Sorry for the absence, folks! Been a little bit obsessed about an old video game (well, not old, but from 2009) that I got hooked on.. anyone ever play Dragon Age? 🙂 I need to catch up to the newest one!
Anyway, here’s the long-awaited post on our recent vacation to Sri Lanka! Colombo is a layover destination for my airline, but I’d never actually done it. Alan and I wanted to do an affordable beachy holiday, so we decided that Sri Lanka would be the best option. After a few recommendations from friends and colleagues, as well as searching up and down TripAdvisor for the perfect spot to stay, we settled on an area on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka 4 hours from Colombo called Hikkaduwa. We stayed at a very popular place called Hotel Drifters. I was a bit overwhelmed with the choice of guesthouses and hotels, that I ended up choosing this one based on its popularity. It was a little pricier than many of the others, but it was still cheap in comparison to hotels anywhere else in the world. The hotel itself was a bit drab (but I think this is standard for this area) and at one point we had a mini bug infestation (thanks to Alan’s carelessness pouring us drinks one night) but the staff were very helpful and quite efficient. The manager is knowledgeable and booked a tour for us, and helped us out with any questions we needed. The biggest plus? We got a seaview room with a balcony that we made good use of every morning, afternoon and evening.
Our first full day we decided to knock out a day tour and get to seeing Hikkaduwa. We hired a driver for the day and set out in the morning. Our first stop was the blue lagoon just off the Indian Ocean which thrives with life. We took a boat into the lagoon and made a few stops along the way.I would recommend the hotel even though it might have lacked in many things it should have at its price, the location, convenience, helpful staff and manager all add to its stay-worthiness. We only booked 4 nights in the hotel, so it was quite a short trip. We had wanted to do a safari but it would have taken literally a whole day and we couldn’t fit it in our schedules. We did spend our first night exploring the beach a bit, and had dinner at one of the best restaurants on the beach, Mambo’s, where we discovered our new favorite food, sambol – a concoction of coconut, chilies, fish, onions, etc. that goes amazing with everything. In fact, I think I had it at every single meal, even breakfast… I think I need to figure out how to make this!
The drive starting our journey is like a mini-tour of the remains of the tsunami that devastated most of southern Asia in 2004. Many buildings still stand in ruins; only a very small number of them have been reclaimed and repaired. Our guide tells us he was inland on a tour when the tsunami hit, but we don’t ask any details beyond that.
The first island we stopped off at was inhabited by a single family who farmed cinnamon. Here, they would give live demonstrations on how they harvest cinnamon as well as make useful items from coconut (rope from the shell) and its leaves (wall and ceilings).
Our next stop was to Temple Island, where all that is on the island are Buddhist temples and monks. I was surprised to find that the main religion of Sri Lanka was actually Buddhism, since it seems more commonly associated with India, which is mostly Hindu.
After Alan and I explored the monks’ home (they were cooking when we visited and saw how they used minimal supplies and ingredients for their meals) we were blessed by one of the Buddhist monks and went on our way.
The lagoon itself is home to many creatures, especially crocodiles, which makes the lagoon largely unswimmable. We saw various other animals such as birds, land and water monitors, and bats.
Once back on dry land, we hopped back into our vehicle and headed over the one of the many turtle hatcheries in the area. For those of you who don’t know anything about turtles, they come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, and then leave them to hatch on their own. If you saw some of the deadly looking creatures I posted earlier (I’m looking at YOU, water monitor!) then you can imagine that only a tiny percentage of those eggs actually hatched before they are preyed upon, and even less of those hatchlings actually make it back into the water for safety. Fisherman find these egg nests and bring them to the hatchery, where they are cared and looked after, and when old enough, send the males back into the water, and females are kept for more breeding.
Once hatched, they are all placed together in feeding ponds…
Many of the turtles that stay at the hatchery (other than the females they keep) are those that suffered injury, illness (to be recovered and sent back into the ocean) or abnormalities.
