What to do when you are stranded here with flood waters all-around ……………….
It was the year end Christmas vacation of 2014 when I planned a trip to the east coast of Sri Lanka. This year end was of very unusual weather when the whole country experienced over 200mm of rain in a 10 day period inundating much of the countryside making most roads impassable for almost a week.
My two day plan was to be at Passikudah, the uppermost leisure location in the east coast for one night and the second at the lower most leisure location at ‘Ulla’ …..also known as Arugam-Bay. [Probably Anglicised in the colonial period].
The adverse weather obstructed my way to Passikudah with all accesses impassable but Arugam Bay could be reached with less hassle. I am here for two days and my prim plan to visit Kumana within the Yala National Park is not possible as the flood waters are now reaching the lower regions in the coast.
I now have put two day for the best possible use with what is available.
Arugam Bay does not have much of a description in any Sri Lankan travel guide excepting to the fact that it is the furthest overnight travel destination in Eastern Sri Lanka, to those visiting the Yala East National Park. Arugam Bay is also a world renowned surfing location with a few archeologically sites around to be visited as well.
This place was devastated completely by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. A world famed surfing location is today in the midst of an unplanned tourist development that came up with many NGO’s funding development and rebuilding after the Tsunami. This rebuilding was so chaotic with encroachments into the beach etc. and the Coast Conservation Department in 2011 had to pull down much of these unauthorised constructions to save the beach. The numerous signage on walls around describing facilities and availability of lodgings and hotels itself is ample evidence of this haphazardness.
I am checked into a better and a larger hotel the ‘Bay Vista - Arugam Bay’; located tight between the road and the beach. In a second floor room parting the tall curtains of a typical hotel room window overlooking the balcony, my eye catches the far point of infinity over a darkening horizon with the setting sun behind me. I am a wishful man longing for that natural art work in the sky of a rising sun tomorrow at dawn from this high position….there had not been a rising sun in these skies in the past few days due to the inclement weather I am told.
Herrings in plentiful [ Salaya ]
I retire for the night intending to see a picturesque sunrise predicted at 6.15 a.m. ….but I am woken by 4.30 a.m. to the sound of the tuning of hundreds of out-board motors on the beach just below my room.
The hamlet of Ulla is predominantly a Tamil speaking Moorish fishing community; Initially practicing the traditional long haul drag netting system called Maa–del in Sinhala involving heavy labour to harvest the rich sea resource of Herring fish on to the shore. This practice have now changed to small fiberglass boat fishing in the shallow seas. Hundreds of boats were donated to the community after the Tsunami. Over half a kilometre of beach is lined by these boats using much of the beach that was to have been clean and tidy in the good old days.
These boats all venture out to sea every morning, just over a kilometre with either two or three persons in each. The light weight nylon nets are cast for the plentiful Herrings to be found so close to the shore. The seas being so rich the nets are drawn up no sooner they are dropped and the boats are all back on the shore in an hour or two. On the beach the fish are dislodge from the nets and the harvest auctioned immediately. This whole activity comes to an end by 11.00 a.m. leaving an untidy beach with a considerable post-harvest wastage to be scavenged by dogs, crows and the Brahamini Kites.
I am fascinated by this activity; but the hotel management thinks otherwise. The change in the traditional fishing practice from the Maa – dela to the individual nylon netting by boats since the Tsunami, is said to be an environmental hazard with so much post-harvest waste left on the beach to rot while much of the beach is occupied by the boats at all times.
On inquires of the income and investment tells me that each boat earns anything between Rupees 5000 – 8000 [around $ 60] a day after allowing for fuel expenses and overheads. However there are times when shoals of Seer Fish follow the Herring and get in the nets which is a bonus to be remembered for many years to come. This then would also fulfil lifetime wishes for many in possessing a motorcycle or similar such.
On the other hand the old traditional practices of community fishing with the Maa-dela would not have had any cost on fuel while the labour was compensated with a dividend of the catch. Times have changed with the need of currency for transaction in the present day society.
Learning to Surf
The sun is almost at its azimuth and Lucky the Hotel Manager and Gemunu the Chairman who is also here for the weekend suggests us to go learn surfing during the rest of the morning for they have arranged a lagoon safari for us in the evening.
Learning to surf is a way that many could enjoy while over here with the number of surfing schools that have come up with the destination becoming world renowned for surfing.
I did not show signs of a promising surfer though but my daughter showed extraordinary skill for a beginner.
In the evening we drove up to the Uraniya Bridge northwards… Akkaraipattu way and there was the ‘Wallam’ waiting to take us on the lagoon safari in the Uraniya Lagoon. Two small dug-out canoes combined together with a timber platform to sit on your buttocks was not to be the most comfortable boat ride paddled by a single oarsman.
Nevertheless with time we all found our own comfortable postures with legs crossed or dipped in the water which had to be pull up every time a basking crock would rush in the water being startled with our presence. It was a memorable three hours with a wonderful vista of almost all the bitterns seen in one location. The Cinnamon Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Black Bittern, Indian Pond Heron, Striated Heron and the Black–crowned Night Heron were in plentiful. Painted Storks were accompanied with all the Egret species, the Grey Heron and the Purple Heron.
Towards dusk the elephants were seen coming out into the open Villu to feed on the luscious ‘beru grasses’ a delicacy of the pachyderms.
It was to be a different experience altogether with the local community getting involved in the hospitality industry; an extra earning for them while developing an environmental awareness which in turn helps its preservation and management for the future generation.
A day spent with contentment and monies worth received for sure.
For those interested in archaeology there is the Muhudu Maha Vihara on the beach at Pottuvil and the Magul Maha Vihara in the Lahugala jungles to be visited. Both these sites are ancient Buddhist monasteries when the country may have been populated with different ethnicities in different localities.
My craving to visit Kumana did not allow me to come back without verifying on my own if the road was not ready as yet. I went all the way up to Panama which is the gateway to Kumana; the macadamized road ends here and a gravel road takes you to Kumana
I was convinced I will have to come back another day for Kumana.
Nevertheless Panama has its own vistas to please your eye.