This is a photo of a real hotel in Arugam Bay, taken from somewhere on Mahangu’s site
It’s 5 am and I’m sleepy, but this is a decent (?) version of a column for the next Leisure Times. Half of the links are probably busted, which I’ll fix plus tard. Leave any comments if I say anything stupid or wrong. Desh, call and wake me up with any changes. I don’t mind waking up as long as I don’t have to stay up all day. This has been edited from the original version, Matara section added.
After 9-11, Dubya encouraged Americans to go shopping. In the same way, it’s about time for Sri Lankans to take a vacation. Tourism took a serious hit but, hotels big and small bounced back fast. They are ready for tourists so, um, go. Now, more than ever, tourism helps the local people who are trying to stand on their own two feet. The people that took it right in the paycheck are the hotel staff. At most Sri Lankan hotels the 10% service charge you pay is divided among the staff and often makes up more than half of their income. No guests, no check. The situation is even worse for small operators. To quote Maya Zen (savethatanswer.blogspot.com) – “Even the auto driver who drove me back home yesterday was a victim of the tsunami, his tourist business was washed away, uninsured” These people don’t need bottled water or tents, they just need to get back to work.
Charity is no vacation, though.The main motivation – as with any vacation – is to have a good time. These locations are still beautiful, the drinks are still cold, and the beaches are still stunning. Of the 55 Sri Lankan hotels affected by the Tsunami, 45 are now open for business again, according to the Australian Adventure World marketing manager Emi Weir. The site www.boutiquesrilanka.com gives a good overview of what’s open for business at this moment. Here are a few more spots worth revisiting:
*Arugam Bay*: Still beautiful. One inteprid blogger (er, me) recently posted some photos at www.indi.ca/2005/04/arugam-bay/. The bridge is up and there were people and good food at the Hideaway bungalows. There were surfers in the water, along with tons of locals in the more calm bay. Yala National Park is also open, though the Lodge is not. Arugam Bay has a lot of goodwill among locals and foreigners, for good reason. If you bring friends and your own alcohol its quite a time.
*Galle*: The ever gorgeous Lighthouse is open on its secure cliff. The Canadian journalist Stevie Cameron (steviecameronblog.blogspot.com) took a more localized tour with a guide, reporting “If any of you ever want to go to Sri Lanka – and I urge you, with all my heart to go – call Rex Samarawira and he will make your trip one of the most memorable of your life.“ In that way Ms. Cameron had a good time, took a ton of cool photos, and supported Sri Lankan enterprise. Having a good time is good for everybody.
*Hikkaduwa*: One of the smaller operators in Hikkaduwa has been one of the most active. Mambo (www.mambo.nu) offers accommodation and a surfing guide to Hiks and Arugam Bay. They’ve been building houses, rehabilitating villages, and running their business. In late January they reported that, “Now 80% of hotels and 75% restaurant and 90 % bars are open in Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa is now the same as before tsunami.” Today Hikkaduwa is up and running. Apart from Mambo, over 16 local hotels and more restaurants are ready and willing – not to mention the beach boys.
*Trincomalee*: The marine biologist Deborah Brosnan (www.deborahbrosnan.com) was staying north of Trinco and wrote “A little over a week ago my room was a literally pile of rubble. The fact that I even have a hotel room is testimony to Raj’s energy and determination to rebuild his life and business. It is back breaking work in the heat and with little modern equipment, yet in a few weeks they have practically rebuilt an entire suite of hotel bungalows.” Most of the bigger hotels like Club Oceanic, for example, are in perfect operating order, despite the conspicuous absences of the usual monkies. At press time that hotel was completely booked. It’s possible to take a fun and eventful trip to Trinco and see no more Tsunami evidence than a water level marked on the wall.
*Matara*: Matara is less of a traditional tourist hotspot, but a small crew of volunteers has been having a great time. They call themselves Suba-Ud (subaud.blogspot.com). Coincidentally doing what this column advised last time, Stephanie Bleyer, Heather Goodwin and Wanna Camcam funded and organized a puppet-show. “For 2 hours, a cast of marionettes, including a fire dancer, rocked out. We couldn’t understand a word of it but managed to laugh our heads off. For the price of 2 Broadway show tickets, we gave 400 people an evening of laughter and fun. As the marionettes took their final bow, an ice-cream truck pulled into the camp. We gave ice-cream cones to 200 children (for $30!).” As for Matara tourism, Suba-Ud says, “with the beautiful beach as a backdrop, I think Matara could do some bang-up business around spring break… The head of the cultural center invited us to his home for a “little music show,” which is Sinhala for ‘lets make the unassuming foreigners dance for our own entertainment.’ And so we did. In a house packed with locals, we learned how to dance the Sri Lankan two-step with the tabla and harmonium providing the back beat.”
If you just enter locations at www.technorati.com you can see that the coast is slowly coming back to life in the stories and photos that people bring back. Walls and windows are up and – most importantly – the local communities are ready to be Sri Lanka’s face to the world once again. Sri Lanka has been through terrorism, war, and an airport bombing. The tourism industry has bounced back every time, and the tsunami is no exception. We just need to stop worrying and take a vacation.