Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Aragam Bay

I’m only 5 surfing-days into this trip and my decrepit old body is already giving up. My sciatic nerve has become painful again and the bodily contortions I involuntarily do to protect that area has pulled a muscle further up my back. I stayed out of the water yesterday in order to recover and am having some physio this morning to help loosen things up. Fingers crossed that this doesn’t become an extended sunbathing holiday. I’m not very good at sunbathing.

In this small sleepy village you get to n ow the characters pretty quickly. Derek, the reluctant caretaker of his brothers tsunami ravaged Siam View hotel, holds court every evening. His casual colonial-style racism can’t mask the warm heart within and he really does love Asia and the Asians having lived in Hong Kong, Thailand and Sri Lanka for the last 25 years or so. He just doesn’t like Sri Lanka. His trusty monkey-keeping German sidekick Wolfgang prepares food and lures newcomers to his safari tours, whilst quietly despising Sri Lanka too. It’s more amusing than it sounds and many an hour can be whiled away in their company. On some evenings when there’s a couple of Aussies, an American or two, a couple of Germans, an English contingent, some surly Israelis, the odd Sri Lankan driver and some UN and NGO folks in I can imagine myself holed-up in a Baghdad war correspondents hotel.

The polar opposite of the Siam View is the place I tend to eat every evening. Sooriyas is presided over by a wonderful Tamil Hindu man called Ram. This slight, unassuming bare-chested man has a long grey beard from which regularly emerges an infectious almost toothless grin. His quiet, caring, generous, open-minded character is the antidote to the cynical ex-pat westerners and his cooking is sublime and at £1 for a meal and 50p for a beer it’s embarrassingly cheap. Ram was in London during the 60’s hippy revolution, in New York for part of the 70’s and in Berlin after the wall came down so his ego-less innocence is born of practice rather than ignorance.

Right, I’m off to be cured by a Danish woman. Wish me luck…

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Surf... of sorts

I’ve surfed every day since I got to Aragam Bay, in fact I’ve surfed 3 times every day, although surfings probably too strong a term for what I’ve been doing. I trapped my sciatic nerve a couple of weeks ago. The pain in my lower back has gone but the ball of my foot and the my toes are still numb and I have limited ankle movement. It just doesn’t do what my mind is telling it to. This all adds up to a pretty good excuse for why I’ve neen so useless out in the water.

Aragam Bay is set up with a pretty good reef/point break at the southern tip (which I’ve been avoiding so far), the wave then wraps into the bay providing a much weaker ‘beginners pool’ wave close to shore and full of local kids. I’ve been thrashing about down in the kids section, swallowing my pride to get some waves. It’s a bit weird because I’m having to learn a new technique for standing up on the board. My limited movement and sensation below the knee means I have to kind of throw my left foot from the knee to try and hit the board, and if I do get it in the right spot I don’t have the flex in my ankle to turn easily. But I’m getting better, I had a really fun session this morning, and I’m enjoying being in the water.

Aragam Bay is an intriguing place which I haven’t really worked out yet. But more of that later…

Friday, 21 September 2007


My drive from Hikkaduwa to Aragam Bay was remarkable for two things.

Firstly it was remarkable how the climate changed from winter on the west coast to summer on the east coast. As soon as we crossed the mountains running down the spine of Sri Lanka the sun shone and the temperature increased by 5 degrees. It’s only 300 miles from coast to coast yet the difference is more like travelling from the northern to southern hemishphere.

The second transformation on this crossing was more profound. The journey began brightly enough with Udara my driver pumping the sounds of Shaggy at full volume. A couple of hours in it became apparent that the van was only equipped with one Shaggy tape. My smile faded as I endured rotation after rotation of sunny ragga-pop, the imbecilic choruses and banal lyrics grating deeper and deeper into my mind. After the 10th rotation, however, a remarkable thing happened. The braided nincompoop’s lyrics begin to reveal hidden depths. The, once tinny, digital reggae began to resonate on an altogether more spiritual plane. By the 20th repetition Shaggy revealed himself as a true shamanic guide for the modern-day male. “It wasn’t me” recalls ancient Sparta’s testosterone fuelled code of ‘take no prisoners, give no quarter’ — admit nothing, deny everything. The rhythmic pulse lifts the soul, on a molecular level, up to a celestial plane to become one with the very fabric of the universe. By the 21st listen this farbic is thrown over the table of consciousness and nirvana is close.

