Sri Lanka! Sailing the south coast with dolphins and great blue whales

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Sri Lanka

March 13 – April 1

Denpassar airport is really modern and the entrance has some really beautiful, local stone work and decorated with lovely orchid gardens. After wandering around for a bit we sat waiting at our gate. AT the last-minute, they announced a change and we had to book it for the appropriate gate, which of course is at the other end of the airport.

Colombo airport is interesting. Their duty-free shops sell appliances. I don’t mean just toasters and kettles. They had washers, dryers, fridges, stoves….it’s a regular shopping mall!

By the time we reached our guesthouse it was 1 am (4:30 am for us). We were a little concerned as everything was dark. The house was in a dark alley and nothing stirred. Sue rang a buzzer and eventually a woman came and let us in. She showed us room, the bathroom and gave us a bottle of water and we just fell into bed.

After feeding us a nice breakfast, our hostess at the Esanya guesthouse instructed us on how to get to Mirissa and we left in a tuk tuk (100 rupees) The train tickets cost 70 for the two of us (about 60 cents) Several tuk tuk drivers approached us but we weren’t sure whether to trust them so went to the information office at the train. Since the train to Weligama had just left, he suggested we take a tuk tuk to the express bus. Okay. That ride was 1,200 rupees (about $10) as the bus station was waaayyy across town. The bus left within 10 minutes of our arrival and took about 2 hours to get to Matara, the end of the line. 500 rupees. We could have taken a public bus but the luggage dude convinced us to take a tuk tuk instead as school had just let out and the buses would be full. Another 1200 rupees and we finally arrived at our guest house in Medigama. Total cost was about $31 CAN. I’m sure there are easier and cheaper ways to do it but hey, we got there.

After checking in we wandered around, getting to know the area. Many people stopped us to chat “where are you going? Where are you from?” being the most common questions. A couple of policemen were taking a break in the shade (it’s EXTREMELY hot!) so we stopped to chat and asked for dinner recommendations. Another 1.5 km down the road we found the sea food place they suggested.

The next day we walked down the road and found a place to eat breakfast, right on the ocean. Then we went to the road and within seconds had flagged down a tuk tuk and asked him to take us to the Tea Plantation. We learned a lot about very expensive virgin white tea. Hassin (our driver) then suggest a turtle sanctuary. Sure! We love turtles. That too was extremely informative Hassin drove us to Weligama. If I were to come back to this area, I’d stay there. There’s more to do. Medigama is basically just for surfing. We checked out the beautiful beach, stopped for some lunch and checked out the town. By then the sweat was just pouring off us so we decided to call it a day. A public bus sounded like a fun adventure so we found a bus stop and hopped on one going in the right direction. The fare was less than 15 cents. What a ride! He drove like a maniac as most of the buses do. The bus would barely stop and people would jump off. He went so fast we totally missed our stop and got off at the next one. Thankfully people were getting on so it actually STOPPED before we got off. The walk back gave us a chance to stop and get a cold drink and sit for a bit watching the antics of surfers and swimmers.

Green turtle at the turtle sanctuary

Herman Teas in Handunugoda. The choice of samples

STill using original equipment modified with electricity

TEA! It’s all the same leaf. Flavours are created by what they do with it afterward

After checking out of the guesthouse, we again flagged a tuk tuk and got a ride to the Marriot Hotel in Weligama, the meeting point for our 7 day sailing trip. We felt a little out-of-place, arriving in a tuk tuk and carrying back packs to this expensive hotel to be greeted by a porter and welcomed by a drummer. NO, we’re not checking in! The friendly greeter agreed to hold our bags for us until our 4 pm meeting and told us what we could and could not access in the hotel. We decided to “blend in” and see what we could get away with. Most of the pool chairs were unoccupied so after a walk on the beach, we parked ourselves, figuring they could always kick us out. Sure enough, a young man came and asked our room number. I told him we didn’t have one. Sue explained the whole meeting thing and he allowed us to stay. Later he even brought us a towel! I went for a swim in the ocean. Sue tried the pool (also supposed to be off-limits but hey, nobody was IN it!) We had lunch there so figured we paid for the use of the facilities 😉

Our cabin on the Crystal. Luxury for a sail boat for sure!

