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Diving in Unawatuna

sunny 33 °C

Upon leaving our beach hut we just couldn't resist a few more days on the coast before heading in land and caught the local bus to Unawatuna. We decided to go diving again as last time wasn't so successful as we were just out of season. We settled into Peacock hotel and walked around to the cluster of dive shops a few metres down the road. This time we decided to go with the only PADI qualified centre in Unawatuna, Unawatuna Diving Centre.

We spoke to Hans, the German owner who disappointedly informed us that that morning dive had been terrible visibility and he couldn't guarantee that we would be able to see anything if we went.

We decided to think about it over breakfast and walked to a local place for some Dahl and Rottis. Since it is our last chance before going home to dive we decided to give it a go, even if the conditions were not the best and risk it. The rest of our day was spent lazing on our balcony, watching the turtles surface and dive as well as treating ourselves to some pizza for tea at a nearby hotel with an Italian chef.

We were up bright and early for our diving excursion as we had to be at the dive shop for 8.30am. Unawatuna Diving Centres dives for qualified divers are 30 euros for one dive or 50 euros for two. We said it depends on the conditions of the first dive to if we did two. This includes the rental of all the equipment. We were diving with a man and his son from Russia but since we are beginners we would have our own dive master to dive with. This put Chelsea at ease as she was nervous after last time.

After gearing and a group effort of getting the dive boat off the beach and into the sea we set off. The sea was calm and although it had been raining throughout the night it was sunny. It only took five minutes to get to the first dive spot, a reef wreck just off the coast. Chelsea was first in and to everyone's surprise the water was clear. The two of us descended down the anchor line but Liam had a problem equalising his right ear and it took a while for it to pop before we could continue.

The first dive was amazing. We dove down to around 16m but most of it was around 12m. The whole seabed was covered in huge flat rocks which coral had grown on. It looked like the seabed had fractured and split and there were deep canyons going deep into the earth. Swimming over them you could peer down and see black silhouettes of the different fish in the bottom. Other areas looked like the earths surface had split and overlapped so big rocks jutted up. There was a lot of colourful fish and coral. We saw some fan coral and starfish, a puffer fish and parrot fish. Most of the coral was dark blue and purple apart from these long thin white tubes of coral which twisted up one or two metres long. Our highlight was seeing nudibranchs for the first time. They are tiny sea slugs that have developed gorgeous bright patterns to fend off predictors. They are beautiful and some glow illuminous colours of purple, orange, yellow and blue. They were a real treat to see and our dive master kept pointing the tiny slugs out to us.

We dove for around 40 minutes and the visibility was so much better than we expected, around 9m. When back on board we decided straight away to do another dive. We waited on the boat for ten to fifteen minutes so our nitrogen levels decreased and then geared up again.

The second dive sight was just another ten minute boat ride. Liam had the same problem with his ears but aften a while ascending and decending he managed to sort it. It was just over 17m deep and although it was still very clear there was quite a strong current under the water. It was at the edge of a reef that backed onto a sandy seabed. There were huge pillars of coral coming up from the sea floor and long flat rocks that red coral was growing on. There were more nudibranchs, parrotfish trigger fish and lobsters. There were big schools of silver and yellow fish and hundreds of kinds of brightly coloured and different shaped fish all over, hiding in rocks and corals. The highlight of our dive however was seeing two stingrays. Both of them were laying on the sandy seabed perfectly still. They were medium sized and had a white tipped stinging tail. After around 40 minutes Liam was starting to run out of air so we swam into the current and surfaced. Swimming against the current was hard and the current took us and the fish back and forth under the water smoothly.

Getting back on the boat was more of a challenge as the current was stronger. Chelsea's main struggle is passing her weight belt up onto the boat as it is between 6kg and 7kg. We have no idea why she is so buoyant but she literally cannot decent without the weights.

We absolutely loved both the dive spots we visited today and would fully recommend Unawatuna Diving Centre. They are professional and friendly and made us feel very comfortable. Back at the dive shop a pot of tea was waiting for us and we rinsed all our gear off and had a cup of tea whilst filling in our log books and looking with our dive master what we had seen. We didn't get back till after 12pm and had an amazing morning. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and we went back to the Italian chef for some tasty pasta for dinner.

Today it was time to leave the south coast after more than a month and we caught the local bus to Galle. Before heading up to Colombo we had to have a visit to Galle hospital for Liam to get his final rabies jab. We didn't know where it was so we got a tuk-tuk. The hospital was overwhelmingly busy and we managed to find an enquiry desk where we were directed down a corridor to the rabies centre. The whole place was manic and Chelsea found a seat next to a lot of sick people and a stray dog (yes in the hospital) while Liam joined a mob outside the door of the rabies room. After waiting around half an hour he saw a doctor who told him he was in the wrong room so he went to join a mob outside a different room. It didn't take long to be seen but they were so curious it took longer to talk to the doctors and nurses. They wanted to know where he lived, where he had visited and had a lengthy conversation about Prince Charles. Anyway after a hot, busy morning in the hospital we are sure we are sicker than we went in but Liam has finished his treatment and we set off to have brunch. We found a local place and asked for Dahl and bread but were presented with a massive array of different dishes as well as half a loaf of bread each. After managing as much as we could we wobbled to the bus station and caught one to Colombo.

It was hot and packed and seemed to take all day but we arrived in Colombo about half three and checked into a hotel we had used before, Hotel Sunshine. Tomorrow we move on to Anaradapura, an ancient city in central Sri Lanka and we are excited to see somewhere new.

Posted by Chelsandliam 04:44 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka colombo galle unawatuna Comments (2)

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)

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