Five Ways to be a Sustainable Traveler in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
We had arrived in Arugam Bay after two bus journeys from Colombo and a short tuk-tuk ride. Getting to this East Coast paradise is quite a caveat if you use public transport but, as soon as we came to our eco-friendly beach hut, the sun rose above the horizon painting skies in bright yellows. As we sat on the beach, two pooches came running towards us, and the fishermen were already at work.
After a two-hour rest, we both went on exploring the bylanes of Arugam Bay. It was the off-season. Most boutiques and cafes were closed. It was quiet. There were not many misbehaving tourists. However, as Ibrahim, our guide at Ecowave told us, Arugam Bay during the peak season is completely different. Tourists walk on the roads wearing bikinis even near the schools. Parties go on until early morning and this quaint beach town loses its charm. With Ecowave, we learned how to be a sustainable traveler in Arugam Bay in order to practice ethical tourism, preserve our environment and the local community life.
Stay in a homestay
Ecowave runs a homestay programme in nearby Panama and Lahugala villages in order to support the ethical tourism practices. Not only the community is financially benefited from this cause, outside visitors get to have a glimpse of the authentic local life. After all, you didn’t come all the way to see a plethora of Western cafes by the beach offering not-so-western food. Nathan and I had lunch with Ibrahim at one of the homestays. It was part of our Panama Village and Kumana National Park tour.
Go on a lagoon tour
On our second day, at 6 in the morning, we went on a lagoon tour at Kottukal Lagoon. As we were circling in the lagoon on a small wooden boat with a local fisherman, we witnessed a majestic sunrise. We saw plenty of wild animals in their natural habitats including gulls, brahminy kites, peacocks, eagles and even a crocodile. We could also observe s few fishermen at work, and wee-chatted with the uncle who was paddling our boat. It was a beautiful cultural immersion. When I went to Ella recently, it reminded me how important it is to mingle with the locals when you travel. I’ve not come to a new place to see a bunch of noisy tourists.
Learn to cook Sri Lankan rice & curry
At the Ecowave outlet, we learned to cook rice & curry with a local lady and Ibrahim. To our delight, all the ingredients we used were organic and sourced from nearby villagers of Urani and Pottuvil. We were quite lucky to even visit a local farmer’s garden, and see the process of organic farming. We also had home-cooked Sri Lankan breakfast and shared our travel and life experiences with the owner of the farm. At 70, he’s quite fitter than most 20-somethings these days, and he emphasized the importance of consuming organic food.
Buy from locals
When you buy from a large hotel or from a supermarket, you are being part of the profit a businessman makes. Sri Lanka as a country has a huge income disparity. It’s something which always amazed us. The basic wage of the general public isn’t enough to function a good life. Although the costs might look cheaper for a foreign tourist, compared to what locals generally earn, the cost of living is quite high. When you buy from a small kade (shop), a family-run restaurant or from a small bakery, you are directly supporting the local community. You might have helped a kid buy his school books. Or maybe supported an old grandma to pay for her medical services. Isn’t that quite wonderful?
Carry your own water bottle
Plastic is a huge problem in Sri Lanka. Carry your own refillable water bottle and try to reduce plastic consumption in your daily life as much as you can. Many homestays now offer free water refills. Even at the Ecowave outlet, we noticed a large water filter where you can refill your bottles. Avoid using polythene bags as well. Instead, carry a few clothing bags to separate your belongings. In Dharamshala, we saw that none of the shops used polythene, and that was a huge learning experience for us.
We were lucky to be collaborating with Visit.Org partner Ecowave during our stay in Arugam Bay. Ecowave is a social enterprise which directly supports the local community. All the profit they make directly goes to benefit the locals in nearby villagers.