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Diving in Unawatuna

sunny 33 °C

Upon leaving our beach hut we just couldn't resist a few more days on the coast before heading in land and caught the local bus to Unawatuna. We decided to go diving again as last time wasn't so successful as we were just out of season. We settled into Peacock hotel and walked around to the cluster of dive shops a few metres down the road. This time we decided to go with the only PADI qualified centre in Unawatuna, Unawatuna Diving Centre.

We spoke to Hans, the German owner who disappointedly informed us that that morning dive had been terrible visibility and he couldn't guarantee that we would be able to see anything if we went.

We decided to think about it over breakfast and walked to a local place for some Dahl and Rottis. Since it is our last chance before going home to dive we decided to give it a go, even if the conditions were not the best and risk it. The rest of our day was spent lazing on our balcony, watching the turtles surface and dive as well as treating ourselves to some pizza for tea at a nearby hotel with an Italian chef.

We were up bright and early for our diving excursion as we had to be at the dive shop for 8.30am. Unawatuna Diving Centres dives for qualified divers are 30 euros for one dive or 50 euros for two. We said it depends on the conditions of the first dive to if we did two. This includes the rental of all the equipment. We were diving with a man and his son from Russia but since we are beginners we would have our own dive master to dive with. This put Chelsea at ease as she was nervous after last time.

After gearing and a group effort of getting the dive boat off the beach and into the sea we set off. The sea was calm and although it had been raining throughout the night it was sunny. It only took five minutes to get to the first dive spot, a reef wreck just off the coast. Chelsea was first in and to everyone's surprise the water was clear. The two of us descended down the anchor line but Liam had a problem equalising his right ear and it took a while for it to pop before we could continue.

The first dive was amazing. We dove down to around 16m but most of it was around 12m. The whole seabed was covered in huge flat rocks which coral had grown on. It looked like the seabed had fractured and split and there were deep canyons going deep into the earth. Swimming over them you could peer down and see black silhouettes of the different fish in the bottom. Other areas looked like the earths surface had split and overlapped so big rocks jutted up. There was a lot of colourful fish and coral. We saw some fan coral and starfish, a puffer fish and parrot fish. Most of the coral was dark blue and purple apart from these long thin white tubes of coral which twisted up one or two metres long. Our highlight was seeing nudibranchs for the first time. They are tiny sea slugs that have developed gorgeous bright patterns to fend off predictors. They are beautiful and some glow illuminous colours of purple, orange, yellow and blue. They were a real treat to see and our dive master kept pointing the tiny slugs out to us.

We dove for around 40 minutes and the visibility was so much better than we expected, around 9m. When back on board we decided straight away to do another dive. We waited on the boat for ten to fifteen minutes so our nitrogen levels decreased and then geared up again.

The second dive sight was just another ten minute boat ride. Liam had the same problem with his ears but aften a while ascending and decending he managed to sort it. It was just over 17m deep and although it was still very clear there was quite a strong current under the water. It was at the edge of a reef that backed onto a sandy seabed. There were huge pillars of coral coming up from the sea floor and long flat rocks that red coral was growing on. There were more nudibranchs, parrotfish trigger fish and lobsters. There were big schools of silver and yellow fish and hundreds of kinds of brightly coloured and different shaped fish all over, hiding in rocks and corals. The highlight of our dive however was seeing two stingrays. Both of them were laying on the sandy seabed perfectly still. They were medium sized and had a white tipped stinging tail. After around 40 minutes Liam was starting to run out of air so we swam into the current and surfaced. Swimming against the current was hard and the current took us and the fish back and forth under the water smoothly.

Getting back on the boat was more of a challenge as the current was stronger. Chelsea's main struggle is passing her weight belt up onto the boat as it is between 6kg and 7kg. We have no idea why she is so buoyant but she literally cannot decent without the weights.

We absolutely loved both the dive spots we visited today and would fully recommend Unawatuna Diving Centre. They are professional and friendly and made us feel very comfortable. Back at the dive shop a pot of tea was waiting for us and we rinsed all our gear off and had a cup of tea whilst filling in our log books and looking with our dive master what we had seen. We didn't get back till after 12pm and had an amazing morning. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and we went back to the Italian chef for some tasty pasta for dinner.

Today it was time to leave the south coast after more than a month and we caught the local bus to Galle. Before heading up to Colombo we had to have a visit to Galle hospital for Liam to get his final rabies jab. We didn't know where it was so we got a tuk-tuk. The hospital was overwhelmingly busy and we managed to find an enquiry desk where we were directed down a corridor to the rabies centre. The whole place was manic and Chelsea found a seat next to a lot of sick people and a stray dog (yes in the hospital) while Liam joined a mob outside the door of the rabies room. After waiting around half an hour he saw a doctor who told him he was in the wrong room so he went to join a mob outside a different room. It didn't take long to be seen but they were so curious it took longer to talk to the doctors and nurses. They wanted to know where he lived, where he had visited and had a lengthy conversation about Prince Charles. Anyway after a hot, busy morning in the hospital we are sure we are sicker than we went in but Liam has finished his treatment and we set off to have brunch. We found a local place and asked for Dahl and bread but were presented with a massive array of different dishes as well as half a loaf of bread each. After managing as much as we could we wobbled to the bus station and caught one to Colombo.

It was hot and packed and seemed to take all day but we arrived in Colombo about half three and checked into a hotel we had used before, Hotel Sunshine. Tomorrow we move on to Anaradapura, an ancient city in central Sri Lanka and we are excited to see somewhere new.

