Driving down a rutted sandy track just before dawn, our Tuk Tuk driver turned round and whispered “be careful sir… this is Elephant area”…. In the darkness it was not difficult to imagine every rustle from the surrounding vegetation coming from one of the huge animals.
After working our way south from Colombo and then along the south coast and up to Udawalawe National Park, we were now on our way to the east coast of Sri Lanka. If you read the guide books, the east coast is often described as a barely discovered paradise of endless sand and wild jungle and we were on our way to Arugam Bay to begin our east coast adventure.
Arugam Bay, a lovely crescent shaped bay of white sand and jungle palms is the capital of the Sri Lankan surf scene and possibly the most popular tourist town on the east coast. The descriptions of world class surf are potentially slightly overblown, but there are several nice point breaks in the area suitable for beginners and intermediates.
We had booked three nights in the Galaxy Lounge Beach Cabana’s on the northern end of the bay which were awesome and a really cool base and place to chill out, right on the beach.
After a spicy serving of jungle chicken from one of the beachside restaurants, we fell asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing on the sands just outside our cabana before an early start the next morning with a planned sunrise surf at Pottuvil Point.
It was working our way through the sandy track to the beach that our tuk tuk driver warned us of the prevalence of Elephants in the area which had apparently been driven by an extended drought in the surrounding hinterland which had led to several Elephants travelling down towards the coast to try and find water.
We paddled out as the sun began to appear in the horizon… Sat on our boards listening to the water slap against the underside of the boards as we rose and fell on the gentle swells, we watched as the sky exploded in a million hues of orange and purple as a new day began… We were totally alone in the water apart from a few fisherman returning from their night fishing further down the beach.
We felt the growing warmth of the suns rays on our faces and watched as the sand turned from a dark purple colour through to orange and then yellow as the sun rose in the sky… Paddling for an incoming set and angling the board down the line as I enjoyed a 100m ride totally at one with nature… Life didn’t get much better.
We scored similarly good waves at Elephant Rock, although the rides were slightly shorter. However despite the name of the break and the warning we were given at Pottuvil Point, we were not to see Elephants at either spot… At least not until we were on our way back to Arugam Bay in the fading light of the day when we spotted a solitary Elephant in the fields adjacent to the road.
We had already seen several Elephants in Udawalawe, but there was something undeniably magical about seeing one outside of a National Park. Elephants’ have wonderfully regal majesty about them and the way they walk and we were careful not to get too close or to disturb him as he sought an evening snack in the fields.
In the final moments of light left in the day, I lay on my back in the warm water of the Indian Ocean, bobbing up and down in the incoming swell and watching the light grow from the moon above as the first few stars of the night appeared… Our tuk tuk driver was right… This is an Elephant area… But as humans we should be grateful that we are able to share it with them, yet remain ever aware that the world belongs not to corporations, but to nature.
Arugam Bay has suffered immense pain in recent years where it was devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami, but what’s been re-built is wonderful… A laid back surf ghetto of contrasts where humans and nature life alongside one another in harmony… Arugam Bay, I never want to leave.