We arrived in Hikkaduwa, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, at nearly midnight after a 16-hour drive. We were quite pleased with our hotel because it was right on the beach, the sound of the waves practically lulling us to sleep.
The next day we of course put on our swimming shorts, lathered a thick layer of sunblock on our faces, and headed to the beach. Gosh, the golden sand is immaculate! The beach front is quite wide and long... it is just endless sand, sand, sand. Hikkaduwa is a famous surfing beach, so it was waves galore too.
We played in the waves, which were strong, along with the current. I can swim quite well but I was still not comfortable in the waves. If you don't watch out they can in fact send you screaming for your life like you're inside the washing machine, which happened to Ms C and me several times. It was fun but exhausting (and dangerous).
So we lounged on the beach, under the shade, and drank beer. We watched several surfers riding on the waves. No, we were not brave enough to get a surfing lesson.
As it is a surfer's destination, I expected Hikkaduwa to be filled with surfers who go on endless drinking binges and parties. But it was pretty quiet there, and far from being overwhelmingly crowded. The atmosphere was just right for relaxation, in fact.
In the afternoon, while in an internet cafe, the manager of the place told us there had been a tsunami warning after a strong quake hit Sumatra. In two minutes the cafe was emptied of its patrons, who were all tourists.
Ms C and I waited another ten minutes because we had still to update our Facebook profiles and tweet about our wonderful vacation. What can be more important, aber? Tsunami what?
The manager had to shoo us away from the cafe, urging us to go back to the hotel and wait for evacuation instructions from the hotel staff.
On our way to our room the other hotel guests were rushing out, lugging heavy backpacks, and hailing tuk-tuks left and right. We were still undecided on what to do. We felt it was too soon to evacuate (we were told we would have two hours to flee once a tsunami has been confirmed).
We took precautions eventually when we realized everyone had left!
We quickly packed our bags and hopped on a tuk-tuk. The driver took us to a hilltop Buddhist temple, about two kilometers inland. Surprisingly, the temple grounds were practically empty. I don't know where the other tourists went...
We tried to get in contact with the travel guide (who was already back in Colombo) but the SIM card we bought did not work. A Sri Lankan family that was also taking refuge in the temple helped us call our travel guide, who then kept us abreast of the tsunami warming.
About four hours of waiting on the temple grounds, our kind travel guide told us that it was safe to go back to the hotel.
The next day, we went to the fort of Galle, half an hour by bus from Hikkaduwa. The old town of Galle (pronounced like gall in gall bladder) was put on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1988.
The Portuguese founded it in the 16th century, and then in 1640 it fell into the hands of the Dutch, who eventually handed it over to the British in 1729.
We walked on the fort walls, enjoying the sea views together with joggers and other tourists. There was a lighthouse and a tall clock tower, and several bastions. Venturing into the streets, we stumbled into a couple of Christian churches, a mosque, government buildings, and some old mansions and museums.
It's easy to get lost in its streets and gawk at the old houses. There are lots of hotels and jewelry shops within the town walls, but the overall feel of the place is just old-world charm (as opposed to blatant commercialization).
We had to drive four hours the next day to reach Negombo. As our flights were in the morning, we needed some place near the airport, so to Negombo we went. We had a few hours on Negombo's beach, enjoying our last Sri Lankan curry and rice, and watching the sunset. We bought some souvenirs in the evening.
Seven days in Sri Lanka is very short to see the amazing country. Nonetheless, we experienced its heritage sites, old towns, tea plantations, and beaches in such a short time.
There's really more reasons for me to go back there, particularly visit more of their old capitals and kingdoms as well as enjoy the beaches in the east, which I heard are much better than the ones in the south.
Oh, if there's one reason to go back to Sri Lanka, it's really to experience again the people's hospitality and warmth.
It's funny that several times Ms C and I were mistaken for a Japanese couple. When they learned we are Filipinos, some of them would say "kumusta?" or "salamat" or "pare". These are the guys who have worked with Filipinos in the Middle East, who have somehow picked up a Tagalog word here and there.
In a lot of ways, Sri Lankans are like Filipinos. Like us they are generous with their smiles, they are curious and they like to talk, and they have a good sense of humor. Maybe that's why it was easy to feel at home there.