The most amazing inhabitant at the hatchery is an extremely rare albino green turtle, appropriately named.. Michael Jackson.
He was apparently in the spotlight recently when a wealthy man from Mauritius came trying to purchase him for any price, at which the hatchery adamantly refused. But at another hatchery, it caused a scandal when their albino turtle “disappeared”. It was later returned and the people responsible were charged. The Mauritian man has yet to own an albino turtle.
Our next stop was to one of the local moonstone mines. Moonstones are semi-precious gems that are mostly mined in Sri Lanka and exported worldwide for jewelry making.
A rare variety of the moonstone is what they call a “blue moonstone”, as you can see a bit in the photo above. Instead of the normal milky glow a moonstone has, these blue moonstones has a blue sheen to them that can be seen when tilted at the right angle under the light. Just a short walk from the mine is the jewelry factory, where the moonstones are cut and polished, and jewelry is hand-crafted in various metals.
I did my share of helping the local economy and made Alan buy me a nice moonstone ring. 🙂
We headed out to our last stop on the day tour, which was the spice garden. I actually don’t have many photos of it..
We learned about all the local spices and herbs grown in Sri Lanka, and discovered that the cancer rate in Sri Lanka was very low due to their use of a certain curry leaf in their foods. I bought some natural products (hair remover and coconut oil are just to name a few!) and we set out back to the hotel for the day.
On the way back, we made a stop at one of the largest (maybe the largest?) statue of Buddha that stood just off the coast.
That evening, we decided to get a taste of Hikkaduwa’s nightlife. Apparently one hotel/guesthouse along the beach is responsible for holding a party on a different night of the week, and our favorite new spot Mambo’s was it for the night! We met a British couple staying in our hotel (our driver had mistaken us for them, a British white guy with an Asian wife! Ha!) and shared a few drinks..
We might have also ended up in the ocean at one point and something happened to one of Alan’s flip flops…
But good thing there was a shop selling some right next to Starbeans Cafe!
We passed this little homemade outdoor art gallery, where I picked up a cute piece of a pink elephant painted by this awesome man, who was hard at work at making another masterpiece. We then ventured out to a beach nearby, where we saw a couple in the water giggling at a moving rock. Well, actually, it wasn’t a moving rock, it was a giant sea turtle!
These sea turtles frequent the area apparently looking for seaweed and lo and behold, I must have spotted about 4 of them hovering along the shoreline looking for snacks. We actually went back the next day with snorkel gear and swam around them, feeding them seaweed. Such an amazing sight! Sadly, I don’t have an underwater camera so no pictures came from snorkeling day (although this much change!).
The next morning I awoke to find some locals on the beach doing some very interesting things…
And then beach day ensued…
For our last day in Sri Lanka, we opted to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on our way to the airport. Elephants are one of my favorite animals, and this wasn’t the first time I’d get to interact with one, as I rode one in Thailand and visited an orphanage in Kenya, but it was a first for Alan. I was honestly a bit disappointed in the facility as it seemed to showcase the orphans more for entertainment than for education, like the on in Kenya did, but it was nice to share a first experience like this one for Alan.
We headed down to the river, where the elephants receive their baths.
And we went down and gave them a scrub ourselves!
I think if I can handle bathing an elephant, a human baby shouldn’t be so bad, right? Alan? Too soon? Okay…
On our way to Colombo, we stopped off at a tea factory to discover how tea is made.
Before the airport, we grabbed a bite ( I LOVE LOVE LOE Sri Lankan curry! But sadly they had no sambol!) and boarded our flight home. The people of Sri Lanka must be some of my favorite; they are kind, happy, easy-going and very welcoming. Our stay was made even more memorable by those locals we met and who shared their knowledge and friendship. Although it was a short stay, we had an unforgettable time and hope to make it back to Sri Lanka’s beautiful southern coast and explore even more of its gorgeous beaches!