Hello from Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka.
I’ve spent the last few days enjoying all that Sri Lanka has to offer; predominantly the beach, exquisite cuisine and personalities of the local people. Sri Lanka is an interesting place, with the 25 year civil war ending just ~1 year ago, I am curious what this place will look like in 5-10 years if the peace persists.
Arugam Bay is located near the “line” where freedom and fighting was. As a result it did not have many NGO’s help after the devastating tsunami of 2004 for safety concerns. High season has not started yet and you really get a good idea of what life is like here, if one were to live in this laid-back country of ~21 million people.
There are few restaurants, hotels and of course, the ever present tuk tuk drivers. To get here one must take a tuk tuk from the bus station in Pottuvil. In the last few days, could count the other tourists seen on one hand. The beach is basically ours, shared with the fisherman who make their living working the ocean.
This location is popular for surfers in March and the scene is supposedly much different. At the moment the only people around are locals, NGO workers and few other Sri Lankans from Colombo or Kandy away for a weekend. The beach is literally deserted and is a nice contrast where the turquoise surf meets the deep blue sea.
The fighting up north was between the Tamil’s and the government; The resistance was known as the LTTE but commonly the “Tamil Tigers”. Over time different laws were placed that was beginning to exclude the Tamil’s who wished for a sovereign society up north. I asked some of the local guys we met here about the situation; he said both sides were somewhat similar yet different. One such law was in 1948 when the United National Party (UNP) consolidated its strength by excluding citizenship to the Tamil plantation workers.
Up north is predominantly Tamils. There is a caste system in place and it is mainly the land owners who are descendants of Indian who came here long ago, 3-4th century BC. The other Tamil’s tend to be plantation workers brought from India by the British to service the fields. The rest of the history is too long to get into here. Supposedly this island has been inhabited as far back as 16,000BC.
There is lots of opportunity for those living here with business acumen and ambition. The country is being rebuilt after such a long war. When the government is at war, defense becomes a major expenditure, often at the expense of other services. As a result there are ~ 22% of the populations still under the official poverty line, supposedly up north it can go as high as 33%.
For some time, English was the official language and is still spoken by many people I have encountered all over the country. Sri Lanka has tremendous potential as it is situation in a fairly unique location. I can see tourism booming here in the upcoming decade should the stability the country is currently maintaining continue.
Getting around is not difficult but also not easy. If one were new to Asia, I could see how this would be overwhelming. There are no massive signs or tour companies that I’ve seen; I’m sure one could arrange that via the internet if one was looking though. The bus stations are cleverly chaotic where everything flows but you need to be extroverted as signs are sometimes non-existent and asking several people may be required. Most if not all that I’ve spoken with were more than happy to help.
Lodging is not that cheap compared to other things a tourist would spend money on, mainly due to supply in demand. Eating at local places is very cheap though and the food is delicious. The average wage here is quite low ~$100 a month for basic unskilled workers. Therefore, don’t be too hard on the tuk tuk drivers trying to offer you things or take you somewhere, many make their living exclusively from commissions.
A few interesting facts about Sri Lanka is that it became the first country in Asia to allow women voting rights in 1931. Also, had the first female president ever, is 70% Buddhist and a British colony as of 1948, shortly after India. Finally, smoking is banned in all public places except restaurants and hotels which ~should have separate zones. The actuality is, no one really smokes on buses or in public but restaurants and hotels are free to do as they please.
I type this from a picnic table in the shade under a bamboo hut on stilts no more than ~30M from the ocean. The cool breeze is refreshing and the tranquility unmatched anywhere I’ve ever been. The pace of life is slow and steady which is to be expected with this heat.
Can’t stress enough how relaxed this place is, also do not feel like a tourist. Feel more like a traveler who has stumbled upon paradise. This morning took a stroll on a large completely deserted beach. Perhaps this is what travel was like 50-100 years ago? I just feel that Sri Lanka is one of those places left in this world with everything a tourist would want except the attention of the major media.
There are safari’s but it’s almost as though you are living in one; when waking up you see monkeys and gibbons . They usually don’t stay long as the owners tend to scare them off. They mean no harm but at the same time, they have no table manners and are mischievous by nature. Also countless species of lizard running around, truly feels “off the grid” in every sense of the word.
Can’t really believe I’m here. Every other country I have visited has been done to death; so much so that the “tourist trail” is no longer a trail, a path or a road, for that matter. The tourist trail has become a super highway where at times you see so many tourists it would be easy to forget you were overseas.
If you wish to find pristine world class beaches, friendly people, delicious and affordable cuisine, I recommend you consider Sri Lanka as part of your trip around SE-Asia, perhaps a stop over the way home. It’s truly a tranquil country that I’m genuinely thrilled about having the opportunity to explore and enjoy.
In closing, Sri Lanka does not get a lot of attention, I have been on the road 14 months and never met anyone who had been there or mentioned it. Look into it.
P.S: All photos taken in Arugam Bay or on the bus ride from Polonnaruwa. Anything that resembles traffic is from the trip. There is one main road going through town that was just recently paved.
P.P.S: Enter the soon ending $1,000US Eurail giveaway.