Tag Archives: diving & snorkeling

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Lanka is famous for surfing but if you want to find beaches safe for swimming, it gets trickier. When you read guide books that are full of warnings about dangerous currents, you start to wonder if swimming is safe anywhere -especially for small children. We did a considerable amount of research prior to our trip and I have to say that information I found was not very helpful. What people call “safe” seems to be very vague to…

After four nights -just enough time to recover not only from jetlag but also from Paris fatigue- we left Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food. Time to start exploring! We hired a car with a driver (more about this in another post) for the rest of our trip and decided to head towards Unawatuna, one of the most famous southern coast beach destinations. We decided to stay away from hustle and bustle and chose Dalawella beach because it was close to Unawatuna in case we suddenly felt like visiting the action center.


We visited Unawatuna one afternoon and walked for an hour on the beach. That was sufficient for us. It was far too busy for us, not as clean as Dalawella, waves were strong and tourism in general very developed (sign boards were also in Russian!). If you want something quiet, stay at Dalawella like we did, or Thalpe.

We had been in contact with Wijaya Beach hotel, located on Dalawella beach, by email and telephone and were pretty sure we would choose to stay there (we usually like to see the place before making the final decision). Despite Wijaya Beach hotel probably being the most cool place to hang out in Dalawella, we decided not to say there. Instead we chose a more low-key, not as fancy but equally perfectly located Sri Gemunu Beach Resort.


Wonderful Dalawella Beach, our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. Peaceful, very clean and oh-so-pretty. The beach is small as you can see, and there are many hotels along it. Sri Gemunu Beach Resort is located in the northern end of the beach (right where the big rock is). Right next to it is Rathna Guesthouse (the hut on the beach). The building on the right end of the photo with sun beds is Wijaya Beach. 

Every morning we extended our stay at Sri Gemunu Beach Resort. We developed a very good routine: breakfast, beach time, lunch & nap, visiting & beach, dinner. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was clean, staff very friendly and we felt comfortable. Buffet food was good at most of the time. The hotel overlooks the beach and we had to walk about thirty steps from our room to reach the beach.

If you are thinking of staying at any of the hotels located on Dalawella beach, and if you want to be able to swim then continue reading (nobody on Internet tells you this!) : there is a coral reef in from of Dalawella Beach and during the low tide the reef appears, creating a sort of a natural lagoon. During our stay (January 2017) the swimming was best in late afternoons. Some people also snorkeled in the lagoon but you can see small fish even without the gear.

PS I read somewhere that it is common to see turtles on Dalawella Beach.  Maybe we just didn’t get lucky, maybe January was not an ideal month, maybe the moon should have been in a different position.. who knows! If you visit or have visited this beach and have seen turtles, let me know please 🙂

Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Miami, here we come!

In less than five days I will be swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and I cannot tell you how great it already feels! Even if this fall has not been that rainy in Paris, I love the idea of soaking up the sun and playing with the waves. The importance of annual winter sun therapy cannot be exaggerated!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

When we decided to go away in late November, we hesitated between different destinations. It was not easy. If you want to be able to swim in warm water, and do not want to travel all the way to Asia or Africa, the options are quite limited for us living in Europe. We contemplated between Dubai combined with Oman, and Miami, and finally decided on the latter. Tickets cost more to Miami than Dubai (and I won’t be able to fly my favorite aircraft A380…) but seaside hotels are cheaper. In addition, there are great shopping opportunities in the US. Of course one finds almost everything  in Dubai, too, but who does not love American outlets? Especially when we are about to hit the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales!

I have been to Miami and Florida before, but for some reason I am particularly excited about it this time around. I am getting into my bling bling mode and searching my wardrobe for dresses with matching shoes and bags to wear. What I know about Miami is that no dress is too extravagant! After all, I will be competing with southern American beauties so I have to look my best (lol).

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Ok, now that I have disappointed you with my superficial side, I am going to tell you that I won’t be walking around in high heels all day long. Our current plan is to stay maybe one week in Miami and then head somewhere else for the second week. If we run into Donald Trump and he is about to sail to the Bahamas (does he sail?), we wouldn’t say no to an invitation. We may also check out the Mexican Gulf (the islands near Fort Myers etc.), something we haven’t done before. We will probably return to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The last time we snorkeled there some people in our group spotted hammerheads! However, unfortunately and according to my knowledge, snorkeling is not possible at the moment in Biscayne National Park…

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world's most famous art deco district.

