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Ambalandgoda, Sri Lanka - PMGY

Turtle Conservation Project Ambalandgoda, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna,Bentota

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PMGY Volunteer Project in Ambalandgoda

I stayed in a volunteer house in a small coastal town, Ambalandgoda, in the south of Sri Lanka, to undertake a project at the Sea Turtle Conservation. The town is beautiful and rural with no tourists. Excluding a few other volunteers, I haven’t seen a single tourist. When I drove the streets in a tuktuk, parents and children would point and wave at the sight of a tourist. However, it felt very safe here.

After arriving at the volunteer house around 1:30, I fell into a deep sleep pretty quickly. Due to my busy routine last week, I woke up early but relaxed in bed reading on my kindle. My new room mate, Marnie, woke up not long after and filled me in on the volunteer house, the project and the surroundings - she seemed really nice.

We relaxed and ate breakfast until 10am when Ashika (Ash) gave me a thorough induction. We spoke about the project I will be undertaking next week at the Sea Turtle Conservation. It sounded very interesting and I couldn’t wait to get started.

In Sri Lanka, many locals believe a myth that eating part of a sea turtle will allow them to live longer. So they kill the sea turtles or carve off their fins. They also wait for pregnant turtles to lay eggs on a low tide to steal the eggs, killing the mother also. The conservation supported by PMGY try to stop this behaviour as much as possible by offering money payments for anyone who brings turtles/ the eggs to the conservation. This is so that they can care for the turtles and to make sure they are fit and healthy to be able to survive in the wild. However, some severely disabled turtles, that have been injured by local fishing for example, stay at the conservation, as they cannot dive deep enough to find food and survive in the wild.

After a light lunch, we headed out for the induction trip. The first stop was a temple in the local town, holding the relaxing statute, Asia’s largest south facing statue. A co-ordinator explained Buddhism and the story of Buddha. He showed me the Bodhi tree, which is very special to the religion: the ‘nerves’ in the leaves are on the outside instead of the inside and it makes oxygen in the evening, instead of daytime. Buddhism is not only a religion but is seen as a supreme philosophy. It also overlaps with Hinduism and we were shown the Hindu statues where they prey and offer fruit after being in the temple.

I learnt my first Sri Lankan word: Stuti - thank you / bhoma stuti - thank you very much.

We then visited a Moonstone mine, which is ran by a Sri Lankan family and has been passed down by generations for 60 years. Extracting and producing the precious jewel is a 2-year process. At the mine, both beautiful blue and white moonstones are extracted.

We were shown the process: first extraction from the mine (the moonstones are mixed with rocks and dirt); then the extractions are hand washed in an outdoor bath built into the ground; the moonstones can then be seen and are selected out of the bucket; the stones are then hand cut and polished and finally made into jewellery (earnings, rings, necklaces, bracelets).

I had a relaxing evening meeting the other volunteers when they returned from their weekend trip. I was still used to the time zone in Bali so I went to bed and passed out in a deep sleep pretty early.

After a light breakfast, I went to the sea turtle conservation and hatchery to start my first day at the project. I was shown different varieties of turtles; green sea turtles are the most common in Sri Lanka whereas loggerheads are the most rare. Sea turtles can live up to 300 years old and can start laying eggs when they reach 19/20 years old. The turtle lays its eggs, roughly 100-150, on a low tide but only 90% naturally survive. However, depending on whether the mother has hid the eggs effectively enough, many of these do not hatch due to acts of mankind.

The co-ordinator explained what the conservation did and the issues here. The population of sea turtles is rapidly decreasing as a result of the myth I discussed yesterday: the people capture turtle’s eggs to eat them. In addition, litter and pollution, such as plastic bags and straws, and fishermen’s nets, are disabling turtles so they are unable to reach food in the wild. This was Bob’s story: he is a handicapped Olive Ridley sea turtle who is more than 145 years old. He continuously bobs in water and is unable to dive down for food as a result of plastic filled within him. Another turtle, Lucy, was harmed when caught in a fishing net so had a fin amputated. Both of these have been at the conservation the longest, as they cannot survive in the wild.

On a more positive note, the conservation has a preventative purpose to stop people from eating or stealing eggs. It offers an increased price (compared to what others are asking for to eat the eggs) for people to bring eggs to the conservation. The project has created various hatcheries (see photos), where it buries these eggs in sand, as in the wild, and leave them for 45 days until the eggs hatch. This morning I buried eggs in the holes (see photos). The eggs are soft unlike chicken eggs, feeling similar to a ping pong ball.

