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Alternate Routes · Asia · sri lanka · Sri Lanka · Renārs Bīrmanis

Surfer Destination

Author: Renārs Bīrmanis1 COMMENT

Surfer Destination

I spot a smiling face in almost each photo, capturing my Sri Lanka impressions. Not mine - a Sri Lankan one. A land of contrasts, Sri Lanka island, is home of about 20 million people. Lots of girls wear traditional saris, while others prefer western brands, with Armani and Gucci among them. Historic weather-worn temples stand side by side with tasteless modern shrines, stuffed with cheap plastic souvenirs, yet, not a single genuine monk around.
Buddhists and the Tamil ethnic group have had an ongoing civil war since 1983, mostly in the north and the east of the country. The Tamil Tigers are pushing for their own independent state in the north of the island, and quite often ordinary people suffer in mutual hostilities. Tension caused by ethnic conflict is felt also in big cities. Some tourist destination is closed since an act of terrorism has just gone off there. Checkpoints are being placed along some road sections, with certain speed-limits set. Speeding or loud behavior there may have pretty severe consequences. The city comes to a standstill once in a while, as some big cheese of the government, followed by his entourage, rushes by. The traffic stops and don't even think of taking photos.
In spite of all that, this Southern Asia Island is one of few spots in the world priding in excellent surf beaches, hardly touched by mass tourism. Just some 20 years will pass maybe and it will be much like Bali, where an extra tax is imposed on surfboards. And you can never be alone on the beach either, as a crowd of surfers go for the same wave. However, not yet! Although, Sri Lanka is keen on milking tourists - poor boxes are placed at almost every temple and you have a unique opportunity to eternalize your name in a big book, giving in return a pretty sizable sum of money. However, all the other expenses are almost ridiculous. A public transportation fare for a 4 hour trip there and back rarely goes above 4 dollars and a tuk-tuk driver asks a modest amount of 3 dollars for a 7 km journey to the surf beach, with 3 to 4 hours of waiting there!
Sri Lanka is a multi-religious country, where coming together are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. In fact, a merging of religions can sometimes be observed. A local guy, asked about his religion, replies that he is an Islam believer, yet he goes to Hindu and Buddhist Temples, too...

Hazardous Traffic

The best way of getting to know Sri Lanka is to rent a car (together with a driver!) or to check out charms of a public transportation, although strict schedules are nonexistent there. Taking a wheel in your own hands is not a good idea at all! A proper direction of traffic, at least according to Englishmen, and all kinds and species of animals, wandering along the road is just a small matter...Yet, going by buss is no walk in the park either - sweaty palms after the first 50 meters are guaranteed. Drivers perform reckless lane changing and overtaking maneuvers, three cars at a time, speeding like crazy and almost colliding. A woman with a kid is literally thrown from one side of the buss to another. A driver, hardly having picked up a considerable speed, suddenly puts on the brake again as somebody hails at the roadside. Everything happens at an enormous speed - a person barely manages to get in, a driver steps on the gas again and off he goes! Ironically, the number of road accidents in Sri Lanka is quite insignificant. The ones, getting into a trouble most often are moped riders - easily unnoticed in the overall hustle and bustle, especially when it is dark rainy.

Ocean Waves and Sri Lanka's Visiting Card

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The best surfs are to be found at the southwest as well as the southeast coast, close to the Yala National Park, the largest one in Sri Lanka. It's very tranquil there and beaches lay out handily towards waves coming off Indonesia and India. Surfing in Sri Lanka can be enjoyed almost all year round. Thanks to geographical positioning, off season (July to October) at the eastern shore of the island coincides with the best surfing time at the west (November to March).
There is a plenty of great surf spots, although, tsunami of 2004 has done a substantial harm and destroyed beaches are not yet restored. Estuaries near big cities are not suitable for surfing either. Recycling apparently is a foreign notion there for time being - plastic bottles and other rubbish are thrown all over the place. Sooner or later they reach water, creating an unpleasant sight and favorable conditions for infections. On the other hand, quiet and peaceful Weligama and Midigama villages, sitting on the southern tip of the island, are a genuine surfing paradise. Impressive Weligama Bay is a true wave magnet and much favored by surfers. It's an ideal spot for beginners, too. Speaking of sharks, the locals prefer to keep silent, just saying that being hit by a car is more likely then becoming a shark's meal.
The water is crystal-clear and blue! Corals and fish seem to be within hands reach. And while surfing, you notice that you are sharing a wave with a huge turtle...

