A Travellerspoint blog

Sun, sea and the Search for Moby Dick in Mirissa

sunny 34 °C

After our amazing late night watching turtles we decided to move on. We never normally spend just one night in a place but we were just to eager too see more of Sri Lanka. We checked out and sat in one of the sleepy cafes watching the sea to have breakfast. We ordered Sri Lankan omelette and they were fiery with fresh green chilies and full of herbs, tomatoes and onions. It was delicious and we washed it down with a gallon of tea. With full bellies we then made our way to the bus station, bought some coconut biscuits and water for the journey and set off on the bus to Matara. We had to change here and get another bus to Mirissa. We are now working our way back along the south coast towards Colombo on the west.

It took a while but the busses were not very busy compared to normal and we enjoyed our biscuits and the views of the coast.

Once in Mirissa we pulled up at the bus stop outside a guest house and were offered a room for 1500Rs. We are staying at Ayodhya and it is cheap and comfortable. We are the only guests and the family who owns it are very friendly and helpful.

We were not really sure what to expect from Mirissa as it just looks like a collection of guesthouses and a few shops on a road but we went to explore the beach.

The beach is a tropical paradise, a thin strip of golden sand, palm trees and waves. It is gorgeous and we wandered down the beach watching people play in the waves. There are lots of beach shacks to eat and drink at and many have tables on the sand. The sea comes right up to the shacks, wetting your feet with the warm ocean while you are sat. It is lovely. It's small and ramshackled but very beautiful and laid back. We sat at one of the shacks and shared a beer, admiring the view and talking in the sea breeze.

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We spent all afternoon walking in the sea and drinking at a few different shacks and came back to watch the sunset and have some fish for dinner. It is stunning and very romantic, with candles and tables for two. We went back early ready for an early start the next morning.

Our first full day in Mirissa we decided to book onto a whale watching tour. Mirissa is one of the best places in the world to see blue whales in the wild. We are too early for the watching season but it is still a good place to see whales all year round so we thought we would give it a try while we were here even though the chances are slimmer. We booked with Raja and the Whales as they have tons of amazing reviews and provide ethical and wildlife friendly tours for 6000Rs each. A lot of smaller companies get too close, disrupting the whales which may lead to them changing their migration patterns.

We were picked up from our guest house at 6.50am and taken to the harbour.

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The boat was nice and the crew were lovely. They brought around ginger biscuits and tea and we set off. They handed out sea sickness pills to anyone who requested and Chelsea had one as last time the sea was rough in the dive boat she wasn't well.

The sea was really rough and the small boat rocked from side to side and periodically slammed into the waves. Chelsea immediately felt sick and laid down. After some time Liam was sick. It takes an hour to reach the right depth that the whales swim at and then they search around for the whales. There was none in sight but we kept searching. We had a plate of fresh fruit each and some eggs and bread and the crew give out water. It's an excellent service and the young men manning the boat can't do enough for you.

We were out on the sea for around five hours and unfortunately we didn't see any whales. The crew think they were just too far out today. Nevertheless it was a good experience and we got a full refund as we didn't see any whales.

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We would fully recommend Raj and the Whale for anyone wanting to go whale watching. They are professional and polite and they care a lot about the environment and the whales. They put the whales first and the customers second as to not disturb them which we like.

The rest of our time in Mirissa has been spent on the beautiful beach. All the beach bars have free sunbeds and we have enjoyed laying in the sunshine and playing in the huge waves. The beach is not very busy and it is really relaxing. In the day we have spent all day on the sand drinking cold drinks and reading and at night we have returned to the beach to watch the sunset and have dinner.

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Each place has small tables and candles and the fresh seafood of the day laid out for you to pick. We have had some amazing meals, grilled fish and jumbo prawns at one of the shacks further down the beach which has become our favourite.

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It is really romantic and the small cove is lit up with candles and you can sit right at the water enjoying the sound of the waves. Mirissa is not what we expected but has the balance just right for us. There is a lot of choice of bars and restaurants, all which offer the same meals but which have lovely atmospheres yet it is not built up or crowded. It's a little slice of tropical paradise which we will be sad to leave.

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Posted by Chelsandliam 03:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka mirissa Comments (2)

Tropical Tangalle and Turtle watching at Rekawa Beach

sunny 32 °C

Our next stop from Galle was Tangalle, a beach town along the Souh coast. We had to get a local bus to Matara and another local bus to Tangalle, costing 60Rs each, per bus. The public transport in Sri Lanka is superb. We have not had to wait for a bus once and they go all over and are really cheap. Sri Lankan people are really friendly and they always point us in the right direction at the bus station. Just stand around looking gormless and lost and someone will approach to help.

