Arugam Bay – Batticaloa

Posted by ross

19.05.2010 – 25.05.2010

 

Ever since the war finally came to an end in May 2009 we had discussed off and on the idea of visiting the east coast of Sri Lanka. The idea of only going and visiting the touristic hotels and beaches in the south west of Sri Lanka like Hikkaduwa did not really attract us very much.Sarcastic smile On the other hand the east coast had received the worst of the destruction from the Tsunami in 2004 and the long war with the LTTE was only over for one year.  There were still reports of occasional clashes between the remaining LTTE soldiers and the Sri Lankan Army. The government was being very careful about letting people into certain areas because of claims of Human Rights Violations. 

So, we let the weather make the decision for us. A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal was exacerbating the monsoon weather in the south west with terrible flooding in the Colombo area. Other travellers reported that it had rained day and night without pause. So, without any further hesitation, we decided to give the east a chance. Having said that, it turned out to be a very good decision and in many ways the most interesting and rewarding part of our trip. Secret telling smile

Originally, we had planned to take the bus from Ella to Pottuvill.  After waiting for  quite a while at the bus station several locals came up to us offering friendly advise about the likely arrival/departure time of the next bus. There was quite a bit of discussion between the by standers and several informed options. About the only thing that everyone agreed on was, that a bus would come through town, but the exact time was unknown. Confused smile A couple from Tasmania whom we had met the previous evening for dinner at Karen’s wanted to go to Arugam Bay, as well, so the four of us decided  to find a driver and share the price.

Soon after we left Ella, our van stopped on a narrow bridge in the midst of several Sri Lankans. At first we didn’t understand why, but all of a sudden there were dark arms reaching through the open windows, with cheap gem stones in their hands. Voices were demanding coins from us in exchange for the worthless rocks – Surprised smile I took a closer look at the two stones that had been handed to me: one was a very cheap rose quartz and the other one I couldn’t identify so I put a 10 cent piece in the hand – of course that was not enough for that “treasure”.  Ok, you get your stones back and I get my coin back — No way, as soon as money touches a Sri Lankan hand, it glues itself down and can’t be removed. Annoyed After all he accepted the deal and we drove on.

The landscape changed from the very nice rolling hills of the highlands into a hot and flat, subtropical area. The rice fields left and right of the street were impressive.

Just before you get into Pottuvil , the road goes straight through the Lahuagala National Park. It was already too late in the morning  to see much wildlife, but we did see an elephant in the distance, lots of water buffalos and a lonely monkey crossing the road.

The trip from Ella to Arugam Bay took about 3.5 hours.

 

waterbuffaloherd waterBuffalo

 

 

Pottuvil was crowded and dirty with the main road through the town under construction (as were most but not all highways on the east coast). The trip south over the bridge gave us our first view of the beach and Arugam Bay. Basically a one main street town with accommodations on both sides. Whatever fantasy I had had about how Arugam Bay would look like, was quickly replaced by reality.

We weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to stay but I had read an internet blog from someone at the Siam View and found it very interesting. The writer’s description of surviving the Tsunami and the politics of rebuilding afterwards was fascinating. We had discussed our desire to visit Arugam Bay with Karen and Martin and they thought it was a good idea. Earlier they had met the owner of the Siam View, “Fred”, and said it was a decent place to stay.  OK, so that would be our first place to check with when we arrive in AB.

Siam View:  Reminded me of a tired and run down establishment that had never really recovered after the Tsunami in 2004.  Actually sad, because it must have been a very nice place before. Our room was very large, much larger than we needed, with three beds and a remarkable  shower. The best shower we had in Sri Lanka and many times afterwards we missed THAT water pressure. Smile

 

With the outside temperature at 34+ C the ocean was almost too warm to really cool off in (32 C) but it was still enjoyable. In comparison to the beaches in the south west, with the monsoon season, the waves and currents here on the east coast were mild. Even though it got a bit cloudy on some days, it only rained once for about 10 minutes. Summer is really the dry season on the east coast.

 

oceanview01

A view of Surfer Point on the left tip of the peninsula.

beach01 crocodile_rockCrocodile Rock in the background

click to enlarge

 

We often walk to Surfer Point and watch the surfers perform. It was nice to sit in the shade of a palm tree and enjoy a cup of tea. Coffee cup

We visited Crocodile Lake near Panama, which is south of Arugam Bay, and for the first time we were confronted with a Military Check-Point. We had left our passports back at the hotel so they didn’t want to let us in. After convincing them we only wanted to watch crocodiles they made us list our names, country, etc. and allowed us to proceed. I had the feeling they only did this because they were bored guarding the area after war had been over for one year now.

 

crocodile_lake2Views of Crocodile Lake: crocodile_lake

 

Instead of waiting in Arugam Bay for the flooding to stop in the south, we decided to explore the central east coast instead. The city of Batticaloa was highly recommended by a German guest in the Siam View.

 

Trip to Batticaloa along the East Coast highway

With our bag packs packed we met our van and two drivers in front of the Siam View and started our journey along the East Coast to Batticaloa. The first 20 km of the highway were for the most part nicely paved and we made good time. Then we hit the never ending “Under Construction” misery for the next 42 kms.  So a short trip of 62 kms took us 2.5 hours to drive.

Batticaloa:  If there was ever a city we couldn’t wait to get out of, Batti was it.Steaming mad After less than an hour of driving around looking for a place to stay, we decided to leave.

