Thursday, 31 January 2013

Diving Expedition in Kalpitiya

The group of expat divers I help organize has decided that it would be a great idea to organize a club dive somewhere around Kalpitiya where there are many beautiful and interesting dive sites, and very important, quite unspoiled. However, very little is known about what is available there and how can a diving expedition be organized. Eddy and I decide to make a preliminary reconnaissance visit!  Eddy surfs the Net first and comes up with a resort that mentions diving... I call them, things are unclear, the dive center is but it isn't operational, they have  equipment but it is closed, but if we come we can dive, etc...Obviously, we need to see with our own eyes. Mission objectives: 1) identify accommodation for 5 /6 participants. 2) make an assessment of the diving center capabilities, safety standard, availability.

We meet at 5.00 am and start the trip. For anyone familiar with traffic in Sri Lanka this must not surprise you. Kalpitiya is just a little over 120 km away from Colombo, which makes this an overnight proposition as a rule. We will try to make it back the same day.

The trip starts on grisly note...we pass one of the 18 fatal accidents that will happen today in Sri Lanka. The country has exceeded its own record last year - over 6600 fatal accidents making it one of the worst traffics in the world, I think, although statistics are  not clear here. Soon after that the traffic clears up, and in the morning light we discover a series of coconut estates, lagoons, nice villages...Wow! Nearly the as good as the holyday posters. Even the traffic is quite light. We reach our destination, a new resort called Ruwala in advance. Avery nice place, new, just became operational ( A few bungalows along a lagoon, coconut trees, the swimming pool, etc...

Our host is quite the entrepreneur...He has raised this operation without bank credits, only with personal loans  and equity investments from friends. Diving...Ok he is a diver himself and he has chosen this place for diving opportunities and attraction too. He does not have his own diving center yet , that is in the works , including a big dive boat of which he is already very proud... But right now...there is this guy who captures aquarium fishes and he has a sort of diving center....Well, he has a boat, engine, boatman, tanks and compressor. Assured of this minimum we start the ride.

To reach it we drive a few km on the main road and then along a lagoon beach in the sand and we are lucky that Eddy's car is a  4x4. Prepared for the worst, which is the healthy attitude to have we are very pleasantly surprised.  The dive center may be just a modest hut but it is very clean, with showers and swept floors, the compressor room and engine storing room are shining clean and without the omnipresent clutter which characterizes any store or workshop in Sri Lanka.  The air tanks are clean, not battered and look ok. S..., the dive guide invites us in his modest but orderly office. He asks for our certificates and logbooks and looks at them very attentively. He then ceremoniously hands over for our own examination his certifications...This is the first time in my life this happens! He introduces his wife, who is also a fish hunter diver, the boatman who is also a diver, as is his little brother and as was their father before them....

I learn that these people are real professionals of diving and self-made marine biologists. They dive four times a day to search for fish that will bring high prices on the aquarium fishes market. His equipment makes us stare. No neoprene suit, no buoyancy control device, just a T-shirt and swimming trunks, an air tank strapped to his back  and 4 kg of lead and a few empty plastic bags. His regulator doesn't have a second breathing piece ( octopus).  He dives with the minimum of clutter...

We examine the gear- no ladder to get in the boat - I am shown a rope and wood affair- well , it will have to do if we cannot get in without one. I see a clothes line tied to a broken spanner and a junk piece of polyester? What is THAT? It’s life line...I have reservation to trust my life to THAT...But actually , why not?,. It floats just as well as the orange buoys that cost USD 200 and the line must be just as secure...This is a very genuine place you want to dive , you do it yourself, there are no several guys running around to help you. You assemble and carry your own gear. 

The boat is loaded and we motor slowly along the lagoon. Here one must report to the Navy and Park officials at a corrugated sheet open shed, surrounded by mangy dogs. We continue slowly looking for an exit to the sea. There isn't one...The tide must have closed it ... So here we are, unloading he boat and straining ourselves to drag the board across she spit of sand to the sea...Yeah...where are dive centers that offer you a cup of something while the slaves carry your equipment?

When we get to the dive site, Eddy realizes he has left behind his weight belt. No problems - S.. will dive , fill a bag with sand and that will serve...Improvisation is order of the day...

We do two dives and we both agree these are some of the best dives we did, especially here in Sri Lanka. We float above a plain of sea weed that is an amazing habitat for thousands of small tropical fishes of unbelievable diversity - blues, black &whites, reds, pinks, stripped, spotted, minute angel fishes, nudibrachs, soft corals, such a rich biological diversity. We later meet large fish that swim amiably by, a grouper that comes full of curiosity to look into our eyes...We meet a small round limestone reef full of holes. Each one is either hosting a moray eel or a  family of blue fish I don't determine that guard their nest fiercely . A stingray passes majestically...S is an excellent guide. From one point of attraction to the other we swim fast, short distances and have each time a pleasant surprise. he leads without hesitation, knows where the various fish shelters, and he will point at innocuous  looking holes that prove to shelter actually various hidden marine treasures.  


In a second dive we see an unbelievable number and variety of morays: brown, honeycomb, wrasses, etc., etc. Towards the end an octopus does a modeling session for us, showing off all her views, not scared of us...the 40 minutes of each dive pass much too fast.

We come out charmed. What an unspoiled place. Nature as it should be, diving as it should be. A thatched roof by a lagoon, a small boat, a great guide, two buddies and unspoiled marine life. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dan, I with my boyfriend are going to Sri Lanka in January and our main goal is diving. We found the Ruwala resort and I think this is the place which we are looking for. I wrote an email with some questions to the owners but they haven´t replied. Then I found your blog mentioning this resort, so maybe you could help us a little bit :-). Could you, please, write me an email on ? I would really like to get in touch with smb who already experienced this resort before we visit it. Thank you in advance. Ivana