As with most Asian countries, it’s not necessary to book accommodation, or anything else, in advance when visiting Sri Lanka. However, I knew that I’d be arriving into Arugam Bay in the middle of peak season aka surf season and so I emailed a couple of places to see whether they had any room. Most replied saying that they were full, with the exception of the Siam view hotel, whose reply was, well, intriguing:
No problem, dear Tom-Tom.
Just make your way.
(“But “Don’t mention the War”
And all will fall into it’s place.
Arugam bay, and this hostel both sounded like my kind of places, and they haven’t disappointed. The town itself is a small, relaxed, hippy surf town, pretty much a Sri Lankan Byron bay. Except that it’s much cheaper – a coconut costs less than 50 cents – is less busy, has pumping waves and there aren’t the stupidly strict drinking rules that exist in my usual hippy paradise. So far so good, then I got to the hostel.
The YMCA is right in the centre of town, and it is the first hostel I’ve come across in Sri Lanka, the first time that I’ve had air-conditioning, and the cheapest accommodation I’ve found. I wandered into the only dorm room, and I wandered into a new family. The floor was covered in sand (sorry Fred), a mouse ate through my iPhone case and 500 rupees, the power is intermittent, and I used a towel as a bedsheet for a week, but the YMCA is everything a hostel should be.
It’s full of fascinating and fun people, inspiring quotes cover the walls, and the relaxed approach of the owners makes for an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. The guys running it didn’t even know that I was staying for the first 4 days, and I’ve now been here 7 days and I still haven’t paid for one yet, a perfect environment for someone that hasn’t had a house key for over a year.
Little Derek (great name for a baby!) runs around the hostel naked, there’s a brightly painted VW camper can parked in the garden, and the locals chat to you while you’re using the outdoor showers, with butterflies swooping overhead.
The owners, of various hippy and traveller backgrounds, even offer the rooms for free on couchsurfing.com if they’re not occupied by paying guests. When I asked one of the owners why they’re so relaxed, the response was a fairly obvious one: when you’ve lived through a tsunami, nothing else seems worth worrying about.
If I ever do own my own hostel, I want the atmosphere to be based on this one. I won’t make any money, like the guys here don’t, but I’ll have a great time with great people and that’s what really matters to me. Unfortunately, however, all good things must come to an end, and most of our family have gone their separate ways, despite staying for far longer than planned, and I will leave tomorrow too. Fortunately, that’s because I have to catch my flight to the Maldives for some more sun, sea and surf, life is tough right now!
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