Friday, January 27, 2012

The South Coast: Tangalle, Unawatuna, Galle


The Sri Lankan coastline is endowed with miles of glorious sandy beaches fringed with palm trees and aquamarine sea. We spent the last five days of our trip being lazy beach bums, soaking up the equatorial sunshine and reading under the cabana. The South Coast reminded us a lot of Kerala, India with its old historic fort, brackish backwaters, coconut-infused cooking, balmy climate, and golden beaches. In fact, Keenan finally got the chance to read the 1997 Booker Prize winner The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, a novel about fraternal twins in their native Kerala. I ended up reading a Candace Bushnell novel because it was the only book I could find in English in the book exchange library. Let's just say it was an entertaining read. 

 
 

We divided our time between Tangalle, a secluded little beach town with maybe a handful of thatched beach bungalows, and Unawatuna, Sri Lanka's most popular beach.  Tangalle is very sleepy so this beach is perfect for those seeking peace and quiet as the golden sands remain relatively untrodden, but you'll have to share the beach with the occasional stray dogs. While the beaches are tranquil, the ocean is anything but. The undercurrents are extremely strong --  it is not ideal for swimming or other water sports. We stayed at the Patini Bungalows for two nights, which had a superb location right on Medilla Beach with a lovely private deck for afternoon tea or a sun downer. I should also note that Tangalle is an unassuming town with very little tourist infrastructure so eating is very limited to a few guesthouses such as the Ibis and Ganesh Gardens. We liked Tangalle for its peaceful surroundings but it was a bit too quiet for us.


Moving up the coast, we made our way to Unawatuna. Unlike Tangalle, Unawatuna was packed with holiday-makers from frigid Europe. Protected by a sweep of palm trees with crystal clear water lapping the pristine white sand, this crescent-shaped bay with an intimate beach is as picturesque as it gets.  It is a lively beach town with a nice laid-back vibe. By day, people are busy jogging, swimming, padding, and sunbathing; and by night, it's quite relaxed with people mellowing out with a glass of chilled beers and eating fresh seafood alfresco on the beach. There were some all-night trance parties along the beach but for the most part Unawatuna had a good mix of relaxation and liveliness. There is no shortage of restaurants in Unawatuna, many serving up the Sri Lankan staples of rice and curry and there's plenty of shops to pick up souvenirs. 

 

I signed up for a half-day Sri Lankan cooking class at Karuna's kitchen -- and it was so much fun! We first took a tour of the vegetable and spice markets in Galle to pick up fresh produce (spice, pumpkin, carrots, green beans) for our meal. The class is limited to 8 people so you can get really hands-on in the prepping and cooking. Karuna, who has this high-pitched infectious laugh, is a great teacher and she makes you take down notes rather than giving you a handout of the recipes. We made five different curries: pumpkin, carrots & green beans, deviled potato, fish curry, and yellow dhaal; and a coconut-based dessert. After spending three hours cooking and inhaling all the aromatic spices, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Keenan joined us for our late lunch after spending the day shopping for his masks and sunbathing on the beach. Bon Apetite!


We also made a trip to visit the historic fort in Galle. It's an easy-going town teeming with commercial activities from gem shops to Ceylon teashops to textile shops. The old fort was first built by the Portuguese before the Dutch took over, building themselves the Dutch Reform Church, warehouses, and several bastions around the fortified wall. The fort was then handed over to the British in 1796 and several modifications were made to the old fort including building a tower to commemorate Queen Victoria's jubilee. You are welcome to walk along the old rampart and admire the various architectural styles of the Dutch, British, and Portuguese. There also some lovely cafes inside the fort. My favorite was Pedler's Inn Cafe, opt for a seat in the patio and order a coffee or a light lunch.


With heavy hearts, it was a time to say goodbye to Sri Lanka. Istuti for the beautiful memories! If you are interested on current political issues in post-civil war Sri Lanka, please read Keenan's recent blog titled "What Lies Beneath: Truth and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka." Ayubowan!

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