Behind Unawatuna




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We spent the last few nights in Sri Lanka staying on the south east coast of the island. We’d taken a tuk-tuk from Mirissa in the morning and found a spot on the beach to spend a couple of nights before heading home via Colombo. The plan was to day trip in to Galle and spent both nights at Unawatuna. Once we’d settled in, however, we realized that the seaside party chic and was not really our cup of tea. It didn’t take us long to decide that our second night would be spent in Galle. The fort city itself was lovely and well worth at least a two-night stay, but there is plenty to do nearby, even if – like us – you don’t want to spend time drinking to loud music on a mediocre (at best) beach.

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PEACE: Galle as viewed from the Peace Pagoda at Unawatuna.

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IMG_2469 (1280x853)The drive from Mirissa takes less than an hour, so we decided to take the trip by tuk-tuk in the hopes of seeing the stilt fishermen for which the region is famed. Fishermen in the local area have passed down their secretspots for generations and have perched on stilt like branches just off the beaches. The practice has largely been replaced by more modern methods and these fishermen find making a living difficult. We knew beforehand that stilt fishing was now more aimed at hooking tourists than the local sea life, but we decided it was still worth a look.

FISHING FOR TOURISTS: Stilt fishermen plying their trade which only sometimes has anything to do with fish.

FISHING FOR TOURISTS: Stilt fishermen plying their trade which only sometimes has anything to do with fish.

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Before long we found three fishermen sitting on their perches and stopped to investigate. Before I’d even pulled my camera from my bag, a fourth man – who had clearly been lying in wait for unsuspecting photographers – hailed us and began to ask for money. After a brief negotiation I handed over a little more than the going rate to take a few quick snaps. The experience was far from life-changing, but the photos remind me both of the effect tourism can have on people in communities that we visit, and the cultural depth that still hides around the corner from the modern world.

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We moved on down the road and settled in to our guest house on the beach at Unawatuna by about lunch time, and after a quick bite to eat (the second largest burger I have ever eaten complete with bugle fanfare– you can read about the largest here), we jumped in a tuk-tuk to explore the nearby Peace Pagoda. We took a quick look around the pagoda which offered an excellent view of nearby Galle, but we were otherwise underwhelmed by the site, which was little more than a stupa on the top of a cliff. On the way back, our driver took us along a few less travelled paths until we came to another, far less prominent temple.

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Rumasala Sri Vivekaramaya is well worth a visit for the many colourful Buddhist and Hindu statues and stories that weave their way through the jungle. The temple retains the air of a local place for worship, rather than a tourist hub, and it is all the more amazing for that. We spent half an hour walking through the grounds, and in that time did not see another person aside from a couple of monks tending the grounds. Again, it was great to see a site seemingly unburdened by the tourist grab so close to a traveler hub like Unawatuna. This, and the stilt fishermen were enough to justify a night in Unawatuna alone, but we were glad to move on to Galle.

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