Michael says driving in Sri Lanka is a bit like playing the classic video game, Frogger (he’s old enough to remember it), except your car is the frog and you’re not just crossing a road – you’re trying to make your way down 50, 100, 200 kilometers of it while obstacles come at you from all directions. On an average drive here you’ll encounter potholes, pedestrians, bicycles, stray dogs, tuk tuks, scooters, lorries and 1970s-era buses driven like race cars. Go a bit further and you can do your best to dodge cats, frogs, peacocks, grazing goats, sleeping cows, tractors with trailers piled impossibly high with pumpkins and, if you’re lucky, a horny bull elephant about a head higher than a full size van (an elephant’s head mind you) on the prowl for a mate. At least that’s what we’ve experienced in our first ten days.
Lucky for us, we hired a Sri Lankan driver (StepLanka Tours). Several friends had recommended this idea to us and the cost was about the same as hiring our own car (or minivan in our case). This was a lucky break because driving in Europe and driving in Sri Lanka, have nothing in common. There is no right of way here, no pedestrians deferring to the cars, not much in the way of signage. The road is everyone’s shared route—person, animal, vehicle, beast. However, what appears to be total chaos at first is actually a pretty evolved system of sharing using horns, headlights and body gestures. Hire your own car at the airport and you’re in for a surprise!
After visiting the Rainbow Centre near Bentota, we headed south for the famed fort town of Galle. We found a rental house on Airbnb in nearby Unawatuna and made this home for five days. This spot, Villa Pinthalyia, was a perfect introduction to beach life in Sri Lanka and to Sri Lankan cuisine, with tasty breakfasts served every morning. The kids couldn’t decide if they were more fond of the papaya or the pair of neighbourly monkeys watching us eat it. We arrived about six weeks after the ‘high season’ so the beaches and streets of Unawatuna were quiet, but we still found enough to do. Some call this the ‘shoulder season’ as the monsoon rains that visit this part of the island won’t be in full effect for another couple weeks. We found it a very pleasant time to visit and were lucky to miss the torrential rains that hit other parts of the country.
From our base in Unawatuna we had a couple of days out. Galle fort, originally built by the Portugese in 1588, was a real highlight. We walked its high fortress walls at sunset and took in views in all directions. The vivid colours here in Sri Lanka, especially at this time of day, is something we won’t soon forget. It was also here that we saw a massive leatherback turtle happily grazing on sea grass in the shallow waters below the fort. This was a favourite moment for Quin, who is still talking about it.
Of course surfing was high on Michael and Easton’s agenda so our next stop was the Ebb & Flow Jungalows in Midigama, a lovely surf lodge set up by Verity Mace and Garrath Glass. The couple, she Kiwi and he S. African, moved to the area after Garreth fell hard for surfing and found himself making four or five trips a year to visit Sri Lanka’s waves. In the intervening years they perfected the lodge while Garreth perfected his surfing.
We were immediately at home here. The staff was so welcoming and our ‘jungalow’ was the perfect combination of indoor and outdoor living for this tropical climate. Though their main clientele are devoted surfers, Ebb & Flow turned out to be a great spot for families too. We actually liked it so much we hardly left.
Each day started with a delicious breakfast prepared by Indy, the resident chef. Then Garrath showed up with suggestions for the best surf breaks that day. Mostly Michael and Easton went with him, but we all piled into his pick up truck (boards, husband and kids in the back) a couple of times and drove to his recommended breaks. We then finished with an afternoon swim in the pool, showers and a homemade Sri Lankan dinner.
The surf in this area is varied and good through all seasons. Garrath suggested breaks matching our experience so we had a great time. Probably our favourite part of our stay, however, was the food. Chef Indy planned a menu with us each evening for the next day. He can cook up just about any cuisine but we were in love with Sri Lankan food. We had egg curry with string hoppers for breakfast and banana flower curry, aubergine curry, pumpkin curry, prawn curry and a few more curries for dinners. We just gave Indy money to buy the ingredients at the local markets and he did the rest.
We celebrated Ivy’s birthday here and Verity arranged a cake from a nearby French bakery. It was mostly a family affair but we’d grown so fond of Indy and Kelum (the groundskeeper) that it felt like we were celebrating with friends too. Ivy couldn’t have been happier and we all agreed that this was a spot we’d love to return to again.