Sunday, 11 May 2008

Travel Journal #11 (10 May): Dutch Fort

I spent the day today visiting Galle and Unawatuna.

Galle is the main town in the southwest. It is every little bit as crazy as Colombo, but of course not nearly as big. Tourists come to Galle to visit the fort. The Portuguese were the first European nation to set foot in Sri Lanka in 1505 (only five years after they arrived in Brazil) and they arrived in Galle. One of the first things they did was build a fort around the city to protect the colony but apparently it wasn't a very good one because the Dutch managed to break in and kick the Portuguese out in 1658. Because of a lot of construction was done by the Dutch there are hardly any sections of the original Portuguese fort left. After they took over the island the British only carried out minor constructions so the fort is known today as the Dutch Fort. Nevertheless it still reminds me of the one in Praia do Forte in Florianópolis, also built by the Portuguese around the same time. The one in Galle is much bigger but it is in much worse shape. Extensive restoration work funded by the Dutch government is currently being carried out.

To an extent the Dutch Fort spared Galle from the tsunami devastation. The destruction in Galle isn't nearly as noticeable as in nearby areas. While the city was still flooded, thanks to the fort the waves lost much of their power and the water "leaked in" the city rather than as an actual wave.

The outside fort walls are a bit of a deserted area but they have amazing views. All along the walls you see young couples sitting on benches timidly holding hands and trying to hide behind an umbrella as someone walks by. In Sri Lanka this kind of public displays of intimacy are not only frowned upon but are also against the law.

Unawatuna has the best beach I've seen all trip. It's a very picturesque stretch of soft sand surrounded by coconut trees, with a Buddhist temple on one end and lots of pretty little restaurants right on the sand.

I had lunch at one of them (jumbo prawns, a must have in this part of the country) and later found out the place was run by Gary, a bloke from London. He wanted to run away from England and decided to come to Sri Lanka because it is one of those places "you hear a lot about." He came to Galle put his CV out and in two weeks he had a job as the restaurant chef and manager. He's been living here for the past six months, is learning Sinhala, and says he will leave whenever he feels like going somewhere else.

I also made a point of visiting the temple at the end of the beach. The temple itself is only okay but there are fantastic views from the shrine on the top of the hill, Unawatuna to one side, and the Galle harbour to the other. And there were monkeys there. Apparently monkeys love Buddhist temples as they think it's some sort of playground. Temples are very quiet, the monks tolerate the monkeys (no pun intended -- I promise) and the visitors give them food. I love monkeys because they seem as intrigued by you as you are by them which makes you wonder whether we are really as smart as we think we are. And also because they're cute.

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