We drove through the busy main gate of Galle Fort with both joy and sadness. Joy that we’d arrived at a place where we could lay up for a few days and chill (if that’s possible in thirty plus heat). Yet sadness that this was where we left the group trip while most of the others travelled onto Colombo.
First however we had to complete one of Sunjan’s whistle-stop reccy tours, taking in all the highlights. The shady tree by the Sun Bastion wall; the Maritime Archaeological Museum, the old gate, and Court Square with its big trees and market; the famous lighthouse too, plus Flag Rock, and the western ramparts.
Galle Fort – as its name suggests – is defended on all sides. A solid fortress protects its northern land perimeter. Stone ramparts run along each of its eastern, western and southern sea boundaries.
As we whizzed around, Mr D weaving in and out of tuk-tuks and pedestrians on the narrow streets, I craned to the right, scanning all the buildings for the bed and breakfast we’d booked for the following night. But I couldn’t spot it. Hopefully, as we walked around afterwards, I’d have better luck. We’d be burdened with luggage when we came back the next day, so it would help to know exactly where our accommodation lay.
The bus arrived back at the shady tree, and Sujan let us out for our own walking tour. Two hours to stroll, hop, cycle, or take a tuk-tuk as we saw fit. By now all the clouds had cleared, and the sun beat relentlessly down. And as we dawdled past the National Museum and the ultra salubrious, white columned Amangalla Hotel, sweat dripped down my face and onto my shirt.
Before we melted completely, we sought refuge inside the Dutch Reformist Church. Thank God we did, because inside there was shade and the temperature was a few degrees lower. The church is one of Galle Fort’s most prominent buildings. It was constructed in 1755 on the site of an earlier Portuguese convent. The floor was made of what looked like inscribed gravestones, yet were in fact memorials to Dutch settlers. The church’s best features were its stained glass windows. They were composed of different coloured squares, a precise grid of yellows, reds and greens that would not look out of place in a modern art gallery.
For a few minutes, we sat on a pew, Kate taking another three million photos while I caught my breath. A man in front of us – a natural born organiser – shouted orders in Sinhalese to several helpers. They were arranging an event of some kind, and suddenly I remembered this was the last Saturday before Christmas. Despite all the trees and tinsel and carols we’d witnessed at all our previous hotels, notably the red Santa hats at Bandarawela, it had been too easy to overlook the fact that the twenty-fifth was looming nearer. Here though, in the Dutch Reformist Church, it became all too real. In our next port of call as well – the Anglican All Saints Church – where a choir of children sang carols in Sinhalese and English.
Posting Christmas cards might not be an option though. We passed the Galle Fort Post Office, and apart from a lone red pillar box on the grass, the rest of the ramshackle building appeared to have been abandoned.
Court Square – named after its functioning courts – provided a little more reprieve from the hot sunshine. Indian rain trees grew along its edge, entwined by a massive banyan. There was a market too selling crafts such as elephant carvings, batiks, and huge paintings that no tourist on economy flights could ever consider taking home.
By now we were well and truly baked and ready for a drink. At the Dutch Hospital – a chunky two-storey building restored and converted to much needed gem shops, cafes and restaurants – we refuelled with a cappuccino and key lime pie. Then glancing at our phones, we realised we were running out of time. If we didn’t make it back to the bus to collect our bags by two pm, then Mr D would drive off with them all the way to Colombo.
Hastening our clockwise progress, we took in the lighthouse, then a beach full of locals going for a swim, and the southern rampart. From here, at last I spotted our rooms: the extremely hospitable Sega BnB. A quick look at Flag Rock, a rocky promontory from which local daredevils dive (for a fee) into the water many metres below. Then at speed we returned to the bus.
And now it was time to say goodbye. To Sujan, Mr D, and Saman; all of them had looked after us so well. To the others in our group: Nelson with his wry jokes, Linda with her shrewd observations, and Susan with her kind smile. They were all going back to England. We would miss their company, yet we didn’t envy the cold weather that awaited them.
We still had another two weeks in Sri Lanka which – on their behalf – we had to spend wisely. Yet for the next few days we’d take things slowly. We’d see Galle Fort at our leisure.