The Whinging Pome: Arugambay

Jul 04 2024.

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Arugam Bay is the most popular tourist destination in the east of Sri Lanka and is a premier surfing and chill location for the young at heart. For me, it is a good three-day visit only, but I don’t surf, sunbathe or spend much time on beaches. Oh yes, I’m over fifty years old and don’t want to wrinkle.  Berlitz Pocket Guide covers “Abay” in only 65 words. I have spent a week in the area and made about ten short visits to this hippie-style location.

We set off at seven a.m. from Colombo and expect a six-hour journey to the ABay. It would, however be a couple of hours longer across the west to east of the country.  We get on the expressway heading south till it finishes, then a short dual-carriageway. Then a fast empty road, all with changing scenery from arid areas, then a green lush landscape with lakes.

With the changes come the herds of goats, then buffaloes walking in the water, and  lots of thin white cattle in the middle of nowhere. This part of the road is so straight,  the trees are planted in uniform spaces to create a guard of honour for the traveller. It reminds me of France with rows of plantanes [ trees ] said to give assistance to Napoleon’s troops moving in different weather conditions. These trees today are thought to be responsible for one in eight road accidents in France.

We are finally in the village of Arugam Bay. There are no real luxury hotels in the town, but that’s a part of the charm and some would say an opportunity waiting to be seized. It’s a big long weekend on the island and many city folk will descend on ABay to party. The tourists also come from around the world, it’s common to see lots of Israelis who have just completed some military service and time to surf. They like the surf, beaches, the low cost of living, laid back style, with few rules and not a policeman in sight.

The first time I was here was two weeks before the Tsunami in December 2004, and I recall staying at Stardust Hotel and canoeing along the river. Sadly, the hotel and the town were hit quite hard by the Tsunami, both losing lives. The town is now a thriving tourist location in the surfing season. Look out for the red British telephone box, ask for Fred, in the building behind. You will get the whole history of the town from wartime to the latest locations and things to do locally. I have had the opportunity to launch two of my books in the town. At the allotted time to start, I had about ten people at the book launch.

One hour later, there were fifty hitting over eighty. Everyone is laid back, even the people who live there. It appeared that unbeknown to me, at my book launch, was a Russian female karaoke performer and  a fully tattooed character was also strutting his  stuff. Welcome to Abay! I had catered for forty people. The night goes on, and I find myself as the impromptu conga player  in an ad-hoc band till the early hours of the morning, playing with a bunch of strangers . The next day we have the opportunity to visit Kumana National Park, but I’m keener to enjoy some of the sea views and visit a few nearby temples than visit a bird sanctuary.

It’s also about thirty kilometres from the hotel, my beach is in front of me, and my first temple, which is dated as 2nd BC, is 4 kilometres away. The location is on a very wide beach, and its history is linked to Princess Devi being washed up at the location and a temple being built. This is one of a few locations around Sri Lanka  of such incidents . Jezzabel, the wife, finds some friends who are staying nearby in another hotel, and they take a jeep and head to the park. Jokingly, on their return, I make a jibe about “How were the birds?” I’m bombarded with how great their safari was. This included sightings of two different leopards, an elephant charging their jeep, and many other non-bird species. There are always some new openings, bars, restaurants, shops and hotels to try on the strip at Abay. On our next trip, we are taking some foreign foodie nuts who want to have cooking lessons. I may take some of my wines and do some imaginary pairing.  

One thing we never say is, “It is the off-season.“  It’s true that there is the surfing season between May to September, the shoulder months however have good weather and then the wettish so-called monsoon season. This is when Abay is at its quietest. There may not be the hustle and bustle, and some shops could be closed, but it’s still worth putting on your tour of this amazing island if you have the time.


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