Off the beaten track, Sri Lanka - Part 2
Last year was a huge year for my family and I; my now husband and I got married in July, we moved house, and embarked on an adventure of a lifetime; a year travelling the world with our children. Nothing was booked except the first flight out of Spain. This is where I will be sharing some of the highlights with you and bringing new and interesting places in the world to your attention from a different perspective to that of your regular travel guide.
Sri Lanka, Part 2.
Our next port of call was Arugam Bay on the East coast of Sri Lanka. We landed here off-season (October) and so it was a sleepier version of the coastal resort/town having been vacated by the masses of Australians and Europeans who flock here for the consistent surf, great weather and beautiful beaches. Plus, it’s pretty easy on the wallet and there is a range of all cuisines here to suit everyone.
Arugam Bay, or “A Bay” as it has been predictably coined by the Aussies, delivers a simple lifestyle, or holiday destination, with its long strip of bars, restaurants, and shops lining the street parallel to the beach. Here you can find just about everything you’ll need if you’re here for the short term. For fresh foods you’d want to head to the local market at Pottuvil which is a five minute tuk-tuk ride north. The markets here are bursting with local life and you will be a novelty, just make sure you don’t get charged novelty prices!
The whole area is predominantly Muslim and so you’ll hear plenty of prayer as they salute Allah the requisite five times per day. The local dress is head to toe for ladies (even at the beach, and in the water), many opting for Burkas, others in colourful full length Sri Lankan style saris, the men wear shirts and lungis (sarongs), which they tuck up to make shorts when they are on the beach or riding a motorbike. The local kids are super friendly but they don’t have much so they’ll sometimes ask for a pencil or other simple things which seem insignificant to us but would make their day. They are not pushy, rude, nor are they begging, they’re just asking.
If you’re in Arugam Bay for the surf there are different points to head for which accommodate all levels. For kids and real beginners there is Baby Point which sits to the far right of the main beach. For a little more action you can continue on to walk around the head to Main Point where the waves are considerably bigger. And if you’re really keen there are more off the beaten track points which the locals can direct you to. We rented our own tuk-tuk which is the preferred method of transport here, great fun for zipping around in, and super-economical too.
We ventured out to Peanut Farm many times, taking a ten minute tuk-tuk ride from Arugam Bay and then tackling some sandy tracks and gentle off-roading to arrive at this place which looks as though a festival happened here once leaving a bar, some big lounging swings, and some random unfinished structures. However, the beach is where the magic happens, fine sands and warm seas mean it is comfortable for all - but bring your own shade - and the waves are not so big that you can’t enjoy a swim.
One of the most incredible experiences here for us was that, on occasion, two of which we were lucky enough to encounter, the odd wild elephant will take a walk down to the beach to munch on the coastal plants. The locals wave their arms at you and urge you to stand in the water when an elephant comes close to the beach as they’re unlikely to charge at anyone semi-submerged. And they do charge, we saw one woman who reacted like a deer in headlights when a young bull began steaming towards her, trumpeting away. She just stood there totally frozen in shock until thankfully her instincts kicked in and she started to run towards the water. She made it just in time so the elephant turned and headed back to her yellow surfboard to toss it around a bit, semi-playful, semi-peturbed! Apparently elephants are unnerved by bright yellow. Having been given this piece of information by the bar owner we swiftly left the beach as both the boys were wearing bright yellow shorts!
Prior to this moment we were all surfing and swimming and marvelling at the fact that we were doing so in the company of one of these majestic creatures. It was a life moment that will stick forever. Surfing with elephants! On the ride home we saw another lone elephant having a snack near the side of the road accompanied by a huge herd of water buffalo living up to their name wallowing in a deep puddle of water by a rice field. Peacocks pepper the landscape as do monkeys, monitor lizards and a lot of very unhealthy looking, yet friendly, stray dogs. There are no seagulls here, only chatty crows.
As it is outside peak time the shops and restaurants have begun to shut down for the season and move on to the next seasonal location down south. Visitors revert to a slow trickle of backpackers, families and national travellers or city folk popping in for a welcome break.
The pace is pretty slow and relaxed, but there is always something going on somewhere. The local food is somewhat basic in some restaurants but you can find some more upmarket, varied meals in the higher end places. There are also decent wood-fired pizzas here, burgers, and other western food if you’re in need of a fix. There are hotels and places on the waterfront which have swimming pools which you can pay to use for the day. Some will include lunch and throw in a whole coconut to drink, all for about five euros each. Other than this we just beach, bar and restaurant hopped and tried out as much of the local delights as possible. We rented a house for the month so we also had our own kitchen and an amazing Sri Lankan lady who made us home-cooked food every day for lunch or dinner and cleaned everything all for $5 per day. This was such a help to her and her family so we were super happy to have her with us each day, plus her cooking was incredible!
Accommodation is easy to find but book ahead if you’re going during peak season. To get there you need to either take the train or bus or you can take a taxi all the way from Colombo airport but it is around an 8-10 hour drive. I recommend the train!
We loved it in ‘A Bay’ and would definitely visit again, personally I preferred the peaceful sleepy version of the town, but if you want action and lots of young surfers crowding the bars and restaurants and beaches, head there in their summer season which finishes around the end of September.