Despite our impromptu entertainment last night, Paul and I feel well rested this morning. We make our way down the stairs, stepping out into the refreshing morning air. A smiling waiter seats us at a poolside table, and soon brings us the artfully arranged plate of fruit, that will be part of every breakfast throughout our trip. Although every resort we stay at has their own style, the plates include a variety of fruits that are in season. This includes wedges of watermelon, slices of juicy pineapple, chunks of papaya (my favorite), and of course bananas. We both order an omelet which is delicious.
We have our luggage packed and ready to go when our driver arrives to pick us up at 8:30. We were expecting Kevin, who our tour company had assigned to us for the entire trip. Instead, Sunil pulls up in his red car, and explains to us that due to personal reasons, Kevin isn’t available today. Sunil will transport us to Dolphin Beach, where we will spend 3 nights, and then Kevin will take over as scheduled. I hope so, Paul requested Kevin due to a review he read on Trip Advisor, and he is supposed to be a terrific birder and naturalist.
As we are driving through the city of Negombo, Sunil mentions that he lives in this area. He asks us if we would like to go to his house to meet his wife and have tea. Sure, why not. Dolphin Beach isn’t that far away and we have all day. When we pull into the driveway by his house, we both gasp as this place is really beautiful! We admire the landscaping and beautiful porch before going inside. Wow, a wooden spiral staircase is the first thing we see along with a spacious first floor. Sunil’s wife comes out of the kitchen to greet us. We sit on the couch, which looks as if you should just admire it, and wait as Chitna(the wife) goes up to roust their teenage boy out of bed.
Chitna comes back and serves us tea and a filled pancake-like pastry. The filling is rich and spicy, but we are so full from breakfast that I must force myself to finish eating the homemade treat. A sleepy, young man descends the staircase, looking like he would rather be anywhere else but here. We are introduced to the son whose name I don’t recall, and make small talk about school and their family. We learn during our social visit, that the house actually belongs to Sunil’s uncle, a Catholic priest, who lives in New York and they are live-in caretakers. Also, that Chitna is an interior decorator. I believe that, as the rooms look like something out of an interior decorating magazine.
As we are preparing to leave, Sunil asks if it would be o.k. if his wife rode along with us. Sure, why not, there is plenty of room in the car. Chitna changes into more comfortable traveling clothes and we proceed down the road.
Sunil speaks English very well, but Chitna only speaks a few English words, so we just smile at each other once in a while. Sunil does translate some of our conversation to Chitna at times. We drive by lots of coconut plantations and some rice fields. Everything is lush and various shades of green, punctuated by a blue cloudless sky. There are people with small carts or roughly made structures, that are selling vegetables, fruits, and homemade food on the narrow shoulder of the highway. We drive by a man dumping coconuts out of a cart that is pulled by an ox, and Sunil stops so I can take a photo through my open window. There is lots of bird life to be seen as we cruise down the road too.
We stop at a Hindu temple and I am overwhelmed by the thousands of colorful figures that adorn every inch of the structure. We will see a lot of these temples throughout our trip and although I find them fascinating, I also find them overwhelming and frankly on the garish side.
We arrive at Dolphin Beach around noon and meet Dennis the manager. Dennis is very personable and makes us feel at ease immediately. We hand over our passports so the staff can check us in, and then follow Dennis as he shows us around the beautiful grounds. Sunil and Chitna have joined in the tour as they are contemplating coming here with his Uncle in July. There are luxury tents lining the edges of the small resort, with a grove of palm trees growing in the middle. Dennis shows us the open air restaurant, the two lounge areas adorned with couches and pillows, the pool and just beyond this area, the ocean. Lovely. The caveat is that this beautiful place sits in the middle of a wind farm! There are two large towers on either side of Dolphin Beach resort, with a dozen or more of the monstrous machines marching off into the distance in both directions. Truthfully, the sound of the swishing blades, blend into the sound of the oceans surf, so that isn’t an issue. The giant windmills do keep you from imagining that you are living in a simpler place and time!
Once our grounds tour is over, Dennis leads us to our tent. This is so cool. There is a nice lounging patio in front of the tent, settee, pillows and all. The first “room” has a king-sized bed, couch, a table with a mirror attached and an air conditioner. The next section has 2 twin beds and another couch. When you exit through the back door you find the bathroom and shower. Sunil and Chitna have joined our tent tour, and are snapping photos of the interior of the tent. They intend to send his Uncle a photo tour of the place, inside and out, so he can make a decision if he wants to stay here when he comes to visit. Once the tour is over, we say goodbye to Sunil and Chitna, and begin to settle into our comfortable tent.
Paul and I don’t do a lot for the rest of the day. Paul, once he musters the courage, jumps into the cold water of the pool. While Paul is swimming, I walk down the beach and encounter three fishermen, casting nets into the ocean. It is quite a contrast to see these people practicing the same fishing technique that their ancestors did, with the wind towers in the background. There are also lines of fishing boats upon the beach with a coal plant looming over them. Guess that explains the black dust that is mixed in with the sand. Oh well, there are birds everywhere, and crabs running around in droves, so it appears humans and wildlife alike have adapted to the energy producing technology.
We watch the sunset and although it is pretty, the sun disappears quite quickly. I still will put up a Kansas sunset to any I have ever seen in all our travels.
We eat at the restaurant tonight even though the meal isn’t included in our package deal. They are having a barbecue that Dennis is very enthusiastic about. As Paul and I watch the flames that jettison up from the gas grill, appearing to be only inches from the dry thatch roof, we are happy to be seated where we can take two steps and exit the restaurant. We snicker a bit as Dennis will turn the grill down, taming the flames, but as soon as his back is turned; the chef will twist the knob on the grill, sending the flames skyward again. An hour after the barbecue was supposed to be ready, we dish up chicken, prawns, bread, potatoes and I have some fish. It turns out to be very disappointing as most everything is barely warm. All the meat was precooked, and only warmed on the grill so the big barbecue was a big bust for us. We find the cost of the barbecue at sixteen bucks apiece excessive in price!
