Suitcase and World: Stilt Fishermen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Stilt Fishermen.

Earlier this morning, I had spotted the stilts, sticking out of the water at Polhena Beach and I made Chandana promise to bring us back tonight to see if the fishermen would be here. After all, they don't publish a schedule of fishing times so it would either be lucky and see fisherman or unlucky and just see poles.

I wanted to see the fishermen as the sun was setting so I pestered poor Chandana to make sure we left his house on time.

It looked like the sun was already pretty much set by the time we left his house and I was already feeling disappointed that I had missed seeing the fishermen. Everybody, except for Chandana's mother in-law, wanted to head back to the beach so we all piled into the van for the short (20 minute?) ride back to Polhena.

As Chandana had explained to us earlier, Polhena is the perfect spot for the fisherman.  The reef, that lies about 200 meters off shores breaks the waves so where the outer line of poles sit is just about where the water starts get to get calm and shallow.  It's the perfect fishing spot for the sardines that are common to these waters.

Chami parked the van a short distance, down the beach, from where we went swimming this morning. We all clamored out of the van and made our way towards the water's edge. There, sitting next to some wooden boats, was a small group of young men sitting on a rocky outcrop Chandana went over to talk to them. Apparently, they were waiting for the sun to completely disappear over the horizon before going out onto the stilts. So, we hadn't missed the opportunity to see the fisherman. I was really excited!! We decided to patiently wait along with them.

Surprisingly, we didn't have to wait long. About 15 minutes later, they moved over to another section of the rocky outcrop, and then one by one began to wade into the water and climb up the stilts. My brother had tried to do the same this morning but climbing up the stilts is not as easy as it looks - it takes quite a bit of upper body strength to pull yourself up onto the crossbar and then balance yourself so you can sit comfortably.


Chandana told us we could follow them to get a better view so we did - crossing over a couple of backyards which in Sri Lanka is okay to do.

The fishermen weren't that far off shore from us so we had a great view of them from where we were sitting. It was fascinating watching them climb up the poles, position themselves so they could sit comfortable and then toss out their line.

In no time, there were seven of them out in the water and you could tell from all the chatter and laughter, that they were having a great time.

According to Chandana, these guys don't fish for a living - this is pretty much something they do to relax.

Soon, another fisherman appeared. He took his time getting into the water. He had a cigarette in his hand and for a few seconds, looked like he was contemplating whether or not to smoke it before fishing. He wisely decided to not take the cigarette with him so he tucked it into the nook of a palm tree, out of view, before wading in. Didn't want to lose the cigarette :-)

We sat on the rocks watching the fishermen. As closely as we were watching them, we didn't spot them catching any fish but according to Chandana, they do. A flick of the rod to drop the link, a flick of the wrist to bring up the line and a quick twist to remove the fish from the line and drop into the sack. Apparently, they can catch quite a lot of fish, presuming sardines, in one night.

Eventually, Chandana left us to take his family home. Chami stayed back with us.

Another group of young guys sooned joined us. They were a bit loud but seemingly harmless. In other places, you might get worried being with a group of young male strangers at night but in Sri Lanka, you're fine.

It wasn't long before night settled in and it was getting too dark to see the fishermen well. We decided to leave.

We had to walk across the backyard of a small bungalow to get back to the small lane that would lead us back to our hotel. A Caucasian woman, who turned out to be Australian, came out to greet us. She had rented the bungalow and had been watching the fishermen over the course of several nights. We chatted with her for a few minutes before continuing on our walk back to the hotel.

The stilt fishermen are unique to Sri Lanka so seeing them in action was truly memorable!  From all the pre-trip reading I had done, my sense was that as a tourist, my only chance of seeing them would be to go to one of the more popular tourist beaches and essentially watch the locals put on a show i.e., for a *tip*, they will wade in to the water, climb up the stilt to show you how it's done, throw in line and a few minutes later, climb back down, come to shore and claim their tip from you.  I'm so, so glad that we were able to experience the *real* thing.  See?  It pays to get off the beaten path!