Upon arriving at Colombo Airport I had misconceived the size of Sri Lanka. It is a huge island in the Indian Ocean on the tip of India. The beauty about Ceylon, how Sri Lanka was named in the british colonial era, is, that it is not an incredible famous tourist hotspot. You won’t find a lot of hotel chains and resorts on it. Filled with cultural heritage, tropical beaches and lush rainforests and its lovely people, Sri Lanka is a real gem in the Indian Ocean and a pleasant surprise compared to tourist overloaded South East Asia.
About two hours south from the hectic capital Colombo you find yourself in the untouched coastline with villages like Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Galle. Driving along the coast is an adventure. Everyone drives like mad and despite the old cars, huge trucks with insane speed, you have to look out for cows, buffalos and chickens as well.
Natural disasters struck hard in Sri Lanka and you can see pieces of it anywhere. In 2004 a tsunami erupted in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, killing more than hundred thousands of people. The tsunami hit Sri Lanka on the coast and destroyed it all. A lot of buildings have been rebuilt, but the strength of the waves have been devastating and ruins of houses, broken palms are still around. Until that day in 2004, people didn’t even know what a tsunami was. Normally I’d say that the sunsets or the sea were my highlights of this trip, but there is a small garden in midst the beginning of the jungle in Hikkaduwa. This little garden is special because it has a turquoise house on it, that is an important part of Sri Lankan history. A piece of what has happened and what’s left. It is probably the most touching museum in the world. The Tsunami Photo Museum.
Entering the house you instantly recognise the pale smell of old pictures and dust. You dive into an dark and quiet atmosphere. It is not an usual museum you’d imagine. It is simple. Yet true and meaningful. You walk around by yourself, gazing at beautiful pictures of the scenic coastline. Then it starts. All what is left after the tsunami is pictured. All the damage. All the water. All the corpses. All the cries. All the pain.
The museum is located, near railroads, where a train with 1000 people has been hit by the waves. The engine of the train has been found 5km further into the island. That should give you an idea how strong the waves were. Help came soon and you see travelers, who experienced the tsunami themselves, staying there to help, organisations and aid workers arriving with supplies. Children were asked to paint a picture about how they remembered that particular day and how they experienced it. The damage, the disaster and losses have been devastating. Being in the exact same area and seeing all these pictures, when you first walk through this shabby old house with the beautiful garden, you’ll feel empty, but the more you immerse, the more you feel encouraged. Proud. Or even empowered. Because it is places like this, that educate. It educates, that life goes on, no matter what, it educates, that people unite to help and I felt proud to be right there, where disaster struck and learn about it, experience how the Sinhalese People cope with their past and are opening their darkest hour through this little house for the eyes of visitors as a part of regaining their strength.
An inspiring, touching and honest place.
Along the southern coast, is an interesting place, called Galle. Through the Portuguese and Dutch occupancy in the 16th and 17th century and their mix between architecture and native traditions it got an exciting colonial feeling. Most impressive about the 4th largest city, is the Galle Fort, a World Heritage Site and picturesque spot to stroll around. Old colonial hotels are still found as well and as usual in Asia, little kids run around, trying to get some money off you.
Further down the coast is Hikkaduwa, a long stretched nice beach and brilliant surf spot. It seems like the hords of tourists haven’t recognized Sri Lanka, possibly due to its lack of infrastructure, but that turns out quite nice for backpackers, as you find loads of laid back bars, beach hostels and restaurants. I wish I had more time to travel up to Northern Sri Lanka as well and see more of this beautiful island. But I know that I’ll be back soon!