Beer, cocktails, beach, surf, sun and sand, interesting people, not so interesting people, freaks, power cuts, beer, coffee, lack of coffee, dogs, cats, crows, cows, and squirrels. Together or singularly, all these things are to be blamed for my slight tardiness in updating ChillieAndRum. Not to mention my aging rum fueled forgetful mind….. But here is something more on Arugam Bay……
A small village tucked into a bay along the East coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay has an interesting, yet peculiar dynamic with contrasting cultures. Most foreigners who know Arugam know it as an up and coming surf destination. Names like Peanut Farm and Pottuvil point inspire people to travel from all over the world, many Aussies, Brits, French and Israelis. I had a chuckle while sitting at Ahamed’s cafe eating his great rice and curry feast of the day while watching an Israeli bloke walk in looking for rooms. As humanoids we (although wrongly ) can’t help stereotyping people and I was intrigued although most people wouldn’t even bat a sun tinged eyelid, that given the exhasperating and really old, beyond Moses’s day, history of “acrimony” between the Israeils and Palestinians, here we have 2 natural born enemies doing business. The Jew and the Muslim. I know it happens everywhere in the world, but when you have a country that has just emerged out of a 35 year war over ethnic issues between Tamils and Sinhalese, you wonder, or at least I do. Arugam bay is a mostly Muslim territory and it’s interesting to see the dymanic of what most people think Islam is all about, then blend in with a lot of the 70’s style hippy surfer vibe that exists in this town and you have an interesting cocktail of cultures and people. Or maybe it really is just me and I have had to many cocktails……..? Every day the 5am morning call to prayers can be heard crackling over old loudhailers. While the faithful stream to the Mosque, the surfers are also early to rise, hoping to catch that first waves as the sun rises. Both giving thanks in their own way to the start of a new day. Kids on bicycles ride to school in their crisp whites, girls in full hijab, passing young surfers in Billabong baggies and bikinis.
Arugam Bay was also hard hit by the 2004 Tsunami, bringing in a host of NGO types, (called NJoys) by some. Plaques on posts and boards on boats of who gave what to whom, claiming righteous, moral high ground for the world to see that this boat was donated by the Belgium rotary and this building was painted was by funds donated by the “American people” or a wall built with 10US million by the Sri Lankan government. All keen to put their stamp of goodness for the world to see. Many stories abound here of money coming in and the usual squabble over who gets what and where it gets spent. I’m possibly a fraction cynical, but I often wonder how much of the real money donated gets spent where it really should. But the resilience of the Sri Lankans prevails and life goes on in its own slow island style pace. Boats go out fishing every day, dough is rolled for short eats and naan, and surfers watch the horizon waiting for swell.
The local community here seem to survive mostly on fishing, which is seasonal and now hopefully for them a tourism boom. At the moment fishing is good. Creaking under the weight, boat loads of tuna and seer fish are hauled onto the beach every day, while oxen carts trudge wearily in the heat over thick beach sand to collect and deliver the catch of the day. Because of the oversupply, fish prices are dirt cheap at the moment and anyone helping to push a boat out the water is given a fish or two, while many find their way to the hands (and curry pots!) of the poor. The ever present Sri Lanka Army also patrol the beach, incongruous in their military gear, armed to the teeth, also hoping for some fish to come their way, while keeping a weary eye on fishing activities and girls in surf gear.One of the boats caught a fair sized Bull shark (Zambezi in SA). About 3m. Sad to see, but they get a good price for the meat and I struggle to judge anyone who pulls the occassional shark to feed the family when we’re all guilty of contributing in one way or another, to the mass decline of tuna supplies and other fish by eating sushi indiscriminately without knowing what is endangered or not. Not to mention our governments sell fishing rights to foreign companies denying local fisherman their own living, while foreign boats rape and pillage with wild abandon. Sadly on the same day, one of the young fisherman, who was not from the village, but working on the boats for a season drowned and they found his body a few days later. The locals say that every year the villagers take from the oceans and sometimes the oceans take back from them. Pragmatic. I think when your life is lived so much closer to nature and your existence depends on it, you see things in a bigger picture and we really are just a miniscule part of a whole eco system. ……. Life goes on. And before we get too serious, there are cocktails to be tasted and Lions to be hunted.
One of the perks of having expats living in Arugam is the skills brought along with them. In this case Fred the German guy from Siam View hotel makes of the best brew I have tasted in a long time. He has a selection of various lagers and ales, including a refreshing lemon beer which is perfect to quench the thirst after a long days surfing.
Its 5pm and as I type this, sipping my cocktail, Bob Marley lives on in Arugam Bay, while in the background the mullah is calling out in an enchanting bewitching tone drawing the faithful to his mosque. Somehow the contradiction is not as apparent as when we first arrived, but more a mutual blending in of opposites. The world should learn to be more tolerant and appreciate our differences. I for one will celebrate with a G+T tonight, for the regal Queen Mary has been tamed and conquered. I look forward to more “surfing the foamies” later in the trip.
We leave for Trincomalee in the morning. Headed to an area that lies closer to the Tamil zone around which 30 odd years of war raged. An island of 65600kmsq has a war for over 30 years? Eish, the world’s a mess!