 

Trip from Batticaloa to Passikudah (Mystery Solved)

After absorbing our disappointment we sat for a while in the hot van trying to decide what our next move should be, ready to just return back to Arugam Bay with the drivers.  Embarrassed smile

The assistant driver called Rashi, the tour manager, and discussed the issue with him. He then gave the phone to me and Rashi suggested that we might enjoy a nice beach area near by called Punnakudah.  I asked him if there were hotels and facilities and he assured me that it was a very scenic place and we would like it. I returned the phone back to the co-driver and, after a few more minutes discussion between Rashi and him we headed off to ?? Punnakunda ?? or something like that.

Both, Christel and I, had the impression that this beach area was located south of Batticaloa on the way back to Arugam Bay. However, this, as we found out later, was not the case.

After driving for about an hour over narrow but paved roads we came to an area where the road turned sharply left and then we passed a rather large military compound.  By this time we were used to seeing soldiers everywhere with their loaded Kalashnikov AK 47s.Thinking smile A short distance later we reached a large dirt parking lot with lots of cars overlooked a beautiful beach. Sri Lankans everywhere, but not one hotel, guest room or restaurant. Instead of stopping we decided to see if there were any places to stay in the area. We saw one guest house further back down the road but the lady wanted Rs. 2,000 per night for a room, which was right next to her living room and had only a small top window looking outside.Sad smile I guess she was used to charging so much because of all the western NGOs who had come after the Tsunami. Nope, that was out of our interest. We went about another 3 km further back  the road and noticed a couple of guest houses.  One under repair, another already booked (as they said, by whom we wondered) and still an other one that didn’t look very appealing. Nowhere in the area did we see a market or a small store and, without a car, we realized we would be at least 5 km away from the beach and 5-10 km from any store or restaurants. By this time we were just frustrated and disappointed. Annoyed

We hadn’t done any research on the area and really didn’t know what to do. There  weren’t any tourist facilities, but too much military instead. All four of us were exhausted, tired and hungry. So we decided to drive back to Arugam Bay.

 

catholic_churchCatholic Church northOfBattiAnother city north of Batticaloa northOfBatti02The city of Chenkalady

Mystery Solved – later, after we returned from our trip to Sri Lanka and looked at our pictures,  we came to the realization where we had been. Instead of south of Batticaloa we had been some 35 km north in the Kalkudah Bay area near Passikudah. This used to be a very popular tourist area but 20 years of war and a Tsunami had destroyed it, especially all the beach hotels. Now it was all clear why we found so little except soldiers everywhere.

 

Return to Arugam Bay

On our return from Batticaloa the driver, we had had for the whole trip, left us in Pottuvil and a different one got in as well as a third person who belonged to the same company.  All three of them were going to help us to find a place to stay in Arugam Bay.AnnoyedWe were both tired and dubious but we needed a place to stay and yet had no desire to check in at Siams View again.  The co-driver, who spoke English and had been with us the whole trip, wanted us to look at several guest houses that were, as he explained, very well priced:  all had the same rate of Rs. 2,000.  After driving to and looking at several places we were really irritated at the whole situation. None of the places had been worth their price or met our desires. (kind of dark shoe boxes with a door in front, a broken toilet seat and a dubious shower which functionality we would have found out after check-in) So we quickly looked in Lonely Planet and found a place, named “Hide Away”. Great let’s try this one. And as, with the other places, all three of our new friends had to look at the rooms as well, which had become rather annoying. Angry smileFinally we found something that fit our requirements. Now we could pay the boys for the trip and send them on their way. So we thought. Smile

Since we had already paid Rs. 5,000 for gas on the way the balance due was 4,000. It was already dark outside when Christel reached into her wallet and gave them 4 bills thinking that they were 1,000 bills. After the guys had left and we stared unpacking, she discovered that when she had pulled money out of the ATM the bills had been 2,000 and not 1,000 as it had always been before. Shit, we just had overpaid them by 4,000.Steaming mad I had the mobile number from the co-driver so I quickly called him. Of course he hadn’t noticed that we had overpaid but he gave me the number for Rashi so I could talk with him about the issue. Rashi promised  to come by early next morning so we could discuss it. “Discuss it”, we wanted our money back! Well that was better than no response at all. All we could do was relax and wait for tomorrow.

Next morning Rashi showed up with one of his drivers. Of course getting the money back was not an option, as we have already written, once the money is in their hands it becomes glued there. Ok, I looked for a diplomatic solution. We wanted to travel to Tissamaharama (Yala National Park) as soon as the weather improved in the south, so he agreed we could apply the Rs. 4,000 to the total cost of the trip to Tiss  with one of his cars and driver.  Annoyed

 

Places we stayed during the last couple of days in Arugam Bay:

Hide Away: Alright place and nice people, low water pressure (sometimes none) in the shower which can be fun especially if your all lathered up with soap and the water stops. This happed to Christel and she was not a HAPPY Camper. We stayed two nights. Overpriced rooms for the comfort and quality.

Tri-Star: Very nice place, expensive on the sea view, the garden view was negotiable and compared to Hide Away very reasonable.  We stayed one night before leaving to Tissa. Another Australian couple decided to move from Hide Away to Tri-Star after they inspected our “new” location.

For breakfast we normally ate and enjoyed the local foods (like Rotties and curries) and met a lot of interesting people. This was by far our favorite Rotti stand. Open-mouthed smileHe heated his oven with firewood and made some of the most delicious Rotties on the island.  Banana, egg, or meat Rotties with fresh papaya, mango and banana juice, tea or coffee.

rotti_stand

The owner/cook Mr. Risana, is also the local Imam in the area. The religious diversity and tolerance really amazed me.  Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindus all living together.

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