A Travellerspoint blog

September 2013

An Update from Colombo

sunny 35 °C

Since Saturday we have been in Colombo. We were sad to leave out beach bum life that has been the previous ten days but with a flight in a weeks time we needed to sort out our Indian Visa.

As always the public bus has been easy, if not cramped and hot, and it only took around 3 hours to do the 100 miles or so along the coastal road. We are having to stay 5km outside of the city centre as the accomodation prices in Colombo are super high. We have managed to get a decent room for RS275O, about £13, and metered tuk-tuks to the center only cost been RS250 - RS400 so it has been fine.

We had to wait until Monday for the visa office to open so had Sunday and what was left of Saturday to look around. Its never fun coming back into the land of car horns, traffic and pollution after so long out of the cities and Colombo was the same. We spent our first day just walking around the area our hotel is in, Colombo is split into districts with Col 1 being the centre, we are in Col 4. It is basically one major road into the centre, with sidestreets and a quieter costal road. We are still close to the see at Colombo but it is by no means pretty. We walked around for a bit, making it around half way to the centre. There is nothing really of any interest where we are, just a working community, there are lot of local eateries and shops, as well as the odd shopping centre. We ate in of the many bakeries/restaurants, we ordered a selection of snacks from a counter full of samosas, pies (curried and normal) an the normal array of things we did not know. When we had had enough of the heat and noise we retired back to our hotel and tried to figure out how we go about getting our Indian Visas.

Sunday we decided to make the most of the full day available to us and go to the centre. Known as the fort we had visions of something similar to Galle, only a little less touristy. Next to the centre is an area called Pettah, described in our Lonely Planet guide as a bustling bazaar, and a interesting place to spend a few hours. We must have been in the wrong area. It was Sunday so not everything was open but all we saw was a severely run down area, full of random shops, mainly selling mobile phones. The fort area was no better, there is a section full of high end hotels like the Hilton and there is a Presidential house which you are not allowed to get with half a mile of without being shot. We wandered around trying to find some things that were mentioned in our guide book but with no avail. We were not having a good time. Thankfully we found a small tea shop that was a little haven. It had possiblly the largest selection of tea known to man, Chelsea ordered a ice tea, made with tea grown in Kandy and Liam ordered one of the sweet spice teas he has come to love, Chelsea loved her ice tea that was served in a jam jar style glass with a handle. We could not resist ordering a 'British Pub' steak and Guinness pie, which was random but delicious and we ended it off with a cake. It was expensive for us, but we needed a little lift after walking the streets. Deciding to end our day on a high we went back to our hotel afterwards.

Today has been mixed. We got up early to be at the India visa office for 9am. We first however, had to find a internet cafe so we could print off the application form you need to fill in online before you go to the office. This was easier said than done, at 8am most were still shut, but we managed to find one. The form is a farce, they might as well ask for a full family history, it is by far the most information we have needed to disclose to get a visa. Once we finally arrived at the visa office we did not even get passed the entrance. A guard checked all our documents and told us our passport photos were no good. The background was not white enough (what?) and the need to be 2 inch x 2 inch, not the standard passport size that every other country requests. Another annoyance but this one did not matter too much, when we asked if we applied for the visa today when will we receive it. We got several answers, nine working days, five working days, one week, until Chelsea asked to go inside and speak to someone official and he confirmed it would be next Monday. Our flight is booked for Saturday. That is the end of that then.

It is our own fault, we should not have left it too late but the problem we had is the India visa starts as soon as it is issued, not when you enter the county, so we did not get it immediately because we would have lost a month without even being in the country. We purposefully left it as late as we could, as we thought like with every other visa it takes 3 working days and even if not you can pay for it to be processed quicker. Not India. They do seem to like to do the whole process differently.

Anyway now we had a new problem, our Sri Lankan visa ends Monday. So we hopped in another tuk tuk and went to the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration to see about a visa extension. This was way simpler. We had to go to the 3rd floor, where the receptionist gives you a form to complete, whats more they accept normal size passport photos, with whitish backgrounds. The form was easy the only problem was we did not have a flight out of the county anymore, but we thought it would be OK. We took the form back, and they asked how long we would like to extend it for. We both looked at each other as we had not even thought about it, and Chelsea on the spot said two months. We were then given a number to wait to have a quick discussion with a immigration controller about the extension. We must have waited around ten minutes and we were ushered into a glass room. The controller took our paperwork and passport off us and immediately asked us about the outward flight issue. For some reason Chelsea then became a nervous wreck, stuttering over her words as she spoke and broke out in a cold sweat like she was guilty of something. Liam managed to explain everything to the controller, that we cannot get out Indian visa until Monday so are applying for extension so we don't overstay. He was happy and signed it off.

More waiting. Our number needed to be called out for us to collect our passports and paperwork at one counter, then go pay at another counter. This time we waited around 30 minutes. We had been granted two months and the fee was around Rs7500 each, £35. Once paid we got a receipt, they took our passports back off us, and we waited again this time for them to be stamped and we collected them at the previous counter. All in all we were in an out within a hour, and we now have a visa for Sri Lanka valid until 7th December.

We think that is the end of India, we will have to save that for another trip. We are not disappointed, we have loved Sri Lanka, especially the beaches so we will head back there, the season is just about changing so the weather will be great. There is also the east and north of the island we have not seen so that is an option. First though tomorrow we are heading back to Mirissa our favorite of the beaches we have been to, and we are talking about holding up there for a month, as now we have the time, and live the proper beach bum life.

