (all students age and part time I guessed) in the coffee shop took pity on us and arrived over with the items we had intended to purchase, all of them. I just could not believe their kindness and I have to emphasize that the eldest member of staff here was about 20 years old. I gratefully accepted the coffee for myself and the bottle of water for Róisín but tried to insist they take the other items back but they refused saying they would cover the cost between them. There comes a point where it is best and necessary to acknowledge and appreciate a kindness when done and that is just what we did. Besides a re-enactment of "Father Ted" and the cup of tea “go on, go on, go on" I just couldn’t face without the coffee. So to the staff in terminal 3 coffee near gate 4 my daughter and I are and were amazed by your kindness. I did have one unopened box of the lovely chocolates left which I rooted out of my bag to offer as a thank you. So all told India was beautiful and where our first encounter with the country was not a positive one most interactions thereafter were wonderful. We board the plane for Sri Lanka where the contents of the plane and ourselves are sprayed with something from a similar container that I would use to spray the garden. I figured it was a need to know and if I wanted to go to Sri Lanka I didn't need to know. Thank God or covid for the masks; or are they both manmade!
Sunset at Galle Fort
Arriving at Galle Fort
We flew into Colombo and had a driver organised to take us from the Airport to our hotel in Galle Fort, a two and a half hour journey away. The property in Galle Fort was receiving great reviews and although not within the parameters of 4 star, it was flagged as spotlessly clean by previous guests. Every thing else you can work with or around but if a place is dirty you sunk. Sometimes you can just be lucky with your plans. The guest house was called Sirene Galle Fort and it was beautiful. A real old world style. The room was small for the netted four poster bed with mosquito netting. Mosquito nets are not just a romantic aesthetic as they are in Europe. In these parts they are functional too, they save you from being the main course for the hungry little beasties. The hotel was a small family run establishment with every review mentioning the breakfast. It was one hell of a breakfast prepared by the grandmother of the house with love. Honestly you felt like a member of the family or at least a much welcomed relative the way this lady looked after us. We had platters of fruit. My first introduction to dosa, a rice flour pancake with a fried egg and a noodle type roll with a sweet paste filling, and an array of jams and spreads, wow an excellent start to the day and all delivered with the kindly countenance of the grandmother.
Breakfast in Sri Lanka
Galle Fort Food
Directly across the street was a Buddhist temple. The street was not more than 3 meters wide (10 feet). So, every morning as we sat on the veranda having our breakfast we watched the monks meditating for the betterment of the world, very comforting even if not of the same belief system. We spent the day just wandering the fort city along its battlements that towered towards the sea. The raised headland and 16th century battlements of the fort saved the old city from the worst of the destruction during the 2004 Tsunami. This was not the case with the low lying modern city which was all but washed away and 4000 of the city inhabitants died. This tragic event is still fresh in the minds of most people here but I have to honestly say it was far in the back of my mind until I saw the location. How quickly we forget things that don’t directly affect us. The buildings and streets in the fort are pretty much as they have been since the Portuguese’ arrived and established themselves here back in 1505. Jack Sparrow wouldn’t look out of place here. Well, less out of place here than in that court room defending his character against his ex. In this court of public opinion all I can say is “Mrs Ex, hard to come back from what you did in the bed, forget about the antics in the lift or the apartment”. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Need to wipe that from my mind so moving on.