We met our fellow travellers who included two ladies from Germany in the hotel industry, an Australian working in South Africa managing a travel agency, a British oncologist and an Irish dairy farmer working in Saudi Arabia on a massive dairy farm. We headed off in tuk tuks to board our boat for the week. The Crystal is a large catamaran and a beautiful boat with power supplied mostly by solar panels and fresh water created with a desalinating plant. The 8 of us were assigned cabins and shown how to work the toilet, showers and pumps in the private bathrooms. Luxury! We cruised to Snake Island, our stop for the night and were served a delicious fish dinner.

Our first full day at sea started at 6:30 am when we set off to find the great blue whale. First were the pods of bottle nose and spinner dolphins. The graceful animals jump, spin, swim and circle the boat with curiosity. Whales can be seen way in the distance by the great spout of water so every time one spouts boats go rushing towards them. It’s never crowded as the ocean is huge as are the blue whales. We saw 4 this morning. Pictures can’t describe the majesty of these massive, graceful beautiful animals.

Bottle nose dolphins swimming beside the boat

Great blue whale waving goodbye as it dives

Great blue whale diving

Eventually the crew put up the main and jib and set sail for Galle. Our captain, Anura offered us the chance to pilot the boat so I grabbed my chance. It’s very different from sailing a small boat but takes just as much concentration. I spent the next couple hours learning various aspects of sailing and about Sri Lanka by chatting with Anura.

Lunch was amazing. Indunil made about 6 different curries to go with rice and Tiran taught us to eat Sri Lankan style; with your fingers. You mixed the various curries with the rice with your fingers to blend the flavours. Some are very spicy, some sweet, some tart and the combination is a taste sensation. Every bite is different. Mango, banana, chicken, beet, mushroom curries papadum, as well as a salad made with centella (gota kola, a green plant with medicinal properties) that was absolutely delicious. Dessert was buffalo curd (tastes like thick, mild greek yogurt) and palm honey. YUM!

It was nice to get off the boat and stretch my legs. We jumped off the dingy on the beach and walked the steep hill to meet tuk tuks to take us in to the town of Galle. Sue, Sara and I walked the rampart around the town which took about an hour and gave us a good view of the town. There was a big cricket match playing so we got a bird’s-eye view of the celebrations. We wandered the pretty town for a bit, noting the Portuguese and Dutch influence including a Christian Reformed church with a plaque I couldn’t read other than the name DeJong.

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Careful!

Back on the Crystal (our boat’s name) I quickly stripped to my swimsuit and went for a snorkel. Conditions weren’t great as it was near sunset but first thing I almost ran into a lion fish. After getting a photo I slowly backed away as, if cornered, they will sting.

Dinner of home-made pizza, salad and fries. Again there was a tasty cake for dessert. Good thing it’s only 6 days or I may get very fat.

Our cabin in the Crystal. Luxury at sea!

Snorkeling wasn’t very good. Choral bleaching and a tsunami devastated the reef. It’s on it’s way back but will take years.

Lion fish

Since I was awake ridiculously early, I went for a snorkel before breakfast. Nice as I worked up an appetite for more of Indunil’s cooking. After stuffing my face, back in the water for more under the sea entertainment. I spent about 10 minutes watching an eel and crab. The eel hangs out in the hole while the crab digs away. Looks like a great symbiotic relationship. 9:30 am we were underway again.

With the strong headwind we didn’t get as far as intended but stopped in a cove to have another amazing lunch. Snorkeling wasn’t great so a couple of us spent the next hour or so jumping off the boat and just enjoying the water.

The next couple hours I spent on the top deck reading and chatting with others, not daring to come down the stairs as the wind was strong and the sea rough. Erratic waves make it difficult for this inexperienced sailor to walk, never mind navigate a ladder. Even up top we got sprayed with water now and then.

Our overnight stop wasn’t very scenic but at least it was calm. Dinner was a typical Sri Lankan dish of Kuti; chopped roti baked with various toppings. It’s like the Sri Lankan way of dealing with left overs and was REALLY good.

Huge passion fruit! These are my favourite. I think I love them more than mangos and mangosteen.

Dondra lighthouse. Southern most point in Sri Lanka

Again I was up stupid early but today, even being on deck by 6 am, I wasn’t the first. Looks like more of us have the same problem.

