It was sad to leave Yala as we had so enjoyed our safaris into the National Parks even though the roads were extremely bumpy and bone jarring - the wildlife more than made up for all those aching muscles! The Chaaya Wild Hotel was excellent, well located with the beach and lagoon so close to our jungle chalet. In fact as we were checking out the the swimming pool area was a ‘playground’ for a group of monkeys enjoying the vista whilst no-one was around and a crocodile was sunning itself on the lagoon edge behind the pool. Several Painted Storks were foraging in the shallow water which was fascinating to watch. They immerse their half open beaks in the water and sweep them from side to side and snap up any small fish that are in range. As they move along they stir the water with their feet to flush out any fish that are hiding. They are a large wading bird and have very distinctive pink tail feathers and orange beaks. Along side them were several different species of wading birds including a couple of pelicans and also white and grey herons. As we left the hotel we saw
several Kingfishers as well as the colourful Indian Roller.
We headed south for the coast and the rain starting to come down in torrents and even our driver Jaywa was struggling to see the road ahead.....Then we could not find our hotel, Turtle Bay, Tangalle, so called our tour operator but could not get through. All the locals we asked, had never heard of the hotel so we were beginning to think that this might be a bit of a disaster.....particularly as we had asked several tuk tuk drivers and they usually knew everywhere! We travelled up and down the same road for a ages and then Jaywa telephoned another hotel that was advertised on a billboard on the side of the road and they gave us the telephone number. The hotel was not actually in Tangalle at all which was another 10k away - hence the location problem. In any event we finally were able to call them and get directions.
We continued down a country road, past huge rice paddies and lagoons, we were beginning to wonder if we had taken the wrong road as we had still not seen any signs
to the hotel. We finally reached a small beach area and a couple of local fishermen said we had just missed the turning back up the track. So we finally arrived and discovered that we were the ‘only’ guests - a little bit ominous! We asked to see our room and we were very pleasantly surprised it was a large clean room with an enormous bed, (Cliff you would be delighted - you could fit full length both ways with plenty of room for Kerry too). It had a balcony overlooking a delightful pool and a sandy rock strewn beach, accessed via a little gate at the bottom of the garden. In our room we had been given a bowl of fruit, a lovely display of flowers and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (bliss) but Paul thought that ‘beer’ would have been better - I think not!! We had not received all this special treatment anywhere else so I told him we must appreciate it...........
The hotel was not expecting any other guests so we had the whole place - pool and beach to ourselves. The Manager and his staff were very friendly and said that last
night a couple of guests who had just left had seen turtles nesting on a nearby beach. They said they would provide an early dinner so that we could go and see for ourselves and one of the staff and the Manager said they would like to come with us in our car.
The beach at Rekawa village near us is home to one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in Sri Lanka, visited by five different species which lay their eggs in the sand and the area has recorded 23 turtles in one night. These are the Olive Ridley
, the smallest sea turtle weighing less than 40kg, the Hawksbill
an endangered species (we had swam with this species in the Seychelles with the family in April 2010 - Geoff you will remember this...), the Loggerhead
that has a carnivorous diet, the Green
another endangered species that has a unique life cycle in that it replies on crustaceans when it is young and then lives on vegetative matter when mature and finally the Leatherback
which can exceed 600kg in weight. This one is named for its carapace, which consists of star-shaped bones covered not with
the plate-like scales of most turtles but with a leathery black skin. This flexible carapace allows the leatherback to withstand diving to a depth of 1600m in pursuit of the jellyfish on which it feeds. The most popular in this area was the Green Turtle so we were keeping our fingers crossed that we would be lucky at last.
After dinner we set off with our driver and the Manager from our hotel (who had never seen turtles nesting before) to Rekawa. We could not fit in the other member of staff as the roads were so bad it would have been difficult with the additional weight in the back and he had been the night before with the other guests. After driving for a few kilometers down the ‘main’ road we turned down yet another dirt track which seemed to go on forever, but finally squeezed the car into a little space and walked down to a pitch black beach. It is quite strange going to a beach at night as one would normally go in the day - preferable with the sun out..........On the side was a small hut with a noticeboard detailing in Sinhalese
the ‘egg laying’ timings over the last week. A couple of trackers arrived and we proceeded with them to beach and they wandered off each side of the beach with small flash lights looking for turtle tracks. We were the first to arrive and were hoping we would be the only ones present but a few others gradually arrived as we waited for the trackers to indicate with their lights that a turtle had been spotted. We thought there is no way we are going to see one but we continued to wait.
We waited an hour for a turtle to arrive on the pitch black beach watching fireflies dancing in the dark with only the stars lighting up the beach and the sound of the surf crashing a few feet from. Finally great excitement, one had arrived crawling across the beach from the sea, and it was a massive Green Turtle. It left a zig zag trail in its path like a tractor’s plough lines similar to the tracks that we left on the beach on one of our walks (see photo left). It is a long slow exhausting process by a creature that is not
used to being on land and once at the top of the beach it started digging a deep pit. You could hear the sound of it thrashing about with its flippers and the smell of ‘compost’ wafted across to us!! The tracker said that this process could take up to about 45 minutes, as it not only digs one hole but another smaller deeper hole to receive its eggs.
