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Heading East......For A Year

In Mid-April 2014 Phylipa and I left England on an adventure. It could be described as our gap year but the reality is that we maybe away for more than twelve months. Our home in Chichester was sold, our mobile phones contracts cancelled, our monthly direct debits to power companies terminated and our possessions whittled down to a bare minimum.Then we bought flights that take us eastwards through Asia, Australia and SouthAmerica. If we like it somewhere, we’ll stay. We’re considering Chile as our next home yet we’re open to anything.

So far we haven’t missed the chemtrails, police sirens or the shock horrors of the dailynews. Instead we’ve been embraced by the sunshine, vibrant people, inexpensive living and constant challenges of driving in places like Sri Lanka. On the new road between Colombo and Galle, as I slowed the hire car down to collect our toll ticket, all hell let loose. A security guard held his hand out for us to stop immediately. The toll operator jumped out of his booth to prevent us from moving forward and a second security guard ran over, dropped tohis knees and looked underneath the vehicle. A bomb search? A random investigation?No. turned out that a couple of village dogs had been harassing a young bird with a damagedwing. The guards had scared the dogs away and the bird took refuge under our approaching car. The guards caught the bird, kept it away from the dogs and gave us our ticket, smiling from ear to ear. As we wondered if that same response would happen at tollbooths anywhere in Britain, I swerved to avoid hitting a 5 foot monitor lizard, travelling down the toll road in the same lane as us.

Having spent a few nights under the welcome blades of an overhead fan in a Hikkaduwa beach house, we drove eastwards along the south coast to Unawatuna Beach (once ranked in the top twenty-five beachesof the world), Mirissa to watch the stilt fishermen at work, Tangalla where unrefined salt has been produced for centuries and to Dondra lighthouse so we could stand on the most southern tip of Sri Lanka. From there there’s nothing but salt water until you reach Antarctica.Galle Fort, now a World Heritage Site has always been a favourite spot of mine. Visited regularly by Arab and Chinese traders over the centuries and even by Marco Polo in 1292, the Portuguese established a trading post in the 1580’s erecting the rudimentary walls of afort to keep themselves safe from the reprisals of the locals whom they treated with military brutality. In 1640 the Dutch attacked and defeated the Portuguese, taking over this strategic way-station to provide fresh supplies and local gemstones to bolster the Dutch East India Company’s trade in South Africa and Java. Evaluating the poor state of the fort, the Dutch strengthened the walls to twenty metres high and seventeen metres thick in parts going three kilometres around the ninety acre fort. Little did the Dutch know that their engineering achievements would successfully repel the next invader: the 2004 tsunami. Almost a third of Europeans who came to these shores died during the trip out or during their stay.

The fort is an infusion of cultures. Stroll down any street and you’ll find a mix of mosques and old European churches, Dutch graveyards, museums and warehouses, boutique shopsand street markets, authors and artists both local and foreign, gemstone outlets, rest housesand luxury hotels. Most fascinating is Court Square where every weekday morning the square, shaded by huge Mara and Banyan trees bustles with lawyers, the accused, witnessesand spectators. Peer over the walls to see many turtles that were freed from their hatcheries by the tsunami. Or you can find some shade and order another cold drink.

Graeme Dinnen

The Mara and Banyan trees shading Court Square, Galle Fort on a quiet Sunday with the yellow walls of the Dutch East India Company warehouse in the background.



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