The train from Ella to Colombo took about 9 and a half hours, but it passed pretty quickly (until a man sat next to me, fell asleep and proceeded to snore for the rest of the journey!).
I arrived in Colombo station and got a ticket to Mount Lavinia. This cost me 30 rupees (approx 15p). The train was absolutely packed already. I managed to wriggle myself and my backpack into a tiny gap amongst all the business men on their way home from work. Each time we stopped more and more people squashed themselves on to the train. It was so packed I couldn’t move. Eventually my stop came and I wrestled my way off the train, glad to be out of that hot and smelly tin can.
I took a tuk tuk to my new hostel, Colombo Beach Hostel. I found the reception staff not as welcoming as in the previous hostels, they didn’t seem to want to help. I was shown to my room and given linen to make my bed. The dorm is very basic but again you have everything you need. There are lockers but my padlock didn’t fit so I could not use it.
The hostel has a great rooftop terrace looking over the ocean. There is also a fully equipped kitchen if you fancied making your own food.
The next morning I decided to take the train down the coast to Galle. The beach at Mount Lavinia isn’t very nice at all so I was keen to see some of Sri Lanka’s nicer beaches which are famous for being so beautiful.
The train cost 170 rupees (approx 80p) and took two and a half hours. The train takes you down the south west coast where a lot of damage from the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 is still visable.
I have found the locals to be very friendly and helpful. This was no exception on the train when I was sat next to a man called Nani. He gave me some good advice about what to do in Galle and which beach to go to. When the train stopped he showed me which tuk tuk drivers as the best to use (private ones can rip you off, official ones have little stickers in the top left of their windshield).
Since I only had a few hours in Galle I felt the best thing to do was to hire a tuk tuk driver and ask him to take me to each place I wanted to get to. This is a bit extravagant but definitely worth it if you are short on time.
We headed out of Galle and to the Unawatuna area. The beaches there really are stunning. White sand, blue sea, palm tress and big boulders in the ocean make it very picturesque.
There were many spots where you could see the stilt fishermen. These guys can sit out there for up to twelve hours in a day, from sunrise to sunset. They will catch approximately 6kg of sardines which will then go straight to the market.
We headed to the turtle conservation project at Koggala. These guys work to protect the 5 different species of turtle which can be found in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka. They will walk along the beach at night to try and catch the poachers getting to the eggs. If the poachers get there first, they will go to the markets to try and buy the eggs back. Sometimes they are too late.
On the day I was there, there was one 9 day old loggerhead turtle which needed released. The tanks had to be empty as they were expecting the eggs they had in their protected area to hatch any day.
With animal sanctuaries it’s hard to know if you are doing right or wrong by going there. But I hope my donation will go towards the care of these animals.
We then headed to the herbal garden. I was shown around the garden and given an explanation about the benefits of each of the different plants. Some of them sounded really quite amazing, whether they work or not… I don’t know.
The next stop was Dalawella beach. I had heard about this beach and the great rope swing which will send you flying high above the ocean. On arrival I was greeted by the lovely family who own Pearly’s Beach Cabanas (accommodation consisting of cabins right on the beach). They were so friendly and chatty. The little boy was desperate to show me how the rope swing worked. He made it look very easy! Next thing I know I’m being encouraged to climb a palm tree and have a go myself, the only words of warning being ‘don’t be afraid, you won’t hit the tree’. And off I went! It was a lot of fun and certainly gets your adrenaline going.
After a bit of time on the beach, we headed back in to Galle. I was dropped at the Old Fort. This is a really interesting place with a lot going on. Many shops, restaurants, cafes and, what seemed to be, a courthouse. You can walk around the Old Fort, this takes about 45 minutes.
I headed out of the Old Fort and along to the Old Dutch Market. On the way there are many markets on the side of the road, mostly selling fresh fish caught that morning. The Old Dutch Market sells mostly herbs and spices. It’s a hive of activity. It’s great to see all the locals buying fresh, local produce.
My time in Galle was over and I took the train back to Mount Lavinia. I sat on the rooftop and had some food with two of the girls from the dorm and a Buddhist monk who was over from India renewing his visa. He was a very interesting man with many stories to tell.
My time in Sri Lanka is over! I have seen a lot of beautiful places, a lot of dirty places, met many happy and helpful locals, and also many friendly backpackers. It’s a great little country which is thriving.
Some advice for Sri Lanka- if you are going to be taking public transport, always cover up. You will attract less attention to yourself and it makes the journey much more comfortable. Even when you are walking around the streets, it is rare to see females wearing shorts or a vest top (even tourists). I wasn’t expecting this at all and was totally unprepared having only brought one pair of trousers and two tshirts. There are plenty of markets where you can pick some clothes up very cheap.
To get to the airport from Mount Lavinia I took a train to Colombo which cost 15 rupees (not even 10p) and then a bus from outside the train station to the airport. I read online that the bus would take half an hour, but it was well over an hour before we were at the airport. Thankfully the bus had air con and only cost 300 rupees (approx £1.50). You can check train times online (www.eservices.railway.gov.lk), but not bus times. I think it is a case of turn up and a bus will show up at some point, and they leave when they are full. They are fairly regular on the popular routes.
Have a look on my Instagram to see more photos from Sri Lanka, and to keep up to date with the rest of my travels in Asia – iona_gibb