I’ve been in the land of tea and roti for nearly thirty days, it’s probably a good thing that they only give us a thirty-day visa – as I probably would’ve stayed much longer. I turned up at Colombo airport with my girlfriend, brother, Jason Derulo’s squad (apparently he was playing a gig the that night) and a vague idea of heading south to find surf, jungles and seafood.
After a couple of wild nights at the Evergreen Hostel, Mt Lavinia – in the south beach area of the sprawling capital – we hired a driver to escape us from the humid, teeming city towards adventure and unknown delights.
Now that I find myself back in Colombo and enjoying the benefits of modern air conditioning it’s time to reflect on my experience and break down the best bits into a classic Top Five list – here it is:
Playing cricket with locals in a rice paddy on Sinhalese New Years
I always try to rent a motorbike or scooter and just go for a ride, because you never know what you’ll find. In this case, we found a few dozen local lads participating in a annual game that resembled a mixture of cricket, baseball and swamp racing. After cruising the back roads of Mirissa for an hour we rounded a corner, were flagged down and coaxed into a pretty snaky looking dried out rice paddy.
My brother John made the catch of the day within minutes and then proceeded to establish himself as a pretty handy pinch runner. We both had a turn on the bats (a three foot cutting of thick bamboo) and then waved our goodbyes before continuing our adventure past peacocks and smiling locals before returning to our beautiful guesthouse – JJ’s.
Surfing Whiskey Point in Arugam Bay
Sri Lanka is chock full of top-notch surfing, from powerful open beach breaks to long, peeling point breaks and chilled out reefs. We visited during the “changeover season” in April, when the swell switches from the west coast to the east coast. After struggling for a few days in dumpy Weligama Bay we moved onto Arugam Bay, or ‘A-Bay’ on the south-east corner of the island.
A-Bay itself has a decent point break which tapers out over a shallow reef, however I found my perfect wave at Whiskey Point which is a twenty-minute tuk-tuk ride north. The paddle out is a cinch as the right-hand wave breaks on rocks only meters from shore and peels down the beach providing a steep wall that caters to short boards and long-boarders like me alike.
Watching Blue Whales in Mirissa
It’s not everyday that you get the chance to mingle with the largest animal that ever roamed the Earth. It’s also not that common to join a whale watching tour for only $30USD ($60USD high season).
The trip had a bumpy start with our group deciding to make our own way to the marina instead of taking the free pick up that was offered by the company we booked with. We rocked up to the wrong area and then had to traverse the port which was full of busy fisherman bringing their morning catch ashore, but we made it just in time.
There are roughly a dozen outfits that operate the whale watching tours, we decided on going with Ceylon Speedliner because it was the cheapest and they all looked the same – our thoughts were confirmed, although our boat had the most passengers onboard which I estimated at around 80 people – this wasn’t a problem however as everyone had a place to sit and when we came across a few breaching whales it wasn’t a problem finding a good view.
The whales put on a good show, albeit a short one – due to the fact that inclement weather was closing in on us fast. I was elated to have seen the majestic creatures as we chugged back to port past behemoth cargo ships and also happy to find them on our first try (Ceylon Speed Liner will take you FOC the next day if no whales are spotted).
Driving a tuk-tuk to a secret swimming spot in Kirinda
We hadn’t even heard of Kirinda until meeting an expat called Scott who’d been based in Colombo for nearly a decade. Luckily he recommended a guesthouse that he frequently visits called Temple Flower Guesthouse – situated only fifteen minutes drive from the entrance to Yala National Park.
Kirinda isn’t much to talk about, it’s a jumping off point for safaris into the park and most tourists will stay only one or two nights. The crew at TFG made our stay memorable however, with Shiva the chef cooking us a huge feast of local lobsters for dinner and a mouth-watering Sri Lankan breakfast after our early morning safari finished.
I loved touring Yala N.P. – but my highlight was commandeering the hotel tuk-tuk and driving about fifteen minutes down bumpy dirt roads to a local swimming spot. The pools are separated from the turbulent sea by massive boulders which allows just enough water through cracks to create a sort of wave-pool effect. We drank a couple of beers and played ball-games with locals before exploring the boulders which are carpeted by oysters and hide crabs in between cracks.
Breakfast roti with a farmer and his wife in the shadow of Lipton’s Seat
Another experience that I rated higher than the main draw card of the area. After getting up early to see the sunrise from spectacular heights at Lipton’s Seat we chose to walk back down the mountain through lush fields of tea.
I, being adventurous (and impatient) decided to leave the paved road and take a ‘shortcut’ through the sea of green leaves. Winding our way downwards, we eventually came across a shack with five men frantically pulling carrots from the ground in front of it. We waved and they waved back, then one of them beckoned us over. Within minutes we were sitting on beds and couches which were hurriedly tidied for us inside his dark shack.
After obligatory introductions and sharing where we were from his wife appeared with a tray of freshly baked pol roti (doughy flatbread mixed with coconut) accompanied by steaming string hoppers and fresh chilli-carrot sambal – which packed quite the punch! We washed this down with a cup of sweet tea and bid our farewells before trundling back down the undulated hillsides with full bellies and hearts.
Have you been to Sri Lanka? Tell me about your Top Five moments below!