We waited quietly until it started to lay its eggs - they can sometimes return to sea if they are disturbed without laying. Fifty minutes later the tracker informed us that the turtle was having problems digging its 'hole' because it was directly under a coconut tree and it could not dig through the roots - probably accounted for the smell of compost.... Suddenly we saw the turtle climb out of its pit and move a little further along the beach, so we all moved away and waited again. The tracker then informed us that she had starting digging another hole - we were in luck....... Thirty minutes later the turtle had finally managed to dig a hole big enough and we were able to move closer.
We could see the back end of the turtle in the pitch black with strikingly white eggs, like table tennis balls popping out in twos and threes into the deeper of the two pits, I sat down beside it and it was a truly very special and memorable moment. We had hoped to see a turtle laying its eggs at Bundeburg in Australia last year but were unable to do so because of floods and Cycline Yasi. Today we were so lucky to be able to experience ‘nature in the wild’ in Sri Lanka. Understandbly we were unable to take flash photography as this would distress the turtle but have our memories and a view grainy shots.....
The tracker told us that the turtle finally returns to the sea after laying about 120 eggs and usually returns a couple of weeks later to lay another batch. After the laying process the eggs are taken to a secure area by the trackers and reburied safely away from any predators. The hatchlings then have a better chance of survival and are released into the sea at night. Before the conservation project started in this area most of
the eggs were taken by poachers but now these ‘poachers’ have become the trackers and hopefully will enable these lovely creatures to survive.
We could see that another couple of turtles had arrived on the beach from the flashlight signals from the trackers as we made the long walk back along the beach with little crabs darting away in front of us. We got soaked several times as the sea caught us out in the pitch dark but were so elated that it did not matter. We returned to the hut and paid 1000 rupees (£5) each - you only pay if you see the turtle ‘laying its eggs’ and this money goes towards paying the trackers and ensuring the project keeps on 'track'. We did not get back to our hotel until midnight but it was well worth it and the Manager who had come with us said we could have a ‘late breakfast’ as we were the only ones at the hotel anyway, we were sure the cook would appreciate a late start too.
The next morning we walked to the beach at the bottom of our hotel and strolled along for
miles and did not see another person - pure bliss. We were feeling quite happy until back at the hotel we checked our bank account and found that someone had been using our emergency credit card. We figured that our card had been ‘taken’ in Kandy and someone had used it in Matara a town that we had not even visited, but strangely enough was on the way to our next destination. Jaywa our driver and the Manager at our hotel were brilliant taking over and sorting things out for us and even driving us down to the local police station to report the incident. Luckily we had an alternative card but the thief had used it to spend 52,000 rupees (about £300) on jewelry and food and we had the hassle of having to deal with this via Sri Lanka - not an easy process here.
The officers at the police station said that we would have to report the ‘incident’ to the police station at Matara (where the thief had used our card) as it was ‘out of their area’. As we would be going through this town on the way to our next destination
we would have to do it then but it seemed strange to us that they could not do anything from here. However that night as we retired to bed we had a knock at the door from the hotel Manager to say that there were several police officers downstairs. We quickly dressed and went to the hotel lobby where we were greeted by three police officers. The hotel manager did the translating and we completed a police statement which they said they would send on to Matara PS but we would need to collect a copy from them and then take it on to Matara as well! The police officers were apologetic and the hotel staff were brilliant and we could not praise them enough.
In the morning we walked along the beach to a small fishing port and chatted to the fishermen bringing in their catch. A multitude of boats were strewn out along the sea front some of them could do with a 'bit of repair' and I had to persuade Paul not to buy one.......... We walked further along and met a lady bathing her son in the river with huge smiles on their
faces, although he did not appreciate the cold water over his head. At the local school, children in the playground all wanted to say hello ‘how are you’ and ask us our names then ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye bye’ with huge smiles. It was lovely wandering around the village, we appeared to the only tourist for miles and therefore quite a novelty to the locals who were all so friendly. The village had a large temple in the centre and several gardens had their own individual shrines. Jawya later told us there was a story that the temple in this village (which was had a central temple and nine smaller ones around) was one of the first in Sri Lanka. We continued our walk and even though we had not wandered far we did get a ‘little’ lost returning to the hotel.......but that's another story. Later back at the hotel the Staff were busy as they said they were expecting 'two' other tourists from Russia that day so we would not be on are own now - shame! The Russian guests arrived but could not communicate with us or the staff as they could not speak English or Sinhalese - we
last saw them struggling over the menu. For the rest of the day we lazed about the pool and the Manager arrived with a ‘free’ King Coconut for us and also when we order some coffee they included some ‘free’ cake - I think they were feeling sorry for us because of our stolen credit card or maybe they were thinking we were looking too thin!
Next morning before our departure we decided to try a’ Sri Lankan’ breakfast which consisted of Hoppers with Fish Curry and also Hoppers with Fried Egg. Hoppers, are a food native to Sri Lanka and are wafter thin pancakes made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy and eaten for both breakfast and dinner. They were OK but not sure I would want them again in a hurry......
So it was time to say goodbye to the Staff who came out to see us off and we headed for Mirissa a little way up the coast, via Matara Police Station of course - see you there.
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