Hikkaduwa – Close encounter with Sri Lankan hospitality
Hikkaduwa is a lovely place to stay if you like beaches stretching almost as far as the eye can see, ocean and waves, surfing, and a place that is basically set up to cater your every needs as a tourist. However, what we found in Hikkaduwa was also a unique experience of Sri Lankan kindness and hospitality. And a wonderful 3-day Ayurveda treatment for the mind, body and soul.
Just from the bus Hikkaduwa seemed very different to Ambalangoda and very touristy with small shops, restaurants, beach bars and guest houses en masse. We got off the bus without knowing which part of the town we were in but it turned out just right. We went looking for a place to stay and the first four or five places were full. We walked down a little beach road where an older man asked us if we needed a room. There was no sign on the house which was right before “Badulla’s Surf Inn”. His offer was the cheapest yet, just 10 meters from the beach. And the room was ok – a little dirty with a broken toiletseat but it worked so we took it. He knew a little Danish, ”hvordan har du det”, ”jeg har det godt” (meaning how are you? I am fine) and that was a funny connection, we thought.
There really is not much to say about Hikkaduwa as such – it is exactly what it is. Lovely long beach, many tourists, surfs up, places to hang out and get drinks and food. All you need for a holiday by the beach. And there is no real hassle from the locals. It’s a very mellow place.
We decided to treat ourselves to an ayurveda treatment. There is quite a selection i Hikkaduwa, and we went in to check a couple of places to see what was on offer. We decided on this Ayurveda Hospital because the staff seemed very nice and the place looked very authentic. The other places had more of a resemblance to a Western Spa with white sheets and towels spreaded with flowers. But the hospital consisted of small rooms, with paintings on the walls and these wooden benches that were built from a special tree which was said to make you feel calm and relaxed as you lay on it. Our three-day treatment consisted of: a full body massage, head massage, foot massage, sidartha (an oil bath of your third eye to relax you and very good against headaches and while you lay there with oil dripping on your forehead, the oil is massaged into the scalp), steam-bath and a facial with peeling and a clay mask. Two hours a day. A real treat!
What turned out to be special for us in Hikkaduwa was the people we were lucky to meet. We chatted a lot with our landlord, Sena. He was 67 and had four rooms in his guest house. He lived somewhere else behind the main road in a 100 year old house with his family. His house was close to his temple where he went to pray. He had lost one son in a traffic accident. He was able to tell us that and although he was clearly marked about it he also told it in a very calm way – as if that was a part of life that he had learned to accept. Now he had six children left, and they all lived together. The children that had married had built their own cottages on his land and the unmarried ones still lived with him and his wife in their house. Everyday he would come down to the guest house before we got up. He told us that he typically ate springer hoppers for breakfast and then rice and curry for lunch and dinner. Sometimes he would have fresh fish but otherwise he would have dried fish with his curry. He thought it was a little strange that we ate fruit and yoghurt for breakfast.
When he was at the guest house, he would read the paper in between doing things that needed to be done. He drove home for lunch on his 30 year old Honda moped (which still worked fine!) but always came back later in the afternoon. Everyday he would sit down on the stone wall at end of the path to the beach to watch the sunset. We joined him and somehow ending the day with a sunset was a perfect way to end a day.
We wanted to go and see some of the sights around Hikkaduwa, so Sena suggested his friend could take us in his tuktuk. He made us a very fair price so we arranged for him to come the next morning. Sena’s friend arrived on the dot at the said time of 11 o’clock. He showed us a turtle hatchery, the tsunami monuments, the tsunami museum, cinnamon factories, a moon stone mine and workplace and finally a temple where he gave us the grand tour and where the head monk blessed us and him at the end of our tour. Our driver´s name was also Sena, he was very kind and took us to all the places he thought we would find interesting.
We had agreed on 600 LKR and paid him 700 LKR but it was actually worth a lot more. Later that day, we went out for dinner and we met him on the main street. He was heading for Galle, 30 km away but he wanted to show us his house. He invited us inside to meet his family, 2 daughters, 2 sons and his wife. One daughter worked for an insurance company and the other worked in a bank. They were both in there late 20’s but looked very young. The one son worked as a tuktuk-driver and he came to say hello but left quickly to go to work. The other son was 32 years old and worked at a hotel. They were all unmarried although the older son was engaged to be married in June.
