As with everywhere I've been so far I dreaded leaving Ella. How could the coast possibly live up to the hill country? But then I arrived in Tangalle.
Tangalle or Tangalla as its know here, is a large fishing town stretched along the South Coast of Sri Lanka. Because of its long layout, it feels more like a succession of little villages overflowing into one another next to scores of beaches of varying sizes. I've been staying in a quiet little B&B where the garden runs into an invariably empty beach. An idyllic painting spot. The touristy area is a mile or so up the coast so I didn't discover it was even there until after a couple of days exploring. The locals are kind and welcoming, they've been keen but uninvasive painting spectators.
After a bit of wandering I noticed that the scattering of beachside restaurants is interspersed with a significant number of ruined buildings. Old restaurants, hotels, shops and homes. The results of the 2004 tsunami. Many more ruins lie further inland, not physically hit by the waves but abandoned by owners left financially crippled in its wake. I was fourteen when the tsunami happened and although I was aware of its devastating impact I don't think I ever fully appreciated the level of destruction and tragedy it caused. 34,000 people in Sri Lanka were killed and thousands more left orphaned, homeless or injured. When you add this to the estimated 90,000 who were killed during the thirty years of civil war which gripped the country until 2009, it puts these people's lives into context.
Reading of the disaster, surrounded by survivors who have suffered so appallingly, it finally began to sink in. I couldn't shake the thoughts and imaginings from my head, wondering where I would have tried to escape from my room were I to have been there. Looking at everyone here with new found admiration and noticing all the abandoned buildings trying to picture life here before it happened. When I spoke to a restaurant owner about it he went very quiet, I could see the sadness in his face but he emphasised that finally the tourist trade is picking up again and the people here have a future so we mustn't dwell on the past.
I would've liked to have painted the ruins, but it felt wrong, so Instead I set about finding some of the most beautiful spots in the town. I painted palm trees, beach scenes, fishing boats and lagoons, the latter resulting in twenty mosquito bites on one leg alone. I gained quite a following around town, often turning around to discover ten or more locals watching me expectantly. They were quiet and respectful, unlike the westerners who treat me like a tourist attraction barging around me relentlessly with their cameras. One sweet Sinhalese lady offered me an ice cream and wouldn't take no for an answer, I didn't really want it but I'm not one to turn down an ice cream. A rugby player who used to play for Sri Lanka even insisted on chauffeuring me all around town on his motorbike which was great fun.
After a dreadful start last week when most of the paintings I did were plain awful I'm now beginning to see an improvement. I'm holding out for the ten thousand hours of practice theory to be realised any day now. I've found painting on canvas a difficult adjustment from the smooth absorbent panels I'm used to. An opaque coloured ground and painting thicker seems to help, although given that I'm already painting three times as much as I'd expected it won't be long before I run out of paint. My blog will then veer into lengthy descriptions of local night life and numerous exotic boyfriends instead of painting.
I have adored my stay in Tangalle and this time I am eagerly anticipating what my next stop has to offer.