One of the most beautiful little train rides I’ve experienced was that, from Colombo to Hikkadua. This ride is along the coast, and though the coast is ripped up by shanty huts and poverty -needless to say pollution, clutter- the high coconut trees and sea still siege and captivate.
Youth, out from class, hanging out the hatch in clean, white cotton school uniforms, against the light blue sea, is a view extraordinary to my eye -as I imagined heading home from school in the same fashion.
An old train, a colonial line, built like all the others that the English constructed in the 19th century, to cart tea, rice and other miscellaneous goods.
In Hikkadua, the place to stay is on the coast, and if you walk long enough and speak to enough of them, you’ll find something (between two) for somewhere around 5 bucks each with an excellent view of the open sea, rocking harmony to your swinging feet from a little gazebo for two.
*Recommendation: In Sri Lanka accommodation is higher than other countries around it -except Maldives- and to avoid the higher cost you should travel in pairs. Like I suggested in Myanmar, the same goes for most places where it’s Guesthouses still, and not just Hostels.
Sri Lanka -the Uninhabited Island
It’s a beautiful country, an island country once uninhabited many centuries ago, but it’s seen war after colonialism; it’s seen civil war between the north and south with exterminations of people, harsh cleansings, with burial grounds you’ll likely drive past without knowing. And it’s seen a Tsunami that wiped out the entire south coast –as it developed to be a prime tourist location in the late nineties for middle class Westerners. This place has had some seriously tough derelictions from the easy-goin’, chill, coastal life that an island country should have. Yet, the local average is smiling brightly with a helpful hand, bobbling his/her head side to side all the way.
First thing to do:
Get a Moped Rent one in Hikkadua, and rent it as long as you’re in the country. We made the mistake of thinking we could rent another in Kandy, further north. After finishing our lap around the south, we took a local bus up to Kandy –from Hikkadua- to pick up a separate bike trying to save on problems, petrol and long distance moped driving. Problem is, when we arrived in Kandy –surrounded by fat-cat tourists- there were no bikes to be found in the whole city. We didn’t find another one until further up north a week or so later –by chance- just shy of Polonorrua -about 150 km shy.
The other thing to consider
Surfing Sri Lanka is reputed for its famous, beginner to expert waves. You can find some very consistent swell that is beautiful for any level. Depending on what season you arrive is where the swell will be at its prime. If you arrive in October like us –without considering the seasons- everywhere will be very inconsistent – between seasons, in rain- and the sea will be raging like an angry truck driver throwing spanners at you from the driver’s side window, know what I mean?
The spot to be is Arugam Bay between May and September, and it’s a long ass way from Colombo. In Hikkadua, the season is between November and March. You can see why you wouldn’t want to end up there in October -with a one month tourist visa. Fortunately, there are plenty of beautiful places to see everywhere.
They ain’t motorbikes -and they could break
On one of these shit-arsed mopeds -at 5 bucks a day- is not the prestine machinery of a Vespa in Italy firstly, so it will take a long time to move, especially as two.
50-60 km an hour (if you’re lucky) with very, very winding roads; from Hikkadua to Arugam Bay is at least two days of driving (about 250 km) moving pretty quickly. Maybe heading directly to Arugam Bay is the better choice if your passion is surfing, and then finding a Moped over there, to branch out to Ella in the heart of Sri Lankan ‘Mountains’ or Nuwara Eilya, for the tea plantations.
But, the point is -like in Indonesia- you gotta get that moped somewhere. And there are truely few places you can. So consider how long you will be there, in Sri Lanka and check that map after peeping this piece. You are guaranteed to find that set of wheels that will give you all the freedom a backcountry traveler deserves in Hikkadua-especially in a place that is swarming with tourism and over-development. You will be dying to get away and do your own thing.
So, where to go from Hikkadua then Savvy?
Glad you asked.
Along the way from west to east, you will experience many lovely little corners, a fort in Galle and if you can get off the main ‘stream’, if you can gauge that, you’ll find a few very quiet areas for yourself on a long stretch of beach, especially in October, around Tangalle or Ambalantota. You’ll eventually run into a couple of dragon-like reptiles reputed to eat stray dogs -monitors- as well.
What to Eat
Aside from monitors and stray dogs, if you’re on a tight ass budget there are only a few things to eat, unfortunately, compared to India, but, the few things are great. You will get tired of Kottu (chopped and fried chapati with vegetables for a buck fifty) , but you will also miss it when you leave! The spice calibre is in the uttmost that I have tasted in my life. Get ready for it; their sambal is explosive!
Devil’s chicken, I highly recommend digging up (and stealing the recipe from someone for home). The lovely egg cups, made from a ‘dosa-esque’ coconut-based pancake mix, are one of the breakfast ‘delicacies’ (for 50 cents) and the other is the fresh fruit on the roadside EVERYWHERE in the south. Beautiful! Fantastic! Uber-cheap fresh fruit everywhere; grab some fresh yogurt and paradise is only one spoon away!
On the Way to Aragum Bay
It can be a quick journey across a very diverse area of old jungle, mountains, and tea plantations. You can boom straight across the south coast and miss all the little reef territories and the tiny bungalows. Every day is another circumstance and another village with a kind family with curiosity. From the softness of a buddhist monk, it moves through most of the society, right down to the famous fishing style of the local man pickin up his eats. But, he will ask for money if you take a picture of him though; a beautiful paradox life of destruction and beauty. Your fool proof knowledge you are in Asia.