Dive Log: Cargo Wreck and Formosa Reef (11/02/2010)

Dive #21 and #22, diving off Colombo with Colombo Divers and divemaster (instructor in training) Jehan Dive Instructor/King Pin Paris and dive buddy Andy from Canada.

Cargo Wreck: Bottom time – 48 minutes; Depth – 26.8 meters

The sea looked like a giant silver-grey dish as I strolled into the dive center a bit behind schedule. Upul and Ravindra were as usual hard at work loading the boat and I kitted up and loaded my gear as well. The sky was overcast and fisher boats lurked in the light mist looking like ancient Arab dhows as our boat slipped out smoothly through the almost non-existent surf. The contrast between the ocean today and the last few times I’d been out was breathtaking, where the white caps and surges had predominated the last times, today, the boat moved as if it were drifting through silk, grey, smooth, silk peppered rather incongruously with terns perched on any bit of flotsam they can find. Flying fish skittered over the surface while here and there the surface boiled with shoals of fish.

It was only on the boat that I found out to my delight that we were going to be going to the Cargo Wreck, a huge ship that had been sunk around 5km off the coast of Dehiwala. Having seen the pictures to say that I was full of anticipation was the understatement of the century. As we hovered over the wreck we could see a giant shoal of fusiliers, orange against the dark blue of the sea. Rolling over and descending, I had to hold back from pinching myself as we sank through the shoal, slivers of fish glinting around us as the coral encrusted hull rose out of the depths. I'll admit though as the wreck loomed up from the depths, I felt a momentary shiver of fear. The holes in the deck were stark black and I felt that if I continued on my way down, I would be engulfed in the ship's depths, to be eaten by a gigantic octopus, or more likely for me, stung to death by a ridiculously small scorpionfish. I still struggle a bit with my buoyancy so I'll admit, I held onto the bright blue anchor rope quite hard as I pumped more air into my BC to stop my downwards descent.

Visibility was divine, at least 20 meters and the ship took my breath away. The terraces and turrets of the ship were swarming with fish life.  Looking up and away from the ship, the shoals of fusiliers were breathtaking. Sailing over and through the wreck was breathtaking, the portholes eerily black. I was imagining huge moray eels or other sea monsters lurking in their depths. The reality around me however was even more fascinating than imagined monsters. Red toothed triggerfish, Blackbar triggerfish, White spotted boxfish and Snappers were in abundance.

Ropes still coiled and undulated in the water and swimming closer I excitedly noted a large trumpetfish, green and yellow stripes with an incongruous minutely whirring tail. Exhaling to take myself down, I hovered eye to eye with him as he gazed at me impassively before moving away. Rounding the hull was another school of deep blue trevalley like fish, unidentified by all on the dive but beautiful in their majesty as they traversed the sunken steel of the ship. The fish ID issue is getting to be a bit of a bugbear for me as is the lack of an underwater camera, but I’m still in the fledgling stages of my diving career so I guess both will come in time.

The batfish were an especial highlight as they hid in the girders, apparently a bit shy of us. Two large psychedelic (in Jehan’s words) Oriental Sweetlips were also on show, much larger and prettier than those we had seen on the shallower reefs. Our little yellow friend even showed up but this time kept more of a distance.

I could go on and on about the fish. Truth be told I was so overwhelmed I can’t even describe coherently what I saw to a great extent. It was all a blur of bubbles, fins, colour and deep blue. The most poignant moment for me was however swimming over a life-raft that had dislodged when the ship sank and could be seen ghosting the sand. That really brought home to me that we were now drifting over what men had built, where they had worked and lived. I think that almost morbid, surreal realization is why I’m now hooked onto wreck diving.

Formosa Reef: Bottom time – 63 minutes; Depth – 13 meters

After the excitement (and depth) of the Cargo, we moved onto the good old Formosa Reef for a shallow, extended dive. It may only have been 13 meters and lacked the charisma of the Cargo Wreck but life was in abundance. A Nudibranch that was the biggest I have ever seen, a full 5 inches in length, white, black and yellow, Bi-coloured Blennies flirting elusively through the rocks and a baby Scorpion fish. After seeing the latter and noting the brilliant camouflage, I made a note to myself to be extra careful where I place my hands since Scorpion fish pack a pretty nasty wallop.

