Days 1,258-1,264: Arrack Attack!

Mon 11.06.12 – Sun 17.06.12:

After a quiet weekend in Negombo, I found myself in a bit of a rut. I wanted to go and explore the island, but also I didn’t want to leave the free internet/cheap beer convenience of Negombo: especially if I was to have more meetings with shipping-types this week. Sachal, being the hero that he is, invited me down to Galle, a fortress town in the south of the country. He was going down for the day with his business partner to look at a possible site for another hotel.

We hopped in the car and sped down there. The first part of the journey – from Negombo to Colombo – was EXCRUCIATINGLY slow and the driving around these parts make Maureen from Driving School seem like Ayrton Senna. The second part, battling through Colombo itself, took up most of the morning. But once we were on the brand-spankingly new freeway from south of Colombo down to Galle, we were laughing. We reached Galle at about 2pm. I went off to do my own thing while Sachal went to see this building.

Galle is a lovely place, but today it reminded me of Salalah in Oman, that same grey tropical mist that makes it feel like the end of the world. Galle Fort was started by the Dutch, continued by the Portuguese and completed by the British. It’s a remarkable structure, big enough to fit a decent sized village inside. The ramparts and bastions have stood up against invaders and ne’er-do-wells for over 500 years and when the devastating Boxing Day tsunami hit, inside Galle Fort was the safest place on the south coast to be.

Inside the fortifications you find a Dubrovnik-esque walled town, a Unesco World Heritage site that oozes old-worldly charm as the Dutch, Portuguese, British and Sri Lankan influences fuse together like a decent blended scotch. The sort of place you could wile away your days working on the Great American Novel.

In the evening, we met up for the return journey. Much quicker this time, although we did get a puncture – unsurprisingly as the tyres made Duncan Goodhew’s bonce look remarkably hirsute. As Sachal and his business partner berated the driver for driving at 70mph in such an unroadworthy car, I set about changing the tyre. And yes if you lose your keys I can get your car open for you with a wire coat hanger. And yes I know how to hot-wire your motor an’ all. But only because I used to work in my dad’s garage, alright? It’s not like you get taught this stuff in scouse school.

On Thursday I had a double blow: the ship owners had said no. I wouldn’t be leaving on the Lily Marine ship this weekend. There would be one next weekend with different owners, which pretty much looked like a done deal. Oh well, another weekend in Sri Lanka, can’t complain. The second blow was that Kevin, a French guy I met in Singapore, had invited me on a ten-day road trip around Sri Lanka. Since I wouldn’t be going anywhere, my answer was yes. However, a series of unfortunate events led to me being left behind while the party bus rolled through town.

The lack of forward transport, the missing of the transit of Venus and the aborted road-trip conspired to make me feel like a ton of crap. Luckily last week I met a British girl called Natalie on the bus to Colombo. This wasn’t difficult as there are so few tourists knocking around, everyone who isn’t a local invariably ends up talking to each other. Natalie works here doing marketing for a safari company and we had bonded over feminism. I hope you all know what a radical feminist I am, while still retaining my fondness for boobs and pornography.

Anyway, on the Friday afternoon while I was making a little fort out of my bed and snarling at the mosquitoes that taunted me, Natalie suggested we pop down to Unawatuna for the weekend. As I’m physically incapable of saying no (except to touts and beggars), the next thing I knew we were barrelling down south at a great rate of knots.

Unawatuna is a beach town on the south coast, not far from Galle. It was completely destroyed in the Boxing Day Tsunami and hundreds of people died. Since then, it’s bounced back and pretty much all physical trace of that tragic event has been expunged, save for the memories of the survivors and those bereaved.

We arrived around 10pm and it didn’t take long to find a place to stay and a place that was showing the football. Sweden vs England. Natalie drank so much arrack (coconut spirit – if you ever played a brass instrument, it tastes like valve oil) that she puked before half-time. I tried to pace myself, but I have to admit that by 2am when England won I was howling at the moon with the best of them.

After spending Saturday sobering up, Nat and I hit the beach bars a second time on the Saturday night. We met friends from the night before (whose faces – never mind names – I had difficulty remembering). I met a scouse guy from Huyton who was working ship security and an Aussie fan of my TV show who insisted on buying me a beer (well, if you insist…). We found Christoph, Julian, James and Will from the night before and I was introduced to Lily and Olivia, two outrageously hot British girls in their fourth year of medicine.

Arrack, drinking games, dancing under the stars… some nights defy description and it’s left to the photos you find on your camera the next day (that you can’t even remember taking) to tell the story.

“A weekend wasted is not a wasted weekend.”

From A Weekend in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, posted by Graham Hughes on 6/22/2012 (41 items)

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I woke up on the beach at 11am. I had fallen asleep on a sun-lounger next to a gigantic speaker array that was pumping out some tragic Sri Lankan Rn’B. Hat? Check. Wallet? Check. Video camera? Check. Laptop? Check.

I love Sri Lanka.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. S Gunasekera


    That stuff tastes like “valve oil” because you’re drinking the really ultra cheap green label. For not too much more you can step up to much better tasting arrack that resemble a cross between smooth whiskey or an aged rum. Ask for the good stuff!

  2. GrahamStalker

    I bet Graham is a brony.

  3. John Silva

    Which are the best (five) and worst (five) countries in terms of your odyssey experience ?

    1. Graham

      Oooooh, difficult! Just in terms of this expedition, and ignoring my experiences in the past, I’d have to rank Palau, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Iran and Indonesia (in no particular order) as the places that have really stuck out for me.

      As for the bottom five, I dunno. Cape Verde and Congo are my usual whipping boys because they put me in jail, but to be honest with you, I’d be happy to go back there. I think maybe Somalia and Pakistan would have to come near the bottom, very violent misogynistic societies which have little or no regard for the sanctity of human life. Needless to say, I couldn’t recommend either for a pleasant beach holiday!

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