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However, modern extreme sports enthusiasts seek not only wind and waves. Getting to know culture and people around is important, too. Thus, forget about European-owned hotels and savor an authentic ambience of Sri Lanka at a local guesthouse, share a meal and a good chat with local people and maybe watch a cartoon with kids. It is much cheaper, too - a delicious home-made meal and a warm coziness just for 4 - 7 dollars per day! Though, a European may experience a certain culture shock, being immersed in the Asian customs and a way of life.
Going along the beach near Weligama village, you notice poles, driven into the seabed. Stilt fishermen with fishing-rods are sitting on them. Sri Lankans take pride in their ancient craft and call it distinctive mark of Sri Lanka. Every fisherman has his own pole and it's not allowed to use anybody else's. Yet, that is not all. Others try to catch fish with bare hands. The biggest threat for surfers, aside from sharks and submarine cliffs, are underwater fishermen, keeping close to reefs. Beware injuring them with a surfboard's fin.
A catch is traded off right on the beach. What a swordfish! And 30 huge shrimps, the size I had never seen before, cost just 20 dollars! Fishing continues also at night as it is time for tiny crabs and huge lobsters.
Unfortunately, some minor impudence cannot be avoided even in remote places. If somebody has pinched your two pairs of sunglasses, don't be too surprised that a same crook brings them back, declaring proudly that he has found them. Moreover, not even ashamed to ask one pair as a reward...

Recommendable lodgings for surfers:
Coco point/ Kandabaddagama - Weligama, Phone: +94 (0) 776162942
Jai & Sumana's guesthouse - Midigama, Phone: +94 (0) 912283383

Ceylon Black Tea

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It takes five hours to get from Matara to Ella village. However, add about 60 minutes more if you wish to get a seat - the early bird catches the worm, so to say. The locals have their own system of booking seats. Getting into a buss, you will notice paper scraps placed here and there on the seats. Of course, one may just brush them off onto the floor and sit down. Yet not for a long! A Sri Lankan is there and starts to enlighten an astonished traveler that this is his seat. He has "booked it in advance"!
Along its way, the buss fills to its utmost and there is an intolerable heat and non-stop noise inside. What a relief to finally get out at your destination - and what an incredible silence! If you travel around Sri Lanka, Ella is almost a must-to-visit spot on your map. Located in the central part of the country, it is surrounded by the finest Ceylon tea plantations, offering an amazing view. Lush green hills of tea bushes stretch over many kilometers, as far as eyes can see, and you catch yourself thinking, "Oh, I could live here!" On a clear day one can even see the ocean, so they say...

You can spend hours, wandering along hillsides and tea plantations. Just one road - a railroad - leads to the nearest waterfall, used by locals for bathing, too. Panic strikes an idle walker as a train approaches from the opposite direction - which way to run?! Luckily enough, it plods along in no rush, doing just 15 to 20 km per hour - no reason for fear at all. For villagers with buckets in their hands it's a daily routine.
Not a unique sight is an elderly woman with a tea-basket on her back, emerging from green furrows. Nevertheless, it makes a matchless shoot in your photo album. Although instead of white teeth she flashes a bright orange-red mouth...Here, as elsewhere in Sri Lanka, locals chew some uncertain mixture, consisting of tobacco leaves, ginger, chilly, etc. The tea picker, noticing an aimed at her lens, mumbles an already habitual: „Money, money!" Not for nothing is a picture of an old tea-picker adorning a cover of Sri Lanka travel guide.
Ambiente Guesthouse is situated a bit higher up the hill. A terrace of a small room offers a terrific view on Ella village and Ravana waterfall, left beneath. Just 8 rooms, a lovely, small garden, good food - a perfect chill-out...
Whereas the village dogs faithfully accompany travelers up to the station.