The highlight were the two Octopi however, both within a meter of each other, apparently a happy couple? With the larger one within a deep gully and the other, smaller specimen hiding in a crevice. I would have missed the smaller one if it hadn’t suddenly blushed white when I swam over it. Which of course intrigued me because I had never seen a rock change colour for me, which led me to investigate and discover the octopus. Andy found the larger one which as we hovered around, treated us to a display of its colour changing abilities, going from a deep russet to a midnight black.

Leaving the kaleidoscopic octopi behind, we surfaced and started the process of getting back onto the boat. We hadn’t really asked for any icing on the cake but we got it as a mere 10 meters away, a pod of dolphins suddenly surfaced. Hurriedly putting my mask back on I peered through the water to see if I could see them but the poor visibility defeated me. We watched from the water’s level as the dolphins turned away and headed out to sea, their black spotted grey bodies sliding through the oil slick water, looking oddly animatronic as they moved towards the horizon. My mind boggles to think how this could get any better.


Day Trip to Batticaloa

It was a random conversation over coffee at Commons for a requisite December meet up with the expatriates where the question of water in Batticaloa came up. My mention of our work in rainwater harvesting systems and P’s work in Batticaloa resulted in us taking a trip on the fly to Batticaloa to see what we could do to alleviate some water issues his projects were having in Batticaloa.

We left Colombo at a bleary eyed 3am to arrive in Maha Oya at a sprightly 9am, where transporthad been arranged for us to visit the project sites that P and his team were working on. Gunathilake and Jayasuriya were our ebullient and ever so nice escorts on the ride; the guns however did make me a bit nervous as we bounced over the A5.

Land Rover
Our transport

Driving from Maha Oya to the Batticaloa area was an eye opening experience. We drove through what had been the last checkpoint that separated government land from LTTE control in the bad old days and entered a landscape of lush green and destroyed buildings.

The last checkpointRickety bridgeKovilThe A5
(L-R): last checkpoint; rickety bridge; destroyed structures on the A5

The greenery and paddy fields of course were enjoying the benefits of the north-east monsoon and it was hard to imagine this landscape burning under the harsh sun with water being a rare commodity. But that was the status quo for 8 months of the year and according to Gunathilake, the STF supplied a large number of the villages with water during the harsh months, sourced from holes dug in the surrounding rivers.

Driving through innumerable STF checkpoints, it was incongruous to see the giant John Deere threshers working the paddy fields. These were apparently brought in by mudalalis from outside who charged a rental of around Rs.3,000 a day to harvest the paddy. This was a first for me as I had never seen any of these machines in the south and I wondered what the story was behind them, genuine development or another political get rich scheme?

John DeereHarvesting paddy
John Deere machinery at work in the fields

After a visiting a couple of the more accessible sites we swung off the A5 onto the road to Thoppigala, to visit a remote village of around 30 families who lived it seemed in the middle of nowhere. The poverty we saw was simply sobering, most of the families living in simple two room homes built to a rather unfetching design by a local NGO. Water was a constant issue for these people with no way of properly purifying their drinking water and walks of up to 2km during the drought to get any kind of water. Children weren’t going to school due to lack of birth certificates and our lives seemed alien in comparison.

Operation monumentThrough the paddy fields
L-R: Thoppigala monument to army; road to the village through paddy fields

After our somber trip and some pictures of the excited kids (who had spent their time jumping in and out of the jeep while we walked around the area) we headed back to the A5, covered in so much dust that it looked like we had dyed our hair.

Water problemsTeacher
L-R: Explaining the water issues; preschool teacher; kids and more kids

What was also interesting was in the middle of fields and scrub jungle, there appeared to be significant industrial processes at work, with quarries and rock crushing in much evidence. At the same time people were transporting mountains of firewood by bicycle. Incongruous to say the least.

