A trip overseas is always a welcome thing. But sometimes the pull of ditching familiar surroundings, cramming your board bag full of summer gear (read: no socks) and jumping on a plane gets all too much. Especially when it’s 10 degrees and you can’t remember the last time it wasn’t raining.
It all clicked for us after we realised that winter was already upon us, and we’d missed the good chunk of weather that NZ is usually treated to just after New Years. Time off was long overdue, and the wave drought had gone on too long. My partner Beth has been obsessed with Sri Lanka for years now, and with the promise of fun, right-hand points, it didn’t take much to convince me too. Tickets booked, board bag crammed, and off we went.
It’s not often you get the opportunity to travel to a place that you literally know nothing about. Well actually, I’m the first to admit that I do love a good cup of Ceylon tea, and I’d watched a bunch of Black Caps games against the Sri Lankans when I was younger… basically, I was going into it as a complete novice. Beth, on the other hand, had become a finely tuned Ceylon expert. Years of scouring the net had her dropping facts and naming places we “had to visit” all the way from Kuala Lumpur terminal to our arrival in Colombo. One fun fact she decided to leave out until we walked out into the heat of Colombo – we wouldn’t be jumping on a bus or accepting a hustling taxi driver’s invitation. Instead, she had gone ahead and found us a tuk-tuk for the next month. And more importantly, I’d be the one steering it.
I’d never laid eyes on a flimsy tuk-tuk before, let alone ridden one. “It can’t be much harder than a motorbike,” Beth reassured me, and off we went in our new three-wheel companion, ready to navigate the circumference of the island (take a look at a map, Sri Lanka is by no means small). Being lured here by the promise of long reeling right-handers, we were adamant to waste no time in blasting across the country to the east coast, which is where the winds are favourable this time of year. But after spending a night in Colombo, we decided we needed to wind down, head north and soak up the western and northern region while we had the chance. The waves would have to wait, but it was 36 degrees, so who’s complaining?
The first thing that smacks you in the face when you get off the plane in Colombo is the heatwave. The second is the friendliness of the locals. The sight of two foreigners with boards roped to the roof of their tuk-tuk is enough to ensure that every traffic stop or roadside fruit stall break turned into a chat about the Black Caps or Anchor Milk. Basically, everyone is a legend.
Navigating from coast to coast at a top speed of 60 kilometres per hour, we quickly found ourselves in a sweltering hot, palm tree-lined, tropical paradise. The tea is good, the locals friendly, the roadside food better than any curry we’d had back home, and you’d be hard-pressed to go two minutes without something interesting to see. Let me take this chance to say if you ever find yourself behind the wheel of a tuk-tuk in a Ceylon dream, the number one rule is never to take your eyes off the road. The highway offers speeding buses, slowly crossing elephants and a whole host of other creatures, all ready to jump out as you glance away at an ancient ruin for just a second. Monkeys, peacocks, cows, goats, snakes – you name it, and it’s crossing the road.
The east coast grabs the same south-west swells that march on towards Indo – downsized as they wrap into the coast, but also hitting an endless series of right-hand points at just the right angle. It would have taken all month to score them all… lucky we had the tuk-tuk. During our stay, it rarely got below shoulder height, with two particularly solid south swells making their way up the coast. If anyone ever tells you that Sri Lanka is only small ‘n’ mushy, don’t listen to ‘em.
During our weeks zipping around ancient ruins and taking regular coconut breaks at fruit stalls, we started to get the place wired. Here are some of our tips from a 1000-odd km journey, taken at a speed of around 50 kilometres per hour:
1. If you are confident behind the wheel and don’t mind getting pushed around on the road a bit, hire a tuk-tuk. I think the entire cost of a month’s tuk-tuk hire was equal to one taxi ride to the east coast, not to mention the cost it would be to get to the waves every morning with a driver. If you are up for the challenge, it’s the best way to see the country.
2. Roti is the best, and the local food is the goods. It’s about a fifth of what you’d pay at a more Western joint, and about five times as tasty. If you can handle spice, make sure you take every opportunity to grab a roti and some curry.
3. Travel light. It’s 36 degrees most days and the water isn’t much cooler, stay at around 32. You only need one board (an all-rounder), there’s no real need to pack the whole quiver. The last thing you want is to be lugging heavy gear in the heat.
4. Book one night’s accommodation, then wing it. You’ll find plenty of spots that aren’t online or on Trip Advisor, so spend some time exploring the area and grab a deal.
5. Get a haircut. Sounds weird, but the local barbers seriously know their stuff. $4 NZD will get you the best trim and head massage of your life.
6. Get away from the crowd. It’s one big island, so there is plenty of untouched coast. Head down back roads and explore, because all the good spots are well off the beaten track. Just remember, tuk-tuks don’t like soft sand…
7. Enjoy the sunset session. Goes without saying, doesn’t it? What’s a Corona Journey without an ice cold cerveza and a killer backdrop!
Head on over to our friends at Corona NZ to check out the full adventure around the land of tea: http://www.corona.co.nz/2017/12/corona-journey-no-50-sri-lanka/