Our fourth day in Sri Lanka was the busiest of them all. We worked our way down the mountains to the sea on the South Coast.
We began our day at 3:30am, before the sun reared it’s head, before the birds cleared their throats. Our hotel staff farewelled us, handing us each a box of breakfast- an orange, an apple, a sandwich and a muffin for the road. We needed it and were very appreciative.
Our drive to Udawalawe was long and windy. Through the mountain mist, skinny dogs raced in front of the car as we swerved around pot holes and bumps. Every so often someone would emerge from the darkness, in a beanie and a sarong, standing roadside. It was spooky.
Udawalawe National Park has roads etched through it for jeeps to take tourists on safari. There’s apparently 600 elephants in the park, in herds of about 50, and there are other animals about, languid in the heat. We were excited to see them, but less excited for the motorcade of grumbling jeeps which stumbled through the entrance gates in single file at dawn.
We broke from the pack like a renegade gazelle and took our chances. It paid off. We saw water buffalos going about their business, jackals darting in and out of the shrubs and eagles soaring. There was life everywhere, even the smallest of chameleons and tiny bee eaters had us gasp in awe. See there, on the river bank, a crocodile! See there, up in that tree, a painted stork! A peacock, a herron! The elephants stole the show. At first, I spied them through the thicket, just going about their business, but later, they came, right up to the jeep all cautious-like, eyeing us and swinging their trunks. What beautiful and gentle creatures.
Once we had our fill of great beasts, we raced down to the sea. Galle sits on the south coast and has a very interesting history of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation on display through it’s architecture. The Galle Fort is a quaint little township with boutique shops and bed and breakfasts peppered across narrow alleyways. One can stroll along the top of the rampart the whole way around, and see the Dutch Hospital, the Clock Tower, the Lighthouse. There’s cafes and restaurants every few meters and all offer something tantalising.
We came for the main event- the Galle Literary Festival. What a fabulous occasion it was! Charles Cumming and Anthony Horowitz in conversation about crime fiction, Sir David Hare interviewed about his career as a playwright, Lucy Fleming in a duet with her husband discussed her uncle, the great Ian Fleming. An intellectual feast!
We stayed at an aborable bed and breakfast, with polished hard wood furniture and a bathroom less spacious than advertised. But our hosts were fantastic, so warm and accommodating, and we went hunting for dinner. We found a little cafe recommended in Lonely Planet and tried the Kotta, and Dhal and Rotti. Such divine flavours, and fresh tuna from the sea! A fabulous day, as we collapsed soon after.