Saturday, 31 May 2008


The paradox of the Bay is that the reason it’s so peaceful, sleepy and detached is through fear. Fear of the LTTE related troubles in the region, fueled by western government warnings, has kept many tourists from visiting this season, yet this enclave seems nonchalantly unaffected by the bombs, landmines and battles going on within earshot. The firecrackers I wrote about on arrival transpired to be a battle between the Tigers and the government troops in nearby Yala East national park and every day we hear the sound of gunfire. Is it a training maneuver? Is it a battle? Another game of shit-head? Oh, ok, one more before a snooze… The soldiers that cruise the strip on their tractors smile and wave, damn even the guy on the machine gun turret of an armoured vehicle gave us an stiff yet genuine wave despite his heavy flack jacket.

We’ve been without power, internet and associated western conveniences a lot this last week allowing the mind to focus on the more palpable fear that has been rising in me as the waves have risen these last few days. The crescendo was yesterday morning as waves pushed over the reef with twelve to fourteen feet faces at some points. Stop for a moment and look around the room. Work out a spot that’s over twice your height from the ground and imagine a wall of water looming over the horizon and pitching forwards over itself with the fetch of the Indian Ocean behind it, powering it, as you lie at sea level looking up at it. Tell me there’s not a little drop of fear in you…. These waves aren’t big in surfing chronicles and seasoned surfers will laugh a macho laugh at my mention of fear, but I certainly have the fear of God within me as I frantically scrabble for the horizon amongst the surfer ‘pack’, me desperate to just make it over the beast without being driven into the reef like a pin into a steel plate, they desperate to get their spot at the peak, where the wave curls and begins breaking so they can ride it. The fear, as I name it, or the buzz/stoke/excitement as the veterans name it is tangibly crackling. The atmosphere has shifted to alertness, aliveness, the moment, certainly in the water, but is also residual for a time back on land. I may be a chicken, but I love it!

On big Wednesday as I’ll now call it, I was the absolute greenhorn in the water. Usually there’s a few more down the pecking order from me so I didn’t get too many waves in that session. Survival was my primary aim, from the big set waves, but also making sure my inexperienced decision making didn’t put me in the path of a six foot lump of sharpened fiberglass with a person leashed aboard. But the handful of rides I did get were intense. There’s no real memory-record of those rides as the moments were devoid of thought… frustrating as I try to replay the thrill in my mind, but I guess that’s what makes it so special.

[this was written a good few days ago but we’ve been without power and internet since then. I’m sending this from Colombo airport as I prepare to depart. The digital equivalent of posting your postcards at the airport]

1 comment:

TravelEast said...

Whoa Ed! Sounds like you're literally in over your head. Fear on the land and sea, but all harmonized when you get that special ride. Always like reading of your travels.