The tuktuk/bus/tuktuk combo worked a charm for our journey from Yala to Weligama. Our few days of luxury was over but gave us the most amazing memories of our trip so far. Weligama is on the south coast of Sri Lanka, between the larger cities of Matara and Galle and you'd miss it if you blinked. Our hotel was about a kilometre outside Weligama town on a quiet road that wound its way to the sea. The hotel was clean and basic but our hosts were so warm and friendly, it felt like we were staying with family. The home cooked meals were equally huge and delicious and a godsend as we were quite isolated. The family fussed over us and made sure we had everything we needed and after dinner they would pull up chairs and we'd all sit and chat for a couple of hours before we called it a day.
The tiny bay at the end of the road was exquisite, talcum powder sand, crystal clear sea, leaning coconut trees, the works. Better still we were the only ones on it for most of the day.
A few locals came and went, but we did spend some time talking to a man whose home overlooked the bay, he told us his family's experience of the 2004 tsunami and that they had survived by sitting on the roof when they saw the sea retreat, minutes before the tsunami hit. He pointed out a white line on the exterior of his house that showed the height of the water as it came in, the difference between them living or dying was about two feet.
In fact all along the southern coastline we noticed a high volume of building work, we thought initially that it was just the development of the region, but after our conversation with the guy at the beach, we can't help wondering whether they are rebuilding what they lost almost 9 years ago.
One of the few tourist sights in this region are the fishing stilts, these are precarious looking frames that have been erected in the surf to give the fisherman a vantage point. These rickety poles protrude about three metres out of the water and have a foot long perch about half way up. A fisherman climbs up the pole and either squats or sits on the perch while dangling a bamboo fishing cane into the sea. The 3 Sri Lankan kilometre (6km) walk to the stilts was picturesque, swathes of sandy beach, backed by lush vegetation. Surfers out to sea were getting knocked about like they were in a washing machine as the bigger waves barrelled over them. There were a few simple Buddhist temples and the feel of the whole area seemed one of serenity.
We arrived at the stilts at dusk, the silhouettes of the fishermen were striking against the setting sun and as we photographed the anglers a local drunk pestered us and demanded money for the the photos. Beautiful.
Our brief stop in Weligama felt over before it began and it was time to move again. Another bus journey and it was my turn to hang on by the doors at the back, my rucksack fully outside of the vehicle. This is travelling. We quickly get a seat and the 40 minute journey with our bags on out laps flew by. We headed just another 15-20kms west along the coast to Unawatuna to do our scuba diving course.
We jumped off the bus and went looking for our hotel. I had seen the sign as we went passed on the bus, but on the ground, I couldn't see it for toffee. We wandered about half a kilometre passed where we needed to be and by the time we'd walked back and found it, we were suffering from the heat. The sign pointed us down a slightly overgrown alleyway between a hotel and a shop, we were not impressed with our choice of accommodation. At the end of the alley was a huge wooden gate, as we pushed it open the lush oasis appeared before us. Palms, frangipani trees and all manner of flowering shrubs were interspersed with ornate fish ponds ornamented with huge water lilies.
The garden path led us to a series of granite steps and then the immaculate four bedroomed house that we would be calling home for the coming week.
Straight across the road was the diving centre and we wasted no time in signing up for our course. It would take 4 or 5 days to complete and would be a mixture of written exams, confined water exercises (in a local pool) and open water dives (in the sea) the course was pretty gruelling and each day, we hit the books from 8am and finished either our pool or sea exercises around 6pm. We had 4 really long days of mental and physical exhaustion, we were cut and bruised from kneeling on the seabed or climbing into the boat (scuba is fun (double thumbs up)).
Jan had some trouble equalising her ears on the first dive and had to go back up to the boat, the diving instructor accompanied her back to the surface and I got a free dive. I was so busy concentrating on my breathing and equalising and being neutrally buoyant, that I didn't see too much life. However, as the dive came to an end and the instructor signalled for us to surface, I looked up to see the sun shining through the depths and at around the 2 metre mark a layer of clear jellyfish hung suspended in the water. As the light reflected off and went through them, the beauty of these simple creatures became apparent. In their thousands, they lit up like translucent lightbulbs and as I swam through them, the soft blobs bounced of my hands and head.
It was so enchanting and that ascent became another major highlight of the trip.
After four successful dives and a series of different tasks to perform we qualified as PADI scuba divers. What a relief. It took a little longer to complete as each afternoon, around 3pm a storm struck. On one particular dive, the storm came in as we were submerged, the first we knew of it was when the water around us was lit up by a close lightning strike. The instructor ordered us to surface immediately and get in the boat. That definitely got the blood pumping. We had to abort the diving for the day and back at the dive centre we sat around with the lads and had tea and biscuits.
Our final dive was our best overall, we had to do a few underwater skills first, but then we had a really leisurely dive. We were taken around the Lord Nelson wreck, a small shipwreck around 10 metres down. The aquatic life wasn't overly abundant, however we saw lobsters, amazing red and white crabs, a fair array of reef fish and then right at the end a small shoal of squid (apparently pretty rare as our instructor hasn't seen any before).
Once surfaced, we had to hightail it back to shore as we were moving on, back to Negombo where our Sri Lankan leg began. We'll have a day relaxing before we fly to Bangkok and the craziness of Thailand.