• Tara B. Vasi

Day 5 Sri Lanka (55): Happy Thanksgiving, The Sea Turtle Project, Rainy Sea Turtle release party.

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

The Sri Lankans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, of course, but I know its Thanksgiving back in the states. Well, it will be, we are ahead 13.5 hours.

I hear that my nephew has foot and mouth disease and I feel so sad to hear that news for him, my brother and Krista. Poor sweet buddy. The majority of the family is suppose to get together in NJ. I will miss that family togetherness for sure! And stuffing.

The puppy wakes me up early again around 5:15am, but this time I have the keys to the kitchen, so I help myself to the instant delight. I can have some coffee AND sooth a sweet puppy man. Lucky me!

I have some fruit, a few hard boiled eggs and a shitty telephone conversation for breakfast. I won’t get into it.

We head to the sea turtle hatchery. We begin the project with the ocean clean up, so head to the beach and spend an hour or so collecting trash. We find many plastic bottle caps, straws, and scraps of styrofoam. We also find many toothbrushes, bottles of alcohol, and single shoes/ flip flops. There are also lots and lots of fishing nets. This was my little helper who kept ‘losing his britches’.

Chamara says that the majority of the turtles that are brought to the sanctuary are injured from being tangled up in fishing nets.

We see a trail in the sand where the big mama turtle came on the beach to lay her eggs the night before. Hatching season is in full swing! The tracks are so symmetrical they look like they could have been made from the tires of an ATV. Theres a big hole closer to the trees and that’s where she laid her eggs. Chamara told me that the people that worked at the hatchery transferred the eggs to an enclosure almost immediate after she lay them. If they don’t transfer and protect the eggs, animals will eat them or people will steal them and sell them. They will stay buried about two feet deep and stay for almost two months. We touched one of the eggs and it feels like a squishy ping pong ball.

We move inside to the pools and continue with the orientation. Chamara takes us to the first pool of baby sea turtles. The turtles are only two days old, tiny, blue, and adorable. One can fit in the palm of my hand. We continue around to the next pool and meet different kinds of sea turtles, though the main breed of sea turtles in Sri Lanka is the Green Sea Turtle. In the main tank, there are two GIANT turtles. One is 107 years old and the other is around 74 years old. Both are over 400 pounds. We feed them sea weed that Chamara grabbed from the shoreline. They are so peaceful and gentle. I love when they come to the surface for air.

A portion of the project includes cleaning the medium sized turtles shells, so Chamara takes them out of the pool one by one and Vera and I rub sand all over its back to remove the algae that has grown. They seem to like the massage and don’t move around much.

The hatchery is home to many stray dogs too. There is a group of dogs and two puppies that follow us around the entire visit. One of the puppies has orange magic marker all over his face and I am told one of the kids drew on him. I see a Rottweiler that looks just like Chamara’s at the villa, but younger and skinnier. He has a really bad limp and is dragging is his leg. I ask Amun, one of the men that work at the hatchery what happened and if he got hit by a car. He tells me that a poacher hit the dog with a wooden board because the dog was guarding the sea turtle eggs. The poacher didn’t get the eggs.

We leave the hatchery and stop to get king coconuts, the best coconuts for drinking. We get back to the villa for lunch and are served left overs from the last few days. I don’t eat much. I need to remember to really press Chamara to take me to a store to pick up a few things. I have to suggest more vegetables. Ugh.

We have repair men over installing TV’s. It was weird having a man in my bedroom.

Today we are going to release one of the big turtles back into the ocean and its a BIG deal. We take the big bus and pick up many people on the way, not only so that they can see the turtle being freed but also so that they can help us get the damn thing out of the pool. She is massive!! One of Chamara’s friend is a videographer so he is going to film the release and conduct interviews. The turtle was brought to the hatchery 6 months prior because it was caught in a fishing net and it tore up her shoulder area, if you could call it that. She healed well and was ready to go home. (Part of me was sad that shed have to say goodbye to her lady friend she met in the pool and spent 6 months with)

As soon as we get to the hatchery, it starts to rain, but we carry on with the release as planned. The men take off their shoes and jump in the pool. It takes almost 8 men to lift the turtle out of the pool and then carry it close to the ocean. They didnt want to bring her too close because its important for her to be able to walk herself in. The rain is really coming down now and Chamara says the rain symbolizes good karma for the turtle for the rest of her life.

It takes a bit of time for the turtle to walk itself to the water, but I loved every cold rainy second of it. Thus is such a cool thing to witness!! Its a turtle. They are meant to be slow and its not like I had anywhere to be! I was apart of something magical. I watched in awe at the massive creature but also all the people around it. These people were truly so overjoyed to be sending this turtle back to the ocean, to set it free and for no other reason then the ocean is where the turtle belonged. It was just really nice to see people care so much about something with no ulterior motive. The turtle gets closer to the waves and they splash water on her for encouragement. She gets a little deeper and they help push her through the wave break. We can see her big black presence float away in the water and then ten or so feet away, she pops her head out for a breath of air. I want her so badly to look back hahaha. We wave goodbye to her and Chamara jumps in the ocean. We all chat for a bit about what an amazing experience that just was, and then cue up and wait for the bus. Amar offers me a sea turtle bracelet and I accept. We all get back on the bus, soaking wet in rain and good deed.

We are sooo ready for dinner. Chicken, vegetables and rice. The best part was the spicy barbecue like sauce they made for us to go with it.

I hung out with the puppy for a long while after dinner. I wore my Angor Wat dress and he loves playing in all the extra fabric. We dance and he chases me around the dining area. I gave him some of my chicken and rice for dinner. He fell asleep in my lap and I transferred him to the little area we made for him out of tipped over tables.

Chamara and I met for a few hours to go over the yoga teacher volunteers. He asks me to stay for the summer season.

I spoke on the phone with one woman, Rosa, who will joining us around Christmas time and stay until the end of January. She is from Boston, MA! And currently completing her 500 hour YTT in India. She seems really excited to join us. I like that. I appreciate enthusiasm so much. I bet I could learn a lot from her.

I fall asleep watching the Discovery Channel and wishing I had some chocolate to perfectly end this wonderful day. Or Nutella. Mmmm...

Amazon prime delivers to the villa, I hear. I will look into this.


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