At Tangalle we checked in at Kingfisher Guesthouse in a clean but basic room for 1500Rs and went for an explore. The beach at Tangalle is stunning. There was no one on it and the golden sands are backed by lush palm trees with the occasional sea break.

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The sea is rough and the waves are gigantic but the water is crystal clear. The whole place is like a ramshackled beach town, a gorgeous tropical paradise that is empty. We found a beach cafe and had a much needed cold drink and booked a tuk-tuk for the evening to take us to Rekawa Beach and The Turtle Conservation Project, the main reason we came so far along the coast.

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The small beach front cafes and restaurants at Tangalle have seafood on the menu so we shared a fresh grilled fish for tea and sat at a table for two, on the sand by candlelight and enjoyed a beer. We were the only people and it was beautiful. It was full moon and the coast was lit up with the light from the moon. We enjoyed watching the massive waves hit the rocks and a friendly street dog kept us company.

By 7.30pm we were very excited and our tuk-tuk picked us up. We payed 1300Rs for the return taxi fare and it is a fair distance down some very rough and ready tiny lanes. We were welcomed into the information centre by one of the professionals and he explained what would happen. We had to wait in the centre while guides search the beach for any activity. Only if they spot a turtle are viewers allowed to go down to the beach and see so people do not disturb or put turtle off from coming onto the beach.

The Turtle Conservation Project protects turtles that nest on Rekawa beach. Five out of the seven sea turtles in the world nest on the beach and over the past 300 years turtle numbers have decreased by 99%. The project firmly believes that the best way to protect them is to guard the beach and keep the eggs in situ rather than remove them to incubate as female turtles will always come back to the beach they were born to nest themselves so it employs a team of professionals to watch the beach and lecture on the turtles plight.

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We looked around the small but well informed centre and then sat and waited patiently. We are a month too late for the turtle nesting season but we thought we would give it a shot. We only had to wait around 45 minutes and a guide came into the centre to tell us there was a green turtle currently nesting. We paid our 1000Rs donation and headed onto the beach. We had to trek quite a long way down the beach but as we walked we could see old tracks of turtles who had hauled themselves out of the ocean onto the beach. No light is permitted on the beach as this will disrupt the turtles apart from the guides red torch as the turtles apparently don't have good vision towards the red end of the spectrum so it does not effect them.

Once we made it down we were amazed by the sight. She was huge! She was at least a metre or a metre and a half and was in the process of covering her eggs with sand. The full moon was so bright that every time the clouds moved past it seemed like someone was turning a light on. We could see everything so clearly. We sat silently and watched her struggle to move the sand with her flippers. She kept taking huge sighs and having a rest but after a long time she had buried her precious eggs. We watched for a long long time, and it seemed like she would never be satisfied as she just kept flicking more and more sand behind her. When she decided they were buried sufficiently she dug herself out and made her way back to the ocean. It looked like she was working very hard and she kept having to rest on the way down but when she finally felt the water it spurred her on and she disappeared into the waves.

It was beautiful to watch and to see the struggle up close was magical. Getting photos was difficult as obviously you cant use flash and it is night time so we have a few terrible photos but we were content just to watch the spectacle. The nest will now be watched carefully and in two months hundreds of little babies will make the dash to the water. We didn't get back to our guest house until midnight but it was worth the long night. Sat on the beach in the moon light watching a gigantic turtle bury her eggs was just unforgettable.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:53 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged turtles sri_lanka conservation tangalle rekawa Comments (3)

Strolling around Fort Galle, Sri Lanka

all seasons in one day 30 °C

On our first full day in Galle we decided to see some of the main sights. Our first port of call was to find some breakfast. Galle is popular and so is very expensive compared to other places in Sri Lanka we have visited. Normally rice and curry is around 150Rs at a local restaurant, here it is 900Rs so we spent a while browsing the cafes to find something we could afford. We settled upon a tiny family place that had a breakfast menu and proudly displayed there five star trip advisor review opposite the School called, Cafe Punto. Liam had the local breakfast and as Chelsea was still not fully recovered she had a western breakfast. They were both delicious and homemade, Liam's came with Pol Rottis which were freshly baked and still warm. They are sort of like flat crispy bread cakes and this came with daal and coconut sambal. Chelsea had a Sri Lankan omelette, filled with herbs and vegetables and this came with homemade pancakes, sort of like English dropscones and honey. It was heavenly and a great little find.

