The curse of the tourist

I had a few things that I was sure I wanted to see in Sri Lanka. One of them was the stilt fishermen.  Almost every pinterest board on Sri Lanka had a picture or two of the stilt fishermen. The most common frame was about five of them sitting on sitting on a rather narrow plank of wood nailed to a pole against the backdrop of the setting sun.

So one morning we set from our guest house in Unawatuna to Koggala following the directions from the guide book.   I knew I wouldn’t get the dramatic backdrop of a setting sun. In fact the sun was rather harsh. But being pressed for time  the mid day sun would have to do. I  hoped the fishermen ,at least one of them would be there. It would be shame to have come all this way and miss this sight.

On reaching Koggala we parked the bikes by the side of the road. In front of us was a group of coconut trees with its sparse branches throwing a measly shade. Beyond them stretched the turquoise blue waters of the Indian Ocean. While the rest stood admiring the view I walked around a bend to where the guide book said we would find the stilt fishermen.

At glance I was a little disappointed. The stilts were there, alright. But there were no fishermen. Probably it was too hot in the day for fishing. I mentally took stock of the things we had planned to do for the day hoping to squeeze another trip to Koggala in the evening. Well, I needn’t have worried. Soon a couple of fishermen were  hurriedly walking to the stilts. I heart leapt for joy. ( yes I am a drama queen!). We wouldn’t have to rearrange our day for the stilt fishermen after all.


Stilt fishermen Photo by : Steve McCurry

I watched as they  got on their  stilts.  One particular fishermen was rather odd. He almost rushed from the shack near the shore to the water. But once he reached  the water he walked tip toe like he didn’t want his feet to get wet. Odd , especially for a fisherman. I didn’t read too much into it. I stood at a distance and watched the men at work.

No sooner had the fishermen got on their stilts a Chinese tour group walked to the water’s edge. They started taking pictures of the fishermen while a someone explained the process of stilt fishing. He ended his session with “Please help the poor men with some money.”

As if on cue the fishermen who were allegedly fishing stepped down from the stilts, walked over to the tourists and held out their hands.

After the group had left , the men remained by the shore  while their leader, the one who was explaining the process walked over to us.

Smiling he said, ” Come I’ll explain about stilt fishing. You can take picture with fishermen and with fish.”

” No, Not interested”.

His smile vanished and he replied rather rudely I thought ” No pictures please! You have to pay if you take.”

We shook our heads  in acknowledgment while he turned and waved at the so called fishermen. The men picked up their fishing poles and walked to the shack near the shore .

There would be no profit in  putting up a show for us!


One thought on “The curse of the tourist

  1. Sure does dampen the excitement when it becomes a staged production rather than authentic experience. I have evolved a bit from wanting to capture the pictures from the guidebooks to actually experiencing authentic local life. The pictures, you can always get from Pinterest, the experience, is unique only to you. Now, I enjoy spending time in the less touristy areas, getting to know the locals, when I travel.


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