We have some things lined up for this last day on the road, but it’s a relaxing start and for a change we don’t need to set the alarm clock before sunrise. Breakfast is served outside in the small courtyard of the hotel. Even the coffee tastes good here (Sri Lankans may be tea experts but the coffee is mostly not so drinkable if you’re used to a good cup of black coffee).
By 8.30 a.m. we are all set to go and Rohan arrives. Our bags are once more loaded into the car and off we go. We’re following the coastline to Ahungalle, which brings us closer to Colombo again (and the airport). As it’s Monday morning we see people go to work and the schoolkids in Galle seem to have a sports day. Our first stop is at the Tsunami museum. In fact it’s only a small house, a private initiative. There’s no real professional organization (you pay a donation as entrance fee), but it’s impressive nevertheless. The walls are filled with photos, stories, quotes, … about that horrendous 26th December 2004 and the weeks after. A text simply written with a marker on paper says: “The big wave was a tsunami and Sri Lankans had never heard this word. They cried in fear. What is that thing?” It gives me chills. Even the very place we are standing at was completely destroyed by the disaster.
We see shocking pictures. In Sri Lanka 50.000 people died. The tsunami came in 3 big waves. A smaller first one and then 2 giant ones, a wall of water. A train from Colombo to Galle was completely derailed. Many people thought the train would be safe after the 1st wave, but it was a giant disaster. We read stories of parents losing their children and vice versa. “Still missing” is the line of text written next to some photos. Somehow people still hope to find their loved ones. How can you continue to live if everything and everyone you loved is gone? Somehow people do. “Now we think so as survivors, this is the life. Life is difficult, but we are not discouraged. We must be able to face any adversity.” Today there is an ‘early warning’ system for possible tsunami alarm, but you just hope it won’t happen again.
Rather impressed we continue our roadtrip to a moonstone mine. There are several mines in the area and each one claims to be the first one and the best. Rohan knows his places, so he brings us to one of the older companies. A few men are waiting for guests at the parking lot. They are guides. Our guide is a bit of a strange guy and his English-Singhalese accent is a bit hard to understand, but we tag along with him. His teeth and mouth have the typical reddish color you see around here for people who chew cinnamon. The mine is at itself a small shaft. One man is a couple of meters down below, digging sand.
They pull it up in buckets and then shift it with the help of water, like you would do for gold I guess. There is nothing modern about this and I rather the pity the men who are working here. The air down the mine is really unhealthy and the few men here all are very skinny. This is primitive work and I guess nothing much has changed since the old days of mining. We are the first visitors of the day and the first ones are supposed to bring luck (extra luck because we are young women and schoolfriends, he keeps on repeating), so expectations are high. One of the men shifts the sand in water and yes, there we see some shining moonstone. Our guide is happy. Along the way he tries to get a bit more information, are we studying or working? To me it’s clear he’s trying to see what our budget is when we arrive in the shop. And do we cook? Not that often, we say. “Ah, no, you young people, you go to restaurants and the pub!” Well, not every night, we try to explain. And Belgium, oh yes, he knows Belgium, because they do business with Antwerp. Besides the moonstone business, there’s also a production plant for cinnamon. They sell it also in little bags, so Lesley decides to buy some.
Next we reach the moonstone workshop. This is where the stones are polished and fit into jewellery like rings and earrings. It is clear that the whole tour will end in the selling room. He knows we are not the big buyers here today so luckily for us he brings out the simple stuff. Everything we try on is “very pretty” and we both end up buying small earrings with blue moonstone. So everybody happy! We say goodbye and more people are arriving. One of the guides even speaks Russian. They clearly get many nationalities here and I’m assuming some of them are buying with big budgets. Besides the moonstones (which aren’t the most expensive) so many other precious stones are on offer here. Not for us today, maybe in the future when we return with a rich husband :-)
Next stop is a small mask museum and workshop. As we walk into the museum the young lady there promptly starts here explanation and in 5 minutes time the tour is finished. No time for questions. It’s a bit peculiar J I guess they want us to go inside the workshop and most importantly the shop. We see the typical colorful masks, but nothing really cathches our eyes enough to buy.
It’s around midday now and we’re up for a little boattour down an area with mangroves. It’s just us 2, Rohan and a boat guy. We “cruise’ down the river and it’s very hot in the midday sun. There’s a lot of prawn cultivation around here and we also see the fish farms where you can stop over for a little beauty treatment with the little fish nibbling away on your toes and feet. Not my feet though. The idea of al the fish having a feed on my feet is just not something I really long for :-) Along the way we pass a man in a small boat. And he’s holding something. It’s a tiny baby monkey. And before I know it, our boat stops and he puts the baby monkey on my lap. Lesley gets all soft. “Oh, what a cutieeee! Can I hold him too?” Ofcourse the guy asks some money.
After somehat more than an hour, the tour finishes and we have lunch by the river trying some of the prawns. It’s good to sit in the shade. Rohan joins us for a minute. He’s looking forward to being home soon with his family, though he will probably be on the road again after 5 days for a new tour. He shows us pictures of his wife and two daughters.
Our last stop of the day before heading to the hotel is a turtle sanctuary. You have many of them in this area. To be honest, it’s all a bit strange. We are welcomed by a lady, but there doesn’t seem to much staff around. And certainly no biologists. In a sandy area eggs are buried. They are supposed to be safe here where as on the nearby beach eggs get stolen or destroyed. The lady shows us tracks on the beach where turtles came out of the water in the evening. Then there’s an area with different pools. There’s a pool with baby turtles. She insists on us holding one, while I’d rather keep the animals in the water. In the other pools the turtles get bigger, even up to 25 kg. And even the big ones are taken out of the water just to show us. Eventually as many turtles as possible are set out in the wild again, but only 5 out of 100 young turtles make it. “Oh, I’m tired,” the lady says “it’s this walking up and down.” I guess they (I don’t know who) pay locals to do the practical stuff around here, which is alright, but it just doesn’t feel professional.
The visit doesn’t take that long and after that we’re really heading to our last address, a small scale hotel by the ocean (White House). Rohan doesn’t know yet of he will be the one to pick us up for the drive to the airport, so as this could be our goodbye we hand him an envelope with a thank you note and a tip. We were lucky with such a good guide and we feel rather sad to say goodbye as it’s really the end of our roadtrip. We wave him off and then explore the hotel and immediate area. It’s a quiet place, no big hotels around, except the Riu a couple of 100 meters down the beach. The ocean is right at the doorstep.
Still, we feel a bit lost and Lesley sighs “I’m afraid I’m bored already.” Yep, we’re no swimming pool or beach tourists. But it’s late afternoon, so we find a spot around the small swimming pool anyway. I get in the water, some good practice for my shoulder, there’s no one else around. We hang around there until the sun goes down.
At the hotel resto it’s really quiet too, but we find a nice spot out on the beach where they built a little platform that looks like a boat. It’s look very festive with some lights and we can hear the ocean in the dark. It takes ages before they bring out the food, up to 1,5 hour. Someone obviously forgot about us and it confirms our feeling that the hotel lacks good management. Anyway, we’re not complaining, as we’re thankful for the great trip we’ve had. There’s one more day left and then in the evening we’ll drive to the airport.