The sea has a rhythm to it; its churning is constant, and meditative. In the ocean you feel powerless, as the waves bash you and the current pulls you along. Submerging yourself in the surf, letting go of control, and having your body be tossed around – weightless – by the sea is transcendental. Once you realize how minimal your existence is when compared to the vastness of the ocean, it is at once awe inspiring and intimidating. Looking at wreckages of buildings on the shore, victims of the 2004 tsunami, is a testament to how little man can do to protect itself from the sea. To think that concrete and rebar are a match to the force of the ocean is laughable.
This weekend has found me in Arugam Bay, one the top surf spots in the world. Leaving Trinco on Friday, it took me about 7 hours to cover the 300 km (186 miles) on bus. I started my journey at the Trinco bus yard, telling the driver I was headed to Arugam bay, over three bus transfers and many miles I was always told by fellow travelers where to get off and what bus to get on next. It was bizarre, as I had only told one man, but the entire bus seemed to be looking out of me. Sri Lankan hospitality cannot be understated. I arrived and checked into my hotel, the aptly named Watermusic. My friends were in transit on the overnight bus from Colombo, and I was surprised to find I was the hotel’s sole guest.
It is off-season in Arugam Bay; I’m told the real surf doesn’t start until April. The throngs of beachfront hotels are empty, not to mention those off the beach. In stark contrast, it is impossible to get a room at some of the Southern beach spots. After unpacking, I wander down the beach in search of dinner.
At the Galaxy Lounge Hotel I manage to find an open restaurant, it even had a few patrons. I ordered my meal and sat looking out at the water. I happened to start talking to an older British couple on vacation, and ended up joining them for dinner. As it turned out, the wife was Sri Lankan. She was born into a burgher family, but raised in the UK due to the troubles of the war. Her family owns a number of highly successful businesses in Sri Lanka; interestingly enough they even supplied the SL Army with barbed wire – a Tamil supplying the war effort. Due to Sri Lanka’s currency policy it is very hard to get money out of the island. So they were on vacation, paid for by their firm, as a way of spending rupees. Quite interesting, to say the least.
After a few glasses of arrack with my fellow travelers, I headed to bed. Around 3:45 I was woken, and disoriented. There was a blaring noise, and I couldn’t track its source. Switching on the lights I climbed out of bed and realized my mobile was the source of the noise; my friends had arrived at the hotel from Colombo and needed the front gate to be unlocked. There was a light drizzle, as I tracked down the night manager and let my friends in. After a few hours of sleep I woke up and went for a run, before joining my friends for morning coffee (not of the instant variety!).
The day was spent fighting the surf. As luck would have it, the day was overcast. Not exactly ideal beach conditions, but it sheltered us from the ferocity of the Sri Lankan sun. We spent most of the afternoon lounging around until the rain came, and then it was back to the hotel to warm up with some hot toddies.
The weekend passed that way, and Sunday came too quickly. I caught the 2pm bus to Batticaloa and napped on the journey north.
We pulled into the Batticaloa bus terminal a little after five, and I went in search of my transfer. As soon as I got to the terminal’s overhang the skies opened up and a tropic downpour started. I found the terminal manager and inquired about busses. I was quite dismayed when I was told the next bus would be at 4am, and a moment of panic came over me. I asked a few other bus drivers, and they seemed to confirm that fact. Now that I wasn’t in a rush to catch a bus, I went in search of the bathroom. After relieving myself I sat down, and started thinking over my options. I promptly took out my Lonely Planet, and started searching for cheap hostels in the area. At this point, someone – he didn’t work at the bus station – came up to me and said more than asked “Trinco bus.” He was pointing in the distance, and I confirmed that I was looking for a bus to Trinco. His next and finals words were “police circle, 6pm”, after which he walked off.
It was almost 5:30, and I had no idea where this police circle was, or how far it was. The rain had stopped, and I started walking towards the other end of the parking lot. Tuk-tuks were lined up about 500 feet away; I hoped they knew the place. It always seems to rain at the most inopportune time. I was twenty paces outside of the cover of the bus station and in a moment I was caught in the height of a downpour. Time was passing quickly so I dashed to the closest tuk-tuk, whose driver was holding open the flaps yelling for me to get out of the rain. I settled in the vehicle, drenched to the bone, and said only police circle. With that he started the engine and took off; we were down the street by the time I realized we had not set a price for the journey. I asked, and he said 80 rupees; it was one of those rare times when I had no desire or need to bargain. Not knowing how far away my next stop was, I was in no position to bargain – not to mention the ride would cost me on $0.60.
When I got to the roundabout I went into the largest supermarket, where several people were seeking shelter from the rain near the entrance. I inquired about the Trinco bus, and happened upon a local university student – who was home from Australia on break. He knew of the bus, and told me he’d make sure I got on it. After he made a few phone calls, we walked down a few stores where I was able to purchase a ticket and reserve a seat. The seat reservation cost an additional 30 rupees – always pay the fee to reserve a seat. The ticket salesman told me that the bus would come around 6:20.
By 6:10 anytime a bus came I would glance at the bus, and then at my new friend. After a few minutes of this he told me, “you Americans worry too much, I’ll make sure you’re on the bus”. I can’t remember if I even told him I was an American before that, but I had to laugh. After that I stopped craning my neck to look at the oncoming busses and started enjoying our conversation. Around 6:30 a bus came and he pointed at it, and told me to run. I shook his hand and was off, the bus barely slowed down – and never came to a complete stop – as a crowd of people started pouring onto it. It was crowded, and loud, but I found the last empty seat and quickly took it.
The seat placement was less than ideal. I was located under the buses single speaker – which blared incomprehensible music a few decibels above comfort level. The woman next to me had her daughter, who was around the age of 14, on her [my] lap. The aisles were so full that I was being pushed on from those crowds on the other side. No, it wasn’t ideal. But for a few hours I could manage, at least I was on my way. By 10:45 I was in Trinco, and the number of riders had thinned over the last few hours. I got a tuk-tuk back home, and passed out in my bed. I awoke right before 8am, not believing I had slept in so late, ready to start a day of teaching.