Unawatuna is a popular beach destination during peak season, but I found it had a bit of a ‘tired’ vibe. A lot of the restaurants we tried really lacked compared to the delicious Sri Lankan food we had come to expect. The only place I remember fully enjoying the food was at a poorly lit burger place tucked in with all of the other beach restaurants (I think it was this one). It boasted huge burgers with chunky cut chips and a variety of condiments (the way to my heart is condiments). We did discover a prettier beach a couple of minutes east along the coastline (behind the aeroplane playground) that had white sand, no rubbish and glorious warm, blue water. It was definitely worth the tuk tuk trip (or scooter ride) away from the standard tourist hub.
From Unawatuna, we did a day trip to investigate the city of Galle, which is about 20 minutes drive away. We hired a scooter with helmets from our accomodation for AU$8 per day and were hyper vigilant about keeping our distance from everyone else on the road. Our mindset was to just expect everybody to do the most unpredictable thing ever and that seemed to keep us safe. (To read about Sri Lankans and their love of horns, go here.) The scooter meant absolute freedom to travel at our own pace without having to hail and barter with tuk tuk drivers all the way. From the fort’s walls, we spectated the local spectators of a Sri Lanka versus India cricket game at the stadium. Afterwards, we wandered around and stumbled upon markets before hunting down street food for lunch and then devouring ice cream later on. I am not much of a history buff, so though the fort was cool to see, what came next was the highlight of the day for me.
After swerving through the frantic traffic of Galle and along the main coastal road for another 15 minutes, we arrived at our next destination: a turtle hatchery! I researched a couple in the area on trip advisor to make sure they seemed legit and were not exploiting the animals for the tourist dollar. The reviews I read were vital for informing which hatchery to choose and which ones to avoid.
Rhys and I happily handed over the AUS$5 donation at the door and walked in to volunteer some of our time cleaning the tanks and feeding the turtles. It warmed my animal loving heart to see the good work that the hatchery was doing in an effort to protect the turtle’s breeding grounds and help injured (usually due to rubbish, boats or fishing nets) turtles recuperate. I was very conscious of a tourist scam which might result in further animal captivity, but the owner’s authenticity was clear from his first hello. He explained that he had actually inherited the hatchery from his father and was trying his best to keep it operational with help from volunteers. He outlined the story of each of the captive turtles and how every day was spent caring for them, helping hatchlings or releasing the older ones back into the wild. I loved every minute of splashing around in the pools with the bigger turtles, learning about the different species and going crazy over the cuteness of the newly hatched babies. It was a pretty awesome day for any animal lover. Afterwards, we cruised back to Unawatuna as the sun went down and dined on delicious, fresh fish for dinner.
Another highlight from our time in Unwatauna was our search for the (not so) mysterious Jungle Beach. We had heard about this particular beach and people had told us of the adventure to get there. As it turned out, the track was fairly well signed, but it still seemed to elude us for quite some time. The 45 minute walk included tropical forest, beaches, crossing streams, muddy slopes, spiders and a hilly decline down to the beach itself. This is really one of those cliche times where the journey was more fun than the final destination. The beach is not all that fabulous (there is a restaurant that offer a decent meal with bathrooms and a few cabanas) but the walk was a fun venture through scenic surroundings as we wove our way through people’s backyards and soaked up the nature all around us.
Finally, it was time to hitch our train from Galle to Colombo in preparation of our departure. We had heard that the trains get packed very quickly, especially in economy class (only a couple of dollars per ticket). We waited with our backpacks at the ready in an attempt to beat some people to the few free seats. Unfortunately, most were much pushier than we were jumping on before the train had even pulled into the station (it was clear it wasn’t their first time) and instead we spent 3 hours taking turns sitting on our bags in the walkway as salesmen stepped over us to sell their refreshments and trinkets. It was a unique and somewhat funny experience, but not necessarily the most comfortable position for the 3 hour journey.