May Day. We awoke to a gloriously sunny day, and went down for a decadent breakfast with a wonderful sea view, and of course the view of the crow-shooter striding purposefully up and down the lawn with his catapult. He fired a few times, but he still never hit anything. A crow flew in to the omelette station, grabbed a piece of the eggy treat with a ‘a bit of everything’ and flew off again. The catapult man looked perplexed, but then a new grim determination took over, and he doubled the speed of his lawn patrols. I found it enormously entertaining.
I had a short walk down Galle Face green to walk off the food (I’d ignored, yet again, the ‘leave the table 75% full’ advice). The pier here was full of people, some fishing, some just hanging out, others courting. I thought how lovely it must be to live next to a sea like this – one where the sea view is unblocked by a thousand oil tankers, as it is in Singapore, a sea that actually smells of sea.
“…the company had sent an absolute loon of a driver….clearly on a suicide mission….”
We checked out of the hotel, and got a private car, recommended by the guy working at the travel agents at the Galle Face, to Unawatuna (for almost half the price – Rs 8,500 – than the official hotel price). Inevitably, such a low price (well, it was still pretty expensive but we didn’t have the time nor patience for the trains on a day like Labour Day) corners were cut – and in this case the company had sent an absolute loon of a driver. He spoke English a little bit, I think, though I could only make out the occasional word in his rapid machine-gun style of speaking / shouting. He barely had time to catch his breath as he spoke, while at the same time swerving to take over and avoid traffic – he was clearly on a suicide mission – or was this a normal leisurely drive on a bank holiday in Sri Lanka? We took the Highway to save time – toll free on public holidays. We got to Galle in 2 hours, and found everyone else in Colombo had had the same idea of escaping the city. The police had inexplicably closed certain roads, and it took us a while, and lots of asking /yelling to passersby who pointed us in vague directions, to get there.
We arrived at the Gloria Grand Hotel, and checked into the top floor after a refreshing welcome drink, in a small but lovely mountain view room. Despite the bathroom smelling of sewage, it was a decent room, with a balcony. Not a patch on the Galle Face, of course, but it would be wrong to compare.
“There was an air of festivity”
We headed straight out, down the colourful, narrow streets filled with the little shops and restaurants geared to tourists. We hit the sand – and the cove is quite beautiful, the sand yellow, the sea turquoise. Loads of locals were splashing away enjoying the Sunday at the far end beneath the Buddhist shrine, which is where the water became shallow and like a swimming pool. Families were having loads of fun in the shallows, and there was an air of festivity. We had a nice time walking up and down the beach, practically the only foreigners here, before stopping for lunch. We then found a sun-lounger and lay down for a while, before braving the waves and the beach that dropped off very quickly to deep water. We enjoyed an afternoon tea and coffee further down the beach, then we headed back as night fell. Back in the room, I stayed on the balcony a while, watching monkeys play and all kinds of birds gearing up for a bit of nocturnal feeding – a peahen was flying around too, but was too big for the palms she was standing on, and broke one or two, much to the Gibbons’ delight. Later, the night sky was lit with beautiful stars. It was a peaceful spot indeed.
“The only sounds were those of the waiters chatting softly, which sounded like the babbling of a brook, and the ceaseless breathing of the sea
We headed out, hitting a little restaurant for a 3-coins beer, then down to the beach. We sat down in front of Yellow restaurant on a table in front of the sea, under the stars, and enjoyed a romantic bottle of….Lion beer. Lion has that filthy, hangover-in-a-bottle taste – unlike the crisp, clean taste of 3-coins. It’s probably the worst lager I’ve ever tasted – but it was the only lager I’d drink for the rest of the trip, 3-coins a luxury reserved only for a few select places it seemed. We strolled down the beach – lit softly by the yellow lights from the restaurants, and the lanterns on the tables casting soft shadows across the sands. We went to La Tortuga for a mediocre pizza and another bottle of Lion. There was no-one about. The only sounds were those of the waiters chatting softly, which sounded like the babbling of a brook, and the ceaseless breathing of the sea. We were the only guests. Unawatuna seemed like a ghost town. The beach was deserted. It was only us.