The Sri Lanka Series: Arugam Bay (July-August 2015)

Arugam Bay

The bay is perfect for swimming and spectacular to look at.

The bay is perfect for swimming and spectacular to look at.

Getting ready to head out for another day of surf and sun. Had to teach the hotel staff how to use an iphone and you can see her finger just in the top left corner.

Getting ready to head out for another day of surf and sun. Had to teach the hotel staff how to use an iphone and you can see her finger just in the top left corner.

We chose to visit the upcoming surfing spot of Arugam Bay as friends had been in previous years and bragged about how great the surf was. It tends to work best in the off season meaning the surfing season is from June – October.  Arugam is a very laid back strip that sits on a large bay with a range of point breaks both north and south. The bay is beautiful for swimming, boasting calm water with rolling waves that break onto a sandy shore. The locals all come down in droves on weekends where whole families scream with glee, jump on each other and play in the shallows. Arugam’s main point is gentle most of the time but does have a bit of a rocky shelf which can attract the odd sea urchin. Some surfers wore booties, but my partner and I both didn’t bother and chose instead to just try and avoid the bottom as much as possible.  My partner was a little disappointed with the surf when we were there, as it didn’t really get bigger than 4ft and there is a minimal tide difference (so it just stays the same) and the wind was howling from about midday. There were also a lot of people (and beginners) trying to do their thing in the shore break which is not ideal when you have come specifically to surf and you have to worry about avoiding them as they bob around on huge foam boards.

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A couple of waves caught by Rhys.

A couple of waves caught by Rhys.

I chose not to bring a board with me (my partner bought two), but hired both a mini mal and malibu on different days and had an awesome time while getting a great tan. Upali is the accommodation and cafe which sits right on the main point and provides a perfect (and shady) reading or blogging spot when my partner was surfing for long hours. Once we were all surfed out, we would walk back to the main strip and score a cabana (usually at Funky de Bar) that looked out onto the water. Funky de Bar was also home to a litter of puppies and anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE dogs. We would eat, drink, play with the puppies and be generally merry which isn’t hard to do in a place as beautiful as Sri Lanka.

Puppies! This is my happy place.

Puppies! This is my happy place.

Mal sliding was my favourite past time when it was a little smaller.

Mal sliding was my favourite past time when it was a little smaller. We hired this 9ft mal for a couple of days.

We stayed at The Hotel Paradise for 10 days and it catered to our needs really well. Not only is it right in the middle of town, it was clean and cheap plus the staff were very accommodating. I would definitely recommend an air-conditioned room though as it was still quite hot at night and nice to escape the heat in the middle of the day. The Hotel Paradise also do a curry buffet for 400 rupee which was so tasty and filling. You can’t really beat that.

Boats are lined up everywhere and fishing is the main economy.

Boats are lined up everywhere and fishing is the main economy.

The food in Arugam has a lot of variety and can cater to all budgets and taste buds. Some days we lived off roti and Sri Lankan curries (the one from Munchies Shack was the best in my opinion) and other days we would splurge a little more and eat BBQ whole fish done over a fire, delicious burgers and cocktails from Zephyr, and real coffee and breakfast paninis from the Hideaway cafe during the day and fruity cocktails with reggae at night from the bar. There are a few touristy shops if retail therapy is your thing, but I wouldn’t dedicate too much time to it.

The Hideaway Cafe did the best coffee I had in Sri Lanka and delicious brekky paninis. Their bar had a reggae vibe at night and served awesome cocktails too!

The Hideaway Cafe did the best coffee I had in Sri Lanka and delicious brekky paninis. Their bar had a reggae vibe at night and served awesome cocktails too!

Arugam Bay in the late afternoon from Mambos. Enjoying a beer and some peanuts sold by a local.

Arugam Bay in the late afternoon from Mambos. Enjoying a beer and some peanuts sold by a local.

Arugam Bay is the perfect location to make your ‘base’ so you can do day trips north or south and see all that the area has to offer. There is also an elephant gathering place west of Pottuvil near the big waterhole. The two times we went past, we were a little too early and then a little too late. Get a local to take you and time it for late afternoon to witness a spectacular sight.

This was the safari sunset so I will always remember it as a pretty great day.

This was the safari sunset so I will always remember it as a pretty great day.

North of Arugam Bay are secluded accommodation options away from the bustle of the main strip. There are a couple of surf points and I spent two very relaxing mornings at the Whiskey Beach cabanas and cafe. It takes about 10 minutes by tuk tuk and costs around 1000 rupees return (or 1500 rupees to the Lighthouse point) and usually the driver will wait for you, or come back and collect you at an agreed time. Pottuvil Point is worth a look if you are up that way already, but probably not as an individual trip. Most drivers tag on an extra 500 rupee for the trip.

Can I live here? An old house at Pottuvil Point.

Can I live here? An old house at Pottuvil Point.

Pottuvil Point.

Pottuvil Point.

