I have not worn shoes in days. I live in a rickety two-level wood and bamboo thatched hut with a porch and sand in front. When I get up at 6.30am there’s a dread-locked girl doing sun salutations in a bikini and a blond tattooed Swedish guy in a hammock reading a book. I go practice a bit on the slackline that is set up between two palm trees. A crow greets me, then flies off to finish the bowl of porridge that the kids have left out on the porch. The turquoise blue sea is glistening in the early morning sun, the waves roll in gently, a couple frolics in the water. She giggles.
We have arrived in Arugam Bay – backpacker’s heaven and surfer’s paradise. We are still in Sri Lanka, but we could be anywhere. The beach is its own world. Suspended in time. On the way to breakfast (probably the fruit salad with honey, curd and coconut) the local Sri Lankan boys – build up and with long hair – greet me from afar with a smile that makes me wonder whether they are just being friendly or whether they are hoping to pick me up for a tuk-tuk ride.
We are still a bit in the off-season, the surf is ‘not’ up, which is perfect for Matthieu, who is already off, happily catching waves at Surf Point, which is usually the domain of the pros with 4+ meter waves. Now, the waves are much lower and there is hardly anyone in the water. As for me, I could not care less (even though I do like the idea of watching guys in those 4+ meter rollers). No matter how much I love the idea of being the cool surfer chick, I do not like waves. They frighten me. I don’t like to get swirled around underwater like being inside an out-of-control washing machine. I don’t like salty water up my nose, ears and eyes. There, I said it.
But after this rather lengthy intro, what I really like to talk about is the ‘what is it about those places’ and why we hate them and like them all at the same time. Let’s first define the ‘we’, because the answer is very different whether the ‘we’ are Matthieu and I as individuals or whether the ‘we’ is us, the Paleys, ie. a family. In general – you might have guessed it – Matthieu and I try to stay away from ‘those places’. We’ve seen it, we’ve lived it (in our twenties in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam). They are too overpriced. The food tastes like ‘this is what we think western tourists like to eat’. They are exchangeable. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Sri Lanka, Goa, Krabi or Bali. The travelers are exchangeable as well. Local culture has been reduced to a few hard-to-find local food stalls. I am being called ‘honey’ and ‘darling’ by the shop owners trying to sell me sarongs and coconuts. And yet…
Right now we love it!
Huh? Whaaat?! What happened to the adventurous Paleys you might scream out in disbelief. Right now, at this point, we love hanging out in the most popular backpacker joint (popular as in: How did you get a room there on the beachfront?!) in Arugam Bay. We love it, because after 5 months on the road, it’s just simply nice to hang a bit by the beach, to chat with other travelers (even some are maybe a bit too young, making us feel too old) and to meet that French couple that manages a guesthouse on the beach. We love it, because Iluka and Timo are occupied making new friends, telling their stories and chatting up the boys working at the restaurant ordering banana pancakes and lime juice for breakfast lunch and dinner. We love it, because Matthieu can play in the waves and I get some time to myself – for writing, for thinking, for Pilates. We also love it, because we found a restaurant with really good (expensive) Thai food, and are in a position to ‘make that exception’ and splurge.* We love it, because, let’s face it, spending some time on a beautiful beach, where everything is provided and all you have to do is to enjoy it, is pretty awesome. Sometimes. For a while. It’s been 3 days and I feel it’s been an eternity. Actually, by writing this I am also manifesting a commitment to enjoy this while it lasts, because sure enough (and there is no doubt about that) the day will come where Matthieu and I will look at each other and say: Vanakkam?, Which means ‘Hello’ in Tamil and is code for “It’s time to go”. Wanna Come?
*on a side note this reminds me of Trekking in Nepal some 15 years ago, where we had to count our rupees, eating mostly Daal Bhat, and drooling over the Pizzas and cinnamon rolls arriving on the plates of our fellow trekkers.