Oh for crying out loud, we are serenaded in the middle of the night again. This time loud music and laughter is quite audible even though it is coming from outside the walls of the resort. I give up and take a sleeping pill at midnight. Paul somehow sleeps through the noise, but when he wakes up at 2 in the morning the raucous party is still going strong. Thank goodness for ambien.
We are up early as we are taking a boat tour in search of dolphins this morning. We saw the small motor boats yesterday, and had to laugh at the owner’s sense of humor in naming them. Paul and I are the only tourists in our boat which is manned by a driver and a scout. The seats in this boat are just hard, fiberglass slabs running along the sides of the boat. Thank goodness, Paul remembered to bring the inflatable cushions we brought with us and used on our long plane ride. By the way, thank you Doris. Paul’s sister recommended the cushions to us, after she used them in Africa, and found they gave much relief from uncomfortable plane seats and rough roads on safari. We now pass on that recommendation to those of you who find your posterior gets very sore and uncomfortable on long flights!
The captain of the boat attacks the waves with a vengeance, and when we slide up on the crest of a wave, we then crash down in its trough with a jaw cracking thud. You can feel the watercraft shudder as we thump back into the ocean and I wonder what kind of lifespan these poor boats have. After what seems an eternity, an hour actually, our boat slows down and the scout climbs up on the prow to begin searching for dolphins. On occasion, we go dashing off in one direction, other boats are doing the same thing, and I finally figure out the boatmen are watching for birds. Evidently, the birds follow the feeding dolphins so the boats follow the birds.
The crews of the motorboats that are scattered about on the water, use hand signals or call each other on their cell phones to find out if anyone has found the dolphins. There is one boat where a man begins waving his arms at us, and we speed over to where they are. Sure enough there is a small school of dolphin and we try to follow them as them skim through the water. I never knew these creatures were so fast. This scene becomes a deja vu experience, as someone will find a few dolphins, the other boats will speed over to that area, we will follow the dolphins to catch a few glimpses of the swimming torpedoes and then they disappear into the depths of the Indian ocean.
There are 9 boats involved in this action and when we catch up with the dolphins, the captains all cut their motors to an idle, and the diesel fumes become quite annoying. This isn’t exactly what I had envisioned and I feel a little uncomfortable with the frenzy of chasing after the dolphins. We were hoping to get lucky and have a day when you can actually see 2 or 3 thousand dolphins swimming, or jumping into the air and spinning. We did see a couple of them jumping out of the water which was fun.
After an hour of rushing here and there in this vast ocean, we indicate to our crew we have had enough. Our guides don’t speak any English by the way. We saw a maybe a hundred dolphin when you add them all up. The biggest group was about 20, it’s hard to tell as they are all around you, and can disappear in a blink of an eye. As we were bouncing our way back to the shore, I was hanging on for dear life, my eyes closed tight, when Paul yells “look at that”. I quickly look in the direction he is pointing and see a beautiful, silvery fish, leaping out of the water and traveling 4 or 5 feet in the air per jump. The big fish did this a half-dozen times before he disappeared into the water for good. That was the coolest thing we saw this morning!
When we finish eating our late breakfast, Paul and I walk down the beach to the small fishing village. We find a small shop and buy crackers and cookies from the rather startled owners. I don’t think they are used to tourists frequenting their establishment!
As we walk back to the beach we come upon a line of villagers pulling a rope that is attached to a huge fishing net. The net is looped in a semi-circle at least a half mile in length. There is a boat on the water that is hooked to the other end of the net. We watch in amazement as these, mostly old, men and women, almost dance as they synchronize their steps while they walk backwards pulling in the net. When the person at the end of the rope, reaches the man who is coiling the slack line up, he or she will unhook themselves from the rope and make their way to the front of the queue. They tie the rope to their waist and begin to heave at the heavy line, starting the process all over again. We would like to stay and watch the people bring the net in but it is really hot, and it appears as though this task will not be over for two or three hours. Man, I hope there is a lot of fish in that net for all the strenuous work they are putting into hauling the net in by hand in this oppressive heat.
Later this afternoon, Paul and I put on our snorkeling masks and practice in the pool. We haven’t snorkeled for years, and since we have booked a snorkeling tour for tomorrow, decide we had better acquaint ourselves with the procedure again. We get along o.k. as I hang onto Paul and he pulls me up and down the pool, as I peer through my mask at nothing. Paul suggests we go into the ocean to experience the real deal. The water isn’t deep close to the shore but the waves still slap you around. I have my usual moment of pure panic, but force myself to put my head down, hang tight to Paul and just do it. We don’t stay in the water long but I feel sure I will manage tomorrow.
We go to one of the lounges, order a Lion lager, and enjoy just being lazy. Our lounging is cut short when smoke and ash drifts over the resort from a fire somewhere down the beach. It becomes thick enough to be annoying so we retreat to the confines of our tent.
There are two British couples that arrived this afternoon. We visit with them a bit and find out they are going on the dolphin tour in the morning. We wish them good luck. When we see them at noon the next day, you guessed it; they did see the infamous thousands of dolphins. The Brits told us that there were dolphins as far as you could see in every direction. The creatures were leaping and spinning and putting on an unbelievable show. Oh well, I’m happy that they were so fortunate to experience this phenomenon, and know that when in search of wild life it is just the luck of the draw.
Next installment, Snorkeling Bar Reef. Nancy