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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)

The beach life in Unawatuna

sunny 35 °C

We were sad to leave Mirissa, it has been our favourite beach so far, but we wanted to move on and see more of the coast. Working our way back towards Galle our next step is Unawatuna.

It was easy enough to get there, jump on a public bus that runs along the coast, it took around 30 minutes of crazy driving to get us here, thankfully in one piece no thanks to the psychopathic driver with a death wish. The bus onlys costs 20Rs however so we cant really complain. As usual we had previously looked at places to stay and knew where we wanted to be, so grabbed a tuk tuk to take us to Peacock hotel. It is definitely the nicest hotel we have stayed in in Sri Lanka. We have a bright airy room, complete with (small) four poster bed and balcony overlooking the beautiful Unawatuna bay. All that for a bargain low season price of £7 a night.

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There is one slight negative however, as there are currently some small works being carried out our side of the beach to keep the ever present tide a bay, this means that we can not walk from our hotel to the main area of the beach without having to walk about 3km around via the main road. It's not the end of the world but it is a nuisance.

We have not done much with our four days here, most of our time has been spent relaxing, laying in the sun, reading and walking along the beach. We are a little disappointed by the main beach. Although it looks stunning from our balcony, when you get there you realise how busy it is. There are lots of average restaurants and bars that spill out onto the sand with there tables, chairs and sunbeds, and there are a lot of people, even for low season. We suppose we were just used to our quiet tranquil beach of Mirissa. The sea is turquoise and when sand is not being whipped up by the waves is quite clear in the shallows.

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We have swam at our side of the beach and as we have sat on our balcony, or in the restaurant we have seen three sea turtles, swimming and eating some vegetation about 20 ft away, it is quite unbelievable. We have spent hour watching them surface and dive back down. Getting a photo proved to be difficult and we didn't have the patience for it but see if you can spot him...

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The main reason we have come to Unawatuna however is to go diving again, as it could be our last chance before we get back to the UK. There are a few dive shops to choose from, and we went for one near our hotel that looked professional and had new equipment. We organised the dive for yesterday, and were up and out for 9am eager to get under the water again. There were only three of us diving, us two and a Serbian man on his holidays. We readied our equipment (which we thankfully remembered how to set up) and had a brief about the dive and what we might expect to see. The dive sight was around 15mins off shore and was basically a large underwater rock going down to a maximum depth of 20 metres we would then circle it making our way back up. We jumped in a small motor boat with our equipment and set off.

The sea was immediately more choppy than it looked from shore, and did not improve as we came to the dive site. We geared up while being rocked from side to side and then had to wait for a safe chance to get off the boat. The Serb went first and was immediately surprised by a current, this means we had to wait on the boat until he was sorted, all the time getting hotter and hotter in our wet suits. Thankfully Liam went next backward rolling off the opposite side of the boat out of the way. The current was really strong and we could see why the Serb had being taken by surprise. The lead diver told Liam to descend to 5 metres where the current was less and wait for everyone, so he did following the anchor line to 5 metre and waited, alone, underwater for what was rather too long.

Because of the current the water was quite full of sediment and visibility was poor for the first 8 metre or so. Chelsea had had a hold up waiting for the Serb to sort him self out, then not having enough weights on to descend (we don't know why but she is super buoyant and needs at least 7kilos of weights on top of all the equipment to sink). When she finally got under, and saw the limited visibility, plus being moved around by the current it was just too much for her. She decided not go along with the dive as she did not think she would enjoy it. Liam waited whilst our lead diver tried to talk her through it (underwater, with hand signals) but Chelsea had made up her mind. Once she was safely back on the surface Liam carried on the dive with just the lead diver, the Serb had obviously opted out aswell.

The current decreased a bit as we approached 10-12m and then sediment was less dense so visibility increased, although the water temperature dropped. There was plenty of life around the rock, loads of fish, a lot more than we had seen at any one time in Vietnam. There were lion fish, parrotfish, puffer fish and loads of banner fish. There are lots of fish that Liam does not know the name of, some were really huge, there was a school of silver fish and other darting in and out of the cracks and holes in the rock. You could still feel the current, sweeping you backwards and forwards but everything moved with you, Liam was never taken out of reach of either the rock or the lead diver so was perfectly happy.

Our maximum depth was 20m, and we were under for around 40minutes. Liam really enjoyed the dive although sad he could not have done it with Chelsea. She was sunning her self on the boat we Liam bobbed a shore, she had been sea sick, which we think had been induced by rocking around waiting to get in the water and the heat in the wetsuit, but was fine. We had the option of another dive but decided against it as the visibility was not great so we might as well save the money for if we get another chance some where else.

On our last few days here we managed to find a shortcut to the beach, cutting through a perilous building sight with a shear drop onto a pile of rocks but it saved our legs from walking around. Further down the beach right at the end it is more peaceful. The restaurants and bars are more spaced apart and instead of horrible concrete monstrosities they are little wooden shacks and we have sat and enjoyed mediocre seafood for dinner over candlelight on the sand, petting the many beach dogs.

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We are taking a break from the coast and heading to Colombo there to try and get our Indian visa, if we can not get it for whatever reason, we have decided we will extend our stay in Sri Lanka.

Posted by Chelsandliam 01:25 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka unawatuna Comments (2)

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