Living the dream of surf and curry in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
I've had an incredible year of traveling in 2011, and I couldn't have picked a better way to top it all off than spending my last week in Sri Lanka living it up in the lively surf town of Hikkaduwa. After a couple of filthy weeks volunteering at an elephant sanctuary and spending a few hours each day teaching orphans English, it was time for some surfing and partying!
Hikkaduwa was the perfect place to go because there are surf breaks for every level of surfer. Hikkaduwa offered an uncrowded gentle beach break that made surfing a breeze for me. I've never been lucky to surf simple waves like that at home in the Outer Banks! There also are three reef breaks, all within a stretch of about 2 miles of beach. Along the stretch of surf and sand are many guest houses and small restaurants, bars and nightclubs. This is a great town that is unspoiled by five-star resorts. My bare bones room at a guest house on the beach (I don't even think it had a name!) ran me $8.00 a nite and was next door to the best rotti shop on the beach.
There is fun to be had in Hikkaduwa, even if you don't surf. I spent my time walking the beach, dining with other travelers or taking tea with locals.
My first night in Hikkaduwa, I was fortunate enough to spot several sea turtles swimming during sunset. Apparently, they swim up toward a particular spot on the beach looking for food. You can wade in the water up to your thighs and actually touch them, but watch out they bite! Later the same evening, I was enjoying a beer at a beachfront bar when a sea turtle came right up next to where we were sitting and started to lay eggs! I watched her nest for about 30 minutes, and then back she went into the ocean! I was so incredibly lucky to be just at the right place at the right time.
I also didn't have trouble filling my days in Hikkaduwa because I slept through about half of them! The night life doesn't end until the sun comes up, so if you like to party and go dancing, Hikkaduwa can be a fun. Unfortunately, I found many of local guys to be extremely aggressive. The more you travel, the more you learn how to handle these types of situations and stay safe. I was forceful in saying no when I needed to be, I never walked alone at night and I spent my nights out at the bars with other travelers and not alone. I had a particularly aggressive encounter with the surfer boys at Mambo's Place (A-frame Surf Shop). But I didn't let these guys ruin my week or make any problems for me. Fortunately, I was able to avoid the "beach boys" and hang out with fun, kind travelers from all over the world instead. I now have new friends from England, Italy, Germany and Australia!
And while I had more than my share of experiences with offensive, aggressive locals, and I am not impressed at all by the overall attitude toward and treatment of women in Hikkaduwa (local women or tourists), I did in fact meet a few local men who were the exception and seemed kind given their cultural disposition. The rotti shop restaurant owner and his friends would sit and enjoy arrack and beer with us hotel guests in the evenings. One of the guys entertained us with some crazy life stories and he made all of us travellers bracelets out of coconut as a gift. He even brought me fruits and herbs from his garden.
There also was a local shop owner who made it his personal mission to help me and another solo traveler have a great time. He was always buying us drinks, he gave me all kinds of free items from his tailor shop (including a beautiful handmade quilt!) and he even cooked us an amazing rice and curry meal at his house! I really enjoyed spending time with his wife and two little girls. My last day there, he wanted to help me arrange transportation to the airport. I was perfectly fine going solo, but he and one of my new travel friends rode the 1.5 hours to Colombo with me, just to see me off. It's amazing when you travel solo, yet you never really end up alone.
I left Sri Lanka on December 24, just 2 days before the anniversary of the tsunami that killed over 228,000 people in South Asia and wiped out the south and east coasts of Sri Lanka, including the town of Hikkaduwa. As you walk along the beach in Hikkaduwa, you see many dilapidated guest houses that are evidence of the destruction. I visited the tsunami museum in Hikkaduwa, which was basically a shack with hundreds of laminated photos and handwritten signs in broken English posted.
This museum was a highlight of my visit to Hikkaduwa and sadly it's very unknown because it's too recent to be mentioned in the tour books. The woman who runs the museum lost her house to the tsunami, only the concrete slab remained. She went back to the spot where her house used to be and put up a few rickety walls and made it a museum and a place of remembrance. Entry to the museum is free and she simply accepts donations. She was kind enough to share with me her stories as I walked through and saw photo after photo of death and destruction.
Remembering the tsunami and honoring the victims brought my time in Sri Lanka full circle. Here I was about to head back to the United States and be due to arrive home on Christmas day -- accounting for the time zones, the very day when this horrific tsunami took place in 2004. Those images I saw and the sadness in the woman's eyes as she told me her stories will stay with me forever. And as I spent so much time working with wonderful orphan girls my earlier weeks in Sri Lanka, I was reminded that the tsunami left behind thousands of orphans. I always like to travel during December to avoid getting wrapped up in the holiday season and to stay grounded in the spirit of love and giving. This year, my trip to Sri Lanka did that for me and opened my mind and heart to so much more. I'm so grateful to be taking all I have learned from this travel experience with me into the New Year.
More photos from my experience in Sri Lanka are on Facebook.