With a kiss good-bye to the kids and a quickened pulse, we slowly walked into the surf. Mask on, flippers attached, we put the regulator in our mouth and went under. Brief moment of panic—wait! I can’t breathe! Oh yeah, that’s what the regulator is for—self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, or SCUBA. We haven’t dived in 7.5yrs and we were now doing a ‘refresher’ in the ocean in front of our guest house at Uppeveli Beach before doing a ‘fun dive’. Thankfully the age-old saying, ‘It’s like riding a bike’ also applied here.
We had never intended to go as far northeast as to Trincomalee (aka Trinco), from which Uppuveli Beach is a further 6km. But once again, everyone seemed to be ‘raving’ about it, so of course, we just had to make an effort to check it out. It was a 4hr bus trip from Kalkudah Beach (we were even rewarded with a sighting of a wild elephant along the way who was crossing the road in front of our bus). Before the war started in the early 1980’s, Trincomalee and the nearby beaches of Uppuveli and Niraveli were popular beach destinations for both Sri Lankans and foreigners alike. There were many hotels lining the beach. However, its geographical location and large Tamil population landed it squarely in the conflict zone during the war. The entire area was regularly deemed unsafe during the near 30yr war and practically off-limits to all except the military and the local residents, leaving many establishments virtually abandoned. The tsunami of 2004 then toppled many of these hotels, leaving vacant or semi-destroyed buildings in its place. Today some of the hotels and guest houses have re-built and re-opened, and a few more are in the stages of tentatively doing so, not sure how quickly the tourism will actually re-bound.
We ended up staying at Uppuveli Beach as there seemed to be a better selection of ‘budget’ guest houses than at Niraveli, which was a further 9km down the road. The ‘high season’ here runs from June to September, and sure enough when we arrived, we initially could not find a room—they seemed to be all full. After a bit of a search, we stumbled upon the ‘Underwater Safari’s Guest House’—they are one of the ones just starting to re-build and have just completed a 4 room complex. And as it turned out, one of the managers, Sunil, is a PADI Dive Master and they are actually a 5-star dive centre based out of Colombo. The opportunity seemed too good to pass up. With the beach at their doorstep, we soon started to talk about doing a much needed scuba refresher, and then it made more sense to also do a ‘fun dive’ afterwards. By the time we jumped off the boat at Swami Rock and went under for the ‘fun dive’, it all started to come back to us and by the end of the 45 min that we were under we were really enjoying ourselves and our fishy friends. The girls, who were waiting in the boat, were very happy to see us surface again and to hear about what we saw.
|Just about to go overboard|
|Post-Dive: That's our dive site in the background below the cliff|
We really enjoyed our 3 days at Uppuveli Beach. Although the surf near the shore was a bit strong at times, the swimming beyond the break was fine as well as in the bit really close to shore which is where Yasmine liked to play. The coconut trees swaying in the breeze, the fishing boats parked on the shore, fishermen hauling in their nets, and the cows lounging on the beach all made for interesting punctuations to the sea-and-sand scenery. While the occasional beachfront guest house/hotel and swimmers in the sea added interest, we were surprised at how many tourists that were there, most of whom were of European and Sri Lankan origin.
As for Trinco itself, the most recent edition of the Lonely Planet, which is 2yrs old, describes it as ‘a Baghdad-on-sea’, yet the Trinco that we saw resembled nothing of the sort. Therefore, it was even more amazing to appreciate what the residents (and the spotted deer) of this now bustling town went through and how quickly things have changed for the better after such dark times. And from the number of foreign tourists at Uppuveli, coupled with how many people seemed to be putting Trinco on their itinerary, it definitely seems that tourism will once again be booming here.
|Who need's to go to Yala when you can get this close in town?!|
|Wild Spotted Deer Outside the Bus Station|
|At the Gokana Temple, Fort Frederick|
|Fort Fredrick, Trincomalee|
|Temple Atop Swami Rock, Fort Frederick|