Because the Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was the first European to round the Cape of Africa and sail into the Indian Ocean, many of the first European settlements along the coast of India, Sri Lanka and even as far as Malacca in Malaysia were Portuguese colonies. His name is still remembered along this coast in places like Welligama. In Malacca the Portuguese displaced the Muslims, who had been there for less than a hundred years. In Galle, Sri Lanka, where we are at present, they were themselves displaced by the Dutch, whose East India Company was a powerful player in the 17th century. The Dutch built a fort on this southernmost tip of what was then called Serendip, and like all things Dutch, it was solidly built; so solid in fact that when the tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, the waves did not breach these walls. It was the only town along the southern coast so protected.

We got to Galle around noon yesterday, once again putting our lives into the maniacal hands of those who seek to terrorize their innocent passengers by driving through these narrow roads in a homicidal rage. There are no set times for bus routes in Sri Lanka. They leave when there are no more passengers to load, and then they race to get to the next stop to get the next set of passengers before the other buses. And the words ‘bus stop’ don’t convey quite the same meaning either. The conductor who sold you your ticket knows when you get off. Two kilometers before your stop he will usher you to the door, the bus will pause momentarily – it will not actually stop – and you will be ‘assisted’ off the bus in the most expeditious manner possible.

However, looking on the cheery side, it did get us here in good time, and here is a nice place to be. The owners of the Beach Haven Guest House, where we were booked, could not, in their gentle Asian way, convince their previous guests to vacate the room we had booked. We have lived in the East long enough to understand their reticence, and given the beauty of this spot, also understood their guests’ reluctance to leave. However, it did leave us in a bit of a pickle in that we had no place to stay. Once again Asian courtesy and civility meant that these kind people had booked another (and even nicer!) room for us at the end of the fort overlooking the sea. In order to hold this room they had promised to pay for it if we failed to show up.

Galle Fort is a warren of little houses and winding streets filled with craft and jewelry shops, guest houses and tea shops, churches, mosques and temples all peacefully co-existing beside each other with a magnificent view of the sea cascading in over the rocks and into these sturdy walls. All around the fort is a walkway where in the evening and early morning the residents stroll or stride, according to their tendency in the clean warm air that comes in over the ocean. We are sitting on our balcony eating a lovely Sri Lankan breakfast consisting of egg hoppers, an egg and thosai conconction that actually goes very nicely with the curried potatoes, and strong Ceylonese tea, watching the breakers and the walkers and wishing that we could stay here for a lot longer. But our next night’s accommodation is booked, and we must shortly catch a train to Colombo, a journey of 117 kilometers, which will take 3 ½ hours. After the terror of the buses the last few days, I am looking forward to the more leisurely pace!

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