Friday, July 25, 2008

some colors of the east coast waters

the small bay on pigeon island opposite the Nilaveli Beach

the road to Kinniya and beyond to Mutur and Batticaloa

One afternoon we decided to drive towards Kinniya which is just a short distance from the Sea Anglers Club and we came upon the construction of a bridge across the channel. It is expected to open early next year which will make it much easier for people to get across. We took the free ferry to get to the other side and continued on to the next ferry and up to third ferry which if we had crossed we could have got to Mutur. All these ferries are free services that are provided for the people to travel to get about their daily activities.

Eventually once the series of bridges are constructed the journey to Batticaloa will be short and more economic benefits could accrue to the people living along the eastern coast, so affected by war and difficulty of transport.

One of three places the Mahaweli falls into the Trinco bay. Supposedly teeming with Barrimundi in amongst the dense mangroves in the distance where this delicate ecosystem must be preserved

trolling in the east coast of Sri Lanka in July

Two of the friends I went with to Trincomalee, went trolling in Sea early one morning and by 8.30 am had caught the fish you see on the photo. Graeme is holding his 8kg Kobia and Romeish is holding the 14kg Seer

By the way due to the security situation, a maximum of 15hp outboard motor is allowed and catamarans with no motors, so the area in the east coast is grossly underfished and plenty of fish within a km from the coast waiting to be caught!!!

Sea Anglers Club, China Bay, Trincomalee

A group of us spent a wonderful long weekend July 17th to 20th at the Sea Angler's club in Trincomalee. It was also a welcome break for me from the trying conditions I have been encountering lately.

I Took the Rs 40 bus ride from my place in Raja Ela to Habarana Junction where I was picked up by these friends. At the end of the trip I was dropped at Habarana Junction and returned to my farm in Polonnaruwa, by bus. The security checks on the way back are very thorough so one has to add an hour to the journey time. In fact once there is peace in this area I can get to the Sea Anglers from my place in Ratmale in about 75 minutes at most. Thats how close I am to Trinco with no check points delay the journey.

The Club is both old and looks old, but has character and there are plans to upgrade all the facilities. The wing where the main rooms are have been done up and are clean and quite comfortable. The windy conditions meant no mosquitos and no requirement even for a fan to get a good nights sleep Compared to my basic facilities in Polonnaruwa this was positively luxurious. The club is known for attracting Sea Anglers and also known for its killer crab curry. We had that for two lunches. Due to the security situation, there are rooms always available, though there are no threats at this point and everyone around seems to be going about their daily activities.

The bay at dusk on Esala Poya evening.

The row of rooms overlooking Clapemburg Bay where the Sea Anglers Club is located

Nilaveli Beach a day out

A group of us who were holidaying in Trinco decided to go to Nilaveli for the day. The hotel that had been devastated by the Tsunami had now been pretty much restored with plans to add to the 30 or so rooms now available.

We hired a boat and went to Pigeon Island to snorkel and scuba dive, and are happy to report that the coral is regenerating and the multi colored fish in the coral are in abundance and increasing and only waist deep from the little cove in the island.

We had lunch at the Nilaveli Beach hotel, and returned in the evening. The road is much improved and the distance of 16km north from the Trinco town can be done in about 25 minutes including stopping time for one security check point where vehicle details are noted.

There is a lot of redevelopment along the way with new schools and houses consequent to the Tsunami.

The seemless beach at Nilaveli on a hot July morning, the colors are emerald and deep blue

Friday, July 11, 2008

a night of prawn fishing in front of my verandah

I have shown earlier examples of the prawns I eat caught at my Hingurakgoda property but have hitherto not explained how easy they are to catch.

Initially we caught prawns in a net while fishing for other food to eat, and once we realized we actually have prawns on the Oya in front of my cabin, we looked at the best way to catch them.

They emerge after dark to eat while hiding under rocks and holes along the waterway during the day. The villagers therefore did not really know they existed and certainly not those from Ratmale who never heard of prawns in Polonnarwa.

On the same day as my cane expedition, I arranged for an evening of prawn collecting. We set up a series of rods right along the river bank and dangling on a string was a small piece of coconut just below the surface of the water, specially tethered. Come dusk and through to midnight we just go from one to the other flashing a light, and if the eyes of the prawn twinkle in the light, we take a specially prepared net on a rod to scoop up the prawn into the net. Sometimes the prawns make a mighty leap from their hold on the coconut to escape the net but more often we were able to collect it into the net. It was interesting to note that as the night wore on the prawns we caught got bigger and the largest prawns were right in front of my cabin not more than 10ft from where I usually sit! The Ratmale guys who came with me had a story and a half to relate to their families who looked in disbelief at the catch we brought back after midnight, from barely 15km or 10miles from where they lived.

