A Feast on the Beach.

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End Mar 25, 2009

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Where I stayed
Surfing Beach Guest House

Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, February 16, 2009

Well, we have a pretty good crew going at the surfing beach guest house these days. Turns out, as luck would have it, the Surfing Beach place was the very first guesthouse and faces out to the "main break," where the big boys play. Nice watching from there, but the waves for beginners are a bit more down the beach from where I am.
Fortunately there are a couple of other beginners here, so I have some company, unlike Arugam Bay, where it seemed everyone was some sort of professional.
I've been holding off a bit on the surfing, as I don't really believe in sunscreen and like my skin to "harden" a bit to the tropical sun until I can take it directly without burning. This of course takes a bit of time for such as me, after many months of no sun on skin in the northeast united states. Not quite as white as snow, but the perma-tan is not quite dark enough to instantly take the sun.
The Surfing Beach Guest house is not only the first one on Hikkaduwa, but it's owner, Noel (he says "like christmas") is apparently the Original Hikkaduwa Surfer, and is known and respected by all. Older and grey now, with one eye and a sizeable belly (means business has been good), I am not sure if he gets out onto the waves much anymore, mostly he watches, and gives tips to some. His wife and another family member (brother) do most of the cooking, and both of them are ready with a big Sri Lankan smile at almost any time. Noel, on the other hand is a bit hard to read. It is evident that the life of a classic surfer is not always an easy one, and his experience shows in his face even when he smiles.
A wise old man who has seen it all generally has a careworn look about him, no matter where he is.
Also there is a curious and bright little boy of 9 years, son of Noel and his wife. He has fairly good english, plays violin, keyboard, and loves to try to play guitar. A rock star he will be someday. Noel hides his cigarettes above the power box on the far side of the building, sneaking a smoke where the little one cannot see. He wants to spare the child from as much vice as possible, and it seems to be working. A charming and intelligent boy, perhaps someday he will take over the family business.

On my first full day here, of course I had to go and check out the town proper, not the overpriced tourist section I am in the center of. So, with one of the other fellows staying in the guesthouse we set off the mile or so to the town center in the heat of the day. I had a passing thought as I was locking up my room that perhaps I should wear a hat, but decided against it, hence the delay in hitting the surf as I waited for the red to peel and fade from my forehead (now at least a five-head due to the loss of hair) so that I will be able to face the sun again. Nothing to do but pick some aloe from the side of the building and slather it on copiously, hoping that the inevitable peel will go by quickly and relatively painlessly.
So, back in town past the bus station we walked about, myself hoping to find a relatively cheap plastic bucket for laundering and perhaps a place to get vegetables at non-tourist rates. Both were found, and as a bonus, we found the docks where the fishermen unload their daily catch for sale at wholesale prices. An idea formed in our heads. . .What if we just bought a bunch of veggies and fish and did a nice meal for the ten or so guests at the hotel? Seemed good. .
So, running it by the others, it turns out Daniel (the only one of us who can actually surf a wave) is a proper chef who spent time in Israel working in a 5 star restaurant. He agreed to do the cooking, and the date was set for saturday.
Off to market 4 of us went, pricing and selecting eggplant, carrots, potatoes, okra, and all kind of other veggies for the side. It was then on to the pier to get some fish.
Funny thing about the fish market, it is certainly open all day, but as we found out soon enough, it only has fish when a boat comes in, and most boats hold their catch until early in the morning when the market area bustles with restaurant and guesthouse owners vying for the best quality and lowest price for tuna, bonito, snapper, ocean perch, prawns, calimari, and various other creatures of the sea. So the other two carried the vegetable goods back to our place while myself and Doron waited for our ship to come in, so to speak. After about a half hour or so, one of the trawlers pulled up to the crowded dock and began unloading its catch. Over to the captain, we got a price of 100 rupees for a funny-looking fish called "chicken fish," the singhalese name for it being too tough for a couple of tourists to pronounce, let alone remember. 4 kilos of the fish, and an old man to clean them for us for another 100 rupees, we had everything we needed for a proper feast. Of course, to do it Sri Lankan style, we also needed a few bottles of Arrack, the local moonshine made from coconuts. For this task we sent our security guard/rickshaw driver down to the bottle shop to save 200 rupes a bottle.
Candles were a must as well, so I arranged some nicely on the tables while the kitchen was a frenzy of chopping, spicing and cooking. A Lankan beach "barbeque" is actually just a heavy metal plate with a fire under it, so Daniel opted to cook in foil on the hot plate. A proper meal took shape, then took place with the three tables pushed together, and most everyone staying in the guesthouse sitting around it. Roasted eggplant, a carrot and veggie fry, and (yum!) mashed potatoes rounded out the Chicken fish, which, though a cheap fish to the Lankans was really quite excellent, its chicken-like taste and texture caused by the mollusks and crustaceans it eats almost exclusively. Delicious. Later I brought out the guitar and played for an hour or two, trying to remember every song I know that has sing-along potential. Surprisingly, my brain still works, and many songs came to mind that I thought I had forgotten, and even a few that I never knew I had learned.
Arrack also flowed freely. Looks like petrol, and tastes just ever so slightly better. If there is any left over, it probably will run the rickshaw down to the bottle shop for another. . .
Another quality of Arrack is that you can drink plenty of it and not foresee the after-effects, so there being a "party" down the beach a click or so, I soon found myself at the bar, drinking lion beer and of course, more of the Arrack. Soon after that I found myself walking home on the beach as the sun was rising. Needless to say, Sunday was a total wash, and last night I got myself a real night's sleep, to be up early walking the beach and writing to you. And so goes another day in a beautiful place with good people all round. Family is everywhere you go, if you let it be so.

And so, dear reader, I leave you now to go select a surfboard and brave the waves. On the "beginner" side of the beach of course. I should survive to tell about that tomorrow or the next day.
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