After we had filled up on tea and breakfast we set off in search of the sights.

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Galle is a sight of its own. It is beautiful, full of tiny, quirky and colourful houses, narrow streets and green with potted flowers and ferns. It is extremely peaceful and the streets are often empty and quiet and we wandered through the maze of alleys until we came to the old Dutch Reform Church. It is interesting and when we entered we were thanked by a friendly man for visiting. The floor is paved with old Dutch gravestones and the outside is spotless, with perfect green grass.

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We carried on to the main gates of the fort so we could have a look at the cricket ground and see the walls from outside the fort. Upon arrival of the exit of the fort there is a lot of tuk-tuks asking for business and we were approached by a man who 'was not asking for money' but wanted us to go with him to the local spice market to buy cheap saffron to take back to England. He obviously was a con man even though he told us 'I am not a con man' several times. In the end Chelsea said we already have plans and we do not want any spices or to go with him to the market to which he got very angry and said she should listen to her elders. His aggressiveness confirmed to us he definitely was a con man and did want our money. Anyway, we carried on and had a look at the cricket ground and took some photos of the fort walls. We climbed the steps to the top of the walls and had a good view of the new town and the grounds. The fort itself is lovely and along the top of the walls is cut grass where people enjoy sitting in the breeze and relaxing.

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We also saw the old gate of the fort that the Dutch built which is now part of the maritime museum. It still has the old wooden shutters and a big archway painted yellow. It is very picturesque.

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By this point Chelsea was flagging so we headed back for a sit down, calling for a refreshing lemon ice tea on the way.

By late afternoon we were ready to head back out and we decided to walk the circumference of the fort, ending at sunset on the west side. We walked back to the main entrance and set off along the walls. Some parts were a little narrow and we were not sure if we were meant to be on them. At one point you have to get down and walk along the road to rejoin it.

At the South of the fort it a lighthouse which looks beautiful and exotic surrounded by palm trees and all along the south and the west there are bastions where you can climb and look out to sea.

Galle Fort Lighthouse

Galle Fort Lighthouse

The Indian ocean is really rough but when you look down at the narrow beaches surrounding the walls you can see that the ocean is crystal clear. We loved strolling the walls with the sun setting and bought an ice cream which we had to eat at record speed as it was melting and the wind was blowing it all over us.

The view of the walls and the sea is stunning and all along are benches to sit.

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Once we reached the west side we sat on the wall and watched the sun set but it was a bit too cloudy so it wasn't one of the most spectacular sunsets we have ever seen but it was peaceful and romantic and a great way to end the day. We managed the walk back into town before torrential rain came down and we ate at a cafe a few doors on from our guesthouse.

Today we woke up to more rain but decided to risk it and ran to the nearest cafe for brunch. We have not really done anything other than have a stroll around the lovely streets and eat and drink in cafes. We are very excited to move on to the beach tomorrow.... Everyone cross your fingers for nice weather please.

Posted by Chelsandliam 05:54 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka galle Comments (1)

Moving on to Galle

sunny 32 °C

After our excellent day at Sigiriya and the national park we were in two minds as to where to go next. Option one was to go further north to Anuradhapura, the ancient city of Sri Lanka or to begin our journey to the south coast. After discussion, and a bit of research we chose the later. We really wanted to get back to the coast and see some of the beautiful Sri Lanka beaches.

In order to get from Habarana, our base for Sigiriya and the National Park, down to the south we had to go back to Kandy. We had decided that our first stop on the south would be the Galle. From there we can travel along the south and east coast easily to any beach we please. We caught the local bus again back to Kandy, although as we were not at the beginning of the bus route, it was standing room only by the time we boarded. With our giant bags this is always a pain. Fortunately we did not have to wait long for a seat, and we were crammed in at the front. It was not a pleasant bus journey, and seemed to take forever. We were glad to finally arrive in Kandy, even though it was of course, raining.

We made a trip to the train station immediately to find out what time the train to Galle is for the next day. You can imagine our excitement when the guy behind the ticket counter told us 5am. Even better we can not pre buy the ticket, therefore we had to turn up at 4.30am to make sure we got one. With that early start to look forward to, we jumped in a tuk tuk to a guesthouse.

