A hand thrust candied ginger and soda pop in my face. I declined, the dried drool on my chin giving a different impression. I turned to the window and watched the ragged coast pass by, every now and then blinded by the reflection of the sun’s splendor glittering across the water. Had Sri Lanka’s mystery all been a dream? I reached for the feeble string given by the Buddhist monk clinging to my wrist. I looked to my lap and saw the confessions of the jungle’s secrets scrawled across my journal. I settled back into my sunny wooden seat, my memories wrapping me into another deep sleep.
We were on the train from Colombo to Galle, headed to the sea, in search of a tropical paradise tucked along the southern tip of the country. Where golden sand sprawled between swaying palms and the crash of the turquoise waves, neon fish and whale sharks and coral lined the bays, and fireflies lit the night like swaying lanterns.
The sudden brake on the track jolted me awake. We filed behind the remaining passengers and jumped off of the freight. Hundreds of chicklets clucked in boxes, unaware of their fate. We crammed our backpack laden selves into a tuk tuk with the landscape on our left, seascape on our right, driving through the overgrowth before careening down a single lane street. Lined with funky shops and art galleries and sidewalk treats, Welle Dewalaya Road epitomizes the vibe of a laidback artist community. Our guesthouse opened up to Unawatuna Beach, where Buddha and pagoda loomed atop a cliff overlooking the crescent reef.
When our days didn’t consist of cards, swim and tan, we took the opportunity to explore the rest of the realm. Mirissa, known for its surfing and jungle lined shores, was every one of those dreamt up images of paradise. With crystal clear water and a spotless coast, it was easy to submerge ourselves into the magic of this secluded beach haven.
On our way back from Mirissa we stopped at the Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery, whose mission is to save these creatures from extinction. They do so by caring for injured adults and once they’ve recovered their health, setting them free. Also by incubating and hatching their own babies, releasing them into the wild when the time is ready. This non-profit organization has saved hundreds of thousands of this marine species, and provides a great opportunity to see the animals up close while helping the environment!
My husband is one for the reptiles, so I surprised him with a little detour outside of town. Where the road turns to rubble and the cattle runs through, there’s a man amongst the paddy fields that has a snake or two. A charmer, a researcher, a physician, all of the above, he lives in harmony with his collection of serpents and offers guests an experience to look, even touch. Prepared with every anti-venom and counter-venom treatment, he handles each specimen individually and with full knowledge of their behaviors. Now, I don’t have a problem with snakes, but standing next to a viper made me a bit queasy.
We dedicated one of our days to Galle, a UNESCO certified city, that was founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Fortified by the Dutch in 1663, they enclosed the cobblestone streets and colonial style buildings with a stone wall running the ocean bearing sides. Crumbling bastions and ramparts sit strategic in the north, and at one point had an extra layer of security with a working drawbridge and moat.
The walled city is to be taken at a leisurely pace, no bookmarking the bookstore or cafe or exotic trading company. You’ll stumble upon them, along with museums and history you’d never know to find. That’s what makes it special, around every corner’s a surprise.
As we reflected on our trip under the Unawatuna sky, the Eastern stars aligned in constellations we’d never seen. We knew a piece of our heart would always stay behind and we vowed to come back, in some far off life.