Sri Lanka 10 Okanda
August 2nd, 7:20PM
Today was our last full day in Arugam Bay, tomorrow we leave at 10AM.
I had, unsurprisingly, a lazy day. I read more of Keef’s book and did some crosswords, I know, how rock ‘n’ roll am I?
I’d thought Llyw was off with me, and tried to figure out what I’d done wrong to piss him off. He’s got a pretty long fuse and has put up with my innumerable faults for the 7 months we’ve lived together, so it must have been something bad, but I was damned if I knew what it was.
It turned out I was imagining it, and Llyw was just tired. This was probably due to my paranoia that the rest of the group was pissed off that they were forced to put up with me for 2 extra days, after the solo joint fell through.
Later on our tuk-tuk ride Llyw and I chatted away and he seemed cheery enough. I think his funk was just tiredness coupled with the fact that he has more to miss back home than I do.
We were tuk-tuking to Okanda, a little way down the coast where there’s a beach and a temple. Llyw and I in one tuk tuk, Laurence and Hannah in the other.
Halfway there, Fareek pulled up and offered us the chance to climb this big sacred rock. Were we up for it?
There followed a chorus of “I don’t minds”, the traditional British response when noone wants to make a decision that might inconvenience someone else.
Realising that following this course would probably take some time I decided to take charge and solve this, Harvey Dent style.
We didn’t go.
Okanda was, on first impressions a massive disappointment. A dusty little town where the road runs out. A Sri Lankan version of the kind of place the teenager’s van breaks down in horror movies.
We were also arriving just after a big Hindu festival, lending the place a “morning after” vibe. There was litter everywhere amongst the flattened grass, the place must have been bouncing.
We wandered to the temple, a big walled affair with intricate carvings, bright colours, gaudy plastic statues and fairy lights.
I really dug the kind of DIY simplicity of it, there was a feeling that it was much used and loved by the people, who’d really made an effort to decorate and maintain it. Back home a lot of our churches are drab and clearly unchanged for years, they feel like relics from a time since past, as opposed to a vibrant part of community life.
Asking entrance from a toothless local we recieved no reply, which we took as a no. It was one of very few instances of rudeness from a Sri Lankan.
Instead we clmbed up to a smaller temple on the large rock the village is built around.
A simple affair but in a fantastic location, the rock providing a panoramic view of the gorgeous bay.
I snapped a few shots and then descended. My flip flops almost sent me flying so I went barefoot down the rock.
Then we went to the beach.
The beach was lush, the sun shining brightly, the sea of blue, we’d seen it in the movies and now we saw it true.
The guys climbed over a rock to the next bay but after struggling up a few feet I decided to stop. I’ve always found that the things which are hard to get up are painfully easy to come down off.
And anyway, there was a way around.
The other bay was even better, fishing boats waiting to go out and the scruffy mutts you see everywhere here running along the shore.
I had a quick dip and then chilled on the beach.
We wandered back through the fishing village, a collection of simple huts in amongst the trees.
Back at what I suppose you could call the town centre, I wandered into a shop to buy a bottle of pop. An ancient woman sat behind the counter.
“How much?” I asked, holding the bottle.
She replied, at length, in a language I didn’t understand. I tried gesturing with my hands but this didn’t work.
I put down a note.
Shake of the head. Another note.
In response? The Sri Lankan head-bob, a combination of nodding and head shaking, which can mean any of numerous things- yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, can you repeat the question?
Another note, smaller this time. This must be enough, I thought.
More head bobbling.
I turned to my fellow customers.
“How much is this?”
Luckily at this point Ibrahim entered and sorted it, taking back one of the notes and I left glad I’d avoided getting shafted.
On the way back Laurence and Hannah decided to go up the rock, while Llw and I continued home.
It had been a good last day, I thought, with Eastern Sri Lanka providing some glorious sights and a wonderful, chilled out atmosphere.
But SL wasn’t done and had a couple more wonders for us.
About 5 minutes after the split, Llyw let out an excited “Elephant!” and there he was. At most 150 yards away, idly chewing on a branch was a juvenile bull.
We watched him for a bit, because he magnificent. I don’t think any animal is as oddly beautiful as the elephant. If you were to describe them they sound ridiculous (long, moving snout? Floppy ears? Grey?) but then you see them and they’re just majestic.
Buzzed we drove on. Our next sighting had a different effect entirely.
Crossing the road in front of us was a 4ft weaving black shape.
It was massive.
My attempt at a picture was awful but I was damned if I’d go closer. For once, however, I was the calmer of the two of us, snakes being Llyw’s major heebie-jeebie maker. He’d moved way over my side of the tuk tuk and on passing where the serpent had vanished into the undergrowth he asked Ibrahim to pull to the other side of the road.
Now we were filled with nervous excitement, and I unleashed my inner Steve Irwin (RIP) when I thought I saw was a croc. It was a fish though.
The drive back I thought about the trip and Sri Lanka. While the list of things I missed about home grew steadily (family, friends, my sofa, cider, Subway, Friends repeats etc.) I’d be sad to leave, and would definitely like to return. I’d love to see the ancient cities and the hill country.
The people were lovely, friendly and polite. The countryside and wildlife is astounding. I love this place.
With the sun setting the drive back was idyllic. Lush green rice fields, kids playing, shrines and temples. Three young lads whipping by sharing the same motorbike, the phrase “riding bitch” and the attatched stigma clearly hasn’t been translated here, and maybe it never should.
Two soldiers at a checkpoint, looking like bored lads at a bus stop, one texting while his buddy lazily smoked. Women strolled at the side of the road dressed in saris, chatting away. Wonderful.
Later that evening Llyw and I blew away Crocodile Dundee/Steve Irwin fantasies we may have harboured out of the water.
Llyw moved a chair, displacing a large cockroach which took flight, prompting a startled yelp from Llyw. It then landed on my notepad and I let out a girlish squeal heard right across the compound.
Yeah, we truly were rugged adventurers.