QuarryingFirewood transport
L-R: Rock breaking operations; bicycle transport

Overall quite a life changing trip, especially listening to a STF ASP (quite high up on the food chain) who emphasized that the people on the A5 had suffered from depredations from both the LTTE and the Government and that their needs had to be met to ensure that terrorism didn’t rear its head in Sri Lanka again. Hearing that kind of astuteness and genuine compassion from such an unexpected source left us with a feeling of hope, that there will be some dawn for our beautiful island, despite all the obstacles and we will move forward towards that elusive peace somehow while good people like the ASP remain.

Sunset near Mahiyangana,
Sunset near Maiyahangana


Dive Log: Barracuda Reef and Formosa Reef (07/02/2010)

Dive #19 and #20, diving off Colombo with Colombo Divers and divemaster (instructor in training) Jehan.

Barracuda Reef: Bottom time – 42 minutes; Depth – 23 meters

Sinking to the bottom off the reef, I was torn between being annoyed at myself for scraping my knees on the reef as I amateurishly tried to maintain buoyancy and be amazed at the shoal of barracuda  in the near distance. As the yellow barracuda faded into the blue I righted myself, put a bit of air into my BCD and regained some dignity.

Barracuda Reef of course lived up again to expectations with Fusiliers swirling, a couple of baby Sri Lankan Hogfish and Timor wrasse putting in appearances. The latter fish is exceptionally beautiful, bluey greeny in colour with bright orange markings all over it. It was also only around 10cm in length and was thus easily overlooked. Having finally gotten some measure of neutral buoyancy I was thrilled to view the Timor Wrasse close up as I hovered above the reef.

As we moved along the reef, more and more fish turned up and swirled past More shoals of glassfish insisted that we swim through their iridescent forms. A Scorpionfish nestled in a gully as I swam respectfully past, giving it a wide berth. Jehan excitedly pointed at a tiny fish that I could only describe as a minute, multicoloured, iridescent leaf. Another time we hovered over another fissure in the rock as tiny golden shrimp sheltered within, jetting out every now and then to entertain themselves.

As we turned around and swam back to the anchor line we were hit by a strong current. In the deep blue as we moved forwards fighting the current, a small, yellow and black striped fish peeled off the reef and decided to adopt us. It was extremely endearing, circling around us, peering into our masks and acting almost like a tiny aquatic inquisitive puppy. The more I dive, the more I come to think fish do really have personalities (alternatively the pressure might be getting to me). Finally giving up the fight against the current we took leave of our little yellow friend and surfaced to be picked up by the boat.

Formosa Reef: Bottom time – 62 minutes; Depth – 12.7 meters

Yes this dive was long, very long! Formosa reef has plenty of attractions despite its rather shallow depth with a Giant Moray curled up in one of the holes in the rock, gaping rather timidly at us. There were also a number of Lionfish that had apparently decided to take an afternoon nap, one hanging on the side of a rock, looking slightly macabre, like a dark red, aquatic deadly bat. It was in such a deep sleep that even our bubble blowing interest in it didn’t disturb it and we drifted off leaving him in peace.

Two huge Blue Ringed Angelfish kept us company, hovering the reef in search of food. We passed a pair of adult Oriental Sweetlips, yellow and black in their finery and hovered over some beautiful nudibranches. The highlight was a pair of nudibranches, white and delicate purple in colour, which appeared to either be getting it on or following one another very closely. The one behind had its mouth (?) firmly latched onto the tail of the one in front as they proceeded along the reef, all of about 5cm of delicate beauty.

After we hit half a tank we swam back to the anchor line, the visibility reducing significantly as the current streamed brown and green particles behind us. The last bit was pretty tiring for me, having spent almost one and a half hours under water and I was for once, quite glad to hang in the water for our five minute safety stop, drifting through another cloud of small jellyfish, before finally clambering back onto the boat. Exhausted but content.