Ambiente Guesthouse
Kitalella Rd, Ella, Sri Lanka
Phone: +94 (0) 57 222 8867

Kandy Village and The Best Tuk-Tuk Driver

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Getting to Kandy, located in the South of Sri Lanka, requires patience. A train ride from Ella village is slow and bumpy and takes around five hours through hillside tea plantations. The train doesn't have doors, or maybe it has never occurred to anyone to close them - heads, sticking out of the doors and windows is a pretty usual sight.
Kandy is one of the most scenic spots of Sri Lanka. In the end of the 16th century it was the capital of Sri Lanka, however, the colonial time buildings have survived till nowadays. Yet, the greatest asset of this place seems to be Nazu - a tuk-tuk driver, age of 36, having chauffeured guests in his three wheel taxi for 15 years already. A father of four daughters has been noticed even by a French travel guide publisher. A French counterpart of Lonely Planet advises - if you meet Nazu, you may trust him. He is just superb! Nazu will show you Sri Lanka from an entirely different perspective. Look for him next to Kandy railway station coffee-house, with an endless line of tuk-tuks waiting there. Even a 70 km distance is nothing for him. According to Nazu, he has traveled all through Sri Lanka on his three-wheel-vehicle. Having inquired, how much you have to pay, the answer goes - pay as much as you want. If you can't pay today, pay tomorrow. It almost seems that a celebrated driver is able to read your thoughts and knows that tomorrow you will chose him again. Some days pass and you notice that, instead of just one day, you have traveled around by a tuk-tuk for three days! Nazu proudly demonstrates a visitors' book, overflowing with words of appreciation of his clients. There are Americans, Germans and French among them - and all of them overjoyed!

A remarkable place is the Kandy Botanical garden, oozing history of several centuries. Once having belonged to the king, it features truly kingly amplitude. That is a garden, indeed! Wonderful collection of orchids, palm trees, bamboos and rubber plants, brought from far-away corners of the world. A huge garden can keep you walking and marveling for several hours. Here, as elsewhere in Sri Lanka, a special care for tourists is displayed. A booking-office is easily to be spotted and the entrance fee puffed up ten times. Still it does not exceed 10 dollars and does not cause any regrets, either. A price is certainly worth paying.
If you manage to stick together with Nazu, he will take you to a concert of some local folk artists, too. A score or so of foreigners has gathered - perhaps the only ones being in town at the moment. It does not dampen the enthusiasm of artists, however - songs and dances go on for at least an hour and a half and from the very bottom of their hearts! It touches spectators' hearts, too, and you feel like adding a couple of dollars more to a trivial fee of three bucks.
A traditional specialty in Kandy, as elsewhere in Sri Lanka, are pies filled with vegetables and curry, boiled in oil. Yummy! Having a soft spot for this type of food, you may get stuck in some small shop for a quite a while. Cleanliness, however, is not the first priority there - almost all products are groped and fingered. Moreover, zesty Asian food may turn out to be too much for a European's stomach. A package or two of activated carbon might be quite helpful then. Another surprise - a wrapping of a pie turns out to be a page from an old school copybook. Just eat and do sums!

Nazurdeen's phone: (0) 774431265
Kandy station square, Crème café.
A family-owned Fortuna guest house is a recommendable lodging in Kandy.

