Sri Lanka: Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Pearler – something impressive (Australian slang) “That yacht’s a real pearler!”
Paradox – A person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities
One of the downsides of the sailing life is the inability to truly explore regions as easily as a backpacker or landlubber traveller. Of course we can and sometimes do travel overland, but the safety and security of the boat is more critical than visiting tourist hotspots. If we leave there’s always that sort of “Did I leave the gas on?” feeling as we worry whether our floating home will be safe. Galle is not the best location to leave a yacht for extended periods.
Even though, we have to make an effort to get off the boat and see what we can and Sri Lanka is no exception.
After one week of monitoring the weather, we did get off Blue Heeler and travelled four days through the cooler and higher central area of this island and enjoyed a train ride through fields carpeted in tea plantations. As it’s not so easy to get good information about traveling in Sri Lanka without getting ripped off, particularly for traveling yachties, I’ve put together some notes from our trip here.
Sri Lanka is an island of paradoxes. From the filth of the ladies toilet in Colombo Railway Station to the clear fresh blue skies over the hills of Kandy; mangy street mongrels, to the fresh faced eager children in bright white school uniforms – the country is developing, but perhaps not in all areas.
Galle harbour was all but destroyed in the 2004 tsunami and Sri Lanka’s 30 year civil war ended in 2009 so this little pearl is still a little rough around the edges. Ships carrying tonnes of cement dock very close to the yachts and during our stay, three ships dumped their cargo onto awaiting trucks. After the careful work we did to improve Blue Heeler in Thailand it’s almost heartbreaking to now have a film of cement dust settled all over the decks, new flyscreens, on the new fibreglass bimini and sticking to the stainless. Even my lovely clean dorades are now looking shabby.
Another ship came in today so our attempts to wash the dust off with dirty seawater may have been futile. Nonetheless, the port workers have been quite responsive to requests by other yachties to add extra lines to secure the pontoon and can be helpful. When we leave the port to go outside the gates we have to show the customs officer our stamped crew list and copies of passports. Without these we can’t re-enter (but I reckon a packet of smokes would work just as well but they’re too expensive!)
It’s common for locals to hike up prices for tourists, while locals pay so much cheaper. This has been common throughout our Asian travels but not so blatantly as Sri Lanka. Entry price for the botanical gardens in Kandy was 20 times more for tourists.
When attempting to get an additional simcard from local carrier Etsalat, they tried to hike up the cost saying the sales tax was 150%. Of course I’d be silly to accept that and took the tax free option. I believe the sales tax is 12% (Mar’14).
But Sri Lankans are generally friendly people and smile a lot (except for a guy at the post office who clearly didn’t understand the word “queue”). Sometimes though I’m not sure if those walking alongside me are being friendly or trying to scam me. We’ve been warned about the guys in Galle who try and talk their way into scamming tourists.
Trying to get bus schedule information can be confusing to say the least, although having the internet at our fingertips makes travel so much easier. Depending on who you ask you get different answers. We usually go with a rule of three – if you’ve had the same answer three times, there’s a good chance it’s the most correct! Ekka was very helpful in getting us to the correct bus to Ella.
Life goes on for us in the harbour. We still need to eat and do housework, get fuel, and fix things. There are some grocery stores in Galle with western style food. Keells is located on the western side of Galle but even closer is Cargills Food City only 5 minutes to the right on the main road outside the harbour, plus another in town next to KFC. Now and again the a customs guy stands on the bank looking at the rubbish bin provided for the yachties. Needless to say there’s plenty of empty wine and grog bottles. Now, how did they miss those on the customs declarations?
Despite our lovely boat turning into a ferro-cement vessel, we also managed to have a lovely evening out with the crews of Kastehelme, Ever After and joining us were Ekka, Batu, and another two locals.
The night was a bit of a songfest with guest crew Stefan aboard Ever After providing a very entertaining evening bashing out old favourites on his guitar. He was joined later with our ship agent bashing out a few Sri Lankan numbers to the delight of the audience. After a few glasses of red wine and arrack, Ekka was displaying some fine Sri Lankan dancing too!
Every couple of days I take a bucket load or two of clothes washing at the dirty shower block ten minutes walk away. Along the route the smiling port workers whistle for me to come to them and request a smoke. I smile, wave them off and tell them no, it’s bad for their health, as is annoying me. On my return trip this harmless pestering continues while I dodge plumes of cement dust from turning me and my freshly washed clothes into a statue. I can hear you now, “Oh boy, let’s go to Galle Harbour!”
There are many yachts from around the world at Galle Harbour – from France, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Scotland, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, and England – and it’s great to chat with them all. All of them are on their way also to Chagos and South Africa.
With our sojourn into the interior over we’re now back at the dirty, noisy and dusty harbour, sweltering in 35+ degrees and Blue Heeler continues to bounce off the plastic pontoon pushing aside disused containers, plastic bags, coconuts and other flotsam. The recently polished white hull of Blue Heeler now has a black ring of filth and diesel, as do our fenders and mooring lines which have been floating in the muck for almost three weeks.
Over the next few days we’ll stock up on fresh food and diesel and trudge back to the boat with our sturdy trolley. We are looking forward to leaving and sail towards the blue, clean waters of the Maldives for some swimming and fishing and no cement dust!