Sri Lanka is not a yachting destination – in fact, the “marina” in Galle is hard concrete, next to a cement works and not yacht friendly. But…Sri Lanka is beautiful and in every other sense it is priceless.
The plan was to have some “land” time and so we hurriedly organised a short tour with a local driver, Lakpriya and our new friend Marlan a self-appointed “yacht agent” who can find the right people to help with any marine needs. A 5 day itinerary was put together, partly with Nicky and Charles and partly on our own, and we set off on our excursion. An elephant safari, 2 days high up in the cooler climes of the hill tea plantations, 2 nights in Colombo, a train ride back to Galle and 2 nights in a fabulous colonial style small hotel in the hills on our return.
A short distance from Galle and on our way to Ella, we boarded our safari truck for a 3 hour elephant safari before heading up into the hills of southern Sri Lanka. The sense of relief at spending time at 1800 meters above sea level where the cool temperatures are perfect for growing tea and the flora more typical of Tasmania and England, gave us a break from the hot tropical weather we have been experiencing for the past months. It was great to be able to stretch the legs without drowning in sweat!! The last stretch of our inland journey to Ella was by rail – the perfect viewing platform for the vast growing areas of tea and vegetables.
We managed to find a Sri Lankan version of Fawlty Towers! Having had many confusing dealings with one particular waiter, James actually asked him if we could call him Manuel! Just like his counterpart, he was very willing but not always able. At the other end of the scale our lovely hotel in the hills behind Galle is owned and operated by Hen (Henrietta), a delightful English lady who moves effortlessly around her hotel chatting to all the guests and making everyone feel at home. An afternoon bike ride, just nearby, took us around rice paddies and a tea plantation. Riding in convoy on dirt tracks, the noises and sounds varied from a low level jungle hum with birds singing and monkeys shrieking in the trees to the human keening at a funeral all over ridden by the bread delivery tuk tuk playing Fleur de Lis so loudly that it echoed around the valley.
Aside from the touristic joys of our visit there still exists an undertone of the effects of the devastation brought on by the 2004 tsunami when 30,000 people died. Our new Sri Lankan friends, Marlan and Goring lost 10 family members between them and were left homeless as a result. Both have had to start again and move away from their beloved coastline to higher ground; Marlan has slowly been building up his unofficial Yacht Agency with the belief that money is only coloured paper and Goring purchased a tuk tuk which provides a great transport service for Marlan’s clients. The third member of the group, Pahan, also owns a tuk tuk, runs a local restaurant to which the yachting visitors would revert when hungry for a delicious Sri Lankan vegie curry.
We cannot speak highly enough about our band of Sri Lankan brothers who not only assisted with marine tasks but invited us into their homes, introduced us to their families and told us their heart breaking stories of loss. They are a happy, helpful, giving group who wanted to make sure that we would love their country…and we did. Payment for Marlan’s services was not the “coloured paper” that he spoke so disparagingly of, but a bed for he and his wife so that they could lift their mattress off the floor and sleep aloft for the first time in 15 years. Calliope and Miss Tiggy were happy to accommodate.
3 days after clearing out from Galle we arrived in the idyllic atolls of the Maldives a short distance but a long way away from the hills and tea plantations of Sri Lanka.