The Whinging Pome: Hectic Hiriketiya

Jun 07 2024.

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What a bay, a small horseshoe with multiple shades of blue sea and cliffs to one side and a rock outcrop on the other. A photographer's paradise. This is one of the tightest bays I’ve ever seen.  There is surfing for beginners to experts but on my first visit ten years ago, it was a bit different  There were no surfers, no wind,  no real waves, a few sun worshipers and local fishermen. Today the young are soaking up the sun chilling, swimming and surfing.

Those of us of a certain age however hide from the rays or cover up to prevent the acceleration of the ageing process when perhaps it’s too late. You can choose your level of accommodation and time of year, there is no off-season just quieter months with fewer surfers. Imagine the number of people cramming onto a very narrow strip of beach in the main season. The holidaymakers generally look under thirty intermingled with the odd ageing hippie type, but there are children paddling in the safe water. Scant bikinis and tattoos are not compulsory but are much in evidence.

There is no wind today so the surfers are laying low but there are lots of people in the water, the surfboards are far and few, other than those waiting to be rented. Yesterday I’m told the winds were perfect for good waves. Listening to various conversations whilst sitting on one of a solid row of chairs with tables across most of the waterfront I hear French, Russian and a few English voices. Sat close by is a slightly overweight frightfully English upper-crust couple who look in their early forties. His public-school accent and the overused word “darling” whilst wearing clothes more suited to Cannes in southern France, make them unlikely revellers to this location.

“Each to their own”, was an often-used observation of my parents. The waiter brings the arrack and as I look at the quantity, it’s about three shots, more than I needed and I explain in English how drinks should be served. He doesn’t understand. I order four glasses of fresh Thambili (King coconut juice) and I drop the shots of arrack across the four glasses. Sharing this amazing location with my lovely three lady companions.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No 240: “One should always have a cunning plan when the situation looks tricky.” The good news is this little horseshoe bay is a winner for many tourists and its popularity continues to grow. This is partly due to the mix of the beauty of the place, the amazing sea, the surfing and the buzz that is increasing. Young Europeans like the chaotic haphazard, it’s the not-so-clean, not-so-organized feel of this little island paradise in Asia. There are still derelict and dilapidated buildings on or near the waterfront. Discarded fishing boats, narrow roads and a mishmash of properties of varying ages were built originally by the locals and are now interspersed with new hotels and commercial activity. All this in an extremely tight amount of space. It’s part of the charm and compares with the forerunners of such resort areas (E.g. Unawatuna). 

However, this location is off the beaten track. Interesting how popularity changes as new trendy areas are created. E.g. Ella in the mountains has become a go-to place for chilled young tourists. Part of the charm is the casual approach to service and watching laid-back waiters practising their limited language skills making every effort to chat up the cool European chicks and chaps.

So, whilst it’s somewhat logical that Sri Lanka’s tourist trade wants to drive volume towards upper-end travellers, the history of tourism on this island has come mainly from the high-volume lower-end beach tourist sector. The array of amazing properties and locations now available island-wide however is attracting travellers expecting more than just beaches, i.e. Mountains, lakes, culture, and historical and religious sites.

Today Sri Lanka has numerous holiday properties/ venues with good service and standards available. For tomorrow we need to double the number of up-end venues and improve services such as an ageing airport, little inter-island flying options, more highways, better-trained staff and a consistent tourism strategy with a meaningful relevant budget to promote it. Some tourists pick their venues given specific activities, e.g. train trips, wildlife adventures, golf, kite surfing, hiking, and a few for black tourism. (visiting sites of disasters /events) The more recent trend is that of “digital nomad” tourists. People who can do their work online anywhere in the world.


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