South of Arugam there is Okanda and two national parks. Okanda is a dusty 40 minute drive south and we visited on two separate occasions. The first time was a part of our local led ‘safari tour’ just to have a look. The second time was early in the morning on a surf expedition but there was also a week long Hindu festival on. (Check out Tangent Time below for my story about my ‘celebrity status’.) Okanda beach is beautiful, the surf was little bigger but still quite messy.

The view from the shrine was magnificent! It was VERY windy when we were up there.

The view from the rock near the shrine was magnificent! It was VERY windy when we were up there.

One of the local tuk tuk drivers (we called him ‘No Teeth’ for obvious reasons) drove us to various points a couple of times and we discussed with him the possibility of us taking a safari tour to check out some of the wildlife in the area. We paid 3000 rupee (plus we gave a large tip at the end as we were stoked with what we did and saw) for a couple of hours driving. No Teeth promised we wouldn’t pay if we didn’t see any elephants or were unhappy with the quality of the tour in anyway. It sounded like a pretty good deal to me. He picked us up from our hotel at 1:30pm and we set off. Not even 15 minutes had passed when we spotted peacocks (as plentiful as pigeons in Sri Lanka), a herd of buffalo bathing in a pond, a mongoose and witnessed our first elephant sighting. A large bull was standing just outside of the bush line and was visible from the road. We watched him for about 15 minutes before moving on with No Teeth promising we would see plenty more on his ‘special tour’. We hiked up to the Okanda Kudumbigala Forest Hermitage Shrine and fed the monkeys biscuits we bought from a local stall. They were mischievous and naughty, just as monkeys should be, and I have developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with monkeys. I find they are very sweet one minute being all friendly and cutesy, but as soon as you are out of food, they turn on you (and each other) going feral and vicious in the blink of an eye. Once we climbed to the top of the temple, we were treated to breathtaking 360 degree views of the whole area and it is definitely worth the walk up the stone steps (if you can call them that, they are more like strategically spaced rock grooves). Ladies, don’t forget to enter the shrine you will need to take or wear a long skirt and cover your shoulders. I took two sarongs with me so I could take it all off afterwards.

This is No Teeth and my partner Rhys.

This is No Teeth and my partner Rhys.

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Monkeys and crocodiles.

Monkeys. How cute is this guy?.

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These guys you can see, the others not so much.

I knew what was underneath the water...eek.

I knew what was underneath the water…eek.

No Teeth then showed us crocodiles up close (and a little to close for comfort) in a nearby creek. They didn’t do much, just lazed about on the banks, but I was more afraid of what I couldn’t see under the water as we stood on the edge of the river watching them. I didn’t really want to test fate. We visited Okanda, to see what it was like and saw that they were setting up stalls and shops for some kind of festival which we discovered to be a Hindu event later on. Finally, we went on the hunt for more elephants. We spotted a group of four adult elephants quite far off in the distance opposite a large (and mostly dry) waterhole. Eventually, we found a family of about 7 adult elephants and a baby. We were apparently getting too close as the bull began throwing dirt, grunting and stamping. Needless to say, we backed away slowly. It was amazing to see this whole elephant family out in the wild living (mostly harmoniously) with the villages. The fence in the image actually goes around the village to keep the elephants out rather than to keep them in captivity. I felt honoured to witness these beautiful exotic creatures in their wild habitat roaming freely.

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Daddy elephant. Not so happy to see us.

Elephant family roaming freely.

Elephant family roaming freely. The little baby is too much!

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This male was by himself near one of the roads to Okanda.

Tangent Time: When my partner and I returned to Okanda for the second time to surf it was early morning and the sun had just risen. No Teeth was supposed to pick us up from the front of our hotel at 5:30am but he didn’t show. We found out later that he had slept through his alarm. Instead, we waved down one of the many other tuk tuk drivers. No point getting up this early for no reason! Okanda beach was mostly secluded except for a couple of towels and bags left on the beach by the other 5 surfers who were already out in the water. My partner paddled out and I sat on the beach on a towel in a dress and hat with my camera at the ready. After an hour of taking some snapshots, I noticed that there were a few small groups of locals dressed in their best saris and suits making their way down the beach towards me. As they got closer, there was a lot of pointing and talking (that I couldn’t understand) as they all moved closer and stood around me. The kids waved and said hi excitedly. Some spoke a few words of English and asked questions about my name and where I was from. A lot of the boys stared or asked to take my picture, some wanted to touch my blonde hair or shake my hand. For approximately 3 hours this went on with each group that passed by. Most were polite, others not so much and some started taking pictures without asking or doing anything else. Just waltzed right up and started snapping. I began to understand a little more how celebrities feel. I was reading a book on my ipad mini and many of the children wanted to look at it and touch it as they had never seen anything like it before. I had to explain to a couple of boys that my ‘husband’ was out in the water so they would back off a little and move out of my personal space. One man who spoke excellent English explained that many of the locals were from very small villages far away and had driven for days just to attend the festival. He outlined that most of them would not have seen a white person in the flesh before either and that was why there was so much commotion.  It was such a bizarre experience that I won’t soon forget and I now have an appreciation for what it must be like being an animal in a zoo.

