We arrived in Sri Lanka in the afternoon. After a short flight from Bangkok, we effortlessly went through immigration and waited for our checked bags.
I tried not to appear to be staring as I admired the women in their colorful saris waiting at baggage claim with us.
After having my personal space invaded on the train from Colombo, I exited the train in Galle to the chaos of rickshaw drivers outside the station.
Rand inquired about the fare to get to our guesthouse. He initially rejected the drivers’ price and we decided to walk. But after walking the wrong way and having to turn around and walk past the drivers again, we relented.
A family of five with luggage (backpacks) doesn’t fit in one Sri Lanka rickshaw, so we took two. Kali, Sierra, and I hoped in one auto rickshaw and our driver pulled into traffic. We were used to the crazy driving in Southeast Asia, but this was nuts. We watched a bus almost run over a bicyclist. The bike’s tire got stuck under the bus’s bumper and the bus had to go in reverse to free the bicycle.
We arrived at our guesthouse safely and settled in. We were informed that, “The last guests downloaded movies and used up the WiFi package for the month, so the Internet would be slow.” It was the 18th of the month . . .
Galle, Sri Lanka is known primarily for one thing: The Fort. The peninsula of land where the Portuguese built a fort, complete with stone walls and a lighthouse, is a major tourist attraction in Sri Lanka.
Because of cost, we stayed in a guesthouse outside of the fort. Still we were paying almost double our average cost for Thailand and Laos. We found that pretty frustrating, especially for a room with the bad WiFi, hot water that only worked the first day, and no A/C.
Our first evening we made our way through the new city of Galle to the fort for dinner.
Still tense from the train ride, I was pretty sure every vehicle was trying to kill me. There are no sidewalks in Galle, so you have to walk IN the street with the crazy drivers. In Thailand I had figured out that most drivers will slow down if you indicate you want to cross the street. Having just arrived in Sri Lanka, I had no confidence in that being the case.
It turned out cars and motorbikes would let you cross, but the buses were actively trying to run you down.
It was HOT in Galle, so while I was navigating the insanity, I was also sweating profusely. Dealing with the heat and the traffic was enough to make me wonder if I would hate traveling in Sri Lanka.
Also, there was lots of garbage everywhere, which was unsurprising since there were no garbage cans anywhere. I was expecting this, but still, it’s gross.
We somehow made it safely to the fort and wandered along the walls until sunset.
We found a little stand with locals crowded around and were guided to order chicken kottu. Roti, a kind of flat bread, is chopped up and mixed with vegetables, spices, and chicken. It was really spicy, but delicious, one of the best variations of the dish that we ate in Sri Lanka.
Then we made our way back through the new city which was only slightly calmer after dark.
As we left the fort, a local man started talking to Rand. I had heard that Sri Lankans were really friendly, but I also knew that people will buddy up to you and try to take you to their friend’s shops and then ask for money. I wasn’t sure which type of guy this was.
He led us to a stand at a fruit market and we should have guessed he was a tout. The pomegranates looked good, but were over priced. We ended up buying some reasonably priced oranges.
We let the guy keep walking with us and he wanted to show us a spice market. I figured, why not. The tiny hole-in-the-wall shop was not overly interesting, but smelled good. We didn’t buy any spices because with 7 more months of travel to go they would have lost their flavor. But strangely, I felt like we should buy some cookies or something to help our impromptu guide out. We are usually good about avoiding touts, but this guy was so friendly, I almost fell for it.
As we tried to get rid of him, he tried the “buy milk for my daughter” scam. Apparently, touts get you to buy the milk and then they return it to the store. Rand refused and the guy left us.
The next day we explored the fort. That evening after dinner, a older local man dressed nicely in a white tunic and pants greeted us and told us his house was on the historical register and that his family had lived there for years. He asked us about our family and our travels. We told him we are from the US and that Rand is a professor. Then he tells us he is a professor of gemology and that he sells gems in the US. He then invites us in to see his historical house. We decline.
Later Rand tells me that there is an old scam where people claim to have valuable gems that they don’t have a license to sell in your country. So they ask you to buy the gems for $200 and their representative in your country will buy them from you for $2000. Crazy. Rand couldn’t believe people were still trying that scam.
The following day we decided to check out Jungle Beach. We found a group of auto rickshaws and started bargaining. We probably should have accepted the offer of 2 rickshaws for 600 rupees. Instead we settled on squeezing into one rickshaws for 500 rupees.
Almost as soon as we left on our way, the driver started asking for more money. In our previous tuk tuk experience in Southeast Asia, this is not what happens. Once you settle on a price, it is settled. So we said, no, and almost got out.
The driver was quiet after that, but then right before we arrived at the beach, he asked Rand to sit up front with him and threatened to take us to the police if we didn’t pay double the agreed upon price. Rand still said, no, and we were dropped off at the beach.
Jungle Beach turned out to be pretty disappointing and certainly not worth the rickshaw hassle.
Eventually, I got used to new city Galle and Sri Lankan in general. I suppose we were spoiled by our time in Thailand where we knew how to avoid scams, developed an understanding of the traffic, and never had to worry about our personal space being invaded.
As different as Thailand is from my home country. It is easy. Once we were in Sri Lanka, I really missed the 7-11 on every corner. In Galle our first night we wandered around helplessly looking for a place to buy bottled water and soda. Every third shop on the main street sold toiletries, but we had trouble finding any kind of mini mart for our beverage needs.
Perhaps my bad attitude was due to the fact that we were going into our 7th month of travel and I was feeling a bit worn out. But Sri Lanka certainly did not make a great first impression.