Kalpitiya Dolphins with Adventure Lanka

Getting up at 1.30am has never been my forte. Though this time the prospect of going on a much awaited trip to Kalpitiya, a portion of the country I had never been to, and spotting dolphins, something I had done in California but not in Sri Lanka, did mitigate my early morning grumpiness. The trip was organized by the geniuses at Adventure Lanka, specifically Lasantha, Dhammika and Danushka. And I use the term geniuses with complete sincerity and something akin to awe, simply because they arranged a pretty flawless trip with 24 participants to Kalpitiya, Nawadankulam and Anavilumdawa with minimal complications be they travel or financial. This to someone who used to tear his hair out organizing a four person hike to the San Gabriel’s is something akin to a miracle.

Following the early morning pick up, some complications with the vans, four vehicles sped towards Kalpitiya. And I do mean sped, our van driver appeared to be under the impression that the dolphins were a stickler to schedules and every distance had to be covered quick time. After a brief stop for tea (so sweet I lost all sensation in my mouth for the rest of the day) and to inspect a rather spectacular accident, another two stops for photographic opportunities, we rolled into the somewhat obviously named Dolphin Beach Hotel.

We were greeted by a rather pleasant individual who admonished us lightly for being somewhat late and then kitted us up with some very comprehensive life jackets. I mean these life jackets were the shit, not your usual run-of-the-mill whitewater rafting jackets. Being strapped into these you could float to Antarctica and back and given some light rations and disinclined sharks, you would be little worse for wear.

Four boats loaded up with six people each and we headed off into the blue yonder after the dolphins. After the engine gunning for about 20 minutes, more boats became visible in the near distance. As the boats got closer, we excitedly noted some fins streaking out of the water as the dolphins emerged out of the blue. The photography was by necessity quite slipshod, with the boat bucking lke a wild bronco and the dolphins meandering around a very big ocean. As we shot we noted that these were some odd dolphins, for one thing they lacked the long characteristic snout and were much more flat faced. They were also quite somnambulistic, with a distinct aversion for jumping, though a few did poke their heads out of the water. It later turned out the ‘dolphins’ we were seeing were not the spectacularly aerobatic spinner dolphins we had hoped for but the more sedate Risso’s dolphins. A slight but marginal disappointment from a photographic viewpoint.

Just as we were getting to know the dolphins and noting the calves and figuring out how to get better shots, our boat’s engine decided it had only two options, full on or full off. Unfortunately that put paid to most of our efforts to follow the dolphins (and take shots of their characteristic 'standing up' performance in the water) and instead our minds moved onto whether we would actually make it back to shore. Regretfully taking leave of the rest of the boats and the dolphins we headed straight back to shore with our puttering engine before hugging the beach back to base.

Despite the disappointment, there was still some fun to be had with abundant birdlife with terns flying around and roosting on shore. A juvenile white bellied sea eagle came down an abortive fishing attempt providing further excitement while the boat almost capsizing after the engine got tangled in a fishing line was just too much excitement.

The boatman concluded the eventful trip by landing the boat in a manner I had never experienced before, basically, with a terse ‘hold on,’ running the boat full tilt at the beach with helpers to hold on once the boat grounded.

After staggering off the boat and regaining our sea legs, we heard that one of the other boats had off all things lost an engine. Apparently this had happened well out to sea and a rescue mission was launched with our boat, new engine and all, taking out another engine to the marooned boat. After noting that this operation would take around 2 hours, I did the only thing that made any sense to do at that time.

I had a nap.


Dive Log: Crown Rock and Barracuda Reef (05/02/2010)

My 17th and 18th dives, also my 5th and 6th with Colombo divers. The dive master this time was Dharshana who was standing in for Shafi because of a bunch of new divers they had starting in the pool.

