If you are a beach lover, then there is no better place in Sri Lanka – if not all of Asia – than Arugam Bay in July. It’s summer in the western hemisphere, but we only know wet or dry in the tropics and as any good Sri Lankan will tell you, our coastlines have their ‘season’. Down south seas turn blue heading into Christmas, but right now you will find much of the east is at its salubrious best, from the flat calm of Trinco shores to the big blue ocean play pens of Passikuda. Yet for an authentic slice of real life, a big splash of East Coast hospitality and the long term injection of good vibes, Arugam Bay is the place to be. Arugam Bay is a relevant, progressive destination in the world and there’s no better time to experience it.
Brace yourself for a gruelling long drive from Colombo, if A-Bay is your direct destination. As LT found, there’s enough in the area to satisfy every type of visitor, all one has to do is find time to accommodate A-Bay’s numerous attractions. From Pottuvil to Panama are some of Sri Lanka’s best surf points, differing in every sense from their counterparts in the south. The same could be said of the Sri Lankan surfers, from what we hear. Competition is fierce and at international levels, as surf competitions during peak season (now, now, now!) pit experienced international surfers against our self-trained local boys and it should come as no surprise to hear that Sri Lankan surfers are kicking ass in this competitive sport. What a shame it is that they still lack credible sponsorships and the
ability to compete on other shores.
It’s not all beach and resulting eye candy that this slice of the east has to offer. Arugam Bay may have been off the radar for most Colombites (and phew, it largely still is) but the discerning invested in the area early on and it was also a delight to find old-school surfers who have been riding these waves since the early seventies. The result is a café culture and F & B offering that is far more developed than in most of Sri Lanka; Trinco for example fails miserably by comparison to the epicurean fare on offer in A-Bay. Furthermore, with the re-opening of nearby National Park and the open plains (that I won’t name) where one can literally chill out with wild elephants, I would say that all that is still wild and raw about this remarkable slice of paradise needs appreciating as much as it needs our protection.
There are rumours of disharmony and that not all is as rosy as it appears between the diverse folks of the area. A primarily Muslim community with strict values on alcohol finds itself mixing against its will with the Hikkaduwa enterprises that continue to mushroom in Arugam Bay as the south goes off-season and the tourism business grinds to a halt. From Mambo’s consistent and expanding presence at Main Point to Middle-Eastern specials from the southern natives behind Break Point Café, there is much blending of cultures and livelihoods. And then you add our types to the mix and wonder what can go wrong. As it turns out, not much, because the Tissera family have it covered, paying their dues to the area and leading by example. Kudakalliya Bungalows by Javana Fernando also stands as a testament to the respect between Sri Lankans from all walks of life, living and working in the same area and as new additions spring up along the coastline and main ‘strip’, one can only hope for continued responsible development.
And there we have the only critique if any, of this fantastic example of Sri Lankan beach culture. We have seen damning evidence of the off-season pollution of these otherwise pristine beaches, the devastating impact of our litter on the ocean eco-system seems of little concern except for when the tourists come, then it’s worth the clean up? We see local businesses frustrated by the system that does not allow for recycling or the proper disposal of plastics. It was good to see many of A-Bays cafes giving water in glass bottles but it isn’t enough and no matter how much each stakeholder invests in sustainability, there can be no greater impac than when we, together with local authorities,
can work together.
Still, the seas are calm, the people are hospitable and the area is still emerging in that lies its essence. Tourists come and stay for weeks at a time. Those that appreciate the special charm of the place, keep returning for more. There is much to see and do, if you are prepared for the long drive. That’s the best part; only those who love this kind of life will come.
As for LT: we want more! Thank you to our friends new and old, from this Bay and that, who shared these times and their lives with us.