Hikkaduwa’s Riches to Rags Stories
It is the off-season over at Hikkaduwa, its long and sparse beach lined with small zany restaurants and bars overlooked the breathtaking Indian Ocean. The landscape is pleasantly tranquil and languid during the 4 months dormancy; its shore lay placid amidst the jarring waves that echo into the night.
During its heyday, Hikkaduwa was the reputed rendezvous for voguish parties and hardcore drugs. Having suffered catastrophic damage during the 2004 Tsunami, its once astonishing beach was significantly reduced after breakwaters were built as part of risk mitigation efforts.
I wandered past a dingy and desolate looking hut when a lady called out from within, offering beach massage for 20,000 Rs / Hour (USD 18). Knowing the off-season period would take a toll on their livelihood, I walked in seeing no other tourists in sight. I immediately asked where she purchased the “massage oil’ which smelled uncomfortably similar to the Sri Lanka cuisines and was left flabbergasted by her chirpy reply, “I cooked it with the Aloe Vera plant in garden”. She later introduced her husband, a Tuk Tuk driver who would take us for a day tour in Galle and Unawatuna beach that culminate in an invitation to their home for homemade tea.
The couple along with 4 young lovely daughters lived in a small home, its drab walls dreary with age. I was concerned when I noticed the same tattered clothes were worn on the couple for a few days. Behind the creased expressions engraved by bittersweet memories, their stark enthusiasm and spirit to life were both heartbreaking and endearing.
A true story of Riches to Rags -The family used to own a hotel that was ravaged by the 2004 Tsunami and today all that is left is a barren plot of land. Looters indiscriminately took whatever gold and money they could find amidst the chaos and with no insurance purchased, the disaster left them with nothing over night.
Still hopeful that someday opportunities will precede the crystallization of their dream to rebuild the hotel, they carry optimistic outlook in spite of the harsh brutality of life. That night was a stormy one as I peer towards the storm that caresses the ferocious waves, it dawned on me that life is as ephemeral and fragile as the footprints cast on its shore.