The Little Island with a Big Soul: Sri Lanka

Arriving in Sri Lanka felt like coming home. I liked the vibe immediately. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t India, but i don’t think so. Sri Lanka is magical.

We arrived via ferry. In july of 2011 the first ferry from India to Sri Lanka set sail after 30 years. Leaving India & going through immigration was very tedious, and it was there we were told we could not re-enter for 60 days. After long discourse we were told we just had to go to the Indian high commission in Colombo & get a letter of exception as we were tourists. In India you have to ask the right question & if you want the answer you seek. For example, in one airport I asked if i could go past the domestic terminal to the international terminal to go to the information booth. “no, madam”. after about 5 minutes of back & forth,  (they never volunteered the fact that there was an information booth about 50 meters away) I had to ask “is there an information kiosk in the domestic terminal?”  “ah,yes madam.” See,  I just didn’t ask the right question……

our berth on the ferry

big ship

Colombo is a big city. and if you hate big cities, Colombo will not be for you. Me, I like cities. and the fact that there were no cows in the streets made it all the more appealing.

I normally hate posts like the one I am about to write, itinerary posts, i call them.  “First we/I went here, then we/I ate that, then we/I went there & had so much fun…….. blah. blah. blah.”

Stay with me, people.

Sri Lanka’s mood is a happy one. I think that’s what is so appealing. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is thrilled about the 2009 cease fire. For those of you who are not up on your world history, Sri Lanka was a country embroiled in a bloody civil war from 1985 to august of 2009. Sri Lanka was not a safe place to live let alone travel. Adding insult to injury, the Tsunami in 2004  killed over 30,000 people. Sri Lankans are ready for some peace. And, it seems, they may have it.

Here are some highlights from all the places we visited. Maybe you, too, will be inspired to come visit this lovely gem of an island.

Colombo: big city. great food. unbelievable clothes shopping. many upscale brands are manufactured in Sri Lanka, so, good quality clothing is dirt cheap. I got a banana republic skirt for 5 bucks. columbia fleece jacket. 12 bucks.  Everyday I was atwitter with the anticipation of the next great deal. Ok, you think I don’t know it’s a sickness? I am girl with a 40L backpack, preaching the gospel of packing light & i am shopping like one of those crazy suburban housewives on hoarders. What else can explain it? I have an illness, plain & simple. I’m sure there is a DSM diagnosis code for it somewhere.

leaving colombo train station

Galle Fort: so charming it will make your teeth ache. The entire are is a UNESCO heritage site.  Cobblestone streets. colonial historical architecture. It is absolutely a lovely place. Unless you want to have a beer. or three. There is one reasonably priced restaurant that serves beer. Oh, sure you can drink at the amangala, or the galle fort hotel, but at 7-8 bucks a pop it’s less than affordable. Galle suffered very little damage from the tsunami, the ramparts built in 1649 by the Dutch, held.

Galle street scene

walking on the ramparts

Unawatuna: A lovely stretch of beach that was completely wiped out during the tsunami. I mean WIPED OUT. Every building is new. And while it is popular with European package tourists it manages to retain a laid back beach village vibe. I managed to get in some diving before the cyclone came. Yes, you heard me a cyclone. The locals were terrified. They scooped up their children & ran for cover, meanwhile there were foreigners drinking on the beach & swimming in the huge swells who seemed oblivious to the history or potential danger. Enrolled in a cooking class here. learned how to make pol sambal, or as i like to call it, crack. This is my favorite condiment by a mile. It even makes   a toasted cheese sandwich with white bread & processed “cheese” singles taste good. like really good.  The cyclone made us retreat to higher ground.

stilt fishermen near Marissa

unawatuna beach

our feast from cooking class (the crack is in the orange bowl)

wendy with our teacher

porch at beach haven guest house in Galle

Kandy, Sigiriya &Bandarawella:: Away from the heat & humidity of the coast are the central highlands. Kandy is a sweet little town & home of the temple of the tooth, a buddhist temple that purports to have one of buddhas teeth. It is a very holy place.  There is also a magnificent botanical garden nearby. Sigiriya, is an ancient & giant rock that once had a temple palace built on top and another UNESCO heritage site. Bandarawella is a little sleepy town in the hill country with nothing to do or see, but, my traveling companion is a bit of a heritage hotel freak & she has always wanted to stay at the Bandarawella hotel, an old tea planters club. It was a great place, with a relaxing vibe and a BUFFET!  I had mashed potatoes. once again, with feeling: MASHED %*(&$!!!** POTATOES. with butter. and gravy. and beets. and lettuce. it was like mana from heaven.  The wonders just kept coming, as the bar served Balvenie 12 year old double wood.  OH, AND they had tortoises in the garden. seriously. good. accommodation.

botanical gardens near Kandy

big palm

Sigiriya

view from the top of Sigiriya

porch on the Old Empire in Kandy

flowers for the temple

Nuwara Eliya is famous for it’s tea plantations. Sri Lanka exports more tea than anywhere else in the world. We hired a tuk tuk for the day to take us around to the tea plantations. I learned more about tea that I ever thought I wanted to know.  The British started planting tea when they could no longer get tea from China. Another leftover from the Brits is fabulous produce. Nuwara Eliya grows beets, turnips, lettuce, and all sorts of cool weather crops.

Our bob Marley loving tuk took driver

tea pluckers

lovely produce stall

the tub at the bandarawella hotel. my first hot bath in a year!

There are a couple of foods unique to Sri Lanka: Hoppers & string hoppers. String hoppers are a airy rice noodle served in little piles with all sorts of curries & yes, pol sambal. Hoppers are thin pancake like things shaped like a bowl & piled high with your choice of curries. Rice & curry is also very popular here. All are eaten with your hands & they are absolutely delicious.

rice & curry

hopper

string hoppers

So there you have it, folks. Sri Lanka in a nutshell. It is one of my most favorite countries to date. Can’t wait to return.

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About Miss Q

I am a travel obsessed foodie, with an inexplicable love of clamato, elvis costello & the unknown
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