To Aluthgama

We had a good sleep at Mala and Gilbert’s before being stuffed with far too much food. They also have a dog who’s about as timid as timid can be. About a year old, and he won’t come near us unless we have food. Instead he’s content to poke his head into the bedorom and run away again as soon as we move towards him.

Nigel drove us to the train station and we paid a whopping 120 Rupees for each ticket (around 60p). Not bad for a 90-minute journey although the train was packed so we had to stand.

A Polish couple were squished into the same carriage as us and we had a natter with them. They were heading further down the line for their week’s break before they headed back to Mumbai where they work for Jet Airlines!

As the train went down the line, people walked up and down the carriages selling various things from magazines to fruit. A lot of them were singing as they walked: “Shawaddywaddywaddy Waddy waddy!” So I guess that popular funk band of the 70s has a name rooted in Sinhalese. Something to look into. As an aside, the Sinhalese writing is apparently curved rather than straight lines as the leaves used to write on when the language was developed were brittle and would crumble when angles were drawn on them. So now you know.

We were collared by a tuk-tuk driver as soon as we left the station and he charged us 50Rp to get to the guest house we’d picked out – the Sunil Lanka. As it turns out, we could have walked it in a little over five minutes but what the heck. And it was full. The owners have a second place just down the road – the German Lanka – and it was available so we walked down and checked in.

Very pleasant it was, too. Run by two German ladies and a handful of Sri Lankan staff, the hotel was clean, tidy and in a lovely location. Our back door opened onto a dining area which ran right down to the riverside. The sun set directly in front of our room. Smashing stuff. And only 2500Rp per night – about £12.50.

As an added bonus, they had two playful dogs. One older, curly haired thing and a young Jack Russel-alike puppy. Both were great fun to play with.

Boats and jetskis whizzed up and down the river, the former tugging waterskiiers, screaming kids in inflatable tyres and blow-up “bananas” at silly speeds. We occasionally heard a sea-plane taking off and landing at a wharf almost opposite. Pretty noisy!

An Austrian guy in the room next to us was checking out, but said he’d had a great time for the two weeks he’d been in Aluthgama and recommended a few places to go. We took him up on one of them and caught a tuk-tuk to the Kesgoda Turtle Hatchery on the other side of Bentota. There are many of these hatcheries, most washed away in the tsunami two years ago, but they’ve all been restored and begun their work all over again.

This one is rated as being the best, and possibly the first. Their work essentially involves collecting turtle eggs (in cases buying them from “poachers” at higher than the black market rate), burying them in protected hatcheries and then nursing the resultant offspring for two days (the time it takes for their “belly buttons” to grow over and make them bird-proof) after they pop out before releasing them into the sea. The upshot of this work is that 90% of the eggs result in healthy turtles which reach the sea rather than the 10% that nature usually allows. OK, so this is messing with nature – but we screwed it over in the opposite direction for long enough when we were stealing the eggs for turtle soup. And then there are the turtles killed for their meat and shells. And those maimed in fishing nets.

There are five species of turtle found in the waters around Sri Lanka – leatherback, hawksbill, green, olive ridley and loggerhead. The centre doesn’t pick and choose, dealing in all the species. The only one the didn’t have an example of when we visited were the loggerheads.

The hatchery gets no government aid – it didn’t even get any when it needed rebuilding – so they rely heavily on the tourist Rupee to fund themselves. The 45-minute tour around the hatchery is only 200Rp and you get to see and hold 1-day and 2-day old hatchlings and some larger and older creatures. As well as the eggs, the hatchery takes in injured and sick turtles. Some of these are treated, some used to test new treatments for future generations, some for education and some would simply die if released back into the wild so are kept in captivity essentially as pets.

I picked up a t-shirt from the shop for my little cousin as the merchandise seemed pretty good value. The kid’s shirt was only 400Rp, while adults’ were 600Rp. Good quality, too.

Back in Aluthgama, we picked up some snacks from Food Town and got a boat to the other side of the river to the dive shop. Jetskiing was too expensive for me (18 Euro for 15 mins is twice what I paid in Thailand for 30 mins!) so we opted just to do a dive the next morning (around £22 including kit hire).

We chilled for a while – when I realised I’d left the book I was reading in Colombo. Not to worry, as I always carry spares. We took a quick walk to the train station where we got times for our return to Colombo on the 1st.

On the way I noticed that the kids nearby had done something utterly inexplicable. They were playing on a half-decent football pitch – goals and everything – but instead of kicking a ball around they’d scraped all the grass off a section in the middle and were instead hurling a small ball at each other and hitting it with a stick! Weird bloody country.

There is one cybercafe on the main street that we could find, but after queuing twice we gave up. The Anushka River Inn down the road from our hotel had internet so we popped in there. 300Rp an hour is pretty expensive – especially for dialup – but it was the only option. We ended up having dinner there as well, and it was superb. Up there with some of the best steaks I’ve ever had.

Then it was a matter of scrawling out some postcards, reading a bit and then falling asleep. Lazy days.

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