Day 11: Galle

Today we traveled to the colonial city of Galle, about an hour south of our hotel in Hikkaduwa. Our guide explained that the city was named after the Portuguese word for chicken, gallu, as when the Portuguese “discovered” Sri Lanka in 1505 it was this place where they heard the crowing of a rooster and thus knew it was a civilized place to land. The Portuguese lost Galle in 1696 to the Dutch, who set up a headquarters for their Dutch East India company and built a fortified city there. The city remains today, and we spent the morning wandering its streets admiring the colonial era buildings and walking along the ramparts soaking in the sea breeze and sweeping view of the Indian Ocean. After watching the famous divers jump 30 meters from the ramparts into the rocky waters below, we quenched our thirst with fresh coconut water from a bicycle-riding street vendor.
Sri Lanka was one of the hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami, with over 100,000 lives lost. Galle was one of the hardest hit cities, and our guide explained that while the walled Dutch fortress survived the onslaught, the city itself was inundated in a matter of minutes, with buses and cars “floating like toys” and entire buildings swept away. 28,000 people were killed in Galle itself, and while normality had returned to the city after 10 years, looking out the bus window I was still haunted by the ghosts of those who perished.

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