5. Cinnamon and short-term friendships
Updated: Mar 16
I haven’t kept to the self-set schedule of posting a blog update every two days. Apologies to faithful readers. The last few days have just been chocka with getting tipsy, recovering from hangovers, and surfing as much as possible. Yep; I can surf as much as possible again now. It’s thanks to a recent fantastic purchase. Beneath my boardshorts I now wear a pair of women’s tights. Or leggings. I’m unsure of the difference. Either way, the legging-tights are doing an unbelievable job of keeping the rash on both my thighs from increasing. They’re frighteningly comfortable. Where have I been all my life? I went into one shop and bartered the price, then realised I hadn’t the cash to buy them right then. On the way to the ATM I thought I’d try another spot just in case I could find tights cheaper elsewhere. While the first shop was a surf/beach apparel store, the one en route to the ATM sold only women’s clothes. I wandered in and knew instantly it had been a mistake. The shop was devoid of customers and the small and meek-looking Sri Lankan lady behind the counter stared over at the door as I entered. Her eyes turned wide. I could tell she was frightened. Here was a six-foot-three (and a half) cumbersome Yorkshireman ducking through into her shop – a far cry from her usual clientele. I headed straight for her as well. “Do you sell tights?” I asked. I presented a leg and indicated with a hand that I wanted full length. She had no clue what I was talking about, but quietly uttered, “No. No,” and shook her head. I smiled and thanked her and went back out so she could feel safe again. I went back to the first shop and then rushed straight to the beach to squeeze in an evening session, but the evening brings hordes of people and getting a wave without getting dropped-in on is nigh on impossible. So I took a swim instead and then we went to an open mic night which turned into a raucous evening dominated by our hostel and it’s twenty-seater table by the stage, followed by racing tuk-tuks to a party in Mirissa for an awesome drunken evening.
This was Monday night – sandwiched two days either side of visits to The Doctor’s House. The Doctor’s House is an incredible place. Filled with around a thousand or so backpackers each Wednesday and Saturday afternoon/evening, it’s a big fenced-in area comprising grassy chill areas, benches to sit at, and a dancefloor next to the bars in what ostensibly appears to be an ancient ruin. I found out last night it is, duh, a former doctor’s place. It was battered, like so much of the Sri Lankan coast, by the Boxing Day Tsunami back in 2004. Apparently the venue as it stands now hasn’t been renovated too much since then. A chilling story lies behind this extremely cool place, as the south coast still feels the impact of an event which took place over fifteen years ago. At around 10.30pm people stagger over to an afterparty across the road at a bar on the white sand fringed by coconut palms. Stunning. Yet the main attraction of The Doctor’s House is not the impressive site itself, nor the copious volumes of Lion beer and local arrack mixers consumed, but whom it is consumed alongside. One of the chronic downsides to travelling and staying in hostels is having the resilience to tolerate a large amount of transitory relationships. I still don’t know much about this life, but I increasing see that it is all about the people you spent it with. As opposed to maybe feeling this less so in previous years, when I sometimes went places and wanted to meet as many people as possible, now I really love forming honest and strong bonds. It can be difficult to commit to that when hostelling, since you know people are only there for a short amount of time. Right now the atmosphere at Spindrift (if it hasn’t been clear already, I would wholeheartedly recommend this hostel!) makes it a joy. There is a really good, honest group of people wanting to do stuff – luckily, mainly surfing – and hang out. Right from Nevena, an eighteen-year-old talented singer from Berlin, to big Martin, a six-foot-six, thirty-seven-year-old from Switzerland, everyone gets involved and gets along. It’s sad to think we’ll all be moving on so quickly, but I guess there is not a lot that can be done but to enjoy it while it lasts and try to keep conversations going afterwards. I was considering this as about eight of us were stood around in the kitchen at 5.30am sipping coffee and waiting for the sun to rise so we could surf. There was a real energy in the room. Had we all slept well? Maybe not. But that energy you get from being around other gregarious people would keep us going and we knew it would. And it did.
Two days back a few of us went on a boat safari. In an incredible coincidence, two people from the United States realised after a conversation about their jobs in ecology that they had met a few years back. They both wanted to take a trip out to go bird-watching. Couldn’t believe my fortune! I sheepishly took out my feeble pair of binoculars I’ve had since I was about 12, and tried not to stand mine against their impressive ones, and we went out on the bus. A fracas occurred right by me and Adam. A local man, who it turns out was drunk at 1pm, all of a sudden exploded into shouting and aggressive pointing on the otherwise silent bus. The conductor came along to try to settle the drunk man down, but the guy grabbed the conductor firmly by the shirt and was about to hit him. In the end he swerved his hand and banged it down hard on the back of the seat in front of me. He eventually released the conductor from his grip, but continued shouting. After a couple more stops he seemed to settle a little. He apologised to me a bunch of times and I tried not to look too worried or start laughing. Without trying to be rude, I was pretty pleased when he jumped off a couple of stops later.
On the boat trip we saw monkeys in the trees around the big lagoon, as well as white-throated kingfishers, some kind of sunbird hanging around the tops of palms, and Brahminy kites, which also watch over us in Weligama in the waves like the one or two drones out each morning filming surfing. We moored up at the edge of the lagoon and had a look at a cinnamon plantation, where we were also shown how it’s harvested and dried out, before sampling authentic cinnamon tea and, of course, being presented with cinnamon produce to buy. Our other stop was at a spice garden. The dude taking us around took great pleasure in smearing some aloe he’d just snapped off the plant on the rashes poking out under my shorts. The thick gel from the plant made it feel like my legs were wrapped in silk. I bought a bottle in the shop after the tour. What with this and the legging-tights, the rashes are all about gone and my body is looking back to normal …
Of course, to make sure I had something going on, I gave myself a donk on the head with my longboard this morning and have a wee Harry Potter forehead wound. Serves me right for trying to do a backflip off my board after the wave was done. The surf was awesome though. A bit of bigger swell in the last two days seems to have put off a few people from entering the waves, meaning it was pretty uncrowded all morning. A bunch of rowdy Sri Lankan lads on shortboards were really making their presence felt. It was a lively atmosphere in the waves and a lot of fun, and it was pretty cool to enjoy some faster rides instead of the mellow smaller waves I’ve become accustomed to, even if paddling back out got a little painful when a bigger one broke and sent boards flying.
Since breakfast is not commonly served at 5am, these morning surfs really kick up an appetite for the day. But an all-you-can-eat rice and curry buffet last night saw us through. We had it in Midigama, which is home to a few different types of surf breaks, some advanced (I will not be trying Rams Right, Mum, don’t worry … I’m sure you know what Rams is), but some beginner- and intermediate-friendly. Hoping to try out Plantations one morning in the next few days.
Yesterday I had to move out of Spindrift. I was too late in asking to extend the stay for a second time, but I have booked it for the final week of my trip at the start of February after some explorations further along the south coast and possibly the country’s interior. Now I have two nights at another nice hostel by a quieter section of the huge Weligama beach … but I’m heading out now to rent a scooter so I can see my mates at Spindrift more easily during the next few days. I'm confident they're not sick of me.
(Strolling back to the bus stop after the boat tour ... as the crow flies ofc.)