Local legend tells of a holy man who, upon arriving at the wide sandy bays on the Serendipitous coast (the ancient Arabs referred to Sri Lanka as Serendip, where the term serendipity ultimately derives its origin), decided to tarry and have a meal. Such an event carried with it mysterious divine intent however, for, shortly thereafter, a nearby rock was transmuted into pure gold. From this golden rock, or ran-gala, the fishing port of Tangalle was born, an auspicious beginning to the increasingly popular holiday destination on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Alternatively, the town’s name is a Sinhalese phrase meaning projected rock, in reference to the rocks that once stretched out across the mouth of the bay. I prefer the first story, with its clear connection between food and divine intervention, though I’ll admit that much can be lost in translation.
During the initial stages of dreaming and planning, months before this trip, we knew we wanted to spend some time on the coast. So much of our travel in the previous 12 months was either in and around cities, or involved a high degree of physical exertion, and it had been ages since we had a chance to lie down on a beach and do nothing. Our original plan was to find a beach at Mirissa, another popular seaside area, but after talking to other friends who had previously traveled to Sri Lanka, we decided on the less crowded beaches of Tangalle instead. The afternoon drive from the green hills of Ella to the tree-lined shores of Tangalle took a couple of hours, but there was still enough daylight to squeeze in some sun and ocean spray after settling in to our accommodations. We stayed at Sanjis Seaside Cabanas, on the recommendations of two friends who had stayed there the previous year.
As the late afternoon bled into the early evening, we watched as the swirling cloud formations painted with broad brushstrokes across the darkening sky. The sun, not to be outdone in its last hours, began its slow descent behind the rim of the world and left the sky aflame in its wake. Beautiful swaths of gold, lavender, magenta, and apricot lit up the tropical veil, before receding into the distant horizon. When the velvet night had fully enveloped the beach, we made our way back towards the silhouetted palms and ate dinner under the starlight.
The next morning, we rolled out of bed with absolutely nothing on our agenda, and it was a wonderful feeling. Breakfast was a lazy affair, sipping coffee and nibbling on toast as a slight ocean breeze curled in from the beach. In time, one of the friendly dogs on the property made its way upstairs to join us. There were a number of dogs that ran around on the beach and slept in the shadowed corners of cabins throughout our stay in Tangalle, and we grew a slight attachment to this one in particular. When it wasn’t playing with the others or eating kitchen scraps behind the dining hut, it was napping underneath our deck chairs or sitting quietly beside us as we read on the veranda. At mid-morning, we finally started making our way to the beach, and the little one trotted on ahead of us, leading the sleepy holiday-goers towards those beautiful azure waters.
The golden beach stretched for miles in either direction, the trees marking the border between paradise and reality diminishing into the fine mist thrown up by the restless ocean. Not a single other person was on the beach that morning – Ashley and I had this beautiful strip of tropical utopia all to ourselves. Time seemed to slow down and melt into the slats in our deck chairs as the morning hours lingered on golden rocks. The only break in the silence was the muffled roar of the ocean waves, falling with surprising force and violence onto the beach, driven by the breezes that gently flapped the leaves above us like so many green banners.
In the early afternoon, we walked back towards the dining hut to grab a quick lunch. The staff quickly put together a delicious curry meal that, like almost all of our meals in Sri Lanka, was definitely top notch, but we were slowly reaching our curry quotient. This is not a knock against the food at Sanjis or any other restaurant we ate at throughout our time in the country, but after almost a week of curry every day, our Western/Chinese palates were clamouring for a small taste of home. Ashley and I try to avoid eating things we could easily get back home whenever we’re on holiday, but sometimes you just really want a big bowl of soup noodles and dumplings.
After lunch, the afternoon skies were filled with dramatic visions of thunderclouds creeping in from the north, threatening to unleash their storehouses onto the lands below. Rain shadows appeared above the roiling horizon to the northwest, but the sun held strong along our stretch of the beach and the skies above the ocean remained clear and blue. There were moments when we thought about packing it in case the rain came, but it never did, and we splashed in the ocean waters and walked along the abandoned shore as the heavens did battle above us. It was breathtaking to witness the larger-than-life rhythms of cloud and rain and sun on an isolated beach in Sri Lanka, the lone audience to the greatest show on earth.
The final act was still to come as the sun set upon the western clouds, scattering the rain canopy and lighting up the sky in a flash of apocalyptic colours so vivid it was almost Biblical. A smattering of holiday-goers emerged from the different villas and hotels along the shore to witness the incredible sight. Later that night, when the clouds had cleared, Ashley and I stood on the beach and gazed up at the Milky Way in all its celestial splendour. I’d never seen stars with such clarity and fullness before, even in the Canadian wilderness, and we marveled together at the silken array of star and galaxy. It was over all too soon however, as we were scheduled to leave Tangalle the next afternoon. A private car would take us to Galle, where we would continue on to Colombo by train to catch our midnight flight back to Hong Kong. We’ve never forgotten that night under the stars on the beach in Sri Lanka though, when the stars themselves cried out, and we looked up and listened.