One day in 1985 I opened a box of cereal and shoved my hand down to the bottom, fishing for the exciting prize promised on the label. Out of the plastic wrapper emerged a shiny gold coin with a fancy lion and curly cues that I could not register as language. It was from the realm of Sri Lanka, mysterious and exotic. Even at six, I didn’t need much inspiration to travel. So like those great explorers before me (i.e. Carmen Sandiego and the Fraggle Uncle Traveling Matt), I, too, would discover the world and go to Sri Lanka!
That coin promised a foreign and confusing land. But our first stop in Sri Lanka is a very soft landing in colonial Galle, which is exceedingly familiar. Here we have Sri Lanka light. The elements are there (Buddhas, string hoppers, curly cue writing) but Galle is a relic of Dutch and British rule, reimagined into stylish guesthouses and restaurants.
The tiny fort area, protected by ramparts on all sides, is a paradise for strolling and admiring the beautifully renovated buildings (a third of which are foreign owned). We enjoyed our first forays into Sri Lankan curries on deep balconies overlooking quiet streets. One could get used to this European/Asian hybrid, which is why, I suppose, so many travelers are tempted to buy a crumbling building and stay. Galle is the “Under the Tuscan Sun” of the Indian Ocean.
This small city is clearly charming, but does it feel like Sri Lanka? I have no idea. I don’t have an unfiltered, uncolonized, Sri Lanka to compare it to. We could be tempted to stay, but the curly cue coin that spurred this adventure hinted at something different. We are going to have to break the bubble, to move on and keep exploring.