Hikkaduwa, where proportion takes a holiday

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
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Trip End Jun 15, 2012


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On a teardrop shaped island south of India sits a small village called Hikkaduwa, whose main export is honking noise. It sits beside a busy road between two main cities along the coast where the road brushes the beach, leaving a thin strip of jungle between the road and the sand that is striped periodically with small streams and rivers that drain the lush highlands to the ocean. This village was once a local community like the rest along this coast, and would have remained so except for one small, accidental feature that made this small strip of beach different than all others between the two cities. There is a reef here that draws waves from any direction in the Indian Ocean and shapes the waves across its face to rival any other great surf spot on the planet. It is not a famous reef among international surfers, mostly because the island country itself is not listed as a great surfing destination. Of the main surfing spots here on Sri Lanka, there are only two that are noted to be world class. Aragom Bay is one, and Hikkaduwa is the other.

On Sunday we moved up the coast from Unawatuna to Hikkaduwa. The drive took us about forty minutes, but the two beaches could not have been more different. I had read about the reef here, and I looked at the surf report that showed a three foot swell along this coast that would hit that day. It was a small swell, but it would allow me to check out the reef when the waves came in bite-sized morsels. But when we arrived the swell was pushing double overhead waves onto the coast and erupting on the reef with a force that scared the hell out of me, as I stood there quaking a quarter of a mile away. On the reef were a half dozen guys rising and falling with the surging swell, only occasionally one would frantically paddle over the brink, pressure a bottom turn and then speed along a vertical wall, only to have to turn towards shore as the wave outraced him. Then he would begin the frightening ordeal of battling back out through the remainder of the set to start it all over again. I decided that this reef, with this swell, was beyond my ability as a surfer. This wave would turn me inside out and pull my arms and legs off. If this is a three foot Sri Lankan swell, I'd hate to encounter a three foot Sri Lankan crocodile.

Just a few days ago while I was idly avoiding spending time with my kids, I started searching the internet for a place to stay in Hikkaduwa. What I found was a villa on the beach that was way out of our price range. So I sent an email to the owner to tell him that since the place was not yet rented, to make us an offer way down in the skid row price range. He wrote me back grudgingly and gave me his bottom price. We accepted and here we are. We have a kitchen in which to make breakfast and lunch and a big front yard that faces the ocean, three bedrooms and a large living room. There’s a large gazebo deck in the front yard and another large deck upstairs lined with white tile and shaded by coconut palms. As yet my kids haven’t used either deck; instead they are either doing homework to avoid the scary waves, or standing in the shallow water avoiding homework.

Our bungalow sits at the end of the beach, a fifteen minute walk from the magical reef I will probably never surf. Of course, all the locals say the reef is only 100 meters down the beach. I did a calculation and determined that if it takes me fifteen minutes to walk 100 meters, then I am seven inches tall. The waves pound a steep shoreline in front of our bungalow with the same ferocity as they attack the reef, so I have prohibited my kids from getting too far out in the water. We found a beach break down the coast that isn’t too bad, and Mason and I rent some boogie boards in the afternoons and go out for a couple of hours to ride the waves closer to shore. There is usually a lot of current running, and a pronounced rip tide at one point along the beach, so I purposely got us into the rip a couple of times and showed Mason how to swim out of it on his own and back to shore without too much of a panic. We watched as people routinely got swept out past the largest waves in that rip, and at one point we watched a local guy on a surfboard paddle out and pull a group of them back in to safety. He is the closest thing that Hikkaduwa has to a lifeguard. Like a stoned David Hasselhoff with dreadlocks.

Right next door sits a restaurant on the sand attached to a tidy three story guest house. Since it is only twenty feet away (American feet, not Sri Lankan feet) and costs less than fifteen dollars to feed us all, we have made it a regular stop in the Becker Sri Lankan dining tour. The place is run by a smiling lady with a perpetually bobbing head, and she jabbers good-naturedly about excursions we can take that she can arrange for us for outrageous prices while she brings us platters of food we didn’t order. Sometimes we get plates of unordered substances that look vaguely edible, and we will sometimes dip our forks in to give them a shot before sending them back, and find that they are damned good. In this manner we have tried all new styles of Sri Lankan food that we would never have ordered on purpose.

Since we arrived in Sri Lanka we have eaten in perhaps twenty restaurants, and have not yet found a bad one. The curries in my opinion are better than in Thailand (and I love Thai curry) and all the fried dishes: fried rice, fried noodles, etc. are cooked lightly with oil to make them taste almost baked. Since the country is so rich with natural spices, they use them everywhere to compensate for the lack of grease. Of all the ethnic food we have eaten in the 18 or so countries we have visited, including France, Italy and Morocco, Sri Lankan food is the best we’ve had. All of us except Mason, who eats nothing but cheese sandwiches. The first meal he had was so spicy that he ran around the restaurant flapping his arms and speaking in tongues. 'Mild' in Sri Lanka is just a matter of proportion like everything else here, I think it means 'won't melt your head'.
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