iSurprise Basnayake Siripala

Retired lobster diver and owner of Abacate café

Before the Fort was very quiet and calm; it has changed a lot but it’s still a good place, with few problems. I hope that my children and grandchildren remain in the Fort.
— Basnayake Siripala

The Fort in the 1960s

When I was growing up in the Fort, the common mode of transport was by hand-pulled rikshaw and many children travelled to and from school on bullock carts. At this time, households kept hens and cows, which is quite rare today. Two large herds of cows resided on Lighthouse Street and would block whole lanes as they moved through. The advantage was there was always fresh milk available. It was a more liberal time – women would chat on the streets and I would walk to school in Galle with 50 cents in my pocket. With that I could buy 5 pancakes.

Night fishing

From the age of fourteen, I used to dive for lobsters off the ramparts. The best spot was Crow Island which you can see from Flag Rock. Here the water is about 15-20 foot deep. I would go at night with 3 friends – one of us would hold a bag, and the other two would dive. We would shine our torches and spot the lobsters’ red eyes. In the early 1970s, each one would sell for 2 rupees, 25 cents. There were a few hazards involved though – sea urchins, poisonous eels and blue jellyfish in the monsoon season.

Under the avocado tree

Today I run a café named ‘Abacate’ after the Portuguese word for avocado. I enjoy meeting people and hope that my children and grandchildren remain in the Fort.

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