Wednesday, January 5, 2011
After a great day first day in Sri Lanka, I waved good-bye to Colombo and traveled south. With me was a friend of a friend, who drove the two of us and his brother to Unawatuna—a beach town near Galle—for a big New Year’s Eve party.
The road to Unawatuna was packed with delightful distractions, from beautiful stretches of beach to whitewashed temples that had been built in place of former Dutch forts. As we wove through towns and alongside lush green fields, daily life in Sri Lanka ran its course. From bustling roadside shops to tuk tuks darting in and out of traffic, it was a very entertaining ride.
At one point we stopped to take a tour of a mask museum. The small gallery held traditional Sri Lankan masks that were worn in performances to tell a comedic story. Intricately carved and hand-painted, the masks portrayed everything from old men to young children, from expressions of affliction to expressions of joy.
After the tour we walked outside to see the open-air workshop where three people were painting and carving new masks to sell in the adjoining shop.
Pushing south, we next found ourselves in Hikkaduwa, a small beach town just north of Galle. Hungry, we pulled over to have lunch at the Drunken Monkey Bar, where my travel companions knew the owner, some of the guests, and pretty much all of the locals.
We snagged one of the last free tables on the beach and relaxed with delicious banana lassis while we waited for our chicken and shrimp fried rice to come. As we talked, I looked around the beach, which was full of blue wooden lounge chairs and buzzing with surfers. It was a great place to spend a leisurely lunch.
Back on the road, we passed by the famous Galle Fort and wove along the coast until we reached Unawatuna. There we went straight to the Happy Banana, a restaurant and bar on the beach. We spent an hour swimming in the sea, then had more lassis while we watched the sunset.
The atmosphere in Unawatuna was incredibly laid-back, and the beach—which was lined with lush greenery and a tightly-packed jumble of bars, restaurants, and guest houses—had a great ambiance.
After sunset we checked into our hotel, which was just off the beach. It was pretty bare-bones, but since it was New Year’s Eve we weren’t planning to spend much time there anyway.
After cleaning up a bit, we all met in one of the rooms to sort out glow sticks and other party accessories before walking back to the Happy Banana. We settled in at a beachfront table there and enjoyed some pre-dinner BYOB (my savvy travel companions knew that alcohol prices were steep in Unawatuna, but that some places allow people to bring their own drinks).
Eventually we left our table and found a small roti shop where we could have dinner. The chicken and onion rotis were excellent, as was the banana-filled dessert roti.
Back at the Happy Banana, the New Year’s party was underway. The open-air restaurant had been cleared out, and a DJ was playing house music for a packed crowd. Our group had swelled to around 20 people by then, what with my friends knowing pretty much everyone in Sri Lanka. We had a good time dancing all night and watching the fireworks on the sand at midnight.
It goes without saying that I didn’t get much sleep on New Year’s Eve. The next morning I dragged myself out of bed early to eat a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast at my hotel in Unawatuna. Then I hopped in a tuk tuk to start the first day of 2011 and the next phase of my Sri Lanka travel adventure: the tea country.