Naturally, not all of the eggs hatch and the dead shells are removed after hatching. I helped unbury baby sea turtles that hatched this morning! It was incredible. They are so so tiny (see photos).

After a couple of days, the babies are put in a water tank together, where they are fed and looked after until they are ready to be released into the wild after two years. A government doctor visits the conservation every 2/3 weeks to assess and confirm the turtles are ready to survive on their own. They are then released in the evening when the tide is strong and fishermen are not around. Unfortunately, the tide was too strong to release sea turtles this week and they would have been swept away.

I helped prepare the food to feed the sea turtles (fish). I used a sharp knife to chop off the heads and gills ready for feeding. I then transferred each turtle one by one into a separate feeding tank to ensure their living tanks are not contaminated by fish guts. I then fed Bob and Lilly, the oldest turtles and finished feeding the new babies, who were only 2 weeks old.

It was a fun and informative morning - I was looking forward to going back.

I relaxed in the afternoon on the terrace in the sun reading a new novel on my kindle.

This evening was culture night!

Before the evening meal, a group of us had authentic henna tattoos (see photo) before heading the the pool house for Balinese dancing. When we arrived, we were dressed in beautiful saris by the Balinese ladies and watched wonderful dancing. We were then pulled up to have a go ourselves! I loved joining in and learning a variety of Balinese dance moves, although it was very sweaty in a thick sari!

Today was a government and private holiday due to the full moon poya day so we had a day off the project. I made the most of it and spent the day exploring the south of Sri Lanka.

In the sweltering heat, I walked 20/25 minutes to the bus stop in trousers and a cardigan - killed me! In this small town, it is respectful and expected by the locals to cover your legs and shoulders when walking round.

I was lucky to choose the correct bus taking me to my first destination, Galle. The bus driver could not speak English so I pointed to my destination and paid for my ticket. After an hour or so, I made it! It was beautiful and quiet, again very few tourists, only a few from China and India. I walked to the Galle Fort. This was first constructed by the Portuguese when they first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505 and was later developed by the Dutch in the 17th century. It is accredited as a UNESCO world heritage site. It has been praised as the ‘best example of a fortified city with a fusion of European architecture and South Asian traditions built by Europeans in South and Southeast Asia’.

I then walked to the lighthouse overlooking the sea - it was so pretty. The weather was beautiful so I sat for a while overlooking the sea on the surrounding bastions (see photos). I then stopped in a small Sri Lankan restaurant and sat on the terrace overlooking the ocean with a fresh mango juice and a traditional dish, Kottu Rotti - mmm, it was yummy. Although the food in Sri Lanka is delicious, I have found that it is extremely carby! Ash told me this is because being pale and fat is attractive to Sri Lankan people - his words! Generally, therefore, most people have chubby stomachs.

I returned to the bus stop and headed further along the south coast to a small, beautiful coastal town, Unawatuna. The adorable streets were filled with cafes and surf shops in front of Unawatuna beach. The waves crashed loudly in the sea whilst I walked along the sea front to Jungle Beach. The radiant sun beamed down on me whilst I enjoyed a drink at a beach bar. Crazy locals were swimming in the waves and few tourists were soaking up the sun on loungers. It is wet season at the moment and we were warned the waves were particularly strong today so should not swim in the sea.

The buses were crazy! They quickly pulled up to the side of the road and pulled people on. I only took one step on the bus before it started moving off. There were no seats so I held on tightly for my life, as the driver rapidly swerved the traffic. I felt like I was on the bus in Harry Potter - “it’s going to be a bumpy ride!” But they were so so cheap. The price per journey ranged for 30 to 60 rupees (10-30p!) Being a young, solo, female tourist, many tuktuk drivers made attempts to persuade me to pay extra for a ride but I stood my ground and navigated my way by bus.

I was getting braver with the local buses so decided to explore further up the coast up to Wijala Beach but the waves were too crazy to explore. Jumping on another bus, I headed further up the coast and walked to Luna Terrace; I had read great reviews so decided to check it out. En route, I walked into a police station (thinking it was the hotel) and stopped to chat to them for a short while before I continued my journey. The infinity pool overlooking the sea was gorgeous! It was late afternoon so I didn’t pay to stay and swim but I would love to go back and spend the day there.

It was 5pm at this point and I was getting pretty tired after leaving the house at 9am this morning. I had been everywhere! I waited on the side of the road for the next bus taking me back to Ambalandgoda bus station.