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world’s most famous art deco district.

So, I am a fan of Miami and Florida, yes. When I first visited Miami just over two years ago, I was prepared to stay just one full day in Miami and then head to the Keys for the rest of the week. I admit that I thought Miami would be too artificial, too flashy, and I would have never thought that someone as intellectual as I consider myself to be (second lol) could fall in love in Miami. But I did. I loved the beach life, loved southern American fusion food (Bolivar: South American Fusion Food in Miami Beach), loved the art and architecture, and the people. I have worked a lot with Americans in the past and I just love that simplicity, straight to the point attitude, and their marketing and communications skills. So, during our last trip we spent 5 wonderful days at the Park Central Hotel in Miami South Beach and 3 nights in the Keys. Such a wonderful trip  it was. That time it was for my husband’s birthday, now it will be mine. I am very confident that Miami won’t disappoint me this time either –how could it?!

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

What do you think of Miami and Florida? What would you do if the only thing you had booked was a Paris-Miami return ticket and two weeks of time?  Any tips on great restaurants, things to do, hotels (all categories), snorkeling, etc.? Share your pearls with me please and I kindly than you in return.

Moral dilemma in Zanzibar

Have you already had your Ebola dream? I had mine about a month or two ago. I was wearing a mask and walking towards trucks that were carrying endless amounts of people. It was hot, humid and dusty. People seemed to be escaping something while I seemed to be walking toward that something. The scene looked like refugees escaping an invisible war zone, a mass exodus, but the dream didn’t transcend fear. Nobody died and I woke up without sweat.

The dream has stayed in my mind, and not only because of the ongoing global Ebola scare. It has brought my mind to something that happened in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in 2000 (the same project that inspired me to write Making friends over the Indian Ocean).

Working in Tanzania was such a pleasure! My first African project.

Working in Tanzania was such a pleasure! My first African project.

Dar Es Salaam was my base for months and it was a very pleasant African city to work in. There were great restaurants serving grilled jumbo prawn and the beach was never too far away. National parks were easily reachable. When I was not working or on safari, I hopped on a ferry to visit Zanzibar, this mystical island culturally so different form the mainland Tanzania. Sometimes I even had to go to Zanzibar for meetings, but most of the time it was out of pure pleasure.

Photos from the paradise -Zanzibar.

Photos from the paradise called Zanzibar.

During one of my last visits to Zanzibar I was diving with a local dive master somewhere off the eastern coast. We had finished turtle watching, I was back at my hotel and had just had a shower when I heard a knock on the door. The dive master excused himself but quickly continued that we are not too far away from his native village and there is a problem. The village needs my car. It appeared that a child had died and needed to be transported from his father’s village to the mother’s village, and the only person the dive master was comfortable with asking a favor for was me. Would I come with him and help him to transport a young dead boy to where he needed to be –with his mother?

A few minutes later we hit the road. Needless to say, it was pitch black. The road was tiny and we were certainly very far from any place a normal tourist goes to. I had no idea where we were. I now hope I had a bottle of water and a torch but I am not sure. We must have driven a hundred kilometers that night. Eventually we collected the tiny corpse, which meant that the father placed his son at the back of my car, taking a seat to it. In silence we continued driving. I followed the instructions and the road certainly didn’t get any wider. I guess I asked what the boy had died of and I think the answer was the usual malaria.

Our arrival at the mother’s village was quite something. There were dozens and dozens of women in a circle, welcoming us, and as soon as I opened the car door, they started The Cry. In fact I can still hear The Cry of these women but I still don’t know how to describe it. It was the most haunting cry I have ever heard, so loud that it must have been heard all the way in the mainland Tanzania. It was not a cry one hears at western funerals. It was something more planned and integral, something that culturally separated me from them. It would be too narrow-minded to say it was a scream from a horror film. For these women it was a way of welcoming this little boy with respect and doing what had to be done. For me, all I wanted was to put hands over my ears. The fact that there was no light brought additional disturbance.

I drove back to the hotel in silence with my dive master who by the way was just a child himself. Well, a young teenager. He thanked me and left. I remember thinking that he probably didn’t know either what to do or say –how to comfort a westerner who is so shocked by something so natural. I also remember that I did what most westerners do when they get confused and disturbed in Africa –I had a gin and tonic before heading to the bed.

