27th May- Unawatuna to Udawalawe
Today was a relatively easy day with the only hardship being the long car ride to Udawalawe where we planned to visit the National Park for a safari. According to my knowledge it’s meant to be the biggest and most famous National Park in Sri Lanka so we were very excited but first we had to get there.
The plan was to wake up, have the usual breakfast, go to Friday prayers or ‘Jummah’, have lunch and then leave. After breakfast and packing bags I was at the mosque in Galle Fort close to the lighthouse. On arrival it seemed like everyone was wearing the traditional white Muslim clothes.
Just as with most countries, Sri Lanka wore theirs slightly different to distinguish themselves. They had the ‘Taqiyah’ cap on that was coiled around by a white scarf with a little tail left at the back of the head to complete an all white outfit. Wearing black trousers and a red shirt I didn’t stand out just because I was a foreigner.
It turned out I reached a little early but I wasn’t the only one. Unlike most of my experiences in the Arab world and in London, people here actually liked to arrive before the preaching or the ‘Khutbah’ began. Most of the people at the mosque stared at me as if to ask if I were lost, confused by a tourist entering their sacred place.
I reassured them that I belonged by saying ‘Salam Alaikum’ and praying Tahiyat ul Masjid. This didn’t completely stop the occasional stare from the younger kids. After a little wait, Jummah began. The methods or steps they followed were only slightly different than what I was used to; most countries have small differences anyways so I expected such.
The Khutbah was in their language of course and so I only understood the bits and pieces I gathered from the occasional Arabic that slipped in. The mosque, while simple and relatively small, was still beautiful. It mirrored its occupants in being all white. Its doors were open from all sides letting in the nice cool breeze that the Galle Fort naturally had.
Birds floated in and out at will. The mosque was also perfectly positioned nearby to the Galle Lighthouse and so was a little towards the edge of the area meaning it somewhat isolated itself from the hustle and bustle of the insides of the Galle Fort area. After prayers finished it was time for lunch. We ordered a taxi earlier to pick us up at 2 and so we didn’t have time to sit.
We ordered take away from Crepe-ology and called our tuk tuk driver to pick us up from the same location he dropped us in. Upon leaving Crepe-ology, it began to pour and harsh winds rendered our umbrella useless. At this point of time, a man still at the mosque called us in for shelter. I greeted him “Salam Alaikum” and thanked him.
He informed me he saw me earlier in Jummah and asked if I spoke Arabic. When I said I did, he decided to test his own Arabic with me. He asked the usual questions I get as a tourist- where I’m from, how long I’m in Sri Lanka for and if I’m enjoying my stay. I asked if he could explain the Khutbah to me as I didn’t understand and he replied saying it was about welcoming Ramadan.
It turned out he was the Sheikh of the mosque which would explain why he was one of the few people still there a while later. He told me he recognised that I was a Muslim because of my beard and that it’s a good practice or ‘Sunnah’ to keep for this reason and that if my face was polished, as he called it, then he wouldn’t have been sure.
The tuk tuk arrived and so I said Salam and left back home hoping we’d make it in time. He was a very pleasant man, constantly smiling and I was happy that nature turned against me so that I could meet him. Today was the one day there was traffic but thankfully the driver was still there when we arrived. The landlord informed us he’ll be accompanying us and that it’s ok to take our time and eat then leave so that’s what we did.
The ride took us around 2-3 hours and while Sanrick Holiday Bungalow was a little hard to find we were grateful the bumpy ride was over. When we reached we were told that we were the only ones there as it was off season and were asked if we’d like dinner. Hungry, we of course didn’t turn down an offer of chicken curry and egg fried rice.
The place itself was small but lovely. It was open aired and was run by several old Sri Lankan men who continued their countrymen’s kind behaviour that we’ve experienced all along our trip. We quickly dropped our bags off, booked the safari for first thing in the morning and then headed down for food.
It was among the best we’ve had since coming to Sri Lanka. After dinner it was time to clean up and sleep, tomorrow was an early 6am start. Tonight’s entertainment, however, was Madagascar. Tomorrow would bring me plenty of knowledge and the excitement of seeing a variety of animals, particularly my favourite- the gentle elephants of Sri Lanka.