26th May- Unawatuna
Today the plan was to go to the Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery then to the Unawatuna Lagoon Canoeing Excursion. Doing these two activities was supposed to cross off everything on our list leaving us with around half a day to just be lazy and relax so we started the day with the usual breakfast we have then went off on a 15 minute drive to see sea turtles.
I didn’t know it was a conservation and so I expected to see turtles swimming in their natural habitat and to carry one or two for pictures. Instead, it was a more simple place with several small sections of water in something that was shaped a bit like a well for the turtles to swim in.
There were many different species of turtles and of many different ages. The nice surprise was the worker actually took the time to teach us about the turtles and their lifespan. Afterwards he let us take pictures and to play with the turtles and to carry them. Then he showed us how they take care of the turtles eggs to ensure a higher hatching rate.
Turtles have an extraordinarily low rate of survivors from the eggs that they originally lay. It goes something along the lines of hundreds of eggs laid and around 5-10 of the turtles actually make it to sea and survive. The rest are either empty eggs, are stolen or even eaten before they make it to the vast blue of the ocean.
The area the worker showed us looked like a mini turtle cemetery with the date of the turtles were caught and its species name written on a tombstone shaped plaque. We thought this visit would take a while but instead we finished quickly and our booking for canoeing was still at 2:30pm. With two hours to kill still, we didn’t know what to do.
Thankfully our tuk tuk driver saved us, sensing that we ran out of places to go, he suggested we go to the Cinnamon Island. It was an easy decision as we didn’t want to head back home so early and so we decided to go for it. It turned out it was close to the Sea Turtle Hatchery and on arrival we were informed it was a boat ride package at the lake to see Cinnamon Island, Temple Island, Fish Feeling and Herbal Garden.
Since the original plan was to canoe after the Sea Turtle Hatchery, it made sense to instead get on a boat here and see more things. That and we were lazy. Starting off with Cinnamon Island, we arrived and our boat driver informed us that this island belongs to 11 brothers who ran the island themselves. One of whom was kind enough to show us his home and take us through the processes and uses of the cinnamon tree.
At first he took us to a tree, crushed its leaves to let us smell it and to show us the cinnamon oil that comes from crushing it. The next step was to take the branch and shave its exterior to make cinnamon powder. It was at this point that his wife came to give us cinnamon tea made from the same powder and hot water only. No tea bags, no sugar, no nothing.
Next he shaved the interior to show us cinnamon stalks. He said when it dries it changes into the brown colour we identify it as. He then encouraged us to chew on it and to my surprise it tasted sweet. Afterwards, he displayed the final products- the cinnamon oil, powder and stalks. Of course nothing is free and so I bought a packet, happy to see the source of it all and its development with my own eyes.
Fish Feeling was the following activity. Actually, activity is a bit of an exaggeration. What we did was simply dip our feet into a closed off area of the lake in order for the fish to freely nibble. What it essentially feels like is around 1000 gentle pinches all over your feet. It’s incredibly ticklish for the majority of the 15 minutes but afterwards your feet feel much better and exfoliated and clean. After 15 minutes of uncontrollable laughter, it was time for the Buddhist Temple Island.
When we arrived we were told it was home to 15-20 monks and students. The hike up to the temple was similar to the Jungle Beach one except it was steeper. Just as with most of the temples we visited, you could feel the peaceful energy around. However, this place was a little more peaceful than the others. After all, it was a bit isolated from the rest of the city and the only noise around would come from the occasional tourist who visited.
A few pictures later and we were back on the boat on our way back to the Herbal Garden. We were told fishermen would come here to this bit of water as the mangroves surrounding the lake contained crabs, prawns and fish. Our boat driver pointed out that the mangroves served several uses as it also protected the island from floods during the monsoon season.
He encouraged me to taste the water, stating it was brackish which meant that it was a mix of fresh water and salt water. On arrival to the Herbal Garden, the guide showed us the different plants and herbs they grew and its natural benefits. There were cloves, ginger, red pineapples and yellow ones among many others. At the end we were taken to a store where they extracted the benefits of these herbs into bottles fit for consumption.
While it was only the afternoon, the day’s plan was over and the rest of it was spent eating, relaxing and watching two movies- A Beautiful Mind and Mulan. Tomorrow was Friday so I was a little excited to experience the Friday prayers in a different country. Another cause for my excitement was that we were going to travel to Udawalawe for a safari. I’d experienced a safari in Kenya and was keen to see the difference in a Sri Lankan one.