Just some of my new friends on Okanda beach. It seemed only fair that I take a photo of them when they were taking so many photos of me.

Just some of my new friends on Okanda beach. It seemed only fair that I take a photo of them when they were taking so many photos of me.

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble

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The Sri Lanka Series: Kandy (July-August 2015)

 

Toy Shop

On the way to Kandy there were plenty of these water flotation/toy shops. I found it to be a little strange, but pretty great if you aren’t much of a swimmer!

We caught the bus from Negombo to Kandy by showing up at the main bus station in Negombo city and jumping on the first one we found. We waited about 30 minutes for the bus to be full enough to go and then we were on our way. 5 hours later we arrived ready to transition to a train (based on information we received from one of the information director’s at the Negombo bus station) or another bus to get to Arugam Bay that day. As it turned out, Arugam Bay was actually 8 hours drive away from Kandy on a windy mountain road AND it was closed at night due to elephants! Apparently there was definitely NO trains that go there, plus the bus would take over 15 hours and did not leave until the following day. As we stood and stared at the train times sign realising what we had been told was not accurate and wondering about what we should do, an older local man approached us and asked if we needed help. After a couple of minutes conversation, it turned out that ‘Jagger’ drove a van for a couple of the local hostels and happened to be waiting to pick up another arrival. We explained our situation and that we needed to get to Arugam Bay. He confirmed what we had learned, but did offer his private van for hire for 20,000 rupee which was a little steep for us, especially just the two of us. We negotiated him down to 16,000 rupee (AU$160) and we went on the hunt for other people who wanted to get to Arugam Bay so it would be a little cheaper. Jagger kindly drove us to one of his affiliated hostels and organised a room for us to stay the night. The staff were very understanding and helpful. The Backpackers Vibe – Tourist Lodge was a fairly new hostel who were just getting started. Their facilities were simplistic but clean and best of all, it was great value for money at AU$15 each for the night. Conveniently, there was also a German girl staying there (Hi Connie!) who wanted to get to Arugam Bay as well and so our plan was hatched: we would share our hire van, split the cost and make the 8 hour road trip the next day.

All up, I only spent about 14 hours in Kandy arriving late in the afternoon and leaving early the next morning. I do wish I had the opportunity to explore it in a little more depth. We decided to cram in as much as we could in the short time we had. So, we spent the afternoon wandering around the Kandy markets, feeding the fish in the large pond in the middle of the city and visiting the historic Temple of the Tooth shrine. As we walked home for dinner, we also stumbled across a dance troupe who were about to start a performance. For 1000 rupee, we were treated to an hour of traditional drumming, dancing, fire walking and Kandy history. The females were graceful and poised as the males demonstrated athletic ability and strength. The show was very professional and impressive with fire eaters and a finale that included hot coals bought out and stoked on a stretcher ready to be braved by the male dancers. It was quite exciting and a little terrifying when they encouraged audience members to have a go. Funnily enough, no one volunteered.

Dancers Girls

The costumes of the dancers were elaborate and detailed.

 

Acrobatics

The males showed off their acrobatic skills.

Drummer and Twirlers

Drummers and fire twirlers.

Fire Eaters

Firewalkers

Fire pit preparations.

We ate dinner at Helga’s Folly, which is a strange and arty hotel/restaurant after a recommendation from a friend back home. It was fairly quiet the night we went, but worth a visit just to look around and try to understand the eccentricity. The whole place is covered in art, from murals to sculptures and the themed rooms feature antique furniture. It also has an interesting menu (though a little on the expensive side I thought – meals started at US$20 a dish and were good, but not fantastic) with decent food and plenty of it, I just felt for the asking price it could have been tastier. I’d recommend heading to Helga’s only for a drink.

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Helga’s Folly. These pictures do not do it justice at all.

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Helga’s Folly

The next day, Jagger arrived nice and early to pick the three of us up and start our long road trip to Arugam Bay. Jagger was an excellent guide and pointed out significant sights and interest points along the way. He bought us food from the service station (egg/curry triangles and tea cake rolls) encouraged us to feed the wild monkeys from the car window, stopped in at local stalls along the road to drink king coconuts and eat corn from the cob freshly picked. Finally, for a late lunch we stopped at another local ‘restaurant’ (a wooden structure with a thatch roof, 4 chairs and a table) for the local dish of rice and curry. The owners spoke little English and had not had foreigners stop  or eat in their restaurant before, and boy, were they stoked! They were very excited to feed us their dish of the day, as well as offering us bites of their best fruit and produce until we couldn’t eat anymore. Just before we left, they wrote down their address on a piece of paper asking if I would write to them from Arugam Bay as they had never been. Of course, I obliged with a postcard shortly after I arrived. It was such a great experience and a road trip that I will always remember fondly.

Water Supply

Views from the top of the mountain range overlooking Sri Lanka’s water supply.

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Cheeky Monkeys eating tea cake

Monkeys apparently love tea cake buns.

Fresh Corn

Enjoying freshly picked corn cooked and eaten on the side of the road.

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble