An in-reef swimming pool!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 15, 2012

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Thursday, January 26, 2012

After a week in our place a mile down the beach from the reef at Hikkaduwa, it was time to move closer to the reef where the surfing was good, there were boogie boards to rent, snorkeling was possible and the beach was loaded with good eateries. We spent most of our time down there anyway, so we might as well move that way. Besides, we were getting kicked out of our place because of another booking.

The place we were in for the first week had a good beach, but the ocean currents and rip tides make it a bit treacherous for the kids. Mason's pockets would fill up with sand and his hair would get a swirly design. My trunks turn around backwards as if they were wringing out my midsection and I spend hours digging sand out of my ears. The girls would jump in after their morning run or between tanning sections and come out clinging onto their bathing suits so they wouldn’t get ripped away.

So Estela and I took a morning walk to the reef and started visiting hotels, motels and guest houses at the point and worked our way down the beach. All had rooms available, but most were either too costly or the rooms looked dreary and a little too 'tropical’. The fourth place we tried was run by a truly ancient Sri Lankan woman who turned out to have all of her facilities and more, and great negotiating skills to boot. She offered the five of us two rooms with A/C and wifi at a combined cost of about $110/night including breakfast. I can’t speak enough about the wisdom of getting there first, looking for the right place, and then shopping around and negotiating. I had checked the internet for rates in this area and couldn’t find anything at all for two people that cost less than $300/night.

That evening Estela and I sat on the beach and looked up at the constellations for a while, and we were visited by a firefly that would fly around us blinking his little light and then wander away for a while to return a few minutes later to check on us again. He visited us about six times while we sat there watching the lighted fishing boats out on the horizon. I told Estela that I didn’t know there were lightening bugs in Sri Lanka, and she told me that she was positive that there was at least one. Estela is the master of safe bets.

We moved into our new place the next morning. The room Estela and I moved into had a broken A/C system so they gave us a free upgrade to the floor above right next to the kids, who had been missing us dearly. The balcony between our two rooms looks out over the reef and a fresh breeze blows through the causeway where two large sectionals sit, which allows the kids to do their school work in the fresh sea breeze. But it was Sunday, so we all just hung out at the beach.

The surf had dropped quite a bit but it somehow made things more dangerous with the number of learning surfers out in the water mixing it up with the boogie boards and body surfers, shooting their 8-foot fiberglass torpedoes at anybody foolish enough to be in their line of fire. Estela and I couldn’t get a soul to deliver us drinks on the beach, so we left to find another watering hole. We stepped across the highway to a two-story bar/restaurant that had a particularly interesting tropical Christmas lighted motif. We stepped upstairs for a beer.

We had just settled in when a couple from Australia came by and saw Estela’s glass of wine asked us what kind of wine it was. "Red" Estela said. That got an easy laugh and we connected right away, so we invited them to sit down with us. Their names were Judy and Gordon, and they were from a small beach community near Byron Bay in Queensland and traveled the world surfing when they could get off of work. They were school teachers in their mid-50s and had been traveling for most of their adult lives, and had two grown kids in Australia. This was their fourth trip to Sri Lanka, and had been to most other places where big waves broke against foreign shores. Judy doesn’t surf but Gordon does, but she likes to travel with him because surfing locations tend to be the best vacation spots in the world, and Gordon is a pretty interesting bloke. We talked them into coming to California in the fall, as it has been on their list but they had a bad impression of Americans in general. I told them that a trip there would change their minds about us, as we only send the ugliest of our Americans overseas.

My ankle has finally healed enough for me to go surfing, although it is still sprained and hurts after a short time in the water. I went out this morning to the reef break and failed to catch any waves to be proud of. There is another swell coming in Wednesday according to Gordon. I asked him how in the world he knew that, and he told me that the website ‘windguru’ is the place to get accurate surf information in this part of the world. I was using ‘magic seaweed’ and that’s what gave me that horrid surf prediction from a week earlier.

Down the beach the next day we literally stumbled over the perfect snorkeling reef. The water along the coast is exceedingly clear, and within the reefs you could put your face just below the water’s surface and look horizontally and see as far as you want. This reef has a hole in it about the size of a hotel swimming pool, mostly bottomed with sand, but bordered by live corals and rocks all the way around with a veneer of marine micro plant life and crannies filled with all sorts of fish and other sea animals. Small waves from the open ocean wash across the shallow reef for ten meters and then surge gently into the pool to provide nutrients for the life there. The lack of access for big fish makes it feel perfectly safe, of course, but the number of fish of all colors and shapes make it look like a day on an exotic reef somewhere out in the middle of a deep ocean atoll. I would never have expected to see such a rich diversity of marine life right along the coast of such a large island where river runoff usually destroys visibility.

I went into the pool with the kids and we spent most of our time with our heads under water. Mason told me that it was the best snorkeling we have done on this entire trip, and I had a hard time arguing with him. Along the rocks and coral that line the edge of this pool we found a large number of camouflaged fish and moray eels, ranging in size of heads the size of pencil erasers to as thick as a man’s wrist, dozens of baby butterfly fish and angel fish scooting in and out of the small nooks every few inches. The larger moray eels had their heads poking out into the pool and their jaws working in that menacing way to pump water through their gills. Mason let the morays nibble on his fingers until they got to a certain size. Upon closer inspection, these eels are in just about every hole in the reef, over two days we probably saw fifty. Some just slither around like snakes, homeless and vulnerable. A school of perhaps 200 translucent fish wandered around the pool and some small flounders sat in the sandy bottom, blending in as a perfect match to the local color and texture of the sand, speckled with the same random colors as the average bit of bottom. We stayed in the water until almost dark two days in a row, and will probably be in there every day until we leave.
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