Sunday, 11 May 2008

Travel Journal #9 (9 May): Sea Turtles

Yesterday I started my tour along the southwest coast. Nothing is very far away from anything else in Sri Lanka but traveling is very slow regardless of how you do it. The speed limit on the main road along the coast is usually only 50km/h and given the number of people, tuk-tuks, cows, and bus drivers around you would have to be out of your mind to go above that.

On the way to Hikkaduwa from Colombo we stopped at a hatchery for sea turtles. Sri Lanka is home to five of the seven known species of sea turtles and as in most of the world there are not many of them left around these parts. The thing is, the turtles lay their eggs on the beach (hundreds at a time) and go back into the sea never to see their babies. They already have a low survival rate as it was but in Sri Lanka the eggs were being snatched from the beach before they hatched by people who would either sell them on the black market or bring them home to feed their families. The hatcheries have reversed the trend. They purchase the eggs from the collector for 7 rupees an egg, a price slightly higher than the ongoing market rate. The eggs are then buried in special sand tanks and around fifty days later when they hatch they are transferred to a water tank where they stay for two to three days when they are then released on the beach at night. With these measures sea turtles now manage to get a ten percent survival rate against one percent in the wild. The hatcheries are located right at the beach which means they were completely destroyed by the 2004 tsunami. All the turtles and a few of the staff were killed. They have started again from scratch without any help from the government and are now operating normally. I went in, had the tour, got my photo taken holding a baby turtle and at the end bought a t-shirt as a souvenir. Everybody wins.

The southwest is completely different from Colombo. Most towns are small fishing villages overcrowded with guest houses, hotels, and European tourists. The beaches are probably the most gorgeous ones I have ever seen anywhere. But don't lay your foot on them unless you are prepared to be hassled by vendors, beggars, and the infamous beach boys.

Today I decided to spend the morning chilling out by the pool at the hotel. What I really wanted to do is spend time on the beach itself. Unfortunately I only have but a few "No, thank you's" left in me and I intend to save them for the afternoon when I'll be walking around Hikkaduwa looking for some food and hopefully more good photo opportunities.

The resort is right on the beach but the area is fenced out. I am sitting about 10 meters from the beach but alas it doesn't feel the same. It's still very nice though, and probably as relaxing as it can get in sri Lanka. I have been sitting at the same spot long enough so that about five iguanas, tens of squirrels and countless crows are circling me, drawing in closer and closer in the hope they will get some food. They have really gotten used to people and especially the squirrels seem to ignore me even as I am shooing them away.

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