Misadventures in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

Carrie feeds a hundred plus year old sea turtle
Carrie feeds a hundred plus year old sea turtle

Our final stop in Sri Lanka was the beach town of Hikkaduwa, though it was unlike I have ever been to. The main highway is also the town’s one road with a row of restaurants and guesthouses separating that road from the ocean. Mostly a surfer’s destination, the waves crashing were some of the largest I have ever seen and I think it may also be the first time I ever saw someone surf. We treated ourselves to a beach-front room and slept to the sound of the ocean for two nights.

One morning we took a walk down the beach until we came to the spot where hundred year old turtles lived. Knowing exactly what we were there for, a local grabbed some seaweed and lured one of them over so we could see, touch and feed it. At first it was just us and the local, but within minutes there was a crowd of rich resort patrons who joined in the fun. No surprise, we were the only ones who tipped the local.

If You Don’t Understand Me, Don’t Just Say OK

Later that day we hopped onto a local bus to go an hour north to a turtle hatchery where we could see baby turtles and release one into the ocean.

AirCon Mini Bus Interior - Sri Lanka
The cushy inside of an AC minibus. These cost up to 5x the amount of a public bus

I told the money collector the name of the town, he nodded as if to indicate understanding and printed me up a receipt with a price and the name of our destination. Unfortunately, the ticket was written in Sinhalese, which is a completely different alphabet, so I had no idea if it was right. We just assumed it was and, like all other bus helpers, he would tell us when it was our stop.

Carrie had called the hatchery earlier in the day, so we knew that it was about an hour away. Turtles are released only at the end of the day, so we timed our trip to coincide with the closing of the hatchery, even leaving ourselves a little wiggle room. We watched every sign closely to make sure we got off at the right place until the rain started. Soft at first, by the time we hit the hour mark it was a torrential downpour: and of course we had no umbrellas or plastic to cover ourselves or my camera bag.

The rain also made reading signs much harder, but around the hour mark Carrie saw one that looked like the town before ours. We watched intently, looking for our town’s name, watching for a kilometer marker sign or anything else to let us know we were there. Finally, at around the 1.5 hour point I went up to the front and asked. Shocker, they had no idea what I was talking about and spoke no English. I continued to say the town name and was greeted with blank stares from all around until finally it clicked with someone who told me, in broken English, that we had gone too far.

A bus stop sign in Sri Lanka
A bus stop sign in Sri Lanka

We jumped out of the bus into the downpour and found a dry spot across the road to wait for a bus back, still hoping to catch the hatchery on the flip side. Well, as it was raining and the bus was coming from Colombo, every one that passed was so full it had people hanging out of the door and would not stop. We finally had to take an air conditioned minivan bus for nearly 5x what we paid to get there.

Upon getting into the minivan we also saw a kilometer marker and realized that we had gone nearly 35km too far. By the time we were back in the town with the hatchery it was too late and they would have been closed. We rationalized it by saying that with the rain we probably wouldn’t have gotten to release the turtles anyway, but it was still SO frustrating. The worst part is that it all could have been avoided if the money collector had just said that he didn’t understand me. I could have taken out our book, showed him and had no problem. But that’s just the way it is.