We arrived in Hikkaduwa with our friends James and Kayleigh when it was late and dark. We tried a few guest houses all charging above 1000 rupees and were told that to get a room for less was not possible. However, a little further down the road a kindly man offered us some basic rooms for 700 rupees a night which we took willingly. The rooms had attached bathrooms and opened onto a small green courtyard with bright paintings on the walls.
When we awoke in the morning we ate a small breakfast of oats and raisins in a cup then headed down to see the beach. The old man from the guest house – Arthur – gave us a snorkel and mask to take with us.
When we arrived at the beach we saw that it was very thin. Only several meters from the line of buildings to the water. The water was crystal clear and beneath the surface you could see the dark shapes of rock and coral on white sand. There were a lot of boats in the water but one section had been marked with buoys where there were many people snorkelling and swimming. We decided to go further down the beach and into the water. When I put on the snorkel for the first time I couldn’t see anything except for the turquoise depths of the water around me. On the third attempt I saw them. Loads of silver fish swimming on the sand at the bottom, and here and there a bright yellow and black striped fish (I don’t know the names but will identify them when I have time!). ‘Pretty cool’ I thought. Following this discovery we went to check out the busy part of the beach. I’m usual pretty afraid of water, I’m not a good swimmer and I’ve never really snorkelled properly before. Even after seeing it on T.V. Nothing could have prepared me for the world I discovered beneath the waves. I don’t think that this tiny reef on this beach-resort town is an especially good one by global standards – but it took my breath away! The strange shapes of coral with so much life all around them, fish of so many colours like no natural thing I’ve ever seen before. Some fish were huge – the size of my arm – others were tiny, moving in and out of the coral as I got close.
Eventually we stopped bothering the fish and headed out for some thing to eat. After coming from India we were shocked by the prices here, and not being prepared for it with our budget, it took quite some time to find some where affordable for us to eat. It seems that if prices are like this across Sri Lanka then we will have to find some way of catering for ourselves which is always difficulty in countries where tourism is the main industry for most people. What has begun to bug me about India and Sri Lanka is that to them there is only “tourists” who have lots of money and are on holiday. As a backpacker on a tight budget I don’t count myself as being in this bracket and I can’t afford anything and everything, yet attempting to explain this to the people here in South Asia always fails. It’s Hikkaduwa that’s made me feel like this; it is a very upmarket and touristy place. The entire town caters for rich Russian and European tourists and posh surfers. Being here we haven’t seen any other backpakers or travellers. Prices here reflect this, with many things in the shops and supermarkets costing similar prices as they would back home in the UK, although accommodation can be found for around £5 a night (which is not something you’d find in the uk!) it’s a lot more expensive than the equivalent in India and there are very few basic, budget options. The beach and the marine reserve are beautiful though and this would be a nice holiday spot, but for us it is lacking any authentic or traditional culture.
On a posotive note, the people here in Sri Lanka are really helpful, genuine and honest. English is spoken better and not every person has the alterear motive of getting as much money as possible out of you. Honesty about business seems to be more prevalent, and it’s nice to have more of a laugh with people even if you don’t want to buy their wares.
Koskoda and the Turtle Hatchery
We visited Koskoda, a little further north from Hikkaduwa, where our friend Kayleigh had volunteered working with turtles and children in 2007. We wanted to see one of Sri Lankas Turtle Hatcherys where baby turtles are hatched and reared to be kept sage before being released into the ocean. The hatchery – or at least the but we saw – consisted of a few small sheltered tanks and sand beds. We paid the entry price of 400 Sri Lankan rupees each and we told that the money was used to buy the turtle eggs. They explained that they bought the eggs from local poachers at a higher price than what they would fetch on the black market so that the turtles would end up in the sea rather than in an omelette or some Chinese medicine. This seemed like a plausible scheme to keep all parties happy. Once hatched the tiny turtles are kept for five days before they’re released on to the big blue under the cover of darkness. We were aloud to pick up the baby turtles – olive Ridley and green turtles, only three days old. Its hard to believe that they’ll grow into giants. In larger pools, the hatchery keep several rescued turtles – one with a front flipper missing and another with a deformed shell. They also kept a couple of the baby turtles and allowed them to grow only releasing them after five years. They were very honest about the fact that tourists would not visit unless they could see at least one adult turtle. All in all it seems as though the conservation efforts here are done with the best intentions and that the staff genuinely cared for these magificant creatures.