Children in the Stone Town (they don't have any relevance to the story).

Children in the Stone Town (they don’t have any relevance to the story).

Now, let’s play a mind game. Fast forward this event to 2014. Remember that I am today fourteen years older than I was in 2000, and supposedly wiser (one must believe in progress, right?). Remember that today’s world is shaken: Ebola kills 70% of those infected. With Internet, news travel faster. There is no way that in 2014 I would be in the dark. In fact, I would know exactly that carrying a dead body of someone who just died of high fever would automatically put me in risk. But what would I do today should a similar opportunity arrive in front me? Would I still today be as “naive” as I was in 2000 and without any hesitation take the car keys and leave? But in the first place, is it justified to say that I had acted out of naivete? I could continue these questions forever.

If my dream was any indication of my possible behavior, I think I would do the same. Or is it only something that I would like to see myself doing? After all, what do we really know about ourselves before the opportunity or the test presents itself to us? Not much.

What are your thoughts?

PS Already following Pearlspotting on Facebook?



The man who lived

I know I am very late with this post. And I apologize to those concerned. But how do you write about people who are not here any more? It is a difficult task and a big responsibility.


I don’t remember how I met Maurizio but the expat community is small in Sudan, so it was probably through a common friend or at an expat party. Maurizio was an outgoing and charming Italian gentleman, who spent his life on a boat sailing between the Mediterranean, Yemen, Djibouti and Sudan. I met him in 2001, by when he had been based in Port Sudan repairing his boat for almost one year.Boreas of KatharinaFollowing Maurizio’s invitation, I flew to Port Sudan for a long weekend and he came to pick me up at the airport on his motorbike. I was properly dressed, as one needs to be in Sudan, but we were stopped at the exit gate of the airport by a young boy pointing his gun at us. To be precise, the gun was pointing at my head. Apparently it was too sexist that a man and a woman sit on the same motorbike. While I kept looking at the gun, hoping it will not explode by accident, Maurizio talked his way out of the situation. Off we drove, to the harbor where Boreas of Katharina, his boat, was waiting for its first guest.

What a holiday I had! What a pleasant time we shared! It was one of the happiest weekends of my life and I am sure it was for him too. Maurizio was the captain, and in addition he had two Yemeni assistants. And then there was me. A young girl from Finland. Out in the big sea with strangers. With strangers who treated me like a princess. And that’s how everyone called me, The Princess of Katharina.Maurizio and the teamEvery morning after breakfast we had our first dive. Turtles, wrecks, sharks, big fish. One of us always stayed on the boat to prepare food, which was usually sushi as Maurizio called it. Fresh raw fish from the Red Sea. Delicious. After a siesta we continued diving. One time we went very deep. Very, very deep. It was to watch hammerhead sharks. An other time we descended to the bottom of the sea and stayed still. A dozen of sharks were circling us. I will always remember those eyes looking at me.the red sea SudanMaurizio was a very happy man. He loved his boat and his life. He knew how to live. He appreciated every sunrise and every sunset. Every sushi meal was a blessing. He dived as I have never seen anyone else dive. Skillfully, carefully but fearlessly. He loved the Red Sea and the Red Sea loved him. At least that is how it seemed. Port SudanEventually my weekend came to an end. And a bit later, my work contract finished, too, and I left Sudan. Maurizio and I stayed in touch by email and telephone, and he would always tell me stories about fishing and diving trips. He sounded very happy. Like a man who lives as he always dreamed of living. Until The Storm came.

Last year I started noticing something strange on his Facebook page. I don’t speak Italian but I could sense that something is wrong. Eventually, I got in contact with Maurizio’s sister who told me about The Storm.

Like in 2001, Maurizio was again returning to Port Sudan to have his boat maintained. The Storm came and his boat lost a mast. Maurizio kept diving very deep to find it and during one of the many attempts, the bubbles stopped. And that’s it. The bubbles stopped, period. Difficult to believe, even more difficult to accept.

