Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Indian Ocean 2012

Tuk-tuk tour

  I got up nice and early to have breakfast and to try to arrange a trip to Matara (pronounced MAH-tra), the next sizeable town eastwards along the coast. It turned out to be an easy enough task, thanks to the three-wheeler owners' association directly across the road, who had an arrangement with the hotel and an agreement to charge according to a negotiated rates card. So shortly after enjoying my poached eggs and remembering to move my feet periodically to scare off the squirrels, I set off from my room towards the hotel's great front door. The room boy was working next door at the time and hurried out to ask if I liked elephants. "Er, it depends what you mean," I stumbled, puzzled by the question. "Sir, I know how to make elephants. If you like, I would be very happy to make one for you." I agreed, without having any clear idea what it was that I had just verbally signed up to.
ABOVE: My transport of delight - a local tuk-tuk  
Moments later I was enjoying the delights of a leisurely ride in a tuk-tuk. It turned out to be a great tour. The first stop was the impressive Buddhist temple at nearby Kathaluwa, parts of which date from the 13th century. I was particularly impressed with the artwork and colourful statuary. While there was plenty of evidence of continuing restoration work, there seemed to be a complete lack of visitors, apart from myself. At around 10am, perhaps it was still a little early.

We negotiated the narrow, winding lanes back to the main Koggala - Matara road and turned left. Although the tuk-tuk was never intended to be the fastest mode of transport, the breeze generated was enough to have a cooling effect after my sweltering visit to the temple.

Some 30km of low-speed driving later, with plenty of opportunity to observe local life along the way, we arrived in the town of Matara.
  BELOW: Kathaluwa Purwarama Temple, near Koggala Lake

The first stop in Matara was at the so-called Star Fort, built by the Dutch during their period of rule in Sri Lanka. It was completed in 1765.

RIGHT: The Star Fort at Matara, an important part of the island's Dutch legacy
RIGHT: Typifying the cartoon-style artwork at Weherehena, the Devil arrives to remonstrate with the Lord Buddha and to try to prevent two of his own followers from switching allegiance   Next, we drove the relatively short distance to Weherehena, home to the famous underground temple complex, featuring one of the largest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. I was given a tour of the subterranean corridors, most of which were lined with paintings in a curious cartoon style that was not really to my taste. I eventually re-emerged into the daylight, next to the giant Buddha statue itself. This was impressive because of its sheer size, but again, not necessarily on account of any artistic merit. Towards the end of my visit, the guide asked me whether I liked the Buddhist religion, to which I replied that I really knew very little about it. Sensing his disappointment, I added that any Buddhists I had ever encountered seemed peace-loving and inwardly happy, and for that reason I respected his religion. That seemed to do the trick: he bowed, clasped my hand and thanked me. I wondered briefly whether I might have missed out on a possible career in international diplomacy. It had been an interesting visit, but the older temple at Kathaluwa had been more to my liking.
It was then time to head back to The Fortress, with just a couple of photo stops for coastal views, including wooden poles left by the famous stilt fishermen. I was back at base by 1:30pm. The whole thing, including a generous tip, set me back the equivalent of GBP22.50 - not bad for 3.5hrs worth of transport and the services of a driver / guide! I had lunch at Pepper, but not before discovering that - as promised - I had an elephant in my room, carefully constructed from towels and beautifully presented.
LEFT: Evidence of the fishing industry, including the famous stilt fishermen
RIGHT: The room boy may have got a little bit carried away. Bless!

I spent the afternoon lazing around in a similar manner to the previous day: sitting out on my balcony reading and listening to the ocean waves crashing onto the sands, then occasionally retreating indoors to listen to some music and cool off. There was a Manager's Cocktail Reception at 6:30, giving me the opportunity to sample the hotel's signature cocktail featuring the local spirit Arak. Following a similar pattern to the previous evening, I had dinner at Pepper. On this occasion, however, I had time to fit in a movie back in my room. As bedtime approached, I was happy that it had been a most excellent day.

Wed 30 May

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