Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raving at the beach

The original idea was to do a running update of our holiday to Sri Lanka with weekly updates to this blog as well as twitter feeds. Unfortunately, plans are always supposed to go wrong and this was no exception due to the inability to get a PAYG internet connection and our busier than expected schedule.

As soon as she heard we were coming down in July, the first thing that my wife’s cousin did was to beg (yes beg) us to take her to the Hikkaduwa Beach Fesitval. The festival was organised by Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and was a 4 day event with a Drum Festival on the 1st night, a Beach rave on the 2nd and themed parties on the 3rd and 4th nights.

So a week after we landed, together with the cousin Natashaaaaaaaaaa, and our dear friend Damith, we made our way to the south of the Island to the tourist beach paradise that is Hikkaduwa. Needless to say we had many adventures – the 1st of which was trying to find accommodation. Natasha, in her brilliantly organised way, had arranged for 2 rooms in 2 different hotels and that had to be changed for the 2 nights we were going to be there. Confused? So were we. After much discussion with hotel staff, numerous calls to Natasha’s “friends” and a few trips up and down between hotels, we were able to secure 2 rooms, next to each other, in the same hotel for both the nights (better?).

Natasha and Michelle

After settling down in our rooms and relaxing with a drink, we set out in the evening to take a walk on the beach before went on to the Drum Festival. It had been quite a while since Mich and myself had walked on soft beach sand and we found it quite relaxing. Half way through the walk, we realised we were hungry and decided to take Natasha’s advise to sample some “Chicken Rotti” which was supposed to be a speciality down there with one particular shop doing a really tasty dish. According to Natasha, the way to find the shop was to look out for a board which said “Chicken Rotti” on the side – unfortunately, every shop we looked into had a board like this and after a bit of a walk we settled on a way side shop with a friendly enough shop owner. However, we fell in to the much dreaded “tourist” trap – we went in, ordered and had eaten without checking the price first – big mistake. We ended up paying a relatively big amount for something that really didn’t taste all that good and could have got for a fraction of the cost in Colombo.

After the meal we headed back to the beach to catch the sunset. I had wanted to photograph a proper sunset for a long time and I struggled a bit with setting up the tripod to the angle that I wanted. I also took my time to check the shots, use ND filters and even position a branch I found on the beach to a pleasing angle. All this preparation was a cause of great amusement and laughter for the others – including my wife – who were joking about the time that I took to take a simple sunset shot and that all the camera equipment I was carrying was actually a burden if I was going to take so long to take a shot. Well, all I can say is good photography takes time and now that the result is posted below, they can all eat their words!! Ha!
Sunset on Hikkaduwa Beach

The Drum Festival, which started 1½ hours later than scheduled, had its ups and downs. We were quite excited about one particular group (can't remember their name) who we had seen live before and considered them to be quite good. They were one of the first to play. They are quite a young group and they quickly got the crowd on their feet with some excellent rhythmic beats.
This guy is the leader (I think) and is extremely talented 

Here are a couple of videos of them performing – image quality is not great but the sound should give you an idea of what they are capable of

After they finished, the night went in to a slow decline in terms of entertainment. After such a high octane performance, the last thing we expected was a traditional drum performance. These guys were accompanied by dancers wearing traditional masks depicting devils and though entertaining, was inherently slow and down beat.

We were also treated to some "Brazillian Dancing" by some dancers brought in from the UK, which got the crowd going for obvious reasons. 
(Picture by Damith de Silva)

Several other drum groups performed and some of them were good, but none of them could get us or the crowd as excited as the first group did.
One of the drummer really got in to the "swing".... 

