25.02.2010 - 06.03.2010 34 °C
We left the cool hill country for the south coast - a huge temperature difference especially at night, we went from needing a blanket to succumbing to airconditioning. The journey to the coast was stunning, the bus wound down from Ella, through Ella Gap to the coastal plains, dropping 1,000m (and gaining about 10deg C).
Our first stop was tongue-twisting Tissamaharama (generally known by tourists as Tissa) for Yala National Park. We stayed at a lovely guesthouse, My Village, about 2km out of town with a tranquil garden where we could sit and watch the kingfishers on the neighbouring pond. My Village had gone for minimalist chic which was a refreshing change. We've stayed at other places in Sri Lanka set in beautiful gardens full of flowers but the rooms are cluttered wih plastic flowers, cushions and even soft toys - all gathering dust, spiders and ants.
We visited Yala on a dawn safari hoping to see leopard - it allegedly has the world's highest density of leopards but that's still not many. Unfortunately we didn't see any but we did see a distant sloth bear, our first wild elephants, wild boar, langurs and loads of birds.
Yala used to have two resorts in the Park which were destroyed in the tsunami but it's impossible to tell that now. It was generally very hard to imagine the effects of the tsunami, we saw some abandoned and derelict houses, the occasional boat washed far inland but there has clearly been massive rebuilding.
We moved to the coast with wonderful cooling sea breezes stopping first at Tangalle - an idyllic beach with white sand, palm trees and a lagoon for kayaking. The only problem was the sea - just too rough to swim or do more than paddle and run away from the biggest of the waves.
We moved on to Mirissa - which is recommended by every traveller who's ever been here and which we had been hearing about since we were in Goa. And it was lovely - a long curving bay, coves for snorkelling and swimming and areas to surf. We also met up with, it seemed, nearly everybody else we'd met in Sri Lanka - perfect for chatting over sunset beers on the beach.
We stayed in a great place, just away from the main beach set in lovely gardens (complete wih cats, chickens and lizards) overlooking one of the coves. We slept to the sound of crashing waves and had breakfast right by the sea.
We had a less pleasant wildlife encounter with a scorpion in our room - worse for the scorpion though as it seemed to have been crushed to death under Sue's pack.
There was a procession while we were there - something to do wih the fishermen - more cross-dressing, animal costumes and drums.
There was a perfect lunch spot just near our guesthouse - a king coconut seller on one side of the road and a shack selling the best roti we've had in Sri Lanka, freshly cooked to order. They also made the Sri Lankan speciality of Kottu Roti - roti dough with vegetables cooked and chopped on a hotplate, teppanyaki style.
We left the beach for a couple of days sightseeing in the old Dutch town of Galle. We stayed in the old fort area, which is full of colonial architecture. Even the locals seem to think it is really hot and in the evening the ramparts are full of people cooling off and watching the sunset.
Moving on to the west coast for our final few days.