Posted by Chelsandliam 04:44 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka colombo galle unawatuna Comments (2)

An Update from Colombo

sunny 35 °C

Since Saturday we have been in Colombo. We were sad to leave out beach bum life that has been the previous ten days but with a flight in a weeks time we needed to sort out our Indian Visa.

As always the public bus has been easy, if not cramped and hot, and it only took around 3 hours to do the 100 miles or so along the coastal road. We are having to stay 5km outside of the city centre as the accomodation prices in Colombo are super high. We have managed to get a decent room for RS275O, about £13, and metered tuk-tuks to the center only cost been RS250 - RS400 so it has been fine.

We had to wait until Monday for the visa office to open so had Sunday and what was left of Saturday to look around. Its never fun coming back into the land of car horns, traffic and pollution after so long out of the cities and Colombo was the same. We spent our first day just walking around the area our hotel is in, Colombo is split into districts with Col 1 being the centre, we are in Col 4. It is basically one major road into the centre, with sidestreets and a quieter costal road. We are still close to the see at Colombo but it is by no means pretty. We walked around for a bit, making it around half way to the centre. There is nothing really of any interest where we are, just a working community, there are lot of local eateries and shops, as well as the odd shopping centre. We ate in of the many bakeries/restaurants, we ordered a selection of snacks from a counter full of samosas, pies (curried and normal) an the normal array of things we did not know. When we had had enough of the heat and noise we retired back to our hotel and tried to figure out how we go about getting our Indian Visas.

Sunday we decided to make the most of the full day available to us and go to the centre. Known as the fort we had visions of something similar to Galle, only a little less touristy. Next to the centre is an area called Pettah, described in our Lonely Planet guide as a bustling bazaar, and a interesting place to spend a few hours. We must have been in the wrong area. It was Sunday so not everything was open but all we saw was a severely run down area, full of random shops, mainly selling mobile phones. The fort area was no better, there is a section full of high end hotels like the Hilton and there is a Presidential house which you are not allowed to get with half a mile of without being shot. We wandered around trying to find some things that were mentioned in our guide book but with no avail. We were not having a good time. Thankfully we found a small tea shop that was a little haven. It had possiblly the largest selection of tea known to man, Chelsea ordered a ice tea, made with tea grown in Kandy and Liam ordered one of the sweet spice teas he has come to love, Chelsea loved her ice tea that was served in a jam jar style glass with a handle. We could not resist ordering a 'British Pub' steak and Guinness pie, which was random but delicious and we ended it off with a cake. It was expensive for us, but we needed a little lift after walking the streets. Deciding to end our day on a high we went back to our hotel afterwards.

Today has been mixed. We got up early to be at the India visa office for 9am. We first however, had to find a internet cafe so we could print off the application form you need to fill in online before you go to the office. This was easier said than done, at 8am most were still shut, but we managed to find one. The form is a farce, they might as well ask for a full family history, it is by far the most information we have needed to disclose to get a visa. Once we finally arrived at the visa office we did not even get passed the entrance. A guard checked all our documents and told us our passport photos were no good. The background was not white enough (what?) and the need to be 2 inch x 2 inch, not the standard passport size that every other country requests. Another annoyance but this one did not matter too much, when we asked if we applied for the visa today when will we receive it. We got several answers, nine working days, five working days, one week, until Chelsea asked to go inside and speak to someone official and he confirmed it would be next Monday. Our flight is booked for Saturday. That is the end of that then.

It is our own fault, we should not have left it too late but the problem we had is the India visa starts as soon as it is issued, not when you enter the county, so we did not get it immediately because we would have lost a month without even being in the country. We purposefully left it as late as we could, as we thought like with every other visa it takes 3 working days and even if not you can pay for it to be processed quicker. Not India. They do seem to like to do the whole process differently.

Anyway now we had a new problem, our Sri Lankan visa ends Monday. So we hopped in another tuk tuk and went to the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration to see about a visa extension. This was way simpler. We had to go to the 3rd floor, where the receptionist gives you a form to complete, whats more they accept normal size passport photos, with whitish backgrounds. The form was easy the only problem was we did not have a flight out of the county anymore, but we thought it would be OK. We took the form back, and they asked how long we would like to extend it for. We both looked at each other as we had not even thought about it, and Chelsea on the spot said two months. We were then given a number to wait to have a quick discussion with a immigration controller about the extension. We must have waited around ten minutes and we were ushered into a glass room. The controller took our paperwork and passport off us and immediately asked us about the outward flight issue. For some reason Chelsea then became a nervous wreck, stuttering over her words as she spoke and broke out in a cold sweat like she was guilty of something. Liam managed to explain everything to the controller, that we cannot get out Indian visa until Monday so are applying for extension so we don't overstay. He was happy and signed it off.

More waiting. Our number needed to be called out for us to collect our passports and paperwork at one counter, then go pay at another counter. This time we waited around 30 minutes. We had been granted two months and the fee was around Rs7500 each, £35. Once paid we got a receipt, they took our passports back off us, and we waited again this time for them to be stamped and we collected them at the previous counter. All in all we were in an out within a hour, and we now have a visa for Sri Lanka valid until 7th December.

We think that is the end of India, we will have to save that for another trip. We are not disappointed, we have loved Sri Lanka, especially the beaches so we will head back there, the season is just about changing so the weather will be great. There is also the east and north of the island we have not seen so that is an option. First though tomorrow we are heading back to Mirissa our favorite of the beaches we have been to, and we are talking about holding up there for a month, as now we have the time, and live the proper beach bum life.

Posted by Chelsandliam 02:09 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka colombo Comments (2)

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