“Do you want to see the turtles?”, our guesthouse host questions. He’s quiet, and soft natured. He doesn’t say much, apart from asking how we’d like our eggs. But he’s kind – all Sri Lankans are.
“I’ll take you there,” he beckons with his hands. He points to what I only assume is the way there. “Sure. Let’s go after breakfast,” we say, as he breaks out in smile.
I finish the last bite of my omelette and wash it down with a sweet Sri Lankan coffee. It’s nothing like we have in Australia, but the gritty caffeine hit grows on me.
Our host peeks through the dark blue sheet of material, his makeshift kitchen door, as the morning wind sways it open. I smile and nod at him, signalling we’re ready to go.
Preparing to see a bright red tuk tuk outside, we’re surprised as he guides us to a white van. It’s plush, by Sri Lankan standards. Tribal, almost theatrical, music starts as the engine does, and my body follows in a soft movement. I look at my friend and giggle.
Weaving through narrow dirt roads, we reach a palm tree lined highway. We travel down a stretch for ten minutes, and pull in at a little building. I see a sign. ‘Induruwa Sea Turtle Conservation.’
I fasten my backpack, and carry my water bottle with me. There are two old Sri Lankan men sitting outside, one with his feet up, and the other with his elbow on his leg. The sillouettes of palm trees, deep golden sand and rolling waves the perfect backdrop to what seems like a meaningful conversation.
A younger guy with surf beads around his neck and a quicksilver t-shirt on, walks over to us. “Hi. Welcome to our conversation project. Would you like to see the turtles or I can tell you about them first?”
“Let’s do both. You can tell us about the turtles,” my friend says.
We spend the next 30 minutes learning about the turtles in Sri Lanka. Our guide tells us about their initiative and what they do to maintain the turtle hatchery.
We make our way around the conservation park, picking up day-old turtles, snapping photos in between.
Our guide brings us over to a big area of sand. “We collect turtle eggs from the beach and bury them here in the sand. Within 42 days, they hatch. We keep them in here for a bit, then set the baby turtles free on the beach, just after sunset. It gets very hot for the eggs during the day, so we keep them in here to give the best chance at survival,” he shares.
He goes on to tell us the massive efforts that go into looking after the turtles, especially the disabled ones. A large amount of money has to be spent on constructing and repairing tanks, pumping sea water, cleaning and purchasing fish for feeding, and medicine for the sick turtles.
The people at this conservation park are dedicating their days to protecting turtles in the area. It’s a non-for-profit initiative that not only protects these batches of turtles, but treats disabled and injured turtles too. Staff patrol the beach all night to spot mother turtles that come out of the ocean to lay their eggs.
“We depend entirely on the entrance fees charged from tourists and during the off-season. We find it extremely hard to maintain the centre. We need support,” he says.
“This isn’t my job. I like helping endangered species. We have a lot of disabled and injured turtles here. We want to protect nature. No one thinks after tomorrow. All they care about is money.”
I can sense his love for the turtles. He puts his hands into the big tank we’re standing next to and pulls out a big, 80-kilogram turtle.
It’s magnificent. “Here, hold it. Get a photo with it.” He hands the turtle to me. I slip my arms under its shell and feel its full weight. Almost sensing my surprise, he doesn’t let go of the turtle.
“I can’t believe how heavy it is,” I laugh.
I’m torn between trying to get the perfect photo of me and the turtle, as my mind ponders on just how unique this country is. I instinctively feel at home in Sri Lanka, and I think it’s because of the people.
And these qualities, you certainly don’t find everywhere.