Sena’s wife asked if we would like some tea, and we accepted her offer and got a wonderful tasting cuppa, served in their best white china teapot. They were incredibly nice. The son asked if we would like to come and eat a real Sri Lankan dinner the next evening and we said yes, of course! We asked if we should bring something but they insisted there was no need to what so ever. What time did we want to come? We said anything would suit us – 8 o’clock? That would be fine.
The next evening we made sure we were not late for our dinner appointment. We had been wondering all that day what the curtesies were here in Sri Lanka because we of course weren’t familiar with them at all. Our plan was to go with the flow and be as polite as possible. The dinner table was set with just 2 plates. We were asked to sit down by the little coffee table and we begun to chat with the son and Sena for a few minutes before we were asked to take our seats at the dinner table.
Then the food was carried in by his wife and daughters from behind the curtain to the kitchen. It looked absolutely amazing! We sat down at the dinner table and the son and Sena sat down opposite us. Sena didn’t eat until 9.30 or 10 but the son had a little bit to eat with us. He ate with his fingers and explained that it was the normal thing because the fingers mixed the food very well. We, however, had a knife and fork next to our plates. We were served rice, fish in a curry sauce, fried fish, potato-curry, little slices of onion topped with a slice of tomato and a slice of pickeled carrot, and a green salsa-like salad that had the texture of parsley or sea weed; we had never had this dish before– the son explained he had tried to look up the English word for it in a dictionary but it didn’t exist. The unknown plant is considered very good against headaches and throat-problems. And finally, there was a plate of slices with lime to sprinkle on the food. Everything seriously tasted wonderful! And whenever a bowl emptied, it was filled up from the kitchen again. Definitely the best meal we have had in Sri Lanka so far. Sena had picked up the fish from the market earlier in the morning and everything was locally produced. Even the potatoes (although they were grown more inland).
And feeling totally satisfied with that wonderful meal, the curtain to the kitchen was drawn again and we were treated to a mega-desert. Firstly, pieces of perfectly ripe papaya with lime and then a fruit and nut ice cream that tasted like a little bit of heaven. Sena told us that the papaya was from his own land. It was really the best papaya we had ever tasted .
In between and after the meals a bowl of water was placed on the table to clean the hands.
The son who was sitting with us told us he was getting married in June. He didn’t know if it was going to be a big party yet. Maybe. He had known his fiancée for 11 years. She lived in Ambalangoda with her familiy and they probably saw each other once a week during the high season, on sundays. They spoke more often on the phone. The son worked in The Coral Sands Hotel as a roomboy and he was happy with that. He had 8 days off in a month which meant during high season from October to March he didn’t do much other than work. Normally a working day was 9 hours. Seeing friends and his fiancée would be mostly in the off-season. We were told that a normal salary is 8.200 LKR (ca. €49) but if you work for the government it is more likely to be 25.000-30.000 LKR (ca. €148-178). Sena and his son explained that there had been attempts to start up unions in the 70’s but the employers had sacked everyone and that was the end of unions. There were currently problems in regards to wages because the inflation was not being calculated in the wages but only in the prices of goods.
Sena told us he had a bit of land behind the main road where his son who was getting married was building a house to live in with his wife. His hope was that all his children would built on the land and live there once they were married. He laughed and said that he could keep an eye on his children if they lived at home. Until they married he looked after them. Once they flew the nest and married, he would leave it to there spouse. The family seemed very harmonious.
We sat down at the coffee table after dinner and chatted – but we didn’t want to overstay our welcome and Sena still hadn’t eaten anything. So around 10 o’clock we started to say our goodbyes. We invited them to come to our house in Denmark anytime and we said that we would love to make them a Danish dinner. They were all so sweet. As we left, we said we wished that there was something we could do to repay this wonderful generosity and the family all replied unanimously ”NO NO NO”. And smiled. The son walked us out and we left with a lovely feeling.
We realized that we had had a truly genuine experience of hospitality. No hidden agenda. It was all about making us happy and show us a piece of Sri Lanka culture. Thank you!