Yesterday we decided to become tourists once again and take the plunge into paying for a boat safari across Koggala Lake and its 5 islands. Koggala is based between Habaraduwa (outside of Galle) and Ahangama, it has a beautiful temple, huge fresh water lake and an air base – more on that later.
The price was LKR2,500 for 2 of us, we managed to knock 200 rupees off and got it for LKR2,300, I think this is a reasonable price of about £6 per person for an hour and a half safari, visiting 4 of the 5 islands and the boatmans’ knowledge, remember this is how they make their living.
We really wanted to rent a little rowing boat and have a jolly on the water but apparently there are large crocodiles in the lake and so wouldn’t be safe – looking at the size of the fishermen’s boats I am not sure if this is true or just what he told us.
This island has a population of 4000, they grow many spices using coconut husks as bedding borders and flower pots – totally ingenious! The spices are then made into oils and tonics used for Ayurvedic healing. I bought some “Green Juice” for headaches, you mix with a little lemon juice, apply to temples and rub your head vigorously, next time I have a headache we will see if it works!
As you come up to this island there is a little jetty, when jumping off the boat you notice that there are 2 holes filled to the brim with golden fish, the man gives you a ticket for 10 minutes at 300 rupees (£1.50) and you get to stick your feet in the water to have them nibbled upon. It feels very strange to begin with but slowly becomes more relaxing, I tell you what we must have been a feast for them as one did make Sherry bleed – it did bite a healing mosquito bite, don’t start thinking they have piranha tendencies!
After you 10 minutes is up you head to the top of a steep path, this island has a population of 4, a much smaller community than the previous island! You are surrounded by cinnamon trees, we are brought to a man stripping the brown from a cinnamon sapling until the young stick is green, he then unsheathes the green bark from the stick, it is green to begin with but in a couple of minutes turns that cinnamon brown. Laying the green bark on top of one another he rolls the layers into the sticks we know and buy. `The more skilled the labourer the tighter he is able to roll and therefore the higher the quality and grade of the cinnamon, you leave this to dry on two pieces of rope for a week, the flavour is much more delicate than the kind you buy in supermarkets back home
We then watched and joined in a woman making cinnamon powder, she gathered a few dried out sticks and placed them in the biggest mortar and pestle I have ever seen! She then bashes the sticks until powdery, spoons the mixture into a fine sieve and taps the powder through leaving behind the fibrous bark fragments – again the flavour is delicate, you are able to eat a substantial amount without it tuning into a poor attempt of the cinnamon challenge. I bought a bag of powder I plan to use in some sort of crumble this evening, it was quite expensive really, 100g for 500 rupees (£2.50) but considering it was Cinnamon Island and we knew it was made by hand there I subsided to the price.
I wonder if you can guess why this island is called such, yes, it has a temple, whomever named these islands made sure visitors knew what to expect! This island seemed eerily quiet, a very distinct lack of noise or persons, only a gentleman with a huge key to open the temple for us. There was the standard buddha near the tree (every temple in Sri Lanka was built around a tree, it is a particular type which name we forgot to write down *facepalm*) which was rather beautiful and another building full of frescoes depicting Buddha’s life. It was a very small temple but pretty nevertheless.
This island is a little misleading, birds according to Sri Lankan’s are, in this case, bats. As you get closer to the island you see hundreds of bats flying into the air, they aren’t scary, if you aren’t scared of birds why should you be afraid of bats. They do not dive to get tangled up in your hair, they stay very much above the tree tops so no need to fear. We stepped foot onto the island, there is not a path here and so watch your footing, to have a closer look.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the boat, or guide Naandene was a lovely gentleman and with his limited English did the best he could at explaining everything. I learnt quite a few more phrases in Singala and was given a few different flowers as gifts, so yes, overall a very merry day on the boat. We then went for something to eat at the Catalina Grill.
The Catalina Grill
The Catalina Grill is opposite Koggala air base, it is a great little spot as it is ran by the air force for their workers and so offers huge quantities of food at very reasonable prices! A sure fire way of noting that you are in the right place is the large plane that sits out the front, perfect for photos and you can even go inside, though if you are white you have to pay :/. It also has a stunning and deserted beach just through the restaurant that will be mentioned on my upcoming post of “South Sri Lanka, Its best beaches and why”. I indulged in tomato soup, calamari and vegetable rice – what! It had been a long day. Sherard munched down chicken and egg soup, along with Thai red curry, both meals were delish and not over budget.
We retired to our home, after buying ice cream and some biscuits to dunk in our tea and snuggled down to a Game of Thrones marathon, bliss.
If you plan on coming to Sri Lanka and want to experience life as a local, read our previous blog post about handy words and phrases that will get you through your travels looking like a total local! Also read about the traditions of black magic and curses and our first experience with demons.