Tangalle rest house is not a boutique hotel. Its a nondescript rest house facing the Tangalle fishing harbour and overshadowed by the Sri Lanka Navy base (ship) “Ruhuna”. My childhood experience of rest houses on long trips usually meant filthy toilets, overly spicy food that took forever to arrive, and drinking soda instead of water. This place tsunamied away all those stereotypes.
I don’t know what the rooms are like but I got the feeling from our visit that Tangalle rest house is gold for anyone looking for cheap hotels in sri lanka. Specially for those seeking backpacker accomodation.
I’ve never been there before since the usual rest top east of Galle used to be the old Matara rest house. That’s been destroyed by the Tsunami and we weren’t in a mood to navigate the Matara traffic looking for an alternative . So we fled town along the curving coastal road. The road now rougher and the traffic lighter. After a short flutter of debate we turn off the highway just before Tangalle town. Its a small rutty road sneaking past the police station and excise stop.
The staff seem to know we are looking for the toilets without us uttering a word. I’m directed to the gents. Childhood encounters of rest house toilets has lowered my expectations considerably. Yet the well lit baby blue room with a functional ceramic throne is a pleasant surprise. Not a single whiff of urine in the air. There is even a bar of soap!
Much relieved, I join Mrs C (who has no complaints about her experience with the facilities which is a major endorsement) in the veranda for some Elephant House Ginger Beer (EGB). The glass bottles too. Chilled without ice to perfection. EGB tastes so good after the not so comfy stretch of tarmac from Matara. Our wait for lunch is about 10-15mins. Enough time to dunk 1 glass of EGB. Which is unusual given my old experiences of waiting aeons for food. Granted, there aren’t many guests. Yet this is dizzyingly rapid – to an un-Sri Lankan degree.
We are served generous portions of rice and curry by friendly servers in clean neat pale blue national outfits. Standard rest house rice and curry fare if it weren’t for the yam dish spiced with mustard. Not too hot (might be for non Sri Lankans). The flavours carry through the food – which results in heavy eating. Perhaps not the best for the long ride ahead but good food seduces logic. Good food at rest houses is the stuff of legend and this one qualifies.
As we feed, our friendly server tells us a bit of the history of the place. The building – though it like the usual painted over colonial architecture – dates back to 1774 – the Dutch period. According to the inscription built into the steps of the main entrance.
Its only then I noticed that the walls were quite thick and that there were a generous amount of windows. Both features helped the place survive the tsunami structurally intact.
The staff had hairsbreadth escape from the tsunami. They were able to flee up the hill to the navy base because its barbed wire had rusted away and had not been replaced. One section of the dining room wall is devoted photographs of the devastation. Don’t worry there are NO unappetising images of bloated bodies. But there are surreal photos of trawlers in the parking lot. We are told that they have a large photographs of the receding waters – taken before the tsunami wave hit. Its hidden away in the manager’s/main office. We didn’t see it but are told that a foreigner had offered a large sum of money for it (which was refused).
On another wall, an ancient type written memos from the governor general’s “pavilion” in Kandy. Complementing the rest house keeper and staff of the service. It makes a reference to an enclosed seven rupee tip which the rest house keeper is instructed to distribute to the staff.
Our tip is significantly bigger. We stagger forth (stuffed) to the chariot and the journey onward. Clean toilet, good food, friendly prompt service, EGB chilled to perfection and a bit of history. What more could one want in a rest house?