Nothing very blog-worthy has happened to me recently so here are a few photographs taken when my partner and I holidayed in Nilaveli a little while ago. Nilaveli is about 15 kilometres north of the town of Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s north-eastern coast and our hotel – a collection of semi-detached wooden cabins acting as hotel rooms, plus a reception building, restaurant building and lounge building – stood on the edge of the beach there.
The hotel encroached on the beach with rows of sun-recliners and sunshades – the surfaces of the sun-recliners sometimes streaked with white shit thanks to the local, naughty population of crows. And at night, the beach seemed ablaze when coils of fluorescent tubing wrapped around the trunks of the hotel’s palm trees lit up and made them look like giant sticks of stripy confectionary. However, the beach was simultaneously a working one. Every day, just beyond the last of the sun-recliners, gangs of fishermen ranging in age from wrinkly fellows in straw hats to lanky youths in Rastafarian bonnets would assemble and pull nets out of the sea. Each team was about seven strong. They’d form a line, grip a rope and slowly retreat up the beach with it, taking short, synchronised steps. The person at the back would reach a certain point and relinquish the rope, move down to the surf at the front of the line and take up the rope again. And so it continued while more of the rope came in.
Then a string of white floats – round white chunks of Styrofoam – approached on the silvery blue surface of the sea, signalling that the nets were getting near. How surreal it would be, I thought, if eventually they towed the far end of the rope out of the water and there emerged another team of seven guys clinging onto it, trying to pull it in the opposite direction.
Later, the nets would be strewn across the sand while the fishermen hunkered down and transferred the landed fish into hemispherical baskets. Flocks of crows would alight and watch the baskets hopefully.
On the beach north of our hotel were two groups of fishermen’s huts, about a hundred metres of sand between them. When I walked past them one evening, most of those huts were in darkness, with only a couple of larger ones lit by electrical lights. One of the unlit huts had a fire burning on the floor just inside its entrance, glowing in the dark like a permanent orange flare. Some guys were in the process of setting out to sea, heading for their nocturnal fishing grounds. Later, their boat-lamps would form a necklace of white specks across the distant, black water.
There are a few hotels at Nilaveli, but ours seemed to be the most northerly one and it was separated from its nearest neighbour by a twenty-minute walk along the beach. When I explored the intervening section of beach, I discovered that not everything there was picture-perfect. Parts of it – away from the hotels and the fishing huts – were depressingly dirty, littered with washed-up plastic water bottles, glass arrack bottles, tin cans, flip-flops, rubber shoe-soles (the leather bits having presumably rotted away) and dried-up and fly-ridden husks of fish that’d been gutted and thrown back in the sea.
Also, a sizable area of beach was polka-dotted with shrivelled, sandy cowpats. Eventually, the culprits came into view – a herd of cattle that were mooching about on or lying on the sand, almost within reach of the breakers. They seemed totally nonchalant about their surroundings, unfazed by the rumbling and frothing seawater, the occasional wandering beach-dogs, the crows that hopped around them and even perched on top of them, and the tourists from the nearby hotel who were snapping photos of them.
One other thing I noticed as I ventured south from our hotel was a huddle of gutted concrete ruins standing in the scrub and woodland just off the back of the beach. Weirdly, their outer walls were decorated with psychedelic murals of, for example, a red Cyclopean octopus-thing and a yellow-skinned, blue-eyed face. I suspect that back in the 1970s or 1980s some aspiring local entrepreneur built this place, believing he or she could fashion a seaside retreat for the sort of Western hippies who used to flock to Goa in India. But fate intervened in some form or other – the Sri Lankan Civil War, perhaps? – and those buildings were abandoned to disuse and decay.