Travel Guide: Galle (and a brief stay in Negombo)

After the cool climate of Kandy, which you can read about here, Mitch and I made our way south to Galle. Galle is normally very hot and they were having a heat wave. The locals couldn’t stop talking about it! We couldn’t stop counting the hours between our iced coffee breaks, but we absolutely loved our time in Galle. I’m so glad we ended our trip there; it left me feeling very light and joyful for the experienced that we’d had and the time we’d spent together.

We arrived in Galle after dark on New Year’s Eve (granted, pitch black was about 7pm). There’s a large Muslim population living in the Old Fort section of Galle, mostly families descended from prosperous merchants during the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial eras. Over the course of our visit, multiple locals complained that living in the Fort had gotten too expensive; apparently about half the homes are now owned by foreigners.

Galle seemed rather quiet when we walked around town in the evening and we soon realized that most locals had gathered on and around the ramparts built by the Portuguese and enlarged by the Dutch to fortify the city. There’s a beautiful breeze up there and we could see stars for miles. With the ocean crashing below us, there was really nothing that could have made me happier (except, perhaps, a beer). We knew immediately that Galle was going to be our favorite of the places we visited in Sri Lanka.

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How can you help but love a town with dessert food trucks?

Most of the restaurants were closed by the time we arrived, but it seemed appropriate to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant that served amazing, authentic food (but, predictably, no alcohol). Our Airbnb was located next to a mosque and across the street from another one, so we heard prayers each night and each morning, which I loved. I heard prayers at a mosque for the first time on Arab Street in Singapore earlier this year and was stunned at how similar the melodies and words are to prayers that I’m used to in a synagogue. Really cool.

Mitch went for a run the following morning, New Year’s Day, despite the incredible heat. I made friends with a young guy running a restaurant and hotel near our Airbnb and drank an iced coffee while I waited for Mitch to turn up (and then had another one). We spent the day wandering through the streets and enjoying the colonial architecture and atmosphere of the Fort. Based on the number of churches and their sheer variety, it was easy to identify missionary influences. The majority of our time that day and the next day was spent wandering up and down streets with adorable names like Small Cross Street and Middle Street.

As I’ve said before, the ocean is my happy place. We spent quite a while walking along the ramparts of the Fort and then simply sitting down and starting at the ocean below us. The much-needed breeze was at its best up there and there seemed no reason to leave until we got hungry. Before lunch, however, I did happily walk into the Indian Ocean in my sandals and in my dress and I was perfectly delighted. Crossed that off my bucket list! Just like the previous evening, locals were at the beach going swimming and it looked lovely.

Mitch and I would have taken a dip, but we had errands to run. Mitch’s aunt had sent us on a quest for crystals and gems, which are apparently a hot commodity in Sri Lanka. Ideally, we would have shopped at the Pettah in Colombo but that was far too overwhelming. Although most shops were closed for Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, most jewelry and gem stores in Galle are owned by Muslims and therefore remained open. We had a lovely chat with a woman who sold gems in the front room of her owned, bought a few things, and hopefully accomplished that mission!

We were particularly excited about our evening activities for the New Year. Our friend Janitha’s home town is Galle and he invited us to his family’s house to meet his parents, grandparents, and brother and enjoy some traditional New Year foods, most of which are sweets! It was a very interesting cultural experience to be in a local home and learn about the local foods that we were enjoying. Definitely a highlight of our Sri Lanka travels!

The following day was even hotter and we continued our wanderings (photos above) but took breaks every 90 minutes or so to walk into a shop to stand under a fan or to enjoy an iced coffee and sit under a fan, though we never truly cooled off. It reminded me of the coldest skiing days when you go in for hot chocolate every run or two but never actually warm up until you call it quits for the day.

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Even this plant was hot!

We did make our way into the Dutch Reformed Church, which was really interesting because it had a cemetery outside and tombstones in the floor inside. It was strange to be in a church in shorts, especially a church that is still active on Sundays, but the officials didn’t seem to mind.

After two nights in Galle, as with everywhere else, it was time to move again. The economical option was to take a bus back to Colombo and then a taxi onto Negombo, the beach town 10km from the airport where we’d arranged to spend the last night of our trip. However, neither of us had particularly enjoyed the bus ride to Galle and didn’t feel the need to repeat it, especially considering how far under our budget we were for the trip. So we went with the non-backpacker option and hired a taxi that got us to Negombo in about two and a half hours. The only unfortunate part was that I left my Kindle in my luggage and my luggage in the trunk; I couldn’t reach my bag, so I had a nap instead.

As we drove into Negombo, we saw more churches than mosques or temples. We also saw Jesus bumper stickers on lots of tuk tuks! The driver told us that a large percentage of Negombo’s population are Catholic, which, for our purposes, meant much easier access to Sri Lanka’s Lion beer. We were delighted.

After checking into the hostel, we walked across the street to the beach and stopped at the first restaurant guesthouse that we saw. It was located in a charming garden right on the sand.

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We ordered a couple beers with lime slices and vegetable and fish curries. We ate, drank, enjoyed the breeze off the ocean, and talked about our favorite experiences from the week.

When the sun started to set, we took off our shoes and walked along the beach, both in and out of the water. Step into the Indian Ocean round two! And the sunset was beautiful.

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Mitch and I left the hostel a few hours apart the following morning to journey back to our respective homes. I returned to Singapore feeling refreshed and relaxed, optimistic about the rest of the school year, and excited for the future.

It’s all an adventure, really. Life, they say, is a journey and not a destination.

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