As we strolled around the city we managed to find a fantastic restaurant specializing in fish dishes. I know a port town what a surprise but on advice from google we entered the establishment and promptly set to ordering the house specials. Now for those who know me well I’m not really a fish eater. Personally I believe it comes from the fact that my father was from a coastal village and fish was a staple in their household either that or his mother was a dreadful cook. Let us take it that my grand mother was not a dreadful cook but that the abundance and frequency of fish at mealtime meant it was under valued. At a guess I think this analogy is closer to the truth. I do remember in my childhood summers that steak was the dish offered to visitors when they arrived. My, my, what would I not do for a taste of wild salmon now? Okay, back to my restaurant story. So I peruse the menu and to my horror realise there is only fish on the menu so fish I must have. I have no intention of having it out with the chef if for any reason I don’t like it so I make a deal with Róisín to consume it if I cant. I decide on the Red Snapper and I am escorted to a glass fronted display fridge with every sort of fish laid out on a bed of crushed ice. I wouldn’t know a good Red Snapper from a bad one and so deferred to the chef for his professional opinion. I watched him pick out the chunkiest of the Red fish from the fridge, placed it on a plate and closing the lid took my offering to the kitchen. While we were waiting there was a power cut and candles in bottles were brought. The kitchen cooked with gas so cooking was still on schedule. One thing that struck me about Galle Fort was the numbers of visiting Russians. It's not like I spend a lot of my time wondering where Russians go on holiday. But I realised for the first time their absence from the Costas, the Cliffs of Moher, Temple Bar, the typical Euro/US zones where at some point I have met every nationality but no cannot say I have met any visiting Russians. So while we are waiting four stunning looking Russian women come into the place and ask if food is being served. The restaurant is getting very busy now with large family groups being turned away and yet these four beautiful women show up and they have the undivided attention of the waiters. Do I need to say it. Feck! I will surprise, surprise. Well these women went to the chilled cabinet like they owned a fish stall in Moscow. They took each fish out and turned it over, punched it, slapped it and then left it to the side before going at the next one. Believe me when I tell you they could have taught the lovely Nigela a thing or two about handling a fish. I was getting mad just looking at them. I mean there’s a power cut and unless there is such an object as a gas fridge these women were doing their best to ensure what was left would spoil and yet the waiters smiled and fawned over these beauties. Well I laughed out loud as the beauties left the building and the fish remained spread out around the counter. More power to ye ladies and that’s only because the fish you mauled was not mine. Lads, just keep it professional and you wont be made fools of, is that too much to ask? Well to end the story of the Red Snapper he arrived just as the power was restored and I ate every bit of him except the eyes which kept looking at me accusingly. So I think I have established that the food in Sri Lanka at this point has not disappointed.
Red Snapper in Galle Fort
Day Out in Galle Fort
So on to our tour and a walk through the Old city with the lovely Uzman, a part time guide we came across on Airbnb. When he is not guiding people around his native city he is practising law. He is an absolute gentleman. He brought us through the streets to the Court buildings, old entrance, along the battlements, pointing out all the interesting features along the way. Galle Fort is an UNESCO heritage site and as such the owners of the properties have obligations towards maintenance. Many of the properties in the old city are being bought up by large hotel groups which in turn is forcing the indigence population out. I have no issue with the capitalist system of profit first but I do have a problem with local people being forced out of their homes because they do not have the type of funds to make repairs to these properties to a heritage standard level. There are funds available but as is often the case they are not there for the little people. Uzman and his family are the 8th generation to live in their historical Dutch house. As part of his tour we had the privilege of being invited to his home and chatting with the matriarch of the family. She sat in the courtyard at the centre of the house. Part of the building is in urgent need of repair but the resources are just not there to cover it. Now, I appreciate that many would say that if they cant afford to do repairs they should move. Personally I think repairs to the level of heritage site integrity should be funded by government at the very least through an interest free loans scheme. Accepting that house has been in the same family for generations. They have cared and maintained it through many decades so that it is still standing to be in a position to be labelled UNESCO. Do the state not have some obligation to maintain such building without the eviction of the residence. I am confident that this property has been maintained with contemporary materials available as needed and at reasonable cost. Not the case with heritage materials. But sadly this is mostly a moot point with Sri Lanka being on the verge of failed state status. I was there in early January and there was a tension in the air. As we drove from the airport I at first thought that Sri Lanka was booming. The highway we were on was brand new and massive, far in excess of the volume of traffic I could see traveling on it. Our driver told me that the Chinese owned the new toll roads in his country. So every time a Sri Lankan drove on this road that was another rupee for China. I live in a country where the state sold off a lot of the silver and it took a lot of time and money to get bits of it back, M50 toll, shell oil and tax. I live in a country where we are still paying interest on state borrowing used to pay unsecured shareholders in the rest of Europe. I live in a country where our economy is booming but our public services are stressed. I will end this rant and this episode with a heart felt sorrow for the people of Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the people are banging on your door telling you its time to go history tells us its best to go before your pushed. Oh and what really would be original is leaving the silver and not filling your pockets as you go.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.