Not the tea plantations, the haunting exterior of the Hill Club, nor lilies at the Temple of the Tooth. Not the top of Granny’s head as she knelt in the dirt to bless me, nor the checkerboard tiles and creaky old bar at the Galle Face, not the perfect blue bay at Unawatuna….but the table out the front of Suite Lanka, in sunset, looking out over Hikkaduwa beach.
Its funny what sticks with me after a holiday. Often the things I remember most clearly are not the ones I thought I would while I was experiencing them. The other parts of this holiday that touched my heart do come to mind, but always after this picture above. Maybe it’s because we spent longer here than anywhere else? Or maybe it’s because this image sums up the way I felt in Sri Lanka – chilled out, with my family, wrapped in God’s warm blanket of sky and with the Earth’s great bounties at my fingertips for the plucking.
Suite Lanka, like most of the accommodation in the Hikkaduwa Strip, is a guest house rather than a hotel. Eight rooms only, and we had two of them with a connecting lounge. No TV, no phone, no neon lights, no music through central speakers, and set just out of the main strip (which is full of backpackers, package tourists and surfers. Not that I have anything against them – I have been both of the former, and my husband is still the latter – I just want some peace and quiet in this time of my life) And yet, just a 150 rupee tuk tuk ride to the heaving centre.
We stayed in Hikkaduwa because of Hambone and his love of surfing – there is a nice little reef break a 500m stroll down the beach. The rest of the beach also has surf – too much for a three-year-old Goldilocks, but fine for a seven-year-old “Lion” who likes to play dumping games with Daddy. In front of Suite Lanka the sand stretches for at least 100m to the sea, even at high tide. The rim at the Guest-house edge is lined with flowering sand weeds and watercress-like vines that wandering calves nibble at at dawn and dusk. Skinny fishermen come also at this time in dozens and heave in nets. It’s a half-hour task, and no matter how many times I had seen it, I would go every time to photograph them before the fiery sky and check their flapping catch.
There is a more sheltered area just past the reef break in a little enclave in front of the Coral Sands Hotel. We spent a beautiful day there, bobbing between the glass-bottom boats and swimming between the tropical fish in waist-deep water. And if you like being in the thick of it, I would recommend the coral sands – it’s basic – like a roadside motor inn, but has a nice pool and a lovely beachside bar where we had lunch.
Between the centre of Hikkaduwa and the 3km or so to Suite Lanka are a miriad of other guest-houses and eateries. Close to the Coral Sands, we ate a simple lunch at “JLH” – Devilled prawns (a popular local dish) and sauteed greens were superb, but the lunch was overshadowed by the view – waves crashing two meters from your feet, then ocean forever. Pandanus trees growing up through the decking and shading our frosty Lion lagers from the midday sun. Crabs snapping in tanks behind, fighting the others to the death in what seemed to me a futile exercise – they were all destined for the pot, whoever was the alpha male. There was another restaurant next door which also gets the thumbs up from our driver, and the receptionist at Suite Lanka (Refresh).
One day we finally agreed to take the backwater tour that the waiter had been telling us to take. A tuktuk transports you to the mangroves that run behind, and then we sat on planks across a dug-out catamaran, and set off into the soft green water to explore the other side of Hikkaduwa. Two men paddled the boat past crumbling luxury weekenders and into deeper forest.
Water monitors sprawled lazily on tree branches and fell off in surprise when we splashed them. Mongooses spied and darted in the thick trees, and soon the trees thinned to show us a stairway. A monk in orange robes greeted us and led us up to the top, where we found the most amazing temple. We walked barefoot through the rooms of rainbow-coloured sculptures depicting the lessons to be learned in life, many more gruesome than one would expect considering the inner calm one hopes to achieve on the path to enlightenment. And upon exit we were accosted by happy children, dancing around Goldilocks, who as you can imagine is quite popular in Sri Lanka with his golden curls, and then me, with chants of “Take my photo! Take my photo!”
The area is beautiful in an entirely different way from the hills. It is flat. So flat, in fact that when the 2004 Tsunami hit, the water traveled more than 1.5km inland. You can still see remnants of its destruction. Whole villages lie vacant, particularly a little further up the coast around Kahawa, the original living inhabitants unwilling to return to the memories, and new folk unwilling to settle with the ghosts. Amazingly, there is a stronger colonial architectural presence in the area than around Colombo, and I couldn’t help but wondering how much a rambling old Victorian mansion might cost to buy.
But that was before I saw Unawatuna…. but more on that in a later post…
Hikkaduwa is about a two-hour drive from Colombo, and an easy one at that. On the way back to Colombo, we stopped at Club Villa in Bentota for lunch, and it is well worth the stop. Easy day trips in the area include Bentota, Galle, Unawatuna, and of course the backwater, which is smaller than the Kerala backwaters, but is just as good due to the birds and wildlife, and that temple. We ate at many restaurants in the strip, and all were safe. Suite Lanka gets my thumbs up, particularly for families – friendly service, large, clean rooms, great food, and the extras were surprisingly cheap. The kids loved the swing-chairs on the beach-front, and we enjoyed the extra relaxing G&T time they provided! We paid 259 Euros per night for the three rooms combined and were happy with the value. Simple rooms were much cheaper.