22 December 2012
The family has arrived.
Well, not quite everyone … Michael (my eldest brother), his son Andrew, and Uncle Dangles (from the days when my nephew had trouble pronouncing ‘Daniel’, my middle brother’s name) arrived in the middle of our last night at Mandalay, while Angela and Rachelle, my brothers’ better halves, will arrive early this Sunday morning to complete the family tour package.
We left our beautiful riverside Villa Mandalay with the help of not one, but two vans (one just for the luggage – we Arndts can’t seem to pack light!) and headed for the fort city of Galle, home of the famous cricket ground. For the benefit of my non-Australian readers, cricket is a British game where men dressed in white stand around a grassy oval in the ridiculous heat of the day, hitting a small piece of leather with a piece of wood. Apparently, to really appreciate cricket, you must attend a three day international match. If that’s not possible, paint a wall and watch it dry. Yes, you guessed it, I’m not a huge fan of the game.
Now the city of Galle was built by the Portuguese, fought over and won by the VOC (Dutch East India Company), fought over again, then re-colonised by the British. It was finally passed to the locals in 1948, when independence was granted to Ceylon.
So this UNESCO site sits on a promontory that is surrounded by stone ramparts that first protected the “old town” from invading forces and more recently, the 2004 tsunami. The city is a mixture of Moorish, Dutch and British architecture lining the cobbled streets. Over the years that we’ve been visiting Galle, we’ve watched the crumbling mansions and warehouses be restored by expats and turned into hotels, restaurants, shops and private villas. It was one of these villas that we checked into, Thambili House (Thambili is the Sinhalese word for King Coconut), an incredible three-storey house that sits opposite the ramparts, with a pooled courtyard separating the staff quarters from the guest accommodation. Thanks for booking this Dad, it’s absolute luxury.
Thambili’s rooms are brimming with Dutch, British and Ceylonese antiques, a billiards table, view of the ocean, three suites and a staff of four. We discovered that our attic suite, the “Cinnamon Suite” had the added benefit of a standby stream of rain water that washed you as you sat and abluted. No need to wash your hands under a tap. Not so convenient was the stream that dripped onto Mike’s side of our canopied four poster bed. (Well, that was his excuse for the bed being wet in the morning!)
Believe me that did not dampen (sorry) our enjoyment of Thambili House. Mike and I did the sunset and sunrise Rampart walk and visited our favourite bars, starting in the Amangalla (a hotel in an ancient townhouse formerly occupied by one of my relatives), down Church Street to our old favourite, the Galle Fort Hotel, and finishing around the pool at our Villa – each bar a reflection of bygone European colonialism.
We were not the only Aussies at the Amangalla. Bob Carr (the Australian Foreign Minister) had the same idea. His arrival at the porte cochere, complete with dancing girls, local Kandyan drummers and a diplomatic limousine made our tuk tuk look very insignificant. Oh, he sends his regards, charming fellow really.
Meanwhile the family hit the turtle hatchery, an orphanage my father is involved with, and the numerous gem shops (ladies, Sri Lanka is home of the sapphire, ruby and emerald).
Now don’t ‘poo poo’ us for hitting the bars when the family hit the cultural trail; we have done all of that several times before. Besides, colonial bars is more our style – history and culture that incorporates a Tom Collins or Long Island Ice Tea.
We have now moved down the coast to Mirissa, a small bay of clear azure water that is fringed by coconut trees and a few thatched roof restaurants. My days now consist of reading, body surfing and sleeping under coconut palms in front of our hotel. Sounds like paradise? Well, it is, in fact the hotel is called Paradise Beach Hotel. The beach is populated by locals, Asian-based expats and Europeans who hail from anywhere from Russia to Portsmouth. It’s interesting to watch the large waves roll in and wreak havoc in their wake. Now, any Australian will inform you that you dive under the large waves and you don’t stand where they break. Unfortunately, this is a fact that the Europeans don’t seem to understand or, sadly, learn by trial and error. Each wave is a “strike” as Dutch, French and German tourists go flying like skittles. We watch with amusement as this happens all day, every day.
(I also know that their five year olds would run rings around me on the ski slopes….!)
The view of the bay during the day invokes a sort of calmness as the waves roll in, and at night patches of light spill onto the sand from thatched restaurants with fairy lights strung up the coconut trees. We hit one such bar last night, with its tables and chairs sunk into the sand, each with the ubiquitous lazy dog sleeping under it. Unlike other parts of Asia, the street dogs here are well fed, non aggressive and relatively clean. Although I don’t think I would have been kissing the puppies on the mouth like the Dutch girl on the table next to us was doing. I think it might be more than just the puppy “scooting” across the beach tomorrow. We lazed the night away, dining on seafood and watching the fireflies buzz on random paths through the darkness.
Ah, paradise found.