A cool turtle farm and scary waves

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

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Sunday, January 29, 2012

We wanted to visit a turtle farm, a place where they raise eggs to hatchlings about three days old and then release them to the ocean. We asked many tuk-tuk drivers how much they would charge to go there, and they all made up their minds that they would take us to one very far away, claiming it is superior to the local one. And, by the way, they could also take us to a moon stone mine, a mask factory, a Buddhist temple, a lagoon with 60 islands and on and on and on. But we kept it simple and asked them to take us to the local farm ten minutes up the coast, and to leave their personal interests out of our plans. At this local turtle farm, the residents are encouraged to sell the eggs and injured turtles they find along the beaches instead of eating them. As it turns out, this farm was better because they allow guests to handle the turtles, where the other one doesn't. They don’t allow guests to eat either the eggs or the turtles, though.

The owner charged us $25 for entry, which I thought was robbery, but then he allowed the kids to release a couple of hatchlings to the ocean as part of the fee. I had to choose which kids would do this, and it was an easy choice to make. Mason and Shelby clearly like turtles a lot; Adriana gets flipper whipped by every turtle she picks up. So Mason chose one tiny turtle pup and Shelby chose another and took them to the edge of the ocean, put them in the wet sand and let them race down to the water’s edge. Actually, the water’s edge came up and got them, flipped them over and dragged them into the huge waves (for two-inch turtles) towards a world they had only seen in their hereditary memory. It must have been a frightening experience they would be telling to their reptilian friends for years to come.

Later in the week the surf came up to a real nice size. I tried to rent a 6’-6" board, but they were not available, so I rented a 6’-2” board, which is much smaller than what I regularly ride, for seven bucks a day. This board was an Al Merrick, a classic of time proven design. I was able to sit on the inside of the main pack and pick off a lot of waves missed by the guys outside who were trying to stay clear of the huge outside sets. When I say 'picked off’, I mean I occupied them for a couple of seconds, not doing them any justice at all. With a 6’-2” board you don’t need to worry too much about big waves because you can just dive right under them, as long as the reef’s not too shallow.

Some of the locals here can be a bit of trouble, and you have to watch yourself. They tend to want to take every wave there is, and they will go to extreme measures to do it. One guy tried to paddle around me for a better position at the last minute (bad manners in the surfing world), and I was able to somehow outmaneuver him and get the wave anyway. After that, he called over a couple of his mates to squeeze me out of a particularly good section of the reef, so I just came in. A couple of days later Mason and I were playing Foosball at a beach side restaurant waiting for our food and I saw him cooking in the kitchen. I put my back to him and tried to keep my face out of his line of sight. I still don’t know if he saw or recognized me.

Three hours later I walked down the reef to a big right hander that was absorbing the largest exposed part of the swell. I paddled out alone after a massive set had wiped the coast clean, a set that broke right across the entire bay. When I got out to the reef, I realized that it was much bigger than I had thought it was from the shore, but then caught about seven or so large rights almost all the way to the beach nearly a quarter of a mile away. I took a hell of a flogging and actually bounced down the face of two big waves when I tried to get up too quickly or not quickly enough. Then two locals paddled out to give me company. They were both good surfers and turned out to be pretty friendly, and we took turns surfing for another hour. Usually there was only one of us out at the point at a time while the other two were paddling back out, so there was never any reason to get into a hassle about waves as most waves remained unridden.

After lunch, Mason asked for a surfing lesson, so I put him on the board and helped him into some waves, and he practiced getting to his feet. He had tried this two years ago in California but he never seemed to care about surfing. It was only when he heard the other day that his buddies Cooper and Keenan were surfing back home that he got interested. He was able to scoot to his feet for one nanosecond a couple of times under conditions of extreme duress, and so we gauged it as a successful lesson. Next time it will be on waves more manageable, if we can find them during this trip.

Today was Estela’s birthday; she hit the half-century mark and she looks and acts remarkably young for 50. We spent most of the day together, as we do every day, except for the three or so hours I spent in the ocean. Estela doesn’t seem to care about the passage of time and the birthdays they produce, she never has. I get a lump in my throat when I pass another decade, wondering where the time has gone, but it doesn’t seem to bother her in the least. Almost six years ago we were both nearly hacked to pieces with a hatchet, as many readers of this blog already know, and our close brush with death changed our outlook on life and our value of time. Every day since then we have viewed as a windfall credit on the balance sheet of our lives. I have heard scores of times from people who have pulled back from the brink of death say that every day afterwards is a gift, and in our case it is absolutely true.

Even though we had planned on doing this trip before that horrific incident, it became a no-brainer after. Whatever happens in life, and anything can happen in life, a trip like this can never be taken away. Through prison, death, divorce, loss of job, flood or famine, the memory of travel with family is something nobody can steal. Most people save their travel or leisure time for retirement but we don’t see that as a worthwhile plan for us. We think that living a large life is better when we are still a tight family and young enough to do all the things that adventurous travel entails. I can still run my son down the beach on my back when he’s eight and I’m fifty, but I couldn’t do that if he was 18 and I was 60. He probably wouldn’t want to ride on my back at 18 anyway.

There are a lot of forces that worked against us when going on this trip. My mother is getting up there in years, as is Estela’s dad, and time spent with them is critical at this point in life. My prior employer wants me back; both families miss us dearly and wish we would just come home. The girls miss their friends and their new high school experience. I couldn’t afford the cost of this trip, as it will financially strangle our retirement lives. But as my sister Anne told me many years ago about having kids, if you wait until you can afford them, you will never have them. If you try to tally the costs, the benefits will never add up. That concept works equally well when considering a trip like this. As it turns out we could afford it, but by no easy means. However, my personal cost of not taking this trip would have cost my spirit dearly.
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Rivas Clan on

Cooper can't wait to surf with his buddy Mason!

Chris S on

Oh Greg, Your write ups are awesome! From chuckles to belly laughs, from Tears to fears, Adventures abound where ever you are found! Happy 50th to your lovely wife, and Happy awesome wonderful, livin a dream greetings and thoughts to the whole travelin clan! While it sounds like you're lookin forward to being back home, you're certainly building a memory and some experience that will never be forgotten. You are truly the fortunate ones. Way to go Greg and Estela! Thank you for this wonderful BLOG, I really enjoy following along, when I can. What an inspiration!

Rhonda Sippola on

Those little turtles are sooooo cute!!

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