Until today, Maurizio has not been found. How awful and haunting that sounds like.  But as his sister wrote to me, “he died in the way he would have chosen”. I know it brings little comfort to his family and loved ones, but I agree with this sentence. I have rarely met a happier person, and I will always be thankful to Maurizio for that amazing long weekend I spent with him, his team and precious Boreas of Katharina. Good bye Maurizio. I am sure you are a happy man wherever you are now. sunset Sudan

PS If you read Italian, you can find articles here:



Top Ten of 2013

One year and one week ago I started my blog, encouraged by a friend. I will always be indebted to her as this has been such a wonderful experience and one hell of a ride if I may say. The blog has brought an entirely new dimension to my life; I could have never thought about making so many new friends and attracting so many followers. My sincerest thanks to everyone of you!!

To celebrate this one-year anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what the highlights of the year were. Enjoy, and pick the post that most interests you!

1. The most read postBus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Laos is a fantastic, rewarding country, but traveling inside is not always simple. I am happy that my post has helped so many thousands of travelers to enjoy Laos!

2. The second-most read postEat Drink Sleep Siem Reap (survival guide to Siem Reap). Nothing to add. Angkor temples, initially built by the Hindu kings, continue to fascinate the entire world. And Siem Reap is the base for exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site.Angkor temples

3. The third-most read postKoh Lipe: mixed feelings. Thailand. Well. I did not fall in love with Koh Lipe, a tiny island in the Andaman Sea near Langkawi, Malaysia. I hear Koh Lipe was quite a paradise ten years but to me it seems the word “sustainable” was forgotten along the way…

4. The most-read post about FinlandIce swimming in Finland. One of my favorite posts, too! Have a look if you haven’t already but do not believe everything I say.

5. The most educational postEating oysters in months without “r”. Oysters, this ancient delicacy! A lot of people wonder when it is safe to eat them. Read my post and tell me, “r” or not to “r”! oysters

6. The most read recipeCôte de Bœuf (ultimate French meat dish). A classic French dish; so simple but delicious! Now you know where to get your iron boost.

7. My first-ever post!Thursday night in Paris

8. The most family-oriented postFranco-Finnish Christmas meal. Christmas in Paris with my parents, husband and French delicacies.

9. The best design object portrayedAlvar Aalto bell lamps from 1937 find a new home in ParisAlvar Aalto lamp

10. The post about friendshipMaking friends over the Indian Ocean. A story about friendship that developed over the Indian Ocean and developed in Tanzania.

PS If you are on Facebook, why not to follow Pearlspotting there too?

Making friends over the Indian Ocean

Posting a photo of a Japanese bowl cannot be anything too exciting, right?

Well, continue reading. I will tell you about a lovely meeting that took place during an Air Tanzania flight from Mauritius to Dar Es Salaam some years ago. Japanese bowlThe project I was working for in Dar Es Salaam was coming to end. Two colleagues had left the country, leaving me alone in this huge three-bedroom apartment near the Sheraton Hotel. I knew there was an abundance of things to wrap up professionally, but I also knew that I had a free return ticket to Mauritius to use –a corporate gift from someone working for Air Tanzania. So, what did I do? During the last weeks of the project I worked like crazy, allowing myself to catch a flight to Mauritius with a good conscience on August 3, 2000!mauritius stampsDuring my stay in Mauritius, a lush, volcanic island in the western part of the Indian Ocean, I mainly dived. I had just completed my SSI Open Water Diver course and Mauritius is famous for rich sea life. When I didn’t dive, I moved to a different part of the island, practicing my limited French with whoever was patient enough to listen to me.

But back to the Japanase bowl!

On my way back on August 8, I was seated next to a Japanese couple. We begun talking, exchanged personal and professional information, and I learned that the couple plans to stay for a week in Dar Es Salaam because they are in used cars’ trading business. I don’t remember how the idea came to me, but I suggested they stay with me –in the flat paid by the company, which has two empty bedrooms. To my surprise (and probably to theirs, too), the couple said yes!

During that week, I was busy writing and editing, and the couple was engaged in closing car deals. When I came home from occasional meetings in town and opened the door, the couple had cooked Japanese food for dinner. I already had a cook, but my Tanzanian cook was specialized in Swahili dishes, not in maki and miso, so it was a refreshing change to eat differently.

Eventually, the couple left. Soon after them, I left Dar Es Salaam, too. Our co-habitation had ended smoothly, and until now, we still sometimes talk by email. Last Sunday, when I was emptying our cellar in Paris, I came across this bowl, that traveled with me from Tanzania to Paris. Even within Paris, this bowl has moved from one arrondissement to another, and it is only now, thirteen years later that I actually refound it. This is the bowl the couple served my miso soup in.

