What a bay, a small horseshoe with multiple shades of blue sea and cliffs to one side and a rock out crop on the other. One of the tightest bays I’ve ever seen and today it looks a very safe place to swim, in fact, one of safest I’ve seen on the island. A place for sun worshipers, the young, the great bodies are soaking up the rays while those of us of a certain age hide from the rays or cover up to prevent the accelerating of the aging process, when perhaps it’s too late. Considering overnight accommodation ranges from 17$ to 170$, you can imagine the number of people cramming onto a very narrow strip of beach. The holiday makers generally look under thirty intermingled with the odd aging hippie type, but there are few children. Scant bikinis and tattoos are not compulsory but are much in evidence.
There is no wind today so the surfers are laying low but there are lots of people in the water, the surf boards are far and few, other than those waiting to be rented. Yesterday I’m told the winds were perfect. Listening to various conversations whilst sitting on one of a solid row of chairs with tables across most of the waterfront I hear French, Russian and few English voices. Sat close by is a slightly overweight frightfully English upper crust couple who look in their early forties. His public school accent, the overused word “darling” whilst wearing clothes more suited to Cannes in southern France make them unlikely revelers to this location. “Each to their own”, an often used observation of my parents. The waiter brings the arrack and as I look at the quantity, it’s about three shots, that’s two more than I needed and I explain in English how drinks should be served. He doesn’t understand.
I order four glasses of fresh Thambili ( King coconut juice) and I drop the triple shot of arrack across the four glasses and share it with my lovely three lady companions.
“One should always have a cunning plan when the situation looks impossible.”The Whinging Pome Random Rule No 240
Apologies to those Blackadder fans, Baldrick always appeared to talk of his “cunning plan” whilst rubbing his hands together like an expecting Jew.
The good news is this little horse shoe bay is a winner for many tourists and its popularity continues to grow. This in part is the mix between the beauty of the place, the amazing sea, the surfing and the buzz that is developing. Young Europeans like the chaotic haphazard, not so clean, not so organized feel of this little island paradise in Asia. There are still derelict and ramshackle buildings on the waterfront, discarded fishing boats, narrow roads and a mish mash of properties of varying ages built originally by the locals and now interspersed with new hotels and commercial activity. All in an extremely tight amount of space. It’s part of the charm and compares with the forerunners of such resort areas (E.g. Unawattuna) whose popularity continues to wain as new trendy areas are created. E.g. Ella in the mountains has become a go to place by the chilled young tourists. Part of the charm is the casual approach to service and watching laid back waiters practicing their limited language skills making every effort to chat up the cool European chicks and chaps.
So whilst it’s somewhat logical that Sri Lanka tourist trade want to drive volume towards upper end travelers, the history of tourism on this island has come mainly from the high volume lower end beach tourist sector. The array of amazing properties and locations now available island wide are attracting travelers wanting more than just beach, i.e. Mountains, lakes, culture, historical and religious sites. Today Sri Lanka has numerous holiday properties/ venues with good service and standards available. For tomorrow we need double the number of venues and improve services such as aging airport, little inter island flying options, more highways, better trained staff and a consistent tourism strategy with a meaningful relevant budget to promote it. There are tourist who pick their venues given specific activities, e.g. train trips, wild life adventures, golf, kite surfing, hiking, black tourism. (visiting sites of disasters /events) The more recent trend is that of “digital nomad” tourists. (People who can do their work online anywhere in the world.) The Sri Lankan government have already created a special extended visa for these nomads.
So it’s likely that many tourist traveling to Hiriketiya will in their few weeks holiday get to see a little more than just this amazing Horse Shoe bay. Let’s hope they share their experience with others on returning home.