It seems I am learning some things the hard way this trip. First, the over-preparing and over-packing. Second, the last-minute ditching of two essential items at the baggage counter before getting on the plane (hey, not my fault that sunscreen and aloe were some of the more heavier things in my suitcase). Third, the being so excited to finally be back in the glorious Indian Ocean that I let it slip my mind that even though it’s only 8:30 a.m., sunscreen is still a requisite because you are basically at the equator, dummy.

So, here I am back in Colombo after a beautiful weekend down south in Galle and Unawatuna, nursing the worst sunburn I’ve ever had (and, being as Irish as I am, I’ve had some bad ones) and pining for my aloe vera gel that I rationalized away moments before flying here (“I won’t have time to be going to the beaches in the first month, and I have enough sunscreen if I do, so, okay Mr. United Clerk, this aloe and the .8 pounds that it weighs can go if you are insisting I make this bag lighter.”)

Not my smartest of moments.

BUT it was a great trip, just one that is requiring more recovery time than others :) After a somewhat confusing but ultimately successful train ride(s) from Colombo to Galle on Friday afternoon, a bunch of us Fulbrighters arrived hot, sweaty, and ready to drop our bags at the closest and cheapest guesthouse and run straight into the Indian Ocean. Which is exactly what we did.

After dinner by candlelight on the beach (yup, you read that right), we all headed to bed early — most of us are still very much on a early sleep cycle here (which I really like!) so we were up by about 6:30 and, after a lazy breakfast, were ready to hit the waves. I have to admit, I almost felt guilty feeling so relaxed that morning, reading on the sand and playing in the this-feels-so-refreshing-and-perfect-I-must-be-dreaming ocean. I haven’t even started teaching yet; what am I on a weekend getaway from, exactly? Naja, as we say in German — I enjoyed myself so much that morning. (At least until the sunburn started to sink in.)

An respite from the afternoon sun was needed, so a few of us headed up the road into Galle (we were staying in touristy Unawatuna) to explore the old fort for the afternoon. Galle, on the southern rim of the island, is a major Sri Lankan city and full of Dutch-colonial buildings that are reminiscent of a medieval European town (if it were in the middle of the tropics). Galle was occupied by the Portguese in the early 1500’s, taken over by the Dutch in 1640, and eventually passed into British hands in 1796. The city was the main port for Sri Lanka for more than 200 years, and the famous Fort (which occupies most of the older parts of the city) is home to houses, churches, mosques, temples, boutique shops, cafes, and many old commercial and government buildings. Wandering the walls that sunny afternoon, it was easy to see and feel the influence of local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, and designers — according to Lonley Planet, Galle is a city of trade and, increasingly, art. No surprise that this little cafe is the place where I suggested we should all eat lunch:

Walking around the fort walls and taking pictures made for a great afternoon. As I continue exploring the major and not-so-major cities in this country, I think I’ll be continuously awed by the diversity and history that surround each and every one of them. Galle, this weekend, was a perfect place to start.

Honestly, though, if you head to southern Sri Lanka solely for its beaches, that’s just fine in my book.

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