|EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING HAS A DIFFERENT WAY OF TRAVELING|
Guidelines online specify that you need to show proof of income, a hotel reservation, a return ticket and confirmation of your online visa (of course). However, when we got to the immigration desk, they didn't ask for anything.
|the open tracks on the way to Hikkaduwa Beach|
The Surf Villa - where we booked a room - had sent over a driver who was waiting for us. We quickly withdrew cash from the ATM at the airport and started the next leg of our trip from Colombo to Hikkaduwa. It takes about 2-2:30 hours to get there using the expressway (count an extra 350Rps). It seemed to take forever to actually get through Colombo and then hardly any time to get to the Southern part of the island. Perhaps the fact that I fell asleep almost as soon as we hit the expressway might've had something to do with it...
In any case, I woke up just as the driver had gotten off the expressway. When I had fallen asleep, we were surrounded by bright lights and gaudy religious displays (both Buddhist and Christian), but when I woke up we were alone in the jungle. The only thing connecting us to the atmosphere of Colombo was the brightly lit, neon green and pink, flashing statue of Jesus at the corner of the highway exit and the main road. We continued our way along narrow, winding roads flanked by lush green walls of vegetation. There were no lights and seemingly no other cars. I kept drifting in and out of sleep and in my hazy, half-asleep mind, I remember only visions as the car's headlights landed on something: a stray dog, a small military patrol on foot, a lone cow... and then we were there.
The Villa itself was clean, tidy and the staff extremely friendly. They will provide you with a breakfast full of fresh fruit and blended fruit juices to die for. You can rent surf boards here or directly at the beach.
|STILT FISHERMEN AT KABALANA BEACH|
|SRI LANKAN CURRY AT UNAWATUNA BEACH|
Hikkaduwa beach is about a 3-minute walk from the Villa, across an unprotected rail track and across the main road to Galle. Access to the beach is done mainly through bars, restaurants or hotels - which I always thought was quite awkward.
Hikkaduwa attracts a kind of hippy, surfer crowd, but the surfable strip was about 100m wide. The whole beachfront is lined with colorful hotels - in various states of disrepair as a result of the 2004 tsunami - which all serve fantastic fresh fruit juices and flavored Ceylon teas. The most popular by far were Mambo's and Budde's Bar, which also provided free wi-fi access.
Navigating the beach is a little tricky. The tide rises and falls very quickly and at high tide, the water licks at the beachfront restaurant and hotel walls. This results in very few deck chairs, parasols or generally places to lay out your things safely. There are many stray dogs walking around the beach, which means you always have to keep an eye out for dog droppings, too. This is not only true at Hikkaduwa.
The sun rises behind the palm trees and it is worth watching. The boyfriend says the sunrise is pretty spectacular from the water. The first morning, we stayed from about 6:00 to 8:00. Little did I know that even just those two hours in the early morning sun with a light coat of sunscreen were the beginning of a disaster. The sun in Sri Lanka is incredibly strong, and the availability of shade surprisingly scarce. By the end of the trip I was burnt to a crisp despite coating myself in SPF50+ sunscreen and regular breaks in the shade of the bar or back at the villa. Actually, by day 3 we had both run out of sunscreen and surprisingly the highest level of sunscreen we found in stores was SPF20 - which didn't really seem high enough - but we just layered it on.
The sun sets on the right side of the beach and can be easily seen. It is a beautiful sunset, and is totally worth watching.
Kabalana Beach is a few km passed Galle. We accessed it through the Kabalana Hotel. I'm sure this access is not exclusive as the beach stretches much further than the hotel property, but I don't remember seeing any other access points nearby. In any case, we came in through the hotel and the hotel security were extremely welcoming even as we traipsed all over their lawn with board and all. Kabalana Beach is even more deserted than Hikkaduwa. I was the only person on the beach for a good 30minutes, and at the busiest time, there were 4 people on the beach...
We stopped over at Unawatuna Beach for lunch. Unawatuna is a gorgeous beach - soft, white sand, clear, turquoise waters. It's in a nice secluded bay, which means there are no big waves. It's not a surfing spot, but it's a good place for water sports - we saw some people boating and jet skiing. This was more of a touristy beach with lots of sun loungers, lots of parasols, lots of tourists (it was pretty crowded - by Sri Lankan standards) and lots of people walking around selling things.
This trip was also the chance for me to try surfing again. I tried surfing when I lived in Australia, but between shark-sightings and my obvious lack of balance, I didn't get very far. So this time, with my own "personal teacher" and his rented short board (which he thought was bulky and slow) I managed at first to glide on the board til the beach, then to kneel on the board til the beach and finally, on day two, to stand up straight - even if for only 3 seconds or so - on the board til the beach. Totally exhilarating! Unfortunately, that was the only time I managed. But to get there, I lost BOTH my hair bands and bruised my knee.
The boyfriend also tried out Kabalana Beach near Galle (that's actually where I stood up!). The advanced surf strip here is also quite narrow, and there is some reef to be careful of. The boyfriend was unlucky and snapped a fin off his board. We were able to borrow a fin off our driver's friend, but that fin would have to be replaced.
|THE PEACE PAGODA AND THE DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH, GALLE|
The Fort area's main landmarks include the clock tower, the lighthouse and the Dutch Reformed Church. I think they would have been much more memorable had I been wearing shoes, and had we been walking in the subdued light (and heat) of dusk.
SHOPPING & FOOD
I was quite surprised at how few people there were on Hikkaduwa beach selling trinkets. During the first 3 days of our trip, I think we only saw 1 person (from whom I bought 2 sarongs). Their number increased slightly towards the weekend, and they sold a larger variety of things: sarongs, wood carvings, bracelets, fresh fruit and Aloe. The people selling Aloe got more persistant as I got redder and redder.
Most stores near the beach sell the same kinds of things as well as beach dresses, rubber flip flops and other touristy things. There was one surf store that sold expensive beach dresses and accessories as well as surf gear. This is where the boyfriend tried to get a replacement fin, but they have very limited stock which meant that you had to buy a set of 3 fins (there were no single fins) and they only had black and blue (the fin he broke was white) and that a set of 3 cost US$50.
We often went to the supermarket which was a 10-mintute walk from the Villa. They have a large selection of teas and spices as well as fantastic jams (my favorite was the pineapple jam). You can also get mosquito repellant here - which I can't recommend strongly enough, if you didn't bring any. Surprisingly, as I mentioned, all the sunscreen there is SPF20, and they didn't have basic things like hair ties (Rebecca, I will be forever grateful for the one you gave me).
Towards the end of our trip, we started getting short on cash and realized that there were no ATMs in the area. Not even in the hotels. If you do need an ATM, you'll need to head into Hikkaduwa proper which is further on from the supermarket, maybe a 25-30minute walk from the main beach area or a 5-minute tuk tuk ride.
Check out the Hikkaduwa packing guide!