With our arrival in Arugam Bay, we have arrived at the end of the world. Nothing is as it was before. We did have some time to get used to the poverty and artlessness of this country. It is just that everything is even poorer in this rural area. Nevertheless, this place has an air of paradise.
Our hotel, which we check in to first thing after the long journey across streets with crumbling asphalt destroyed by the monsoon does not account cleanliness and an upscale interior for luxury but space – sheer, dirty space, and cockroaches in the shower. Beyond the city limits, boats are still lying in the grass, remnants of the devastating Tsunami that reached the eastern part of Sri Lanka with brute force in 2004. They are not owned by anyone anymore, and nobody has taken any interest in them in the almost ten years since the catastrophe. The huts lining the unpaved streets are tiny and simple. Thatched roofs, corrugated iron. People basically live in the outdoors.
When you enter the streets of Arugam Bay, you will get the feeling that there is nothing to lose. Ever. No tasks to be fulfilled. People roam the streets in calm and peace, tourists as well as locals. All of a sudden you calm down yourself, begin to simply enjoy life. An atmosphere of never-ending placidity hovers over this village. Arugam Bay has an air that only very few places on earth have. It is cool – in a good way. Sand covers the streets. It is blown over from the beach, it sticks to the walls and to your naked body parts. It is the cement and the forerunner of coolness. All of a sudden, I want to get rid of my shoes and feel it under my feet.
I follow the traces of sand, grain after grain, to the beach, long and wide, shaped like a banana. At one end, it suddenly bends into the next bay, incalculably making its way around the coast. In some parts, it is dirty and dark, in other parts fine grained and pure. The beach defies the surf, the breaking of waves. The beach and some long haired surfers in colorful board shorts and tanned surfer girls in bikinis, that is. These foreigners drink beer from oversized bottles and relax in silence after a physically challenging day. The dark lenses of their sunglasses sparkle in the sun and far away on the horizon the sun is slowly climbing down into the sea, marking the beginning of the evening.
Arugam Bay. This village in south eastern Sri Lanka actually is so clichéd that you shouldn’t honestly allow yourself to think of it as paradise. And it really might be a mistake to write about it and reveal its treasures. At least Arugam Bay is not taking all those stereotypes seriously or advertising with them – it is above such things. This is The Beach, long before Leonardo DiCaprio discovers it. Pure and perfect. A promise of happiness. A beach that actually is no more than a beach. Guests that come here to laugh and live and rejoice in the present. Who only have to walk some meters from the beach to get to their beds – up the ladder to their tree house hotel.
I witness all this in amazement and the longer I stay looking at the scene the more I wish to stay here forever. Longer than the two days my itinerary allows me, at least. I want to stay here to learn how to surf, at this beach, in this wonderful village. I want to spend my days in a hammock and watch the monkeys play on the wall next to me. Yet: Unfortunately, this is impossible. I have to use the time I have and decide wisely. Take off my shoes, run along the beach, sand between my toes.
Arugam Bay. Only very few people have ever heard about this place. Probably because it couldn’t be reached by tourists until the end of the civil war 2009. Probably because it is still fighting the aftermath of the tsunami. And because tourism still isn’t a big industry here. Four years after the reopening of the streets for foreigners, travelers are still controlled by soldiers in uniform. Still, the huts are humble and the people modest. They all do their best to keep this place a secret – the ones that live here and the ones that come for a holiday.
My trip to Sri Lanka was supported by Sri Lanka Tourism and Sri Lankan Airlines.