Crown Rock: Bottom time – 27 meters; Depth – 27 meters

The boat bounced through the swells towards our initial dive site of Temple Rock, spray sharding off our bow as the boat seemed to go on interminably. On getting to the site the heavy ship traffic in the area made diving there seem a bit risky especially since a rather ominous looking contraption linked to a tugboat that was directly over our site. Prudently deciding that getting rammed by a container ship wouldn’t be too much fun we headed over to Crown Rock, another 10 minutes boat ride away.

Gearing up and rolling into the water, I was a bit discomfited to find that water appeared to be coming into my mask. Attempting to clear my mask at the bottom turned out to be impossible due to my heavily congested sinuses, instead of the mask clearing I just sprayed snot all over the place. Since water has infinitely more visibility than mucus I decided to leave well alone and settle for a bit of water sloshing around in my mask.

I was still a bit nervous on the dive, especially since the computer read 27 meters, which was a good 4 meters deeper than I’d ever been. Dharshana later asked me if I’d felt narc’ed (i.e. nitrogen narcosis) at all but I wasn’t really sure. The bottom of the reef was relatively unimpressive, flat and sandy. A shoal of Trevalley livened up the proceedings by insisting on following us but overall it was a quiet dive in terms of fish life.

Coming up for our safety stop was however enlivened by the sudden appearance of a shoal of small jellyfish, gentle globules of clear material around half a golf ball in size pulsated past us as we hung in the water at 5 meters. Trailing behind their impossibly delicate bodies were innocuous looking filigrees of tentacles, loaded with stingers. Thankfully being small jellyfish we were pretty much impervious to their stings apart from on the more sensitive parts of our skin like our lips. It was a beautiful, ethereal experience hanging in the ocean as the jellyfish swept past us, and it turned out it was also an unusual one as jellyfish tend to only swarm from April onwards.

Barracuda Reef: Bottom time – 27 meters; Depth – 23 meters

What a dive! As soon as we rolled off the boat and descended a trumpet fish swam by as we hit the bottom eliciting some enthusiasm from me. The rocky reef loomed out of the blue as we swam slowly over and through a liquid paradise. A shoal of Glassfish, matching the blue ocean behind them, swirled around us and parted as we swam through. Flocks of Damsels, with their distinctive yellow tails moved around the rocks, while blue-black striped Cleaner Wrasses searched for customers.

I was much more relaxed this dive and started to really appreciate the amazing diversity on this reef. A couple of tiny Long Nosed Butterfly fish stood out yellow against the rocks and tiny blue seafans. Dharshana peered into a low grotto and pointed out a Pufferfish hiding from predators. We floated over a gulley in the rocks where two tiny shrimps were sheltering, apparently on a secret tryst. I’m afraid whatever romantic intentions they may have had were shelved by our appearance, bubble breathing monstrosities that would have killed any invertebrate’s libido.

Macro life was also apparent with a stunning orange and black nudibranch present, which I later (somewhat proudly) identified as a…wait for it…Phallidia ocellata. Not everything of course needs to be big to be beautiful. Next we came across a surprisingly dark coloured lionfish which flared its fins alarmingly and turned to face us, it was sort of like being courted by a small, aquatic, deadly peacock. The lionfish did have an amazingly pugnacious air about it, confident in its ability to inflict pain yet not arrogant about it. I never thought I would say a fish had personality but this one certainly did!

Amongst all this abundance however, there was one creature that ruled the show, the golden yellow shoal of Pickhandle Barracuda that churned around the reef, magnificent and I assume deadly if you were a small fish. Thankfully being a reasonably sized human it was all I could do not to whoop into my regulator as the shoal executed some beautifully coordinated rounds before fading into the blue yonder. Barracuda Reef certainly lived up to its name!


Coming Home (Moneragala Chronicles)

As a word of explaination, I once spent two months living in a little village in Maragalakanda, close to Moneragala back in 2004. My purpose, living there without electricity or running water, was to study bird diversity in an agroforestry scheme for my MSc. This was when the photography bug first bit so there are some tales worth telling and some photos worth showing, though the latter were for the most part taken with a dinky Canon G3. The first of the Moneragala Chronicles is a slightly edited version of a post I wrote for a blog I used to maintain a long, long time ago.