Once my ‘self’, my ego, had seeped into and become consumed by the omniverse the once distinct boundaries between ‘I’ and the ‘other’ had been broken down by the hypnotic, mesmerising pop-ragga beats and Shaggys bewitching mantras, then and only then did Udara drop the bomb… BOOOM! — UB40.

The world exploded in shimmering translucent shards of joy. It was then I realised Udara had been leading me on this ‘journey’ as my spirit guide. Opening my eyes to that which adolescence closed….

The drive was otherwise uneventful apart from seeing an elephant by the side of the road.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Rice and Curry

With curry's strong associations with weekend treats back at home yesterdays curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner was a good way to get over the no-surf blues.

I had a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers and curry (potato and dhal), a standard rice and curry lunch (beef curry, dhal, mixed vegetable and beans) rounded off by gthe most amazing one yet at my hotel: a sweet brinjal bhaji, spicy coconut fish curry, fried potato curry, juicy green beans with deep fried ginger and chilli, an unidentified vegetable in coconut sauce, rice and poppadoms. And all rounded off later on with a spicy Sri Lankan omelette and a bottle of Arak, the coconut based spirit, shared with 'the lads' watching the 2020 cricket.

Monday, 17 September 2007

I, the brave adventurer, walked away from the tourist area into town and had lunch in a cafĂ© packed with locals — 50p for rice and poppadom with 4 (small) curries and a drink!

Walking back, feeling like the cat who got the cream, I was soon brought down a peg or two after being persuaded to part with 800 rupees (£4) to help a bloke buy some concrete (yes, i know...) to rebuild his tsunami-destroyed house. With hindsight I think concrete was the last thing on his mind.

I ended up getting a tuc tuc inland to a jungle lagoon. From there I pootled around on a leaky dugout canoe and saw a buddhist temple, some blue jellyfish, a dirty great lizard and some bats. And now I’m off to watch Sri Lanka play Pakistan in the 20/20 world cup with the hotel crew.

No surf.

Right Place, Wrong Time

The lyrics to Ghost Town keep spinning around my head: "all the clubs have been closed down...". Hikkaduwa is the centre of Sri Lanka's surf scene... but only from November to March.

I arrived after a typically torturous journey of a 13 hour flight — no sleep, a 3 hour wait in Singapore — no sleep, 4 hour flight to Colombo — 30 min snooze and a 5 hour drive to Hikkaduwa — van broke down outside Colombo but had a surprisingly swift transfer to another van laden with a Bob Marley tape which on the fourth repetition lulled me into a sleep-like trance state. My bank had handily suspended my cash card which took a £7 phone call en route to reverse, but finally I arrived at my hotel able to pay the taxi and check-in. It was 5pm and I was keen to explore and even keener to get into the sea. My hotel is directly on the beach so I braved the torrential rain and walked up and down the shore looking initially for a surf opportunity — the sea was a blown-out churning grey-blue mess with no discernable peaks and absolutely no-one else in it so I decided to give it a miss, and then for any other signs of life — there are none! All the bars, restaurants and hotels that line the beach are boarded up and derelict looking.

I am the only guest at the hotel so the staff of 6 seems a bit over the top. I have an early dinner of Tuna with a great spicy salsa and a papaya salad, a couple of beers and a quick chat with Chaminda the hotel manager who tells me there's currently only a handful of foreigners here in Hikkaduwa , and then I turn in.

I'm asleep by 9pm and have a well needed 10 hour kip.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

I've not left yet...

Here's my first post. I thought I'd post an image to remind me of you all back at home in england as autumn turns to winter and also an scene for me to look forward to greeting on my return. See you in Sri Lanka.