After the Tsunami

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
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Trip End Dec 15, 2007


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Thursday, November 22, 2007

Karu picked me up early, and we continued on 8km south to the village of Kosgoda, home to one of the west coasts biggest and longest established turtle hatcheries, originally set up by locals in response to the rapidly declining numbers of marine turtles visiting Sri Lanka.  Turtle eggs, which would otherwise be sold on the black market and eaten, are bought for a few rupees each from local fishermen and re-buried in safe locations.  They're left in the sand for 48 days to hatch, after which the baby turtles are left in holding tanks for 2 days before being released into the sea by night - with their survival chances significantly improved. 
The very few female turtles which survive to maturity will return around 15 years later to lay their own eggs here.  Sadly, the project's holding tanks and stock of turtles were destroyed and swept away by the tsunami, and is struggling to re-establish itself, receiving no income except from low entrance fees and donations.  A few larger specimens are kept for research until the age of five, when they are tagged and returned to the ocean.  The unimpressed hawksbill turtle clearly thrilled to see my reflection bend down to pick it up for a embarrassingly typical tourist photo, was one such example.
Continuing on the coastal road, every kilometre provided evidence of the destruction caused by the tsunami, no more so than at tiny Peraliya where 249 villagers lost their lives along with a further 1270 train passengers who were passing through at 9.20am on that fateful morning.
Broken and smashed boats still litter the stretch, and whilst re-building work and plantation slowly proceed, the shattered walls and exposed footings leave a lasting and upsetting impression.
The next stop was Hikkaduwa (Hick-ah-do-wer), Sri Lanka's original hippy hangout in the 1970's and a budget travellers' alternate to the fancier resort hotels of Beruwala and Bentota.  However, thirty years later the town's fortunes have clearly faded.  Tsunami damage has left behind a trashy ramshackle town, with little to recommend it.  Years of unplanned building has reduced the beach to a narrow ribbon of sand, while the supposedly once-beautiful Coral Sanctuary has become a circus of boats chasing traumatized fishes through dead coral. 
The sight of a huge, metre-long turtle swimming past as I stood and gazed into the sea below was impressive, but wasn't enough to stop me heading back to meet Karu after less than an hour.More heavy rain fell as we drove through Galle (where I was due to return later) and a further 5km south-east to the ever expanding village of Unawatuna (Una-what-una), my base for the next 4 nights.  Unawatuna is now firmly established as Sri Lanka's most popular resort for independent travellers.  Set snugly in a pretty semi-circular bay, picturesquely terminated by a dagoba (the world's most universal Buddhist architectural symbol) on the rocky headland to the northwest, the beach is fantastic, while the sheltered bay provides good swimming and snorkeling (with a small amount of live coral).  It's a low-key village with several cool bars which promised much.  However, the village appeared to have disappointingly few visitors, and my search for a few like-minded fellow travellers to share a beer with proved fruitless for the first time.
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