Avurudu Celebrations at Cape Weligama

Here we all are at the Cape and we’re thinking of New Year already!

In a little over 2 weeks the country will grind to a halt whilst nearly everyone heads to their home village and town to spend a few precious days with their family. Some will head off to the splendid locale of Cape Weligama.

Down at The Cape, staff are already starting to plan the activities for the 2 most joyful days of the year. The thing about Avurudhu in Sri Lanka is it officially commences at a different auspicious time each year. Not that that matters too much as the signal it has arrived is a barrage of firecrackers and, in recent years, rockets that sound like WW3’s opened up.

If you’ve not heard it before (or you’ve forgotten!) it can be a little daunting – especially if it’s around dawn. Up at Tea Trails of course the sounds echo and re-echo across the valleys and hills but at The Cape being on the coast, the sounds travel mostly out to sea.

Cape Weligama is not a place to stand idly by whilst others enjoy themselves so guests will have been advised (warned!) the night before what time the festivities will commence and the expected noise levels. Earplugs can be provided for the light sleepers.

Following Reveille, there’s a leisurely breakfast on your patio or in your favourite restaurant before settling down to watch the eager staff prepare the games.

Now, if you haven’t seen people prepare the traditional Avurudhu games, you’re in for a treat. It always seems to me that everyone’s in a rush to finish their part so they can “road test” them.

The sight of 2 young staff having a pillow fight on a horizontal bar whist giggling helplessly with laughter is something, as a guest, you don’t forget. Neither did the 2 staff last year when they were roundly admonished by the Room Supervisor for starting too early.

I have to admit that the staff also fell about laughing at the sight of some guests vainly trying to hang on to the log as well as their dignity.

So what’s being planned this year?

Ever been to Mexico?

If you have, you’ve likely have seen the Piñata Festival. Well, Sri Lanka has the same using clay pots filled with goodies that rain down on the blindfolded stick swinger when broken. You know you’ve hit the jackpot when a great roar goes up from the watching crowd.

There’s the equivalent of “pinning the tail on the donkey” that’s been changed to “marking the elephants eye”. That makes perfect sense as no-one’s seen a donkey in Sri Lanka! Whilst everyone joins in with this, it’s the younger children who have the most fun. I saw a 4 year old hit dead centre and the poor boy didn’t have a clue what he’d done until he got a small t-shirt and cap, lollypop and bag of sweets when his grin almost split his face.

Next up?

The Lime and spoon race!

Most of us are used to the egg & spoon race, but limes are way smaller and rounder and it’s devilishly hard to keep them balanced – especially when there’s a lot of bumping and jostling going on. Without question this is only for those who have speed and a good sense of balance.

For me the funniest game is trying to feed someone yoghurt whilst both are blindfold. It brought a whole new meaning to yoghurt shampoo. Several participants obviously thought it was a good ear cleaner.

Ever tried passing a balloon between people without using your hands? It’s not the easiest thing in the world – especially if you’ve had a shot of something. Try it with an egg whilst wearing a Sari!

One of the great things about Avurudhu games at Cape Weligama is that everyone, and I do mean everyone, joins in. For a few hours all inhibitions are cast aside from the GM to the kitchen helper in the name of good, harmless FUN that seems to have evaporated from many societies.

And fun is definitely on the cards when it comes to Finding the Coin. Why this hasn’t made its way west I’ll never know, but take a small coin and about 3 kilo’s of flour. (Can you guess the rest?). Bury the coin in the flour and then, (oh, I love this part), using only your tongue, find the coin.

It brings a whole new meaning to make up, especially when the ladies are involved! As I said, it’s pure, unadulterated FUN.

As is filling the bottle.

Take a narrow necked bottle and a bucket of water. Using just your hands you have to transfer the bucket contents to the bottle in the shortest time possible over a 25 metre course. This is why the games are held in the morning as it would be totally impossible after a good lunch.

Whilst at The Cape I could have sworn I heard Ringo, Ginger Baker and Phil Collins pounding their drum kits in a corner of the extensive gardens. On closer inspection it turned out to be 3 amazing older ladies playing the Rabana’s. For the uninitiated, Rabana’s are hand drums and these ladies were going at it with a vengeance. Drums have long been a staple of Sri Lankan culture and the skills are passed down through the family so the rhythms I heard were centuries old.

That’s one of the great things about Cape Weligama. Apart from offering superb leisure facilities, food and so on, there’s a determination to keep alive the cultural traditions. There’s nothing manufactured just for the guests as in some other Asian countries I’ve visited. This is pride in one’s heritage. And it encompasses everyone from the resort owners – Dilmah – through the management and the staff.

We may not recognize it but festivities such as these are essential for future generations and I for one commend everyone at Cape Weligama for doing all they can to ensure our children have a heritage they can look back on and be proud of.

Finally, there’s that ol’ stand by, the tug-o-war.

Rather like many events world-wide, cabals are built up before the big event. Maybe it’s the kitchen versus room boys or waiters v management. The kudos for the winning team is immense. Rather like a team from the lower reaches of the League winning the European Championships. There is absolutely no suggestion of any “ringers” being brought in, but guests are carefully scrutinized before the tug and subtle rewards offered to those who are deemed potential “Good Pullers”. Language doesn’t matter as everyone knows what’s going on and responds to cries of “pull, you ******” in whatever language they’re used to.

And after the games? Well, it’s time for the food.

Now, food preparation for New Year is an art in itself and pride of place is taken by the Village Lady Elders who have the necessary skills that have been passed down by innumerable generations.

Without doubt my favourite is Bibikkan.

Bibikkan is a rich, dark, chewy and moist cake made of shredded coconut, jaggery and semolina. Ingredients include grated jaggery or treacle, melted in a little water, heated, then cooled and mixed into a batter with roasted semolina. Chopped dates, winter melon, ginger preserve, candied peel and cashew nuts are added, along with crushed fennel, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and a dash of salt. A beaten egg is folded in before the mixture is popped into the oven.

Imagine a soft, chewy and utterly delicious spicy and sweet Christmas cake and you’re partially there. I absolutely love it and tried to master making it at home but, sadly, have come nowhere near what I’ve eaten at Cape Weligama.

Chef and his team will have spent several days making enough supplies such as Konda Kevum, Kokis, Mung-Kevum, Asmi, Athirasa and Aluwa and that’s just to name a few of the sweet delights in store. If you’re on a diet, then either forget the diet for 2 days or lock yourself away as so many of these are so “moorish” that you’ll never forgive yourself if you didn’t indulge.

Last year I gained 2 kilo’s in 2 days but, what the hell, you’re only middle aged once and the trousers are adjustable.

So, there we have it. 10 days to go and the staff are already in preparations. Designs for the garlands, discussions on who’s wearing what, whispers about who’s got the best tugging strategy this year (yes, bets are taken but we don’t talk about that!) and who’s on a diet so they can safely overindulge on the day are in full swing.

The best thing about being a guest at Cape Weligama during “The Season” is that you can either join in with full and unbridled enthusiasm or relax on the sidelines and cheer on your room boy, barman or waiter as they bid for hotel immortality.

There’s no pressure, BUT if you do take the plunge I guarantee the time of your life for a few hours.

And, when the games are over and you can’t manage another morsel, retire to the infinity pool for a long float about or your spacious room for a well-earned snooze and a refreshing pot of tea.

I’ll guarantee that a plate of some snack or other will be waiting as you awake.

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