Of course we have to keep this secret lest the whole village descends on the river and then prawn the place out of existence and then there will be none for anyone. This experience for local and tourist alike is a fascinating one.

weaving with cane

I spent the whole week at Ratmale in Polonnaruwa on my own as I have let go my driver due to straightened financial circumstances. Each day was an event in itself with unplanned events.

I had asked that a long chair a kavichchiya be woven in cane instead of cushioning it which is the preferred option in these parts, though weaving is the more appropriate course for this climate. I did not realize what a procedure that this simple task would become.

There is fake cane(plastic), called ‘Chintha’ which is about a quarter of the price of cane that people use, but which wont last very long, and then there is the real thing. For the particular piece of furniture the finest of the cane strips is required if the job is to be done to perfection. I require 3kg at a price of Rs1300/- a kg at the source.

Cutting cane is illegal, unless one has a permit. The plants are protected as endangered, as they grow along waterways and are seen less and less. I went with the weaver, who lives in the next village, the proud villages of Purana Ratmale(one of 7 original villages of Polonnaruwa) who call themselves high class Govigama, look down on these people as being transplanted recently as Rodiya. So they have to resort to skills other than farming.

It was a fair distance, to Manampitiya at the edge of the Polonnaruwa district crossing the mighty Mahaweli over the Japan Peace Bridge! There is cane right along the river banks and people here have permits to harvest and make the various sizes for the various woven products. I was given a lesson on the various qualities of cane by the owner of the shop, who also sells caneware and he told me that the Moratuwa furniture shops are his largest customers for cane for weaving in their workshops.

On the way back I stopped by my Hingurakgoda agricultural tract and this man spots the cane right along the river of my property, and tells me I have all the cane I want for any caneware and as long as I only use it for personal use it would not be a problem as I would encourage the growth of the plants by pruning mature cane and he would make anything I wanted on site. So this was an added bonus of the journey and meeting the weaver who explained how to preserve and why the shops in Wewaldeniya along the Kandy road sell nice looking cane ware which lasts only a short while because they are polished and ruin the longevity of the cane. He learnt his craft in Wewaldeniya, where the shops look enticing with prices less so.

Digressing a little I also purchased a reed mat, a super example of Thunhiriya reed, which he had made as a sample for a hotel, which wanted to use reed mats as the ceiling material. That hotel ordered 750 of these 6ft long mats for their entire ceiling.

Ironically, Ratmale used to be a center for the weaving of reed mats by the women primarily for home use but also as an additional income source. I have both Gallaha the superior version and Thunhiriya reed on my forest property. I am also in the process of preserving a Gallaha reed marsh on the property with the intention of having a weaver on site to make mats etc with this reed to maintain a fast dying craft in these areas.

It was therefore a pleasant if unexpected finding that I actually have the raw material for these crafts in my two Polonnaruwa properties both along wetlands and also know of local craftsman who can turn out items from them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A surprise visitor

One of the persons who read my blog contacted me a few months ago and so when he came to Sri Lanka he wanted to visit me. It so happened that when he called on Thursday, the 3rd I was in Ratmale, and I invited him to visit on Friday the next day and suggested we combine it with a visit to the Kaudulla National Park where the elephants were just beginning to gather in numbers as the water level of the tank was receding due to the ongoing paddy cultivation, which creates the perfect plains of grass for the elephants to frolic.

To my surprise along with this gentlemen and his wife who came with a driver, was the well known Sinhala singer Victor Ratnayaka a personal friend of theirs. They brought a packed lunch and I shared their meal with them and I showed them around my half built make believe hunting lodge and the Ratmale tank by the property.

My regular jeep driver Kumara was on the nomination trail as it was nomination day for the Provincial Council elections of the North Central Province, and so his brother Neville was able to take us to the Park.

Due to my regular assistance to the Park in catching poachers using my vehicle and errands on their behalf, we were allowed entry without charge and we had a treat seeing a number of elephants including a small herd with many young ones and pregnant females and also had the pleasure of seeing some birds along with a Hawk Eagle almost right beside us who would not move as it had a small land monitor, (thalagoya) under its claws and we saw the tail hanging down. I took them along the scenic route along Rotawewa and I was very pleased to observe that all really enjoyed the afternoon out, which thankfully was not scorching.

The visitors came back to the property and the local boys had their photos taken with Victor before they left via the Minneriya jungles back to Dambulla, and I told them to watch out for elephant on the side of the road on their way back. So George if you read this let me know if you saw any elephants, as last time I made the trip I had to wait for a herd to cross to the Minneriya tank.

I saw two herds on my way back to Godagama on Sunday the 6th at 6.30pm by the tank near the main road at 6.30pm, there were more than 50.