#9 - Weligama and the Whales
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
My final port of call in Mirissa came in the shape of an early morning whale-watching tour. I had somehow mustered up a good night’s sleep after the boat party and so was feeling as fresh as is possible having endured five nights in Why Not. Shaking off the familiar morning sweat with a 5:30am cold shower, I met Rachael in the reception room and we tuk-tukked the short distance over to the harbour.
Our tour was delivered by Raja and the Whales – slightly more expensive than other providers but, as Rachael had informed me, top of the TripAdvisor pecking order. The boat set off in highly precarious conditions, and adopting my perch alongside Rachael at the front end of the top deck, I spent the majority of my time hanging on for dear life as the ship struggled over metres-high waves. Shortly after take-off, the diligent crew members came round offering the first course on the menu – a breakfast of two sausages and an omelette sandwich. Most passengers took the wiser option and declined this initial invitation, but I’m never one to turn down food. I realised as soon as the plate was handed over to me how much of a mission it would be to get through; trying to balance a plate on your lap whilst being sent crashing through the Indian Ocean isn’t easy at the best of times, never mind on a day like this one. I had taken just two bites out of my omelette before a particularly nasty wave had tripled the salt content of the dish, and shortly afterwards I was forced to admit defeat.
Luckily, as the dining experience floundered nature stepped in, with our first sighting arriving moments later. It was not a whale however, nor a group of dolphins. No, it was two turtles having sex. They created quite a stir on deck nonetheless, their privacy interrupted by a scramble to take pictures as Raja decorated our understanding with the information: ‘male on top, female underneath’.
The dolphins followed shortly after, and last but not least the whales. We saw a fin whale first, and then spent the following hour in hot pursuit of a mighty blue. Our guy (or girl – Raja stopped short of taking a punt on this one) finally arrived in stunning fashion, spouting water around nine metres into the air during the short intervals it surfaced. Each time this happened the sonar-equipped boats would rush towards it and we’d hurl abuse at them. Then the whale would disappear for fifteen minutes and the process repeated. We got close enough on several occasions, but I couldn’t help feeling that this magnificent creature is best appreciated in its entirety, not just from the top sixth of its body.
Right: A blue whale!!!! Conclusion - just watch Blue Planet II
The two hour journey back to shore involved a lot of napping and even more burning, with my legs acutely feeling the effects of that return mission even as I write this, two days later. But throughout, the catering department kept delivering, and a noodle dish plus a coconut orange upon exit later, I left the tour satisfied with the morning’s events.
I couldn’t resist one more dip in the Why Not pool before finally fleeing, taking a short trip to the neighbouring town of Weligama, home of the winter season surf circuit.
A wonderfully friendly Irish couple showed me to my dorm in Happy Bay Hostel. I elected for the room with AC, which turned out to be a big mistake as the Israeli guy I was sharing with seemed to enjoy unbearably cold night-time temperatures. He insisted upon the lowest setting of 16 degrees, and I consequently woke up for four mornings in a row shivering under my duvet sheet.
Checking out the rooftop terrace, I met a German girl called Marina. The aptly named Marina used to be scared of waves but now she’s a surfing addict, and so as an inviting early evening drew in she took me out for my first taster. We both rented boards and she showed me the basics of positioning and mounting. And just like that, from my very first wave I was up and flying high on my board, thinking I must be a natural. Unfortunately, that was very much as good as it got.
For the rest of the hour I tried and failed to repeat my beginner’s-luck heroics. Marina came over to offer a few more tips, and out of nowhere the fin of her board made a tear in mine. I walked back to the beach fearing the worst. Sure enough, the surf-school had some rogue system for dealing with such cases, sending a picture of the damage via whatsapp to some mysterious ‘manager’ who then replied with one word spelling out the cost of the repair job. He quoted us 33,000 rupees, which translates to over £140. Bollocks.
Determined to crack the art of surfing, I returned to the beach two days later with renewed optimism, this time without Marina to weigh me down. My second attempt was arguably an even bigger car crash however. Twenty minutes of trying and failing to catch a wave later, I fell forward from the force of a breaking wave and my board smacked me square in the top of the head. At the time I thought it would be nothing more than a bruise in the morning, so I continued on. I soon noticed that I was veering in one direction every time, and turning the board over I realised one of the fins had conveniently detached itself. And so it was that just half an hour after renting the board, I returned to shore a fin lighter and with blood dripping down the side of my head. I received a fair amount of sympathy coupled with another 1000 rupee fine, and sat for a few moments - ice pack in hand - wondering where it had all gone wrong. It turned out that despite my determination, I had come closer to cracking my own skull than the art of surfing, and I decided to turn my attention elsewhere.
Weligama also has a lively (may be the wrong word) yoga scene. The hyperactive Marina was on her way to a hostel-run session when I arrived at Happy Bay, so I said that I’d join her. This particular form was a less strenuous variety called Yin Yoga, which focused on removing tension and ego from the mind. It served as a fitting introduction, but as the roar of the main road battled against the instructor’s calls to feel our inner zen, I was sure that I could find a more fulfilling yoga experience.
The very next day, I made my way to a class called Kosala Yoga, teaching the Indian school of sivananda. The teacher stood in front of an open wall on the top floor of a secluded Buddhist temple, so that we looked onto a serene backdrop of evergreens on the riverbank. Sivananda yoga seeks to reconcile body, mind and spirit, beginning with the warm-up routine of Sun Salutations before moving into a series of different asanas (positions, pronounced like my favourite football team in an Indian accent). The exercises vary in difficulty and would definitely require years of practise to master, but what made this experience special and inspiring for me was not so much the routine as the emphasis on the connection between body and mind. As one of the five pillars of yoga, the teacher let us feel the benefits of regular rest by making us lie down in the ‘savasana’ position, in doing so allowing us to feel our weight against the earth. By the end of the hour-long class, I felt a lightness and warmth in my body, and was overcome with a sense of ease and relaxation. It really did feel like a spiritual refreshment, and has opened me up to possibility of engaging with the practise further as I continue on my own spiritual path.
Later that day I sought a more conventional means of relaxation in the form of a spa treatment, another popular pass-time in the Sri Lankan south. I opted for the full body, hour-long ayurvedic treatment, and you could say I probably got what I bargained for. The smiley and boyish masseuse, Sameera, had had a quiet day, which may explain his over-enthusiasm. He originally asked me to trade my swimming trunks for a towel, which is fair enough, but after a while he became more and more interested with the area surrounding my crotch. Unfamiliar with the practicalities of Sri Lankan full-body massages, I allowed him to press on, and it was only when he started repeatedly rubbing my penis up and down with oil that the alarm bells started ringing. At one point he turned to me to exclaim; ‘you have big, haha’ with a smile on his face, and I don’t think I have ever felt so uncomfortable in my life. If you are looking for a man to simultaneously offer your masculinity a boost and make you feel like you’d rather be on the other side of the world, Sameera is your guy (yes, he added me on Facebook). I walked away only partially aware that I had been groomed, and it wasn’t until he messaged me a few days later saying ‘Hay dear, how are you doing’ that I suspected the worst. He has now been blocked.
The eventful few days were concluded with a final swim through the Weligama waves with Marina, and the next morning I set off for a bus-ride to Una Watuna, carrying with me another whacky idea.