Everybody has those rare moments in life where it all comes together, everything is, for a breathless moment, perfect. One of those moments occurred for me in the backwoods of Sri Lanka in Moneragala where I spent two months in a village doing research for my MSc. After a 5am start which due to unfamiliarity of locations turned into an 8am start, my assistant Nuwan and I took a bone-mashing eight hour bus ride in what was a blatantly falsely advertised air-conditioned intercity bus, a trishaw ride over roads that hadn't seen tar since World War II and finally another hours bus ride over more treacherous roads. The sun had just set as we strapped our equipment to our backs and walked 30 minutes through the undergrowth to the house we were staying in for the period of our research.

After a cup of sweet tea by the lantern light to refresh ourselves we then wandered down to the nearby stream to bathe. I hadn’t been to Sri Lanka for over two years and it felt amazing to re-immerse myself in an experience that was so peaceful and timeless after suffering so much to get there. There was still enough light in the sky from the faded sun to silhouette the tops of the mora trees and kitul palms. The water gurgled in a million tones, trickling through the pools and rushing through the bathing pipe, all the while fish were almost painfully nibbling at my feet. Innumerable birds from salelinnias to grey hornbills fluttered and called in the tree-tops searching for their night time roosts adding to the steady chorus of the cicadas.

The final touch to this magic, as we washed the city and town’s dust from our bodies were the fireflies which came out as the last bit of light faded. Sitting on a rock, taking in the little globules of green light drifting in and out of the trees while geckoes skittered through the rocks, I was glad to be home. I finally realized what it was about me that was stuck in our small island, my sense of place. I knew everything would be good.

That is a moment that keeps me going, not only the beauty, the sounds and smells but the feeling of home.


Diving in the Suburbs

Diving has arrived in Colombo! Sort of…

I’m a newbie to the sport of recreational diving but after my initiation to it in the hinterlands of Matara (await a more detailed report on that trip) I have been ridiculously enthusiastic about it. Having a grand total of 12 dives under my belt in Matara, Unawatune, Bentota, Malibu and the Catalina Islands I was beyond excited to hear about diving in Colombo via the somewhat geographically misnomered Colombo Divers, who it turns out are actually located in Mount Lavinia or Galkissa as it is known in Sinhalese. Incidentally the former name never fails to make me smile when I think about (I suggest you do the same if you have no idea what I’m talking about).

Full of anticipation, I called Nishan to book a two tank dive, pointing out that I was inexperienced so would not likely be able to dive the 30m sites without serious injury. Hooking a tuk tuk over to Mount on Thai Pongal, I stepped onto a surprisingly crowded beach at 8am. I guess the concept of sleeping in on a holiday hadn’t occurred to the hordes on the beach. Strolling past Golden Mile and about 5 minutes walk down the beach was the innocuous dive center. I would have completely missed it if I hadn’t noticed two gentlemen wrestling animatedly with a BCD (i.e. a Buoyancy Control Device, the harness that holds your Scuba tank on your back) presumably with some kind of repair goal in mind.

Walking in I was introduced to the Colombo Divers contingent, Shafi, Maldivian but lived in Sri Lanka extensively (speaks better Sinhala than I do), Paris (apologies for any misspelling) from Greece and Jehan from Sri Lanka. The former two being instructors while the latter was an instructor in training.

Business appeared to be good, with a bunch of students who turned up to complete their courses and my dive buddy for the day turned up as well, a wonderful lady who also worked in the development field. Shafi was our divemaster and the two sites chosen were relatively simple sites, rock and Barracuda reef ranging from 11m to 21m. Loading the (small) boat we headed out from Mount Beach towards.

