Suitcase and World: Afternoon in Hikkaduwa

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Afternoon in Hikkaduwa

After we finished our tour of Galle, we continued on our trip towards Colombo. We would be spending night in the popular oceanside town of Hikkaduwa. Of course, by now it was mid morning and we weren't hungry but this has been as much a trip to taste local foods as much as it has been as sightseeing trip. I have to admit, tried a few things that I still don't know the name for.....including this strange looking fruit that Chandana said grows in the backwaters (i.e. swamps) in this part of the country. The water is brackish and you can taste the saltiness in the juice. It's definitely an acquired taste and I have to give credit to my brother for acquiring the taste. Me? I took a sip to see what it was like but that was enough for me.

Ever since we started to near the coast, Chandana was asking if I wanted to see sea turtles.  I told him I would never say No but to be honest, I had completely forgotten about it all.  After our meal, we continued our journey.  Our drive took us through downtown Hikkaduwa and it was obvious from the stores and restaurants, that we passed, that this was a very popular tourist town - one restaurant after another offering pizza, spaghetti, burgers and cappuccinos for sale.  The thought of spending my last full day in Sri Lanka surrounded by a bunch of tourists was not making me happy.

Chandana pulled the van onto a short driveway, there was a gate blocking our passage.  A guard came to open the gate and on the other side was the parking lot of a luxury hotel.  For a split second, I wondered if this was where we were going to be staying.  I had made it clear to Chandana that I only wanted to stay in small, local hotels so I was really hoping this was NOT it.  As we got out the van, Chandana asked us if we had our swimsuits on.   Apparently, we would be in water....presumably the ocean.  I still was getting it until he said that this is where would be be seeing the sea turtles.  Now it made sense.  My brother opted to change into his swimtrunks but I decided to see how it went before changing out of my clothes.

We entered the hotel - it was a very open layout and so from the front entrance, we could see the ocean before us.  We headed past the pool to the beach.  Though there were plenty of locals and tourists on the hotel grounds, there was less than a handful of people on the beach.  I have never understood why beachfront hotels need pools.  Definitely not something you see with smaller, local hotels as they can't afford to maintain a pool.

I don't know if it was me or that Chandana was preoccupied himself but our communications today seemed a bit scattered.  The moment our feet hit the sand, my brother and I decided to explore a bit of the beach.  Some stretches were a bit rocky but overall, it was a nice beach.....very quiet, few people around.  We soon met back up with Chandana and Chami and the other guy who has been with us for the past two days.  Chandana is training him to be a guide to work for him.  In any event, they were all hovering around a stone wall, under the protective shade of some tall coconut trees. Bro went to the men's room to change into his swim trunks - the sight of the cool ocean water was too hard for him to resist :-)

As we were relaxing under the shade, I was wondering why were there.  Chandana explained that this is where the turtles come.  I didn't understand because as much as I knew about animals, they generally don't come around unless there is good reason for them to do food.  As we hung around, for I don't know what, an elderly local woman came up to us with souvenirs to sell.  We politely shook our heads and she wandered off.  Then, another man who had been engaged in conversation with Chandana walked up to me and told me to tell Chandana to pay him.  I had no idea why he was said what he did though I was slowly beginning to piece things together.  Turtles. Tourists.  How to get the two together. Broker i.e., man who knows where the turtles are and if you pay him, he will bring them to you.  The fact that Chandana was refusing to pay him meant that there was another person that preferred to deal with. 

A few minutes later, another man approached Chandana and then we got the instruction to make our way down to the water.  This was Chandana's contact.  A short distance from shore, there was a young man with some vegetation in his hand.  He was dragging the greenery through the water.

As I entered the water, I could see the outline of a very large sea turtle.  This was it!  Not what I had imagined our encounter with a sea turtle would be - I had visions of snorkeling alongside one but that would not be case.

Slowly but surely, the young man and the turtle he was luring with the greenery made their way towards us. At the same time, more people had gathered around us.  Having seen how easily turtles can get spooked by activity and noise, I just hoped that the small crowd of humans would not scare it away.

Eventually the turtle stopped swimming and I was able to stand inches away from it.  We were standing in very shallow water - up to about my knees.  I stuck my brother's camera down into the water and snapped a few shots. Some of the other tourists continued to feed the turtle.  Obviously, this one creature was more than comfortable with being around humans.  After taking pictures, I decided I had had enough.  I made my way back to the beach to let my pants dry, take in the views from under the coconut tree and enjoy the warm ocean breeze.  My brother spent a few minutes swimming in the shallows.   We were both enjoying ourselves.

Fast forward and my brother is back in his traveling clothes and we're in the van.  Turtle time.  Had I known what it was like, I would have told Chandana to skip it.   I have to admit, I was also glad to leave the tourists behind and get back into the local part of town.  Life is so much more interesting here!

Next on the road trip itinerary was a light lunch.  I'm telling you, we ate A LOT on this trip!  Somewhere on the outskirts of  Hikkaduwa, we made the usual stop at a local restaurant and none of us was really hungry so we just had a quick bite from basket of savory pastries.

Our road trip continued but this time it would end at the hotel that we would be spending the night at.  We stopped at one place but Chandana changed his mind.  I'm glad he did because it didn't look like much of a hotel.  Next stop was definitely my kind of place.  The best part about traveling during the off season is that you can get a great room for dirt cheap.

Chandana was able to get us an ocean front room and it was VERY comfortable.  We spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing - first on the balcony and then on the beach.  The stretch of beach we were on was lined with small hotels. I can only imagine how crowded the place gets at the height of tourist season but it's low season and the place was pretty much deserted.  Several of the hotels looked like they were shuttered for the season.

The waves were pretty rough but we managed to find a spot where they were relatively calmer.  Always takes a few seconds to get fully submerged into the cool water but once in, you don't feel like getting's so comfortable!

Back on the balcony, we chilled.   All day long the weathered had alternated between sunny and cloudy.  Here rainstorms can rear up with a few minutes notice and one point, we had a torrential downpour.  We had to head back inside the room and close the door - water began to seep in from the balcony and I had to sacrifice our door mat to sop up the water.

By mid afternoon, we had had enough of sand and surf and so we headed out to check out the *town*.  Besides, our stomachs were beginning to growl and we needed something to raise our blood sugar level. As it turns out, *town* was nowhere in sight.  We were on a stretch of road that had a smattering of small stores lining both sides.  We wandered in and out of all the stores - buying Sri Lankan cooking ingredients at one place, ice cream cones at another and a large batik at an art gallery.  I have since framed the batik, which has a design of the Esala Perahera on it.  The batik by the owner of the gallery and his family. I love that sort of stuff - works by local artisans.  By the time we walked out of the last store which sold leather goods, it was getting dark.  We decided to pop into a local restaurant for dinner.  Here, they cater to tourists so our meal was very Western.  As bad as it was, I have to admit, it was a nice break from Sri Lankan curry.  The nice part was our table was two steps from the beach so we could enjoy our meal sitting at the edge of the ocean!

After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel and did our final night of duties before hitting the sack.  Tomorrow, we would be leaving Sri Lanka in the afternoon.  It's been a great trip and as always happens to me, I wish I could have stayed longer :-(

Good night from Hikkaduwa!