A pan around Pottuvil Point
The last few weekends I’ve been outstation, blissfully. We’ve driven for hours through Ratnapura, Udawalawe National Park, Buttala, then Siyambalanduwa (map) till you get to the East Coast. It’s not a bad drive, and well worth it. The quality of the beaches in Sri Lanka is seasonal. Right now its off-season in the West Coast (Hikkaduwa and Una) and the water is high and rough. A coworker recently drowned off Panadura. It’s season, however, in the East Coast and Arugam Bay in particular is always gentle and welcoming. The beach is a mazing, the stars are bright and, more to the point, it’s not Colombo at all.
The beach at Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is, as one might suspect, a bay. It’s been classed as one of the Top Ten Surfing Destinations in the world by some metric. I, with no means of comparison, would simply say that it’s great. Personally I prefer Pottuvil Point, where we stayed. I don’t surf, but waves are fun for anybody. You can rent a boogie board and swim out out out with no fear of anything. The water is rarely much more than chest height. Even if you find yourself thrashed about in the surf you’ll put your foot down and realize that you’re in about 2 feet of water. And lovely water it is.
We stayed up one night on the giant rocks between the beach and the freshwater lagoon. They’re piled on top of each other in jumbles, like the gods were playing dice. The sun heats them during the day and they release the energy slowly throughout the night. The last time I came it was full moon, but recently it was just stars upon stars. I’ve honestly never seen so many stars. We were walking back to the cabana when it hit us, just above the light line, in wonder. Then the electricity went out and that was all you could see. The milky way really is a band of light across the sky, thick and ripe in the darkness. There were so many stars I couldn’t place anything anywhere, it just looked like millions of galaxies. Which I guess it were.
Waking up outside, the stars slowly tuck themselves behind dark blue and purple skies. The sun rises in the East, over the ocean, warming the grey clouds into purple and azure. The water itself is a royal purple, rich and cresting on the rocks at dawn. The thing about the waves (there at least) is that they look formidable, but if you just relax and swim into them it’s nothing at all. Like problems in life I suspect.
A surfer at Pottuvil Point
There’s this little cove that feels like the center of the earth. On both sides the land land curves around, so to the right and left you see coastline, as if you’re about to land a boat. The land wraps around giving you this impossible perspective where you’re sitting next to the ocean but wrapped up by land. Which I guess also makes the waves safe. Once you crest through the breakers near the cove it’s actually relatively calm. The waves will rise up five or six feet, but if you’re beyond the swell it’s just a lovely ride as you watch the crest smash on the rocks. Paddle out and then the waves push you parallel to the beach. The surfers that catch them just ride for a a few hundred yards, get out in a few feet of water and walk back up the beach to catch the waves again. Which is why I think it’s a great surfing destination – it’s so easy.
It is also a great destination, generally, because it’s so beautiful. I’d say peaceful as well, but both times I’ve been there I’ve heard gunfire or shelling from the distance. But the place and road is pretty secure. There are a few checkpoints, one you’re guaranteed to catch in Siyambalanduwa, and you need an exit pass from the cops to leave. Besides that, however, it’s very simple. Wake up (if you sleep), go swimming/surfing, get out, order some fried potatoes and guacamole, drink a beer, lazy around, get hot, swim again. There are plenty of tourists/hard-core surfers around, though not too many. The local fishermen hang around, pushing their boats into the water at dawn and returning later to unload rice sacks full of this godawful stinky jellyfish which Koreans are apparently buying. They sit and make their tea atop firewood, speaking Tamil and tucking up their sarongs. In the afternoon a bus full of Muslim schoolgirls came for a day trip, looking like white mushrooms, covered up in the sun.
At the Point it’s just eat, sleep, swim – looking at the stars and climbing rocks and just being in awe of the sunrise. By the end you get the bill and worry about your possessions and that’s the heavy gravity of Colombo drawing you back in. But for a moment there, you feel free – entirely up in the stars or the sea or someplace more floaty-like.
Anyways, I’ve been twice in the last few months. There’s a photo set from the first trip. On the second trip I just put the technology away and tried to experience everything, plus I didn’t change out of my ‘bathers’ the whole time. If you’ve forgotten why Sri Lanka is great or why we even tolerate the war and taxes and general bad trip, a trip out of town is the reason why.