Travels with V
Meeting a hero!
From Tissamaharama we travel west along the coast. By bus, of course. Our destination is Matara, one of the places that was hit hardest by the tsunami in 2004. It’s one of the country’s largest cities and a busy commercial hub.
We have an appointment with doctor Prem Ekanayake, a retired physician who made a heroic contribution in the rescue work after the catastrophe. He organized much of the work at the hospital where he worked.
Dr Preem is, when we meet him, a nicely rounded man with a thoughtful glance behind his steel-rimmed glasses. When the most urgent work with the tsunami victims was done he started to worry about the children who had lost their parents to the waves. He opened an orphanage and a school for them, which later also received children who had other social problems, especially girls are taken care of here.
We meet some of the children in the orphanage, there’s a map of Sweden on a wall and Pippi Longstocking books in the bookshelf. There are some Swedish groups supporting the project and they have contributed with both money and materials.
Sadly Dr. Prem is no longer with us, he died during a visit to Nepal a few years ago. But the Swedish support for various children’s projects in Sri Lanka continues.
In Matara we have found a fantastic lodge by the sea called Turtle Eco Beach. It’s run by Michel, a very friendly French guy. As so often we are the only guests, but are treated as kings and queens. The last evening of our visit we are served a sea bass, fresh from the fish market and grilled with heaps of wonderful vegetables. We get a bottle of chilled white wine and after that the staff bids us good night. Turns the lights off in the kitchen and leaves. And in the warm night we enjoy the miraculous food and wine and listen to the ocean.
By the beach we also see the iconic stilt fishers sitting on their sticks some ten meters out in the sea, perched there for hours. Remarkably enough they actually do catch fish. Furter on there’s a small beach where we spend and afternoon working on our tan. The beach and the se is full of swimmers but we’re the only westerners here. All Sri Lankans swim with their clothes on. So do the monks, the just remove their red cloaks first.
As early as in the mid-eighties the civil war had made most tourists avoid Sri Lanka, once an important charter goal. But the tsunami killed off what little was left of tourism here. Now the bad memories are fading, the country is at peace and the tourists are slowly returning. Today many consider Sri Lanka a must-see, and we totally agree. The small scale tourist infrastructure that we see is perfect, and we recommend visiting now, before the multi-storey hotels begin rising again.
Only one more stop remains on our Sri Lankan journey. This time we enjoy one of its best beaches, and also visit the neighbouring city that went down but rose again.