True to our credo of staying off the beaten track, we take the bus from Belihuloya southwards to the coast for Polhena Beach (see photo below/left).
It’s not one of those picture-perfect stretches of white sand lined by palm trees on the one side and bathed by crystal clear, turquoise water on the other side.
Polhena Beach is a lovely small beach in a residential area where the locals come to enjoy an early morning swim or Qi Gong exercises, to meet family and friends after work. It’s simply about everyone having a good time at this lively place where we encounter welcoming people and interesting conversation, creative enterprising vendors of floating tyres and snorkelling gear, funny street dogs, not too few plastic straws and lollipop sticks in the sand, curious tuk tuk drivers, live percussion music played by youngsters nearby and – best of all: we get to watch sunrise and sunset on the very same spot (just turn along with the sun) 🙂
There’s a beautiful coral reef, badly damaged during the tsunami in 2004 though. Now finally we can put the snorkel we brought all the way from Europe to good use – snorkelling conditions here are just perfect! Colourful fish, a long stingray well camouflaged by the sandy ground and then – all of a sudden I spot a turtle! The turtle is not shy at all and stays around for some entertainment, eating seagrass and coming up to the surface for some sightseeing. We are told there are about ten turtles around the area and apparently delighted to impress us visitors.
And impress us it did – read on what happens that night:
Our host Nishantha knocks on our door fervently, lightening our room through the open windows with his torch light. “Come come, turtle watching, turtle laying eggs on beach”, he exclaims excitedly. As fast as we can we jump out the bed – disentangling our mosquito net – and onto Nishantha’s motor scooter for a quick ride up the beach about 250m away. And there she is! A turtle on the beach, in the shade of the night, trying to find a spot to hide her eggs in the sand. A few other onlookers and ourselves are super quiet and stay away a small distance so she hopefully feels relaxed enough. After a few minutes she seems to decide the site is not good enough and comes a bit further towards us. Again, she starts to dig a hole and this time it seems to be the proper spot. When the hole is about an arm’s length deep she moves her body and adjusts a little bit so she is comfortable to start “hatching” the eggs. One after the other drops into the hole. There’s about 100-120 eggs per “clutch”, as turtle egg nests are called, but only about 5 or so will actually survive until the day they reproduce themselves. We watch the procedure as a torch light is carefully directed to only the hole so as not to disturb the turtle. I am in that moment 100% – no camera, no phone, no other devices – just watching with my eyes and experiencing this very special moment. I love it! According to Nishantha, the experience is quite painful for the turtle and it’s also very tiring as the whole process takes about 45-60mins. The size of the eggs is about that of a golfball and they seem more like boiled eggs without shells. When she is done, the turtle puts all the sand back into the hole and moves her whole torso and shell in such a specific way to ensure the sand is properly tightened for the next 6-8weeks until the baby turtles break open their eggs. She really does not leave any mark behind. The way she moves back into the ocean is such that covers all the tracks and even standing next to it during the whole procedure, we are not able to tell anymore where exactly the eggs nest. Hiding the eggs in such a way (depth, consistency of sand, amount of water drawing in, temperature, etc.) is quite important to make sure the eggs are safe from other animals or – sadly – even human beings. Superstition has it that drinking turtle eggs “makes men strong”, it is good for pregnant women and all that sort of stories.
As I reflect on this experience, once more I think to myself, nature is just perfect. The way it works that the turtle comes back to the beach were she was born herself, the amount of eggs produced (simply b/c so very few survive) and how they are protected deep in the sand and finally that the female turtle knows exactly the night her little ones will come out and waits for them in the sea. Just perfect. Let nature do it’s thing!
We stay in the house of a local family just across the beach. Rebuilding their entire property from the ground up after the tsunami (which the five of them+grandparents have miraculously survived), they’ve added a couple of guestrooms in the second floor and so we enjoy a marvellous view over the Indian Ocean! Below is a photo from our delicious tropical breakfast with the local dish “string hoppers” served to our own private balcony. We spend a deeply relaxing time here and the days pass by in their wonderful rhythm of joy and fun, birds singing, squirrels playing hide and seek, reading good books and solving codewords and other riddles, savouring spicy food and juicy fruit and drinking cold beer and sprinkled with lots of sunshine all along. On the very last day of our journey through Sri Lanka, we finally pack our backpacks and walk to the bus stop for Galle with their quaint little Portuguese town within the walls of the old Fort. Thank you Nishantha and family for making this stay with you so special – can’t wait to get cooking those curries with your special creation of spices!