We did not plan to do anything this time around In Kandy, the weather in Kandy seems to just be rain, interrupted by heavier rain. We dropped off our bags and got a another tuk tuk down the hill into the city to grab some dinner. We went to our favourite eatery in Kandy, the Kandyan Muslim Hotel. This is the third time we have been and it is still intimidating, walking in, sitting down, everyone momentarily stops eating to look at you before going back to there food. We ordered an array of fried snacks, samosas etc, a few roti and a curry to dip them in. Washed down with two very sweet, strong cups of tea and a grand total of less than £2.50. Before going back to the guesthouse to get an early night, we bought some cake, a bottle of water, a newspaper to take back with us.

Then, around 9pm just as we were going to bed Chelsea began to throw up. This continued throughout the night, neither of us got any sleep, and 4am was upon us quicker than we would have liked. Chelsea though was not up to a seven hour train journey, with god knows what quality of toilet, so we decided to stay in Kandy another day, until she was better.

She carried on being ill yesterday morning but improved by the afternoon, we managed to go out for something to eat, but the rest of the time was spent in our room. We think that she has eaten something off, maybe one of the fried snackS we ordered. Its a shame for Chelsea because she was loving eating them, now the thought of them makes her queasy.

We still had to deal with the 5am train, and this morning we somehow dragged ourselves out of bed, and into a tuk tuk down the train station. There was an alarming amount of people out and about to say what time it was. We bought our tickets, an boarded the train. Even though there was at least ten carriages the train was full, there was the odd seat but each time we approached we were told by the person next to vacant seat it was being saved for someone. Maybe they did not want to sit next to us. We ended up sat on our bags in between carriages outside the dreaded toilet. It was way too early for the drama. We tried to sleep best we could but the train was loud and made frequent stops. By the time the sun came up we were packed in like sardines, a few stops later it got to the point where people were hanging on to outside of the train, stood on the steps that helped passengers on and off.

This only continued until the train reached Colombo, and there was a mass exodus, We had been on the train for around three hours by this point, sat on our bags and stood up with zero room between us and other passengers that had somehow crammed on. Thankfully we got seats by this point and the remainder of the journey to Galle, another three hours or so passed in relative comfort.

Our first impressions of Galle are great, we have not done much today apart from have a wander around the old town within the old fort walls. It is the most touristy place in Sri Lanka we have visited so far but it is easy to see why. Inside the old fort, narrow streets are lined with crumbling Dutch colonial buildings, most are either guesthouses, high end hotels, restaurants, or shops now but there are still some working buildings and plenty of local people strolling around. The old fort is a small outcrop of land completely encased by the old walls and surrounded by the Indian sea on three sides. It is a really beautiful town, and we plan to spend a few days here slowly walking the streets and seeing some of the sights.

Posted by Chelsandliam 05:31 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka galle Comments (2)

Sigiriya and Minneriya National Park

sunny 32 °C

Yesterday we moved on from rainy Kandy via another cheap and easy local bus - just with a little help from a local to point us in the right direction of the bus we needed. Our destination was Habarana, on arrival you notice that it is nothing more than a small town on a cross roads, but it is a excellent base to visit Sigiriya and Minneriya National Park.

Today has been one of the best days we have had. We got up early to eat breakfast ready for our tuk-tuk to collect us at 10am. After a confusing driver change and a detour to a shop we had arrived at Sigiriya in no time. Tickets for the famous Lion Rock are quite expensive, $30 per person but it is something we have wanted to see for a long time. First we went into the museum. We were not expecting much but actually it is brilliant. Full of well though out exhibitions with lots of information. We were too excited to get a glimpse of the rock however so we rushed though it.

We entered the main gate and in front of us was a long stone path with the huge rock at the end.

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It is amazing, it is as if a giant has just thrown a huge boulder. The area around the rock is flat and it just sticks out, there is no gradual incline. The walk up to the rock is lovely, through gardens and ruins and as you reach the rock you begin to climb stone steps..... Be warned there are quite a few. After climbing for a few minutes you come to a metal spiral staircase. At the top there is an enclosed walkway where you can view the original rock wall paintings. They are in really good condition and afterwards you descend a separate staircase and walk around the rock about half way up and view the mirror wall. This is a stone wall that is filled with 14th century graffiti that has been important in Sri Lanka to determine the development of Sri Lankan script.

At the end of the mirror wall you are brought out at the foot of the Lion feet staircase. It is amazing.