To make matters worse, the heavens opened up and we were treated to a nice shower at which point we realised that the organisers had not arranged for any shelter even though rain was forecasted for the day. I had to protect the camera so had to squeeze in to a tiny space near the stage to get out of the rain whilst the others held the chairs over their heads!!! As soon as the rain passed and we settled back in to our seats, we had a power outage – most probably because of all that water on the equipment – which made us realise that the organisers had not actually “organised” anything properly. They actually had a big sign to say the event was “child friendly” but we had to question why a “child friendly” event would not any kind of shelter so that at least the children don’t get soaked in the rain!!! The last straw was when we were treated to a fireworks show with the fireworks being shot over the crowd. Admittedly, the effect was great but this meant that the burnt out fireworks were going to fall on to the crowd. We had quite a few of the people scrambling and screaming as the fireworks fell on them and one of them actually fell on Michelle’s arm and left a burn mark visible to this day. If this event was held in the UK, the organisers would have been sued for Health & Safety violations….

Another funny incident involved the writer himself (yes, moi) – after the drink at the hotel, the long walk, dodgy food, running around a beach to avoid the rain, having ears and head constantly assaulted by the heavy and loud drum beats, I was suddenly feeling woozy and faintish. I had to take a break and we went back to the hotel to take a shower and then hit the beach again to hear some of the DJ music. We finally got some sleep at about 5am.

The next day we got up at about 9:30, had breakfast and then headed out to Unawatuna Beach – a surfers and sunbathers paradise. The sea is great for bathing here as it is quite shallow but there are quite a lot waves which meant that the surfers were out in force

It was great to be just sitting around, doing nothing but look at the sea, having good food and a nice cool drink (makes we want to cry as I think of it now….).

Dam the man
Yours truly - all cool and dapper
(Picture by Damith de Silva)
Michelle - finding it amusing being photographed

Quite a lot happened during the time we were there – a few of the guys showed off their football dribbling skills, a newly wedded couple came on to the beach for some photographs (Damith took some nice shots of them but will avoid posting here so as not to infuriate the official photographer), Damith asked for and took a picture of a very “colourful” couple, a few cute dogs ran around doing funny things which got Michelle to run around with the camera.

Damith with football dribblers in the background 
A sweet couple - our only regret being not getting their email address so that we could have sent this pic 
(Picture by Damith de Silva)

On our way back we decided to stop over at the Galle Fort – which was first built in the 17th Century and is still standing even after 400 years of existence and a devastating tsunami in 2004.

The Lighthouse at Galle Fort 

The clouds were rolling in and it looked like it was going to pour but there were patches of sunlight through the clouds, when I took this shot.

But the cloud passed and the sea was starting to get rough, with some of the waves crashing on these rocks with quite a bit of force

And just before we left, I tried to do some off camera flash shooting of the 2 ladies. Again they were very amused about the time it took for me to balance the ambient and flash to get the shot but hey – results speak for themselves :D

That night we went for the Beach Rave at Hikkaduwa. It was a bit confusing for us cos it looked as if we had stepped right in to a nightclub at Brighton (UK). The reason was because the DJs were all from UK and they were playing typical trance/techno music – and the thing that confused us was that the Sri Lankan crowd normally doesn’t like such music. Most of the nightclubs play pop/dance music as that is what is popular with the crowds. This was apparent because after a couple hours the heavy crowd that was at the main stage started moving towards the rear towards the Dialog (one of the sponsors) stall, which was playing more popular dance music. By the time we left, at about 3am, there were more people near the Dialog stall than the main stage.
(Picture by Damith de Silva)

Damith had a great time running with the camera photographing all the women – they thought he was the official event photographer (with the 40D and flash attached) and were quite keen on posing for him. He also found some very interesting characters in the crowd.
(Picture by Damith de Silva)

We also spent most of the night screaming out Natasha’s name (Natashhhaaaaaaaa) every time the music stopped – I think most of  the crowd thought that we were shouting the DJ’s name and were looking out for "DJ Natasha". Or maybe they just thought we were weird.

We had to leave the next day as Natasha had to get back to Colombo so we missed out on the theme nights. The journey back was quite interesting as well cos we had to locate one of Natasha’s friends who was unable to give any form of directions or landmarks as to where he was and then 5 people squeezed into a tiny car for a 3 hour journey!!

Overall a great time – thanks Natasha and Damith!


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