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.