We set sail at 8:30 am and the seas were much kinder today. Dolphins were spotted early on and some even saw a turtle. After lunch we headed for a bird sanctuary on the dingy and walked for a couple of hours, sweat dripping. One of the men in the village chopped the tops off coconuts so we could drink the water.

I would have loved to go for a swim but the thunderous surf looked dangerous so a shower back on the boat had to do. After watching the sunset we were treated to an hour or so of continuous lightning. Quite a show! A rousing game of cheat (or bullshit as the Irish call it) is a great way to end the day.

Heading to the beach for a barbecue

Early morning fisherman

Pilot whales are quite rare so we were lucky to see them. Funny looking things!!

Another day on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean felt like paradise. There wasn’t much wind so we motored to a beach with an unpronounceable name where we anchored for a few hours. Anna and I swam to the beach, walked for a bit and swam back from the other side. I didn’t realize how shallow it was further out and had to concentrate not to get smashed on the rocks by the surfing quality waves. The next couple hours I spent just jumping off the boat and swimming about, trying to work off some of the incredible food they’ve prepared. It’s rude not to eat it all you know.

After motoring out of the bay, Denusha hoisted the sails and Anura cut the motor. I took over the helm and Anura taught me the basics of sailing with a compass and watching for the wind in the sails. It’s a lot harder than aiming for a point on land.

Piloting a big catamaran takes lots of concentration 😉

The next morning we headed back to Mirissa and went whale watching on the way (sort of) We saw 3 blue whales but none of them very close. At one point we were surrounded by blue nose dolphins which was a lot of fun. The highlight of the morning was spotting a school of pilot whales. That’s a rarity so we sure were lucky.

Bottle nose dolphins beside the boat

We anchored in a bay after lunch, jumped off the boat and swam for the beach. Sara kayaked and brought beer for those who wanted it. After swimming back to the boat I spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the warm sea.

The crew set up a beautiful dinner on the beach so we all got cleaned up and were taken over by dingy. Indinil barbecued chicken, shrimp, fish and calamari and he’d prepared various salads so again, we feasted. It was delicious! That young man can COOK. After an impromptu dance party and some entertainment with the massive hermit crabs that come out after dark, we headed back and I fell into bed.

Distributing their catch

Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary

Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary

Preparing a king coconut so we can have a drink

Beach at the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary

He gave me the Sri Lanksn head wobble when I asked if I could take his picture. I took it as a yes 😉

Learning to make string hoppers

The next morning we said good bye to the crew and other guests after a fabulous week. After checking into the Prestige guesthouse in Weligama, we spent the day exploring the town and jumping in the waves on the beach.

Then came the attempt at making our way back to Negombo. We hailed a tuk tuk who took us to the train station. There we purchased 2nd class tickets to Colombo at 220 lkr each (about $2 CAN) We found forward facing seats and were proud of ourselves until the train got to Galle. There it switched directions so we were now facing backwards. Of course all the seats were full by then.

In Colombo we asked around and found where to buy tickets to Negombo. 120 lkr each. (about a dollar) We ended up walking all over the place trying to find the right train as we got conflicting information. When we finally found the right track we had an hour wait so we chatted with a couple of Dutch men who’d been touring India and Sri Lanka for 3 months. The train to Negombo wasn’t as comfortable and by the time we got there we were hot, sweaty and tired. Our tuk tuk driver didn’t know where the hotel was so he asked others. Not satisfied with the information, he stopped at a store and added phone time so he could call the hotel. He got me to look it up and we were on our way. The whole trip from Weligama to Colombo cost us about $7 each, including tuk tuks. It took 5.5 hours as opposed to the less than 3 hours it would take in a car, but we saw a lot along the way. Also the experience is interesting. Locals are friendly and several were willing to chat. There’s the “entertainment” as well. A blind man and his wife (I think) sang songs and collected donations. People came on to sell pineapples, cold drinks, packaged snacks, donuts, apples, etc.

We had a lot of fun together. Strangers who are now friends.

The Crystal in the sunset from the beach

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3 thoughts on “Sri Lanka! Sailing the south coast with dolphins and great blue whales

  1. Pingback: 8 days in Sri Lanka. A whirlwind tour of ruins, landscapes, a safari, beaches and WHALES! | Where in the world is Grandma?

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