Snorkeling on Bar Reef, Sri Lanka 3
After yesterday’s bone jarring boat ride, I wake up aching all over. Plus I tweaked a muscle in my back just getting out of bed this morning, so the first thing I do is reach for the ibuprophen. Paul informs me that I am walking like an old lady and I reply that I feel like one! I shudder at the thought of another rough boat ride and even contemplate staying behind, but know I would regret that decision so decide to tough it out.
We eat toast and marmalade before leaving on our snorkeling adventure. Dennis has made all the arrangements for us, including the tuk tuk that will transport us to the launching point. The ride takes us through small
villages and rural areas until we arrive at our destination 30 minutes later.
The two men who are taking us snorkeling are waiting for us, as our tuk tuk pulls into their driveway. The head guides’ sons (maybe 7 and 10 years) are also there to welcome us. What a couple of cuties these boys are, with their lively eyes and big smiles.
Before the boat is launched, we are handed life jackets, and told to stow our gear under the prow of the boat. Paul and I sit down in the secured plastic chairs in the middle row. The two brothers gladly occupy the chairs closest to the front of the boat. Once the boat is pushed into the inlet, the heavier set man slowly guides the boat through the shallow water. I am busy watching all the birds that are flying and perching around the water. Hey, a pied kingfisher. That is a new bird for me and he is a beauty. No photos though, as I chose not to bring my camera due to the rough ride, and the chance of being sprayed with water. We will make do with Paul’s small camera.
We are nearly to the ocean, when our boat pulls over to the shore near a small shack. There is a uniformed man standing there, and our guide walks over to him, returning with a paper showing us how much the permit costs for us to go to Bar Reef. This comes as a total surprise to us as Dennis never said a word about having to pay a fee. Paul and I inform our host that we didn’t know about the fee. Our guide returns to the shack and while he is gone, Paul and I make a decision on how to handle this problem. We have almost enough money with us to cover the fee but if we give it to the government man, it will leave nothing for tips for the tour people. We prefer to save the money for private enterprise folks!
When they return they have a calculator showing the amount of the fee, assuming we didn’t understand them when they quoted the price. We shake our heads and say we don’t have it. They ask if we have any money, we shake our heads no and tell them to call Dennis. Our guide gets on his phone, we assume with Dennis, and then hands the phone to the government guy. The men confer among themselves and then the permit giver hands over a piece of paper and we continue to the ocean. Yes, we told a bald face lie about not having money, but I knew the government would get their money one way or another. Who knows if our boatmen would get our tip if we sent someone back with it?
We have one more stretch of very shallow water before we reach the ocean. In fact it is so shallow that the motor can’t be used. Instead there are men waiting to pull boats through the shoals to the ocean. One man grabs a rope tied to the front of our boat, and trudges through knee deep water, as he pulls our motor boat the last several yards to the ocean. I watch the captain hand him money, and I’m pretty sure it is a 100 Sri Lankan rupee. 100 rupees converted to US dollars is about 80 cents.
Before launch, our main guide stands at the front of the boat, crosses himself, folds his hands and says a silent prayer, then crosses himself again. Paul and I both found this unassuming ritual, appealing and calming. You can’t imagine how insignificant you feel once you travel away from land, in a small motor boat on that huge expanse of water.
Here we go again, even though the ocean is calm, the waves are big enough that we still crash down into the trough of every wave we must climb. I believe sitting farther back from the front of the boat helps, but it still is like riding a bucking bronco. When you’re rising up, it isn’t so bad, but when the bronco’s feet hit the ground the jolt reverberates all through your body. Not that I ever stayed on a horse after the first buck to experience more than one jolt! The young boys are having a great time, punching each other and laughing at the rough sea ride. They look back at us now and then to flash us a big grin.
It takes an hour to reach Bar reef. There is no land here but the water is calm and shallow over the reef. Our guide indicates we need to put on our masks, in addition I put on my life jacket since I can’t swim. He also uses a few English words and gestures to show that he intends to pull me around with the aid of a life preserve. He seems to be giving us no choice in the matter. He also inquires if Paul is a good swimmer. I would prefer to start out with Paul, until that initial surge of panic I know I will experience passes, but decide to suck it up and agree with the arrangement. Paul tells me he will stick close for a while which makes me feel a little better.
My first big test comes when I must climb down the boat’s ladder, let go of the last rung (my hands seem reluctant to do this), so I can grab the orange life preserver, floating a scant foot from the boat. When I reach for that little circle of floatable foam, it slips from my grasp and I panic. I start thrashing around like a fish out of water (I couldn’t resist that description), which just makes the life preserver harder to grasp. I hear the guide tell me I need to get back into the boat at the same time I am forcing myself to calm down. I straighten my legs, put my face in the water, and I am under control again. I hear a surprised “oh” from my human towboat, and then he begins pulling me out over the coral.
