So today I wanted to show you a different side of Sri Lanka. A side you'd probably not expect when you've only seen my pictures on Instagram and the previous posts on my blog. But I feel like I need to show you both sides of my vacation just to make things clear. It wouldn't be right to give you the delusion of an island looking like heaven on earth without telling you the actual truth. Sri Lanka is beautiful, but for sure not heaven on earth. We are far away from that. Most of the people are very poor, it is very unsafe for women to travel by their own, and the environmental pollution is just out of this world. I've never seen anything like this before and it honestly broke my heart to see turtles and fishes swimming in next to huge amounts of plastic waste or to see beaches covered with trash. At lot of locals are burning their plastic waste on the roadside, but at the end of the day, most of the trash ends up in the ocean.
Additional to that, the fisher boats in Sri Lanka aren't very modern and have old engines producing black clouds of exhaust, blowing the whole dirt directly into the water. One day I went out surfing and was surround by an oil slick because one of the fisher boats had a leaky tank. And that happens on a daily bases. So when I was standing in the harbor, it honestly felt like I was standing in the middle of a highway during rush hour in Los Angeles. You couldn't even breathe normally! The air was so bad, my eyes started watering and my throat felt like I had a flue. The reason I went to the port was because I had booked a whale watching tour the day before and the boat was departing there this morning. So I got up super early and met some friends of mine to join me. We got picked up by a tuk tuk (we were 6 people in one freaking tuk tuk) and were driven to the harbor. When we arrived there, there was already a huge crowd of fishers and tourists waiting on the boats or in front of them. So we jumped on one of them, put our life jackets on and one after another boat started their engines. Round about 6 or 7 big whale watching ships left the harbor at pretty much the same time, all of them with the same final destination.
After a few sea miles, one of the skippers spotted a blue whale and immediately all of the boats let their engines scream and rushed towards the spot where the whale has been spotted. More and more ships appeared at the horizon and after a while there were about almost 20 boats chasing one single whale. The local people one the boat started yelling and screaming and tried to take good pictures, so all of them ran to one side of the boat, even though they we've been told to remain seated. The boat was lying super crookedly in the water and I started to understand why the stuff told us to wear swim wests although the ocean was very even and smooth on the surface (usually you don't automatically get a swim west as soon as you step on a boat). Plus most of the Singhalese people aren't able to swim, so the skippers probably thought we weren't able to swim neither. Gladly, we didn't capsize - I was seriously worried about that - but seeing all of these uninformed and rechleck people without any sense for the whales made me so sad and angry at the same time.
Realizing how the rigors of those people led to almost capsizing left me speechless and I couldn't enjoy this trip at all. Most of all because the whale watching tour felt more like a whale hunting tour. I seriously had tears in my eyes watching this whole scenery and the worst thing about it was realizing that I was kind of supporting this business by taking part in such a tour. Whales are such sensitive animals and get scared so easily, especially by loud and unnatural noises. So of course they submerged as soon as they had noticed a fleet coming behind them. Some of the tourists were disappointed because they couldn't take any good pictures (what a surprise), so the whole atmosphere on the boat got more and more tense. That's why the skippers tried even harder to "catch" a whale, but of course that didn't happen. I already did a whale watching tour last summer when I was in Cape Cod, USA. And that was a completely different experience.
The boat was super modern and had quite engines, the team consisted of marine biologists, researchers and environmentalists plus there were only a few tourists on one single boat instead of hundreds. The people working on the ship had a good knowledge about the whales and the ocean in general. People with sensitivity, showing consideration for those beautiful creatures. No one was yelling, the engines were switched off as soon as we reached the "whale area" and the vibes were very peacefully and harmoniously. So the whales weren't frightened at all, they even showed up with their babies, dived under the boat and jumped out right next to it. Those were definitely happy whales. I am not a biologist or an animal researcher, but I can guarantee you that. And you can also tell that by the different kind of pictures I took. Maybe I'll show you some of them in an upcoming blogpost. The whale watching tour in America was one of the best experiences I've ever had and the complete opposite of the tour in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, I was literally counting the seconds until we changed direction and headed back to the harbor. So please, if you ever visit this island and consider doing such a whale watching tour, book a private tour with only a few people and a skipper who has knowledge about the animals and treats them with respect and regard. Don't ever book a tour on one of the beach stands, even though the prices might be very tempting and everything sounds quite professional. Those whale watching tours are in my opinion animal cruelty and have nothing to do with a nice and peaceful wildlife experience. The reason why the people are treating the whales without the necessary respect is simply because of their poor education, so you can't really blame them for their behaviour. Most of the locals just don't know enough about the animals and only see the money they can earn from offering these trips.
As well as you can't blame them for throwing their waste into the ocean or burning plastic trash close tot he streets. The people don't know how much harm they are causing and the only way to change their behavior os to change the way they think. And the key to that is education. The Singhalese infrastructure and the educational system is very bad due to the poverty (mainly.. of course it's not that simple and there are a lot of other reasons, too), so there isn't such thing as a professional waste collection and recycling system except in the bigger cities. People use what they need and the rest goes straight into the ocean or they deposit it somewhere close to the street or in the jungle. Hopefully, one day the people will become more aware of the necessity of environmental protection. Otherwise the beautiful beaches won't look any beautiful in the nearest future. There won't be any colorful fishes living in the coral reefs, no more hermit crabs running around the gardens close to the ocean and no more beautiful flowers gazing on the roadside.
It's a long way to get this island clean again. And as we are all in this world together and everything somehow influences another, each and every one of us should reconsider their own behavior when it come to consumption and waste disposal in our affluent society nowadays. There are a plenty garbage carpets floating on the surface of the ocean, and they are getting bigger and bigger every day. About 8 million tons of waste get into our ocean each year and the amount is rising. Everyone of us nows that a disaster this is. Environmental pollution is a cycle and we're all in this together. So if you want to link at it in a very egoistic and selfish way, at the end of the day we are cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. Reuse empty bottles or use glass bottles, bring your own cup to the coffee shop (yes, at the beginning it's a bit hard to always remember :D) and through your trash only in trash, don't pollute the environment with it. Each and every one of us can help to make this planet a cleaner and more beautiful place. xx