So right now I’m sitting on my porch drinking a Horlick’s and eating custard cream biscuits watching the rain fall and listening to the thunder boom over the bay. Laptop’s on, internet’s strong, temps are lower 70s. They were mid-90s around 1pm before it started to cloud over.

ArugamBay is a sweet place to be. I’m sure it’s an absolute blast in the high season when it’s packed with surfers from all over the world and the discos bump til the wee hours of the morning.

But right now, in late October, it’s a much more mellow vibe. Many of the guest houses are closed entirely – more on that later – and the ones still open are half-assing it. (Yeah we  have a room for you, it’s 1000 LKR. Yeah I’ll take 800, why not. Please sit over there for a few minutes while I give your room an 800 LKR cleaning.) I’m not sure if food quality takes a dive after the majority of tourists have come and gone – it definitely does in Goa – or whether I just don’t like Sri Lankan food, but yeah, restaurants are nothing to write home about. (But then the food wasn’t notable in Colombo either. Dunno.)

So with rain, sub-standard service, and meh food in play, what’s so great about Sri Lanka in October? Well, it’s the perfect place to balance some work with some play. Let me go through the plusses to balance the above.

  • First, internet here is good. It fails about twice a day for no more than 30-60 minutes at a time. But generally when it’s on, it’s nice and zippy.

    arugam-bay-1

    Yep.

  • Every morning without fail has been mild, clear, and beautiful.
  • Every daytime until mid-afternoon has been hot, sunny, and baked with awesome sauce.
  • The waves are still working pretty well right now. The bay isn’t very surfable because the break is too close to the shore, although it’s doable if you catch it at the right time. The main break at the point is very surfable though and it’s not crowded because the high season has come and gone.
  • Every late afternoon and into the evening has been cool, mild, and not always rainy.
  • The locals are relaxed. I can tell from being in Goa for a while, it’s much the same vibe here as it is there in April or May: they’ve had their season, they’ve made their money, they’re kicking back a bit now, chasing a few scraps here and there but much more open to a deal and not too uptight about this and that.
  • The tap water is awesome.
  • The mosquitoes are weaksauce.
  • Best of all, being the insufferable cheapskate that I am, I’ve been able to fenagle a couple nice deals to ease the travel budget.

Got off the bus in Pottuvil, it’s 4km to Arugam Bay from there. Started walking, refused rickshaws because I kept seeing tractors cruising the strip heading toward the bay. Sure enough, got offered a ride for 50 LKR the last 3km there.

Once in town my lodging search went like this:

Pop in to first place in town, Stardust I think it’s called, I’d seen mention of it on wikitravel. Get their room rates and move on. Pop in to a couple houses with rooms for rent, go back and forth to feel out a bottom dollar, move on. Pop in to a few beach hut spots further up the bay, find one with a nice proprietor, let him try to sell me into a place for 1500 LKR, tell him I have a place waiting for me for 800 down the beach (which I did but I liked this place a lot more) and he said no problem, matched the price and gave me the hut furthest from the water, which is like saying I got the slice from the delicious watermelon with the most seeds in it. No big. I think there’s one other crew here from Venezuela. Mr. Nivas is happy to have anyone at all in the start of the rainy season.

arugam-bay-2

Commencing lime soda production

Food is for the most part not very cheap in Sri Lanka. A small samosa is Rs.40-50, a weaksauce omelette is Rs.150-200, a lassi is Rs.250, and a small fresh juice is Rs.200. A full breakfast with eggs, toast, juice and coffee is around Rs.500-600. That’s in the lower orbit of American prices actually. So I asked around a couple places and eventually secured one daily afternoon session in the kitchen of a guest house that is closed for the season but still open with staff milling about and doing closing stuff. The dude is cool, he said just pay what I think is fair. So once again it’s open season on 20 egg whites a day. (Sri Lankan eggs are tough as shit too. Nice thick shells, orange yolks, tasty and hearty!)

One thing they do well here is breakfast rottis. I had a banana chocolate honey rotti that knocked my socks off a few mornings back. So being the insufferable cheapskate that I am I bought some honey, chocolate and bananas and I get fresh rotti every morning to roll my own. (Not going to share how I’ve worked out the process of cooking the ingredients together back at my place without cooking gear. Some things are better left unshared until later. Suffice it to say my mother wouldn’t approve.)

Also the proprietor of the place in which I’m staying apparently has a cashflow problem of some kind because a couple days ago he came up to me and said  hey, I’m going to head home for a couple days, the manager will be here but before I go can you pay me for the few days you’ve stayed, and you mentioned that you’d be staying another few days too so can you pay me for those as well, and also can I also have another couple thousand rupees until tomorrow?

I obliged him because it’s always good for insufferable cheapskates to have a couple favors to call in, like glasses of hot water to mix up my own coffee and whatnot.

A dollar fetches about 120 Sri Lankan Rupees after getting dinged by exchanges and whatnot. Thus far Sri Lanka expenses are as follows:

  • Train from Colombo to Batticaloa Rs.480 / $4
  • Bus from Batticaloa to Potuvil Rs.160 / $1
  • Tractor from Pottuvil to Arugam Bay Rs.50 / $meh
  • Beach house: Rs.800/day / $7/day
  • Food: Rs.400/day / $3/day

I learned a valuable lesson in long-haul travel in getting here, too, which I’d already known but I guess needed a reminder of or whatnot: break up superlong and intense journeys into more manageable legs. I should have dropped some coin on a nice hotel and spent a night in Colombo after sorting out my visa stuff. But I jumped on the first train to the east coast after having traveled almost non-stop for three days with two practically sleepless nights in the mix.

Sri Lanka’s definition of a ‘sleeper’ train is a seated train with slightly reclining seats. It’s kinda like the bus seats on those ‘semi-sleeper’ busses, but much worse…and at least the bus lines make no pretense about telling you it’s a ‘semi’-sleeper, which for me means non-sleeper. So these Sri Lankan trains, they’re just straight up lying to you. The seats pretty much recline as much as an airplane seat. And they call that a sleeper train. And they’re about as comfortable as an airplane seat, except much less so. Not cool, Sri Lanka. I might have shelled out for an actual sleeper bus if I’d known what you were getting me into. I’m sure the look on my face when first stepping onto the train and whipping my head back and forth in a desperately vain search for sleeper benches was nothing short of pathetic, but it was still a crushing moment for my immune system and my lower back.

As a result, I’ve been a bit sickly since getting here although I did turn the corner on it. Lesson hard learned: don’t do multiple consecutive sleepless nights of shit quality travel and think I’ll be just fine. Chances are I won’t be. Next time I do a similar passage I’ll break it up with a couple nights over here and there.

Although now that I’ve been here a bit and am feeling better I am glad that I did make a beeline. This place is awesome.

No groovy pictures yet, haven’t broken out the camera. Gotta get up for a sunrise and do it east coast style.

See you in the surf,

Nathan