Dambulla Rock Temple and Lion's Rock

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Dambulla Rock Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka. Its history goes as far back as the 1st century BC. 15 to 20 minutes walk up the hill, and a white entrance of the temple emerges before your eyes, almost squeezed below a massive rock. Inside, five caves of the temple are cut into the mountain. It lodges a priceless depository of cultural heritage with several fabulous images of the Buddha in addition to that. Everything is authentic - sculptures, carved in stone, no plastic rubbish. A restoration and repaint of them would take several years, perhaps. Yet, what seem to be missing, are local Buddhist monks. Without them the place loses a bit of its unique aura.
Sigiriya is another of Sri Lanka's major attractions, located just 19 km further down the road. The ancient fortress of Sigiriya is made up of a system several watercourses and its centerpiece, a so called Lion's rock, rising 200 meters high. Built during the 5th century AD, it is now named a UNESCO world heritage site and the 8th Wonder of the World. It is a breathtaking sight, even nowadays! Geometrically precise gardens with reservoirs, fountains and canals, still filling with rainwater, and, carved in stone, lion's two huge paws...A magnificent sight! And that is not all yet - a bit scary stairway leads to the very summit - a flat top of the rock. A surreal sight opens up there over a tangle of dense jungle with a giant and lonely Buddha's figure in the distance, up over the treetops.
Unlike Dambulla Rock Temple, this corner of Sri Lanka swarms with monks dressed in bright red and orange cloaks. Little boys, smiling all the time, inquisitively watch foreigners. They do not understand a single word in English, yet, after a short communication (if you can call it so) a strange feeling overwhelms that they still understand everything...

A recommendable lodging - a family Guest house Globetrotter, almost in the very jungle.
Sigiriya Road, Rotawewa, Inamaluwa
Phone: (0) 777-801818,

Architectural Masterpiece in the Jungle

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Hotel Kandalama, stretching for several hundred meters, literally blends with a lush, jungle covered hillside. From a certain angle the building, designed in the beginning of the 90ies by Geoffrey Bawa, cannot even been seen. And, indeed, that was the goal of the project - not to create a spectacular building, but to have a spectacular sight from the building. And a view toward Sigiriya is a truly superb one! The hotel has 162 rooms, but without a prior booking you will hardly get one, regardless of a slight overdo in décor, characteristic to Sri Lanka architecture.
Some more masterpieces of the most renowned Sri Lankan architect can be viewed in other places, too. But his former studio now has been turned into an almost the best-loved restaurant on the island. The Gallery Café is a true designer spot. The bench, where Geoffrey Bawa worked, is still there, while all the other items are created particularly for this place, not excepting tableware either. These little things inspire so much that you are almost ready to acquire something alike at the nearby designer store. An art gallery is located in the lobby, in front of the restaurant. A characteristic to Bawa indoor pond marks its entrance, while a partly covered courtyard with an exotic garden is placed within the middle of the restaurant. For a westerner, prices at Gallery Café are more than friendly, while the local public is represented mostly by well-off Sri Lankans. A meal for two costs around 40 dollars - feast to your heart's content! Food on your plate looks like a design masterpiece and the flavor most certainly keeps up with it.
Colombo features several more examples of Bawa's architecture. One of the most significant ones is a Buddhist temple on a lake. Its wooden structures are developed in Japanese style, while water, surrounded by Buddha statues, adds spacious and airy feeling.

Hotel Kandalama
Dambulla, PO Box 5, Sri Lanka
Phone: 94 66 3475/3481; Fax: 94 72 3482

The Gallery Café
2, Alfred House Road, Colombo
Phone: 94 11 258 2162/ 255 6563

Useful Information

- Temple entrance fee for foreigners usually are 10 times higher than for locals.
- Normally front seats of busses are reserved for Buddhist monks.
- Stores and small village shops have fixed prices, while bargaining may succeed only at a market.
- An invitation to a Sri Lankan's home is a sign of a special appreciation.
- The temperature may reach 35°C in sunshine, while rain is just a drizzle, not even wetting ones clothes.
- Some jungle creatures, like an iguana, a tiny baby-cobra or centipedes, use to crawl into local homes or small village hotels.
- The best way to make your vacation calls is to use prepaid calling cards.
- The public transportation is the cheapest and the best way to move around the country and to get to know charms of the local culture.

Further details on surf spots and surf culture on website

Photo - Flēra Fedjukova

Posted in 2008.

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Visited: tody

Without a doubt, the best way to travel in Sri Lanka is with a local guide and driver. My friends and I were fortunate to have been told about Chaminda Jagath Wijesiri, who is a licensed guide, by our respected teacher and friend, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Jagath is very knowledgeable about the history of his country, is very good natured, takes good care of everyone who is in his charge, and, most importantly, can expertly navigate the intense traffic situations of Sri Lanka. I highly recommend him. Plus, his rates are very reasonable. His contact information is: e-mail:

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