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Two huge carved lion feet flank a very steep staircase up to the top of the gargantuan rock. We admired the feet for a while and then set off on our ascent. The steps are not too bad, there is just one area where they seem to just be metal slats poking out of the rock. On the way up Liam acquired a Friend who was hellbent on 'helping' him up the rock. Liam tried to just run off which resulted in the man holding on to his t-shirt while Liam tacked two steps at a time and was almost keeling over at the top. Never the less a the top the man asked for money to which Liam had to refuse on the grounds that he was only a hinderance.

At the top the views are spectacular. You can see 360 degrees for miles.

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There is lakes, mountains and green fields as far as the eyes can see and we sat under the overcast skies enjoying the wind and the sporadic drizzle of rain stroking a lovely dog we had made friends with.

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The top of the rock is full of ruins, foundations of what they suspect was a monastery or temple. We explored and then made our shaky decent down the stairs to investigate the ground level sights. We saw the auditorium and the cobra cave, a cave which looks like the hood of a cobra. The area around the rock is nice and is filled with big boulders and mature trees. There are people selling souvenirs and there was a snake charmer with a cobra in a basket which he played a flute to a angered with the lid of the basket for money.

Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting at the exit and after politely declining a visit to his friends shop and his friend the masseuse we were allowed to go back to our hotel. We arrived back at around 1pm and had thoroughly enjoyed our morning visiting Sigiriya. It is an awe inspiring sight, vast and beautiful and even though it is expensive it is a must when visiting Sri Lanka.

Once back at our guest house we ordered some cold ginger beers to cool off and decided to visit Minneriya National Park in the afternoon. Our hotel owner advised that we go as soon as we were ready as it gets busy by late afternoon. After a change of clothes we were ready for our afternoon sightseeing session by 1.30pm and the hotels jeep driver picked us up. It costs 3500 Rs to hire a driver and jeep and costs 5870 Rs for two people to ever the national park. This is expensive, all in all it has cost around £50 but it is something we wanted to do and it is one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world at this time of year.

In August and September the water of the lake in the national park dries up and new grass shoots grow in their abundance. This means that wildlife flocks to the national park at this time of year and often you can see huge herds of wild elephants grazing on the park.

On first arrival we went on a rough and ready ride through the jungle. Once through the dense jungle of thorny bamboo you emerge onto flat plains of land with lots of lakes. We couldn't see anything at first apart from lots of water birds and some peacocks but our driver soon pointed out a huge eagle.

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We had made a bet that the first one to spot an elephant, if there were any received a present from the other one and Liam won the bet. In the distance we could see a small gathering of wild elephants. Our driver headed around the lake towards them and as we approached we realised the scale. It was a huge herd, between fifty and a hundred and they were grazing on the trees in the shade.

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We pulled up and were one of three jeeps watching the gentle giants. After a while they started to move and they all walked towards the water. The whole herd of them stood on the side of the lake, some bathing, some squirting water and others just content to graze on the grass. There were lots of tiny calves being protected by their mums and we watched for a long time. It was spectacular and was one of the most beautiful things we have seen.

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After about 45 minutes just sat quietly watching we moved on. We rode around the lake to a watchtower where we could see the scale of the park.

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The National Park itself is vast and stunning.

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It is flat plains of lush land framed by mountains. All around you can see massive flocks of birds sat on the water foraging for food.

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The driver then took us back into the jungle where we saw lots of different things. We saw a group of langur monkeys, some deers, some lizards and more eagles. The jeep was bumpy but we had so much fun standing up looking out for things in the trees.

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On the way back the driver took us back around the other side of the lake where the elephants had moved. It was later on by this point and we counted twelve jeeps watching the elephants, some a little too close. On the way out we counted more than fifty jeeps entering the park. The whole experience was amazing, something we will never forget and probably once in a lifetime to see so many wild elephants in one place. If we had one criticism however it is the amount of jeeps that go into the park in the later afternoon. Thankfully we didn't have to witness it but we wouldn't have been comfortable sat in a group of fifty plus jeeps surrounding the elephants. It's seems too disruptive to us and can only do one thing, put them off from gathering in such a spectacular way.

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Today has been just perfect however. Both Sigiriya and Minneriya National Park are both once in a lifetime sights for us. The Lion Rock is something we have wanted to see for a long time and it did not disappoint us. Minneriya however surpassed all our expectations. We thought it might be a long shot to see a wild elephant so to see a huge herd just cannot be described in words. It was magical.

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka sigiriya minneriya Comments (2)

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