Unless you are one of the few who have been able to break free the bonds of daily work commitments, then you will know the pain of selecting from the multitude of experiences in any particular location and grafting them into a trip that is just too short to do justice to your adventure. It is agonising to have to forego an activity, to skip, or to not do justice to a location just on the basis of time constraints. In Sri Lanka recently, we missed innumerable sights and experiences, and that is just the things I know about.
Two days before we were due to fly home, I begrudgingly checked out of the marvellous Fort Bliss Guest House and left beautiful Galle behind, for no other reason than our impending flight home and the looming return to work.
We had only allowed for a day in Galle, opting instead to spend some time in Mirissa and Unawatuna. With the benefit of hindsight, however, I would strongly recommend an extra day to bask in the relaxed ambience of Galle’s Old Fort district. As it was our last day touring Sri Lanka, we decided to expand our accommodation budget to find a place slightly more comfortable than some of the spots we’d stayed during our fortnight on the island (although some of the more budget guest houses such as Blossom Rest in Kandy and Grand Adamspeak in Dalhousie certainly bat high up the order). We eventually selected Fort Bliss, which was completely unknown to our tuk-tuk driver, and certainly not on his speed-dial of kickback-friendly places to deposit tourists (he tried to take us to two other spots after we requested Fort Bliss). We eventually found the hotel’s unassuming entrance not far from the ramparts on Lighthouse Street having driven past the door twice.
Immediately, our choice seemed a sound one, as the trademark friendly hosts (of which Sri Lanka seems full) showed us a beautiful room with a view of the wall and the sea. The room also had air-conditioning and hot water – two luxuries we’d hitherto done without – all for a fairly reasonable price. We were travelling in the September/October low season when rates can be much less than in busy periods (we found this time perfect to avoid many of the crowds associated with travel in Sri Lanka during the high seasons) and often paid as little as 2600 rupees ($26 AUD) for passable rooms. In this case, our room set us back around 12000 rupees which, at over $100 AUD, was much more than we’d paid up to that point in the trip. As our room was prepared I left Linh to nap in the common area while I took to the streets of Galle Fort to explore.
About 100 metres from the door to our room, I found some steps up onto the ramparts and I wandered around the walls, which took a little over an hour (including photo stops as well as a bit of climbing and exploring. The day was warm and the views of both the UNESCO listed town and the Indian Ocean added to the calm and relaxed vibe. As I walked (along with a number of others – both locals and tourist) I noticed a lack of the garish, pushy sales touts present in places like Unawatuna (about 10 minutes around the point) or Arugam Bay (8 hours by bus). Nobody pestered me to eat, drink, or drive anywhere while I was in the town – it was as if everyone had been transported back to a more pedantry time when the fort’s purpose was keeping people out rather than drawing them in.
It was a special feeling walking along a parapet that was built more than 400 years earlier (the fort’s history makes for great reading). Initially built by the Portuguese, the Dutch made many reinforcements while the controlled the region and it was not until the Napoleonic Wars that the English gained control as a part of their defeat of France (which included Dutch territory already claimed in Napoleon’s conquest of the Netherlands).
I sampled the food and ate at the Dutch Hospital before returning to the room in the afternoon via the lighthouse, only to find Linh sleeping in the cool air-conditioned room. I decided that a bit of comfort goes a long that perhaps we should have skipped Unawatuna which lacked both the charm and the sights of Galle.