Posted by Chelsandliam 02:09 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka colombo Comments (2)

The beach life in Unawatuna

sunny 35 °C

We were sad to leave Mirissa, it has been our favourite beach so far, but we wanted to move on and see more of the coast. Working our way back towards Galle our next step is Unawatuna.

It was easy enough to get there, jump on a public bus that runs along the coast, it took around 30 minutes of crazy driving to get us here, thankfully in one piece no thanks to the psychopathic driver with a death wish. The bus onlys costs 20Rs however so we cant really complain. As usual we had previously looked at places to stay and knew where we wanted to be, so grabbed a tuk tuk to take us to Peacock hotel. It is definitely the nicest hotel we have stayed in in Sri Lanka. We have a bright airy room, complete with (small) four poster bed and balcony overlooking the beautiful Unawatuna bay. All that for a bargain low season price of £7 a night.

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There is one slight negative however, as there are currently some small works being carried out our side of the beach to keep the ever present tide a bay, this means that we can not walk from our hotel to the main area of the beach without having to walk about 3km around via the main road. It's not the end of the world but it is a nuisance.

We have not done much with our four days here, most of our time has been spent relaxing, laying in the sun, reading and walking along the beach. We are a little disappointed by the main beach. Although it looks stunning from our balcony, when you get there you realise how busy it is. There are lots of average restaurants and bars that spill out onto the sand with there tables, chairs and sunbeds, and there are a lot of people, even for low season. We suppose we were just used to our quiet tranquil beach of Mirissa. The sea is turquoise and when sand is not being whipped up by the waves is quite clear in the shallows.

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We have swam at our side of the beach and as we have sat on our balcony, or in the restaurant we have seen three sea turtles, swimming and eating some vegetation about 20 ft away, it is quite unbelievable. We have spent hour watching them surface and dive back down. Getting a photo proved to be difficult and we didn't have the patience for it but see if you can spot him...

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The main reason we have come to Unawatuna however is to go diving again, as it could be our last chance before we get back to the UK. There are a few dive shops to choose from, and we went for one near our hotel that looked professional and had new equipment. We organised the dive for yesterday, and were up and out for 9am eager to get under the water again. There were only three of us diving, us two and a Serbian man on his holidays. We readied our equipment (which we thankfully remembered how to set up) and had a brief about the dive and what we might expect to see. The dive sight was around 15mins off shore and was basically a large underwater rock going down to a maximum depth of 20 metres we would then circle it making our way back up. We jumped in a small motor boat with our equipment and set off.

The sea was immediately more choppy than it looked from shore, and did not improve as we came to the dive site. We geared up while being rocked from side to side and then had to wait for a safe chance to get off the boat. The Serb went first and was immediately surprised by a current, this means we had to wait on the boat until he was sorted, all the time getting hotter and hotter in our wet suits. Thankfully Liam went next backward rolling off the opposite side of the boat out of the way. The current was really strong and we could see why the Serb had being taken by surprise. The lead diver told Liam to descend to 5 metres where the current was less and wait for everyone, so he did following the anchor line to 5 metre and waited, alone, underwater for what was rather too long.

Because of the current the water was quite full of sediment and visibility was poor for the first 8 metre or so. Chelsea had had a hold up waiting for the Serb to sort him self out, then not having enough weights on to descend (we don't know why but she is super buoyant and needs at least 7kilos of weights on top of all the equipment to sink). When she finally got under, and saw the limited visibility, plus being moved around by the current it was just too much for her. She decided not go along with the dive as she did not think she would enjoy it. Liam waited whilst our lead diver tried to talk her through it (underwater, with hand signals) but Chelsea had made up her mind. Once she was safely back on the surface Liam carried on the dive with just the lead diver, the Serb had obviously opted out aswell.

The current decreased a bit as we approached 10-12m and then sediment was less dense so visibility increased, although the water temperature dropped. There was plenty of life around the rock, loads of fish, a lot more than we had seen at any one time in Vietnam. There were lion fish, parrotfish, puffer fish and loads of banner fish. There are lots of fish that Liam does not know the name of, some were really huge, there was a school of silver fish and other darting in and out of the cracks and holes in the rock. You could still feel the current, sweeping you backwards and forwards but everything moved with you, Liam was never taken out of reach of either the rock or the lead diver so was perfectly happy.

Our maximum depth was 20m, and we were under for around 40minutes. Liam really enjoyed the dive although sad he could not have done it with Chelsea. She was sunning her self on the boat we Liam bobbed a shore, she had been sea sick, which we think had been induced by rocking around waiting to get in the water and the heat in the wetsuit, but was fine. We had the option of another dive but decided against it as the visibility was not great so we might as well save the money for if we get another chance some where else.

On our last few days here we managed to find a shortcut to the beach, cutting through a perilous building sight with a shear drop onto a pile of rocks but it saved our legs from walking around. Further down the beach right at the end it is more peaceful. The restaurants and bars are more spaced apart and instead of horrible concrete monstrosities they are little wooden shacks and we have sat and enjoyed mediocre seafood for dinner over candlelight on the sand, petting the many beach dogs.

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We are taking a break from the coast and heading to Colombo there to try and get our Indian visa, if we can not get it for whatever reason, we have decided we will extend our stay in Sri Lanka.

Posted by Chelsandliam 01:25 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka unawatuna Comments (2)

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

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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)

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