Mannar Island to Jaffna
The Recovering North
We’re heading north during monsoon season and the weather is living up to expectations. The island has several distinct weather regions, with the south being hot and dry. We’re starting in the north away from the tourist trail and the rain is heavy. Sri Lankan’s continue their daily life, with bicyclists carrying umbrellas in one hand as they cycle down the street.
This area of Sri Lanka is still recovering from the civil war that ended in 2009. The north was the center of the violence between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army.
The guidebook tells us it’s different from the tourist south: the food, language, and religion. We leave the Wilpattu Park area in the morning after meeting our driver Neeshan. He hasn’t been to many of the places we’re headed because it was closed to southerners during the war.
The road north is marked with the scars of war. Many of the bridges destroyed in the Tamil retreat haven’t been repaired. Cows lie on the road and goats and monkeys run across the two-lane highway.
We’re detouring to Mannar Island on our way north. It’s a small island attached to Sri Lanka. The rain pauses, and the sun is out and David is hunting for a beach.
We’re greeted by a navy captain who wants to drink with us at 10am. We dodge him and head out to the sand. The guidebook has oversold Kiri Beach. There’s garbage everywhere. The sight of hundreds of small, dead fish lead us to abandon our swimming ambitions. Back in the car we’re on the hunt for the elephant tree.
Mannar Island is home to baobab trees. They’re also referred to as upside down trees because their branches look like roots. The largest baobab on the island is known to locals as the elephant tree; it earns its name from the gnarled bark. We ask several locals for directions to the tree. It’s almost 20 meters in diameter and has been growing for about 700 years.
In Jaffna we’re greeted by the skeletons of buildings. The signs of war are everywhere – from the pockmarks of bullets on buildings, to the bombed out buildings. The other noticeable difference is the drastic increase in Hindu Temples. Around Jaffna we explore the temples and the puja’s that happen inside.
It’s also in Jaffna where we both get ill for the first time. We’ve stocked up on imodium and hope it will keep us steady for our big car journey down to the centre of the island.