Riding Sri Lanka’s new wave
To get up close to the wildlife, visitors can opt for a conventional safari -- or ask a tuk-tuk driver to lead the way. Sadid, a middle-aged local tuk-tuk driver, took me to a collection of flat rocks covered in white stains near Crocodile Rock. A “crocodile toilet”, he said.
Since the creatures remained hidden, Sadid commandeered a thin canoe and we paddled into the lagoon to take a closer look. Across the water, a small herd of elephants, two adults and a child, emerged from the brush, and closer to the canoe, a herd of water buffalo lay all but submerged in the bleary green waters, escaping the late morning sun.
Sadid knew a spot further inland that was virtually guaranteed to be teeming with crocodiles. Turning off the main drag, Pottuvil-Panama Road, we dustily bounced west through the countryside past dried-up rice paddies; the only other people in the area were two soldiers at a military outpost. While one carried the usual Kalashnikov rifle, the other, unnervingly, brandished a shiny six-inch blade. Fortunately, as they sauntered up to the tuk-tuk, the soldier produced an apple and stripped off a few slices before waving the tuk-tuk on with a big smile “Aah, crocodiles! That way!”
The track bent around a large muddy basin framed with white-stained rocks. What seemed like submerged logs clogging the water were, in fact, crocodiles. Some basked on the shore, including a huge beast around 4m long. Having seen enough wildlife for the day, we turned back, but just as Sadid was explaining the danger of elephants in the wild, a full-size adult crashed out of the thin scrub to the side of the dirt track, 3m tall and close enough for its loud trumpeting to ring through the vehicle, making Sadid yell and focus intently on squeezing every last horsepower out of the tuk-tuk’s tiny engine. It was a lot closer – and a lot more dangerous – than a conventional jeep safari.
Back in the safety of easygoing Arugam Bay, there was still time to calm the nerves over lunch and squeeze in an afternoon surf before a few rounds of Lion beer and arak at Mambos Café, where Main Point’s crashing waves are drowned out by the club music booming through the sound system. Fortunately, a day like this is not a rare occurrence in Arugam Bay.
Where to eat
Gecko Café offers completely natural homemade fare, everything from western breakfasts to local curries.
The Green Room has cheap, fresh seafood every day, relaxing decor and laid-back indie tunes.
Where to stay
Mambo’s is one of the nicer places to stay in Arugam Bay. It is a bit pricey but the expansive bar area is the place to go on a Saturday night. The hotel, which offers three guesthouse rooms, three beach bungalows and four luxury beach bungalows, overlooks Main Point.
Ranga’s Beach Hut, a small accommodation with less than a dozen rooms, is quite affordable, and you can watch the surf from its sand-floored restaurant.