Rolling into the water, I found that I had made a significant error in the choice of my BCD, which was far too large. The low visibility, apparently due to Thai Pongal, and the strong current made the dive quite an uncomfortable one. The first dive was a relatively shallow one of about 12 meters called Palagala. The dive itself, apart from the less than optimal conditions was quite fascinating. There was more fish life to be seen that most of my previous dives in the south, Moorish Idols, bright green moon wrasses and Angelfish were in abundance. The rocky reef itself was quite impressive, giant rock shelves that looked almost like hewn steps, muddy brown in the green of the water. It was like swimming in a part of Atlantis.

45 minutes of dive time amongst the fish and we decided to come up as I was at 50 bar (i.e. what is generally known as a low tank). Shafi unwrapped a buoy and sent it shooting to the surface. The safety stop at 5m was a bit uncomfortable as hanging in the water there appeared to be a multitude of tiny jellyfish which stung enough to make things marginally uncomfortable.

Getting onto the boat it turned out that my dive buddy had a malfunction with her BCD and it was decided to head back and get a couple of new BCDs for the two of us. A quick trip to shore and it was back out to sea to Barracuda Reef, a site with a maximum depth of 22 meters. The current was however even worse here and visibility as bad. This was where I made a snafu which I am quite ashamed off. I didn't vent my BCD properly so was too buoyant the whole dive, annoying Shafi a fair amount. I'm not sure why I blanked on something so essential but the tricky conditions must have spooked me.

To be fair I cannot recollect much of this dive apart from some interesting nudi branches (tiny multi coloured invertebrates) and many more of the fish we had seen at the previous site. The resident barracuda were absent an unfortunately the current prevented much exploring and I came up to 50 bar pretty quickly in about 20 minutes. As Shafi went through the motions of unwrapping the buoy, I made my second much worse snafu, inadvertently pressing my inflate button on the BCD. As I shot to the surface, dismally watching the bubbles of my dive buddies receding I cursed at myself while continuously exhaling to ensure I didn't blow a lung out.

As the dark blue receded and my surroundings lightened I nervously started assessing myself for the bends, trying to separate the multitude of  feelings in order to identify any sudden unexplained pains. As I bobbed worriedly on the surface I noted that I was very much by myself, the current having pushed us some distance from the boat. I couldn't even see the bubbles from my divebuddies anymore and had no idea how far I had drifted from them. The ocean and the sky merged into one giant cylinder, punctuated by the distant giant liners. The wait seemed interminable before the boatman saw my waving arms and swung by to pick me up. Thankfully Shafi didn't chew me out too much and the solution he provided, which I fully intended to follow up on was to dive more.

On the whole it was a great experience for Colombo (Mount?) diving and I will definitely be a frequent customer. Blue yonder here I come!


The Final Round (Yala for 31st - Part 5)

Our final round of the park and once again we decided to head down Gonalebe pare to see if the cub would ever deign to let us photograph it. Half way there we got confirmation via text that the cub was indeed up in a tree and getting to the spot we hit a major traffic jam. It looked like all the jeeps in the park had converged around the tree and tempers were flaring. One asshole in particular in a blue Nissan Patrol was being a complete idiot, blocking everybody’s way and showing complete disregard for anybody. My guess, seconded by the rest of the party was that he was probably a minister’s kid, especially since he was exceptionally rotund.

Disgusted by the congestion and choking in the fumes, we passed the cub in the tree, where only a portion of its rear end was visible, and turned around to leave…only to get stuck in another traffic jam on the way out. Resigning ourselves to being stuck there for the next 10 minutes, we idly looked up at the cub’s leg.

Serendipity then struck.

The cub decided to look up and then look at us. I excitedly started clicking, being in the absolute best position to take the shot. To my unbridled joy, it and then decided to get up and stretch. Through sheer luck and at the end of our tether, we had a grandstand view of what was a most beautiful young leopard.

The light was perfect and the clutter of the branches added just the right touch of the mysterious. I fired off my shots, bracketing to make up for the tricky light situation and changing focal points to blur out the clutter.

The young cub looked into the lens, alert golden eyes, coat shining in the late evening light and as the shutter clicked. I mentally patted myself on the back on having captured the spirit of Yala, the wild in its prime.

We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the trip as we left the park in the late evening glow.