10.12.2010 - 14.12.2010 30 °C
Galle was a refreshing change to the rest of Sri Lanka. A lovely looking old Dutch fort town on the coast, it's one of the most popular tourist spots in the country. For once we were able to walk around a town that was interesting to look at, there were restaurants and a cafe! No more overpriced shitty guest house or hotel food. The town was rather ramshackle, in a nice way, that reminded me of Cuba. Again, not a huge amount to do in the town but at least we could get out of our guest house on our own without the need for Sampath.
However, there's a downside to being able to wander around Sri Lankan towns. On every corner there's someone trying to sell you something, even our guest house owner kept suggesting a jewellery shop around the corner to me and recounting stories to Will about the last Irish couple that stayed there who generously gave him money for his family so his children could go to school.
Touts are everywhere in Asia, some places are worse that others, but for the most part you get used to it - it's a fact of life and that's fine. Sri Lanka was the toughest so far I think, not only because of the sheer volume of touts, but because some seemed to get offended when we said "no thanks" (not all, the ones in Negombo are pretty cheerful about it). When we were with Sampath on one occasion, a guy trying to sell us large, and admittedly very pretty, sea shells complained to him in Sinahalese that we weren't buying anything. In response Sampath explained that we are travelling for six months and not really in a position to buy every trinket that comes our way. With that explanation the guy was happy enough that we had a decent excuse and went on his way.
After that encounter and observing the kind of tourist the country attracts, my theory by the end of our time there was that perhaps Sri Lanka isn't used to the young backpacker tourist who may not have a huge amount of money to spend. The majority of tourists I saw were package tour types and middle aged - especially in Galle. We didn't come across many, if any, younger backpackers such as ourselves. Whereas I think places like Thailand and other Asian countries that are well established on the backpacker route are used to the scruffy hippy types traipsing through their countries, Sri Lankan touts see a white face and see dollar signs, which is what we began to feel like by the end of the trip. But that's just my theory.
Overall, I can't say the experience over the two weeks was amazing. There is no denying the country is one of the most beautiful I've seen, the majority of the people are genuine and friendly and I still can't believe you can find a beach like Tangalle and you only have to share it with a few local fishermen. If the peace holds, the tourist industry I can only imagine will get bigger and hopefully better. I do feel like the country needs to figure out how it wants to manage the extra attention it's sure to get, however. It all seems a bit haphazard, it seems difficult to get around independently - I didn't see any tourist who wasn't with a tour group or a guide - and ridiculously expensive for what you get. To be honest though, I would hate to see the place turn into another soulless beach resort destination either. There were high points and there were low points, we could have done all we did in a week I would think, so maybe we spent too long there, maybe we're not cut out for travel in an underdeveloped tourist industry (we do like our hot water showers!), I don't know but it was certainly an interesting country to visit.
Moving on from my ramblings, lets leave Sri Lanka on a positive note. On our way back to Negombo (where we stayed for one night before catching our flight back to KL) we stopped off at the Kosgoda Sea Turtles Conservation Project. Here the volunteers gather up all the eggs that sea turtles lay on the nearby beach and bury them instead under sand at the hatchery where they have a much improved chance of survival than on the beach where they can be taken by people for the local delicacy (yuck) or eaten by birds or lizards and other animals. When they are big enough they are released back into the sea. It's a lovely spot and you can see the baby turtles (incredibly cute, I was close to putting one in my bag and stealing it) and some bigger ones that are deformed or blind and therefore can't be released. A random fact for you that we learned is that turtles have tickles, hilarious watching them flap about when you tickle the top of their shells - such cool animals! Some photos are below, just ignore my silly grins at the cuteness of it all.