We just got back from a family trip (different from a vacation, remember that) in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of those places that I’d never really thought about before, other than knowing it used to be called Ceylon, and is the little earring that hangs off the southern tip of India.

I had been casting about for a spring break trip–we didn’t have a lot of time, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and we needed to please all the constituencies (see above on “family trip”)–and Sri Lanka fit the bill perfectly.  Off we went, on a flight that left two hours late, with one child exhausted from two nights performing in his four-hour long school play, and the other child with strep throat and a system full of antibiotics.  We were accompanied on this flight by a chorus of infants doing a roundelay of misery pretty much from the moment they entered the airplane until the moment they disembarked.

All woes were forgotten (mostly) when we reached Mirissa, a tiny surfing town on the southern tip of Sri Lanka:


Here’s why I chose Mirissa:


My children still haven’t recovered from the Bataan Death March through Paris museums two summers ago, so a culture-vulture trip wasn’t going to work–but I wanted more than just sitting on the beach. Thus: whales. One of the major migratory routes for blue whales, sperm whales, and all manner of other fishy mammals, goes along the Sri Lankan coast, and although the end of March is near the conclusion of the migration season, we’d probably still be able to see at least Something Big.

Whale watch day one went like clockwork.  Up at dawn, onto the boat, sunscreen applied, and out into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Caleb regaled me with whale facts: a blue whale’s heart is the size of a small Volkswagen, a whale’s tongue can weigh almost two tons.  We spent a few minutes wondering about a two-ton tongue and then: dolphins off the port bow!

Ooh, and ahh, and aren’t the dolphins cute, but where are the whales?

As if in response, gleaming endlessly out of the water, a dark blue back, with a ridiculously tiny dorsal fin:


I looked out at this creature and realized why old seafaring maps are decorated with pictures of sea monsters; I also gained a much deeper appreciation for what it meant to be a whaling ship in the 19th century: scanning the ocean for a whale is the aquatic version of looking for a needle in a haystack, even if the needle does weigh upwards of 100 tons.

But fate and cetacean were willing, so day one of whale-watching was a big success: dolphins, flying fish, and a blue whale who dove and surfaced with regal disregard for the cluster of whale-watching boats bobbing the requisite 100 meters away.  At each dive, the guides on the boat called out “tail up! tail up! tail up!” so that we camera-laden tourists could get the money shot:


We were on the water from about 7AM to 11AM and as we put-putted back to the harbor, we applauded ourselves for having the foresight to make a second whale-watching reservation the next day.  If we saw a whale on this outing, then of course we’d see more whales the next day. Right? I mean, what could go wrong with that plan?