Thursday, 14 February 2008

Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka .... Jan - Feb 2008

Balvenie in Galle.............. Train trip thru tea plantation.......Sipping a nice cup of tea

29 Jan - 10 Feb 2008

We planned to do the trip from the Andamans to the Maldives nonstop, bypassing Sri Lanka as we had heard very mixed but mainly unfavourable reports on the harbour there. However after 7 rather tiring nights at sea with very changable conditions, and then a 20knot headwind just as we were passing the entrance to Galle Harbour we decided to get much needed rest and radioed to Port Control for entry into the harbour, just before sunset.

The following is the email update I sent to cruising friends following in our footsteps...

We sailed close inshore all the way round the bottom of Sri Lanka, several fishing boats came by, but most were mainly large tender size with 2 or 3 onboard and quite big outboards, they all wanted cigarettes or anything and just hung around if we didn't give them anything so we ended up throwing the odd packet of cigs and biscuits and they left. Everyone we encountered was friendly but they come pretty close. Entry into Galle is very straight forward, channel marked clearly, room inside for dropping sails, if there is a swell running there are breaking areas and would be uncomfortable to anchor for long. You have to wait for the navy to come out, they do paperwork onboard then steer the boat into the inner harbour. We used Windsors agent (VHF 69 I think) called Nana he was fine, USD200, along with the odd bribes. We tied up to the big concrete wall, it was great for the 1st 10days but then a swell came in and both there and the stern to pontoon got a little lively. Need plenty of fenders on wall!!!!! Its ok, just depends on your sea conditions at the time. Very secure, we could see 5 towers with armed guards, they do let off depth chargers at night in the harbour which takes some getting used to, this is to deter the Tamal Tigers from swimming in and blowing it up.

Nana gave us a card for Deedee Yacht Service, he has a couple of tuktuk drivers that hang around the main gate out, they will take you anywhere, get laundry done, etc. They charge 300r an hour (100r about $1.08US) and are very good. Ekka has the best English and he was also our guide for our inland trip we did. We did 3nights 4 full days, leave 0730 back 1830. 1st day along south coast then inland to an underground temple (worst stop) then on up into the hills to Ella. High up but not cold, didnt need fleece or sweatshirt. Great tiny wee place in middle of nowhere, stayed at Ella Gap Guesthouse, very good. Would have liked a spare day here as there is some good walking around. Next morning got the train (great train station)at 9.50am to ???(the boys organize everything), really really good, beautiful scenery, real must do. Then they picked us up again and off to a tea plantation and factory which was interesting then on to Kandy in time for Cultural Dancing and Firewalking, not a great venue but worthwhile. Stayed 2nights Plantation House in Kandy. Day trip up to Sigiriya, 5th century palace remains on top of SriLankas answer to Ayers Rock, quite a climb but Robert from Theleme made it and he's 71. Really enjoyed it, we were there Independance Day so quite busy with locals. On way back stopped at Elephant Orphanage, we got there while they had all been taken down to the river for bath time, about 50, all sizes, it was great. Then to Cave Temple at Dambulla, we've seen many a Buddist Temple in our time but were both pretty impressed by this one all in caves, again got some exercise climbing lots of stairs up to it, phew. (great lunch stop, even had iceream, yummy) Back to accom in Kandy. Next morn Buddist Temple in Kandy, it actually wasn't too bad either, worth the stop. Then craft shop stop got overrulled, as did spice and herb gardens (me and 4 blokes - what chance did I have!!!). It was a long day back to Galle as the Tamal Tigers let off 6 bombs during the Independance Weekend so we did a few detours, but came back down the west coast to Galle.

We never once felt threatened or unsafe, it is a shame they have the unrest there, this is an outstanding country, reasonably prosperous - certainly way above our memories of India, the people are lovely. They lost around 47,000 people in the tsunami which has just devastated some areas, they really need the tourism in the coastal areas to get things going again. Our tour cost 60,000R for the 2 of us, there were the 5 of us in a new minivan with driver and guide, all meals (they were very good), soft drinks with lunch, all entrance fees (Sigirayi is 20USD) guides where needed, train ticket in observation car, accomm - own bathroom, basically everything except alcohol and tips for guides at 'attractions' (we did 100R pp). I didn't think the tour was cheap but we were very happy with it and the standard of everything.

Back in Galle, the fort area is worth a walk around, especially peeping into the "Notaries/ Solicitors" offices, who dont seem to have power and still use manual typewriters, even more backward than Andamans. Also get a tuktuk out east along the coast (the boys will take and wait) for lunch to one of the lovely beaches.
For provisions Mikes Yacht Services deliver right to the boat (its a bit of a walk from the entrance to the boats so this is a good option) prices are regulated and he will take credit card at no extra charge. He will organize tours too, USD65 per day for car and driver, everything on top of this.

Overall we really enjoyed our unplanned stop here, but the harbour is a little like Penang - be prepared to rock and roll (more of a surge really and free salt water wash as water comes up under the wall as certain times of the tide). Things were more expensive than we thought they would be, oh diesel Nana does 96R per litre, we filled water from shower block into tanks and just filtered it. Sim card 300R and 1200R calltime did us for calls home and texts.

Overall ratings for Sri Lanka.....Anchorage 8/10, its free, secure and was great while calm
Tour 8/10 good vehicle, guide and accomodation and sights
Provisioning 9/10 could get nearly everything, including more marmite for skipper

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