Oh yes, now I remember why I fight through my terror of water to snorkel. The life that is spread out below us is mind blowing. There are colorful fish everywhere, neon blue, yellow striped, yellow and blue striped, black with blue spots. You name it the pattern and color can probably be seen! The fish range in size of a minnow to a big bass. There are big schools of fish, small schools of fish to solitary fish. The smaller fish duck in and out of the coral as we swim over their territory, seeking protection from what could be a danger to them.
There is a large array of coral in various shapes and colors. Many of the coral appear to be blooming in colors of pinks, whites and light blue. Does coral bloom?? Some of the coral is beautiful to look at while others appear to be from an alien planet.
As usual, I express my delight with the sea life in a watery garble that exits through my snorkel tube. I ooh and ahh and at times laugh at a particularly comical fish. Now and then, I hear my escort laughing at my reactions, and I’m sure I do sound silly. Paul eventually ventures away from us when he sees that I am relaxed and enjoying myself. I’m sure it is something of a relief to him that he is free to explore without me hanging on to his swim shorts!
My guide takes me to the edge of the coral where the water is rougher and the depth of the water increases dramatically. Oh my, the obvious shape of a shark, 4 or 5 foot long, disappears into the murky water at our approach. I can make out the shapes of very large fish that are lurking in the deep water. I feel relief when the guide turns back for the calm, shallow water over the coral but the glimpse into the ocean depth was exciting.
I hate to leave this magical world of plants, coral, and fish but I can tell that this poor man, who has been pulling me all over the place, is getting tired. I tap him on the shoulder and motion towards the boat. I climb up into the boat with a smile plastered on my face. Up until a few minutes ago, we had Bar reef all to ourselves, but three more boats have arrived so that is another reason to quit. Paul and the boys aren’t ready to leave yet which is fine with me. We forgot to bring towels, so I am glad to have a chance to dry off before we speed back to land.
I laugh as the boys hang onto each other, furiously kick their feet, but don’t get very far. What difference does it make though as there are fish everywhere. I was feeling sorry about our leader having to tow me around, until I watch a man from another boat pulling three adults, all hanging onto one small life preserver! My guy had it easy! I watch Paul as he nearly swims into some other snorkelers, when you are looking down into the water this is easy to do. After the near collision I guess he decides it is getting too crowded and he swims back to the boat. Paul climbs into the watercraft, pulls his mask off, and his face is beaming. He proclaims to all of us how great the experience was. Paul says he can’t believe the variety of fish we saw, estimating there must have been at least 50 different species. I wouldn’t doubt that at all, but I gave up after a short time trying to keep a tally on all the fish encountered. Dad calls to his sons to get in the boat and the two man crew lift anchor and start for home. We were in the water an hour but it sure didn’t seem like it was that long.
We reach land in half the time that it took us to get to the reef which makes sense, because we are being pushed in by the waves. One of the waiting boat pullers begins tugging our boat back through the shallow water. This time he has help in that the boys have decided to push from behind. I watch the little rascals who often lay down while holding onto the boat and allow themselves to be dragged through the water. I laugh, they laugh and the world just seems pretty good right now.
When we arrive back at our guides place, our tuk tuk driver is waiting to take us back to Dolphin Beach. Paul asks if he would call Dennis on his phone so he can talk to him. We need Dennis to explain to the guide, why we actually do have money, and the reason we fibbed about not having money to pay the fee. Dennis, after telling Paul that he had no idea there was a fee, translates our reasoning for denying that we had money, to the tour operator. We see the guide listening and shaking his head, I believe I see a slight smile on his face too.
Once that is settled, we profusely thank our hosts and hand them the tips they surely deserve. As we are settling into the tuk tuk, our guide returns with a book that clients have written comments in about the snorkeling junket. I am more than happy to share a glowing review for him.
We are tired but happy as the tuk tuk driver buzzes down the road toward Dolphin Beach. I quizzically ask Paul, if he thinks this will be the last time we snorkel. Paul replies that very thought had just crossed his mind. We both agree that there is a distinct possibility that this could be our last hurrah for snorkeling. Hey, if that proves to be the case, it was a great one to end on.
When we get back to the resort, Dennis is there to meet us and we thank him for handling the fee problem, which we now pay to him. After a lunch of fish for me and chicken for Paul and a Lions lager of course, we relax in one of the lounges for a couple of hours before going to pack. Repacking your luggage has to be the worst part of travel as I swear the luggage must shrink. Nothing ever fits back in as easily as when you packed it at home.
Next chapter, Willapatu National Park. Nancy