What a great day exploring. Although it is wet season, the weather was sunny and fabulous all day until a short burst of rain at 6pm.

Unawatuna is my favourite town so far. I would love to return to stay and surf during the dry season.

DAY TWENTY SIX - Wednesday
I was getting withdrawal symptoms from working out (sad, I know!) so I woke up at 6:30am and did a HIIT workout on the terrace whilst everyone was asleep followed by 10 minutes of stretching. I felt much better.

We went to the turtle project again for 9am. The routine was similar to Monday; today I fed the babies and the disabled turtles who have recently undergone an operation. I had to open the sardines up with my fingers and pull out the bones before feeding - not the most glamorous of jobs. One fish was particularly tough and when I ripped it open, fish juice aggressively squirted in my face... lovelyyyyy.

After tea and biscuits we headed back to the volunteer house to wait for lunch to be prepared - curry again, of course!

This afternoon, I went to the girls orphanage project and met wonderfully kind girls who have been through so much suffering but only smile. They were so excited to see us and constantly wanted to touch/hug you. I first helped the young ones with their English and spellings, drawing pictures and words on the board and they copied in their notebooks. We then took the girls outside and played volleyball with them. PMGY have supported the orphanage for the past 6 years and it has grown so much since then: it has a brand new classroom and volleyball court. The facilities are perfect for the girls and they are well looked after. PMGY also provide funding for all the girls to go on a trip each month. It was a great afternoon.

After dinner, we all went to the pool house for a quiz night organised by Ash followed by many drinks and lots of dancing. Somehow, it resulted in me being pushed in the pool by Marnie fully clothed!

We left around midnight absolutely starving. Ash drove around the small town trying to find us all food - bless him!

After only a few hours sleep, I got up early and spent the morning at the turtle conservation project.

After lunch, I spent the afternoon in a nearby town, Hikkaduwa. I wandered round the shops as the weather was too bad to go on the beach: the waves thrashed aggressively. I managed to find and eat chicken, finally!! I had a ridiculous craving for meat, as they hadn't served it all week at the volunteer house, only vegetable curries. Although these were tasty, I needed a change.

The weather now truly reflected monsoon season: the wind was very powerful and it intermittently rained throughout the day. It got progressively worse later in the evening with thunderstorms, leaving us with a power cut for an hour or so.

Today was my last day at the project before I left the volunteer house for independent travel tomorrow morning. I said my goodbyes to the co-ordinators and the turtles I’d grown so fondly of. It had really been an amazing experience.

I spent the afternoon exploring Bentota, an hour’s bus ride on the South West Coast, half way up to Colombo. This was an interesting experience to say the least! After jumping off the bus to start exploring, I was attacked by tuk tuk drivers attempting to sell day trips. I don’t blame them though: there are now no tourists around as a result of the Easter bombings and they are all desperately trying to make a living. Whilst walking down a quiet street, I was joined by a local fisherman asking questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Sri Lanka. He told me about the village and the temples here. However, he never left and told me must aboard a ‘ferry’ to get across the lake to the bus stop. The ferry turned out to be a local pedal boat where I sat in the centre whilst the local fishermen paddled me. We then turned into an area filled with branches and animals - it turned out I was on a lagoon safari! I only wanted to get back to the bus station. After an hour or so, I finally arrived on the other side where the fishermen tried to charge me 5000 rupees (£25)!! Not a chance I was paying that. I handed over 1,500 rupees and 100 rupees to the fisherman/tour guide and scampered off to the bus station. Well, that was definitely an experience - I did fear for my life a couple of times!

Desperate for the bathroom, I asked the information office at the bus station for the closest bathroom. I was directed to a hole in the ground! Wow, what a day.

The weather was still pretty bad but I luckily managed to just miss the heavy down pour travelling back to Ambalandgoda. I arrived home in time for dinner around 7pm but I just couldn’t face anymore rice (I had eaten it twice a day since Sunday!) so we went to an incredible desert shop for ice cream.

Although it has been difficult to eat a lot of the food due to my intolerance to gluten and to have cold showers each day, I really had a great week at the project. Ash, the main co-ordinator, was incredible - so attentive and kind. He did everything he could to make my stay more enjoyable and ensure that we were safe at all times, with tuk tuks on call whenever we needed it. I couldn’t recommend the project more - thank you PMGY!

Posted by LBanner1411 06:47 Archived in Sri Lanka

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Bloody el!!! You scare me to death!!! Buses... dodgy pedal boats!! Put my in hot sweats!!! So glad you loved it chic... love you xxxx

by Mum

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