I visited Unawatuna in 2012, and have been dreaming of this tropical beachside village as Melbourne’s winter days grow shorter and colder.
Unawatuna is an beautiful band of golden sand, hemmed in by emerald green coconut palms and the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean. Within ten minutes of arriving I had slipping into the crystal clear turquoise waters, and after cooling off I returned to the shore where my lunch of fish curry and ginger beer was waiting.
As the water lapped up against the land’s edge, I began to feel that I was in another time, another place to where I had been just a day earlier. Unawatuna is not about seeing or doing; it’s about sitting and being. The extraordinary sight of the ba is only slightly spoilt by hotel developments close to the beach – in fast some of the are actually on the sand. Sri Lanka regulars apparently complain the the ‘old’ Unawatuna has disappeared, and that it is becoming another tourist hellhole. I thought it had a long way to go until it gets to that point.
Sri Lanka’s civil war hardly touched this paradise, but the tsunami did. In fact Unawatuna was one of the worst hit places – virtually wiped off the map. Again, like so much of Sri Lanka, it has seemed to rapidly reinstate itself, however some scars still remain. My hotel, the SurfCity Hotel, was one of the few structures which withstood the punishment of the waves, owing to its ugly (but robust) concrete structure. Alexander Dixon was a British tourist staying at the SurfCity Hotel on 26th December 2004, and from his terrifying blog post I could gather that he would have been staying on the same floor, if not the same room, as the one I was in.
As the afternoon dragged on and time slowed down to a snail’s pace, I walked the length of the beach. I passed young Sri Lankan men playing beach cricket, massage parlours and cafes and dive schools, and strolled right up to a small temple which sat atop the headland (the one which is mentioned in Alexander’s blog). From there I was able to see the expanse of the bay, like a scene from a tourist brochure.
Kicking off my sandals once more, and without a care in the world, I slowly strolled back to my hotel which by then had set up tables and chairs on the beach. I spent the afternoon sunsetting – that is, sitting and whiling away the hours with a cold drink, a book, a spot of people watching and the setting sun in front of me, all in a diorama of paradise. ‘To sunset’ is unofficially a verb in the Sri Lankan tourist lexicon, and I firmly believe that it should be included in every person’s vocabulary, if not the Oxford Dictionary.
Moments after the sun sank below the horizon, the beach came to life with bonfires, tiki-torches and candles lighting up the restaurants on the foreshore. SurfCity were playing a ‘best of R’n’B’ collection, including Brandy and Ray-J’s 2002 reworking of Phil Collins’ hit ‘Another Day in Paradise‘. All I had to was ignore the lyrics of the verses, and it seemed to fit the mood perfectly. Further down the beach a bassy thump eminated from a dance party – loud enough to add to the festive atmosphere, but not too loud as to disturb it.
As I tucked into dinner, some locals let off their left-over new years fireworks from the beach. It was like a celebration of Unawatuna, having survived the tsunami. Or maybe it was just a celebration of life in this stunning corner of the world. It was my second last night Sri Lanka, and to me, it felt like a celebration of my holiday.