As we drove by Weligama beach from Tissa to Unawatuna, we saw dozens of large boats with outrigger pontoons beached high and dry. Along the road were also dozens of wooden huts with fish laid out on wooden tables under shade awnings. No electricity and thus no refrigeration. This fish was fresh and the fisherman needed to sell them. I imagine the older, more odiferous fish would simply end up in curries, their slightly rotten nature masked by the abundant Sri Lankan spices. The fish we ate while we were here was simply fresh and delicious.
On Saturday, Pearl found out that our house manager’s father was a fisherman. The fisherman here fish at night and put out on the high tide. Pearl asked if the man would take us out on his boat to do a little fishing. No problem! All can be done for a nominal price.This activity was not on our ‘To Do’ list this trip, but I know that Justin and I are always up for the chance to try our hand at fishing. It was settled that We would wake up at 5:30 AM on our last day in Sri Lanka
and go out ocean fishing. It would be just Bernie, me and the kids. Pearl and Gigi’s sense of adventure does not extend to cramped fishing boats bobbing out on the Indian Ocean. Their loss, or maybe I will leave such judgement to my readers.
We were up and out and tuk-tukking our way to a beach just outside the Galle fort walls. At the beach, there were already fishermen selling their catch from the roadside stands. We looked around and saw tuna (one was 56 Kg and at least 10 inches in diameter, the others all way puny in comparison), a small dorado, rockfish, sardines, and a few other types I could not name. The sea looked to provide a good bounty. One fisherman commented, ‘When the sun comes up, you can’t catch fish.’ We hoped he was wrong.
Our fishing vessel was not one of the boats on the beach, they were high and dry until the next high tide. Our boat came around the point and pulled into the cove. It was maybe 4 meters in length and was fiberglass and powered with a 15 hp outboard engine. We waded knee deep into the water, put on life vests and jumped into the open boat. This was an unexpected bonus, I wonder how hard it was for them to find 6 life vests. The kids sat on a fishing net in the bottom of the boat, Bernie and I leaned against the sides. Off we went with the Galle fort on our right. Ahead of us was open ocean, all the way to Antarctica. We began to encounter some gentle rollers, but the captain turned to the left and got closer to the shore and the rolling of the sea lessened. I am always worried about getting seasick, but I was OK. Justin and Izzy both got a little green, but everyone made it back to shore with stomach contents intact.
We were fishing for rockfish, and really to my surprise we did not get skunked. Our first fishing spot was quiet, and after only 20 minutes the captain weighed anchor and found a new spot 10 minutes cruise further along the shore. Here, we caught fish. Jordan was the first. He caught a small grouper with brown skin and white spots. He actually did not know he had a fish for a while, it was so small. The captain and Bernie both caught similar sized, but very different looking fish. We were fishing with lines from large spools, no rods. The hooks seemed a bit small for deep sea fishing, and probably were gauging by what happened. Bernie, Jordan and I all had the experience of our line getting extremely taught, mine almost felt like I had hooked a rock or heavy seaweed. However, I was able to hand reel in quite a bit of line before it became slack. My leader line had broken. The fish on Bernie and Jordan’s line simply shook the hook. Our non-english speaking crew (captain plus his nephew as crew) did not react at all to the fact that we had lost 3 fish that might have been a decent size. Oh well, we had landed 3 fish, no matter how small, and had the experience of spending a few hours with local fishermen. The sun was rising in the sky and getting hot by 9 AM, so we all pulled up our lines and headed back to shore.
We got back to the mansion and packed our bags. We loaded up the van, and Indra took us through the old portuguese/dutch/english fort of Galle. This is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was hot, so we did not explore much. We did see an old-time snake charmer sitting on the roadside with the classic, bulbous flute and a baby monkey on a leash. Two covered baskets and a burlap sack sat in front of him. We stayed in the van and had Indra get out and give him some money for a show. Out came the python from the burlap sack. Our boys have held pythons multiple times, so this was not so exciting. The excitement came when the tops came off the basket revealing two cobras. He agitated them both so that they rose up and opened their hoods. He used the basket tops to make them sway back and forth. I had heard that these snakes are defanged so there is no danger for the snake charmer. This must be true, as I saw one snake bite his hand as he was reaching to shake the snake’s basket. After 5 minutes, we had seen enough of the show.
Next stop was an open air market in a small plaza overarched by giant trees. Here, Gigi and I found yet another Small World encounter. A man with a french accent was manning a book stand that had a book on tea culture that Gigi really wanted to purchase. When we told him our story and that we lived near St. Tropez, he said he had lived in Ramatouelle and sold T-shirts in the St. Tropez marche years ago. We had been to Ramatuelle several times because our only local french friends lived in that town. There is quite a lot of distance between Ramatuelle and Galle, but there you have it. Paths crossing.