Last week we spent a couple of sweltering days in Galle Fort, a pretty, touristy spot enclosed in a huge old fort on a promontory attached to the city of Galle.
Originally Portuguese, the fortress was expanded and consolidated by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. It features a lighthouse, several old churches, a mosque and lots of souvenir shops, many of which are jewelry stores. In fact, the hotel where we were staying was directly above a gem-vending store and run by the same people.
As the check-in process was underway, I amused myself by gazing at the merchandise . The two featured gems were ones for which Sri Lanka is famous: sapphires and moonstones. Surprisingly, I discovered, sapphires are not always blue. There is a particularly pretty kind, the padparadscha, that ranges from pink to orange. My favorite, though, was the moonstone, partly because I’ve always wondered what it looked like since reading the Wilkie Collins novel. As it happens, there’s a lot of variety; some are transparent, others the color of a glass of water with a splash of milk in it. And if you hold it up to the light it shoots out iridescent glances.
After stowing our luggage in the stylish room, I went for a wander through the fort admiring the big old trees, colorful merchandise, old architecture and little glimpses of local life. I tried to keep to the side of the road as tuk-tuks careened along the narrow streets and sunburned Europeans dawdled along looking for air-conditioned drinking holes. In one corner of the fortress I followed a stream of people through a narrow exit and saw a little beach where locals were enjoying some respite from the heat. At the foot of the walls, vendors in tiny carts crouched in the shade waiting for people to come buy soda, balloons or fresh fruit.
In the evening, we had curry at a little family restaurant called Spoons, where a very small child with large eyes and a serious, abstracted expression wandered in from the adjacent room, which seemed to be where the family lived, into the restaurant, and then on into the busy kitchen. On one occasion he had taken his shorts off. On another he was laughing quietly to himself about something. After eating, we walked up onto the fort walls, where the air was slightly cooler, and looked at the sunset, .
The next morning, we headed to the jewelry store for breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sri Lanka style. I ordered the SL breakfast, a delectable feast that included dahl, fish curry, roti, an egg hopper, string hoppers and a sweet coconut pancake.
Next stop was the maritime archeology museum. After a ten-minute walk we were both a little delirious from the heat and not necessarily absorbing all the information on display. However, I gathered that the area was famous for stilt fishermen, shipwrecks, turtles and an ancient sea-trading tradition.
After an iced coffee, we decided to check out early and return to Hikkaduwa, where it wasn’t so hot. A tuk-tuk driver offered to take us the whole 20km so we hopped aboard and saw the sights. Just outside the fort walls a group of boys in beautiful costumes were practicing drumming and dancing. The Galle bus station was bustling with people and the whole trip was bristling with interesting sights. These were a little hard to appreciate properly, however, because our tuk-tuk driver seemed to think that there was a shield of invincibility around his little vehicle and he wove amongst trucks, buses and cars with terrifying insouciance.