Isn’t this such a lovely story?!  I have plenty of stories like this and I think they should be told to remind us of positive consequences of globalization. What do you think?

PS Attention those of you who follow me on WordPress Reader: there was an issue with the RSS feed, and nine of my last posts have not shown up.  You may want to check some of the last ones out. There is a review on the famous Le Train Bleu restaurant https://pearlspotting.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/le-train-bleu-exquisite-and-elegant/ and several articles on my trip to Crete (search by “Crete” tag). Enjoy!

Koh Lipe: mixed feelings

Thailand was the last stretch of our Southeast Asia trip and which beach to choose was a big dilemma! Our criteria were: somewhere quiet, away from mass tourism and reputable snorkeling. If time was not a constraint, we would have chosen the Surin or Similan Islands, but with only five days left it made no sense. We heard from diver friends that the sea is generally more clear on the Andaman side, and since our return flight back to Paris was from Kuala Lumpur, I begun looking into the islands near Malaysia. Soon enough I came across with the Tarutao National Marine Park (http://www.kohlipethailand.com/about_koh_lipe_tarutao_national_marine_park.php) and beautiful photos of Koh Lipe Island. I (wrongly) assumed that this rather remote location would guarantee some privacy…. Tarutao National Marine Park

We booked Lipe Resort (http://www.liperesort.com/) via hotels.com for 64€ per night. Soon after the arrival we felt that we should have gotten something much nicer for that amount of money…. The hotel is located on the Pattaya Beach, one of the two main beaches of Koh Lipe (http://www.kohlipethailand.com/images2/maps/map-koh-lipe.jpg). The beach is not particularly welcoming for swimming because there are too many boats parked in front of the beach and this has indeed become a common complaint about the Pattaya Beach. map of Tarutao National Marine Park

The first day we did snorkeling in front of the hotel. The snorkeling was actually quite pleasant and we saw many schools of fish and colorful corals but returning to the beach was a challenge as the low tide brought us closer and closer to sea urchins (there are many!).

The next day we booked a full-day snorkeling trip to visit the smaller islands and snorkeling spots of the Tarutao snorkeling in Tarutao National Marine Parkarchipelago. Most companies offer two types of full-day snorkeling trips and we did both of them through a company called Koh Lipe Thailand Travel Shop (Boi’s Travel Shop) on the main road (http://www.kohlipethailand.com/). The shop sells all types of tickets, has computers for internet, and provides other travel services. The owner (?) called Boi is friendly and speaks French, too. In fact we felt that she was one of the few professional persons we met on the island…. Her shop became a one-stop-shop for everything we needed.

Regarding snorkeling, Program 2 is supposed to be more complete and interesting, but we preferred Program 1.  As we did not particularly like the Pattaya Beach we were happy to escape the island during the day.

When you google Koh Lipe, the internet gives you amazing photos of the most beautiful beaches, snorkeling in Tarutao National Marine Parkbut for your information, in most cases these photos are not of Koh Lipe but of islands nearby. So even if you are not a snorkeler I recommend you to do these daily trips to get away from the crowds. The only downside of the snorkeling was a storm that had touched the island just before our arrival, infesting the sea with millions (am not kidding…) small jelly fish. They were everywhere to the extent that our boat decided to skip a few snorkeling spots. A pity! This said, we liked the snorkeling and it was the highlight of our Koh Lipe stay. As you can see in the photo, some beaches are very picturesque (yet unfortunately dirty, which I found shocking considering this is supposed to be a National Marine Park!).

storm in Koh Lipe

But back to the accommodation.

Lipe Resort had not impressed us in any way. The food was very inconsistent and left us craving for that famous Thai culinary experience. The service was bad, or should I say nonexistent, and our clothes came back from the laundry with holes and stains. Great. The room was ok, but at night the neighbors were making a lot of noise. I think the worst part of Koh Lipe was in fact the badly-behaving tourists: who likes to watch people throwing up and passing out…. Unfortunately Koh Lipe was soon becoming the destination we had explicitly waview from Mountain Resortnted to avoid…!

We had no time to change the island, but after two nights we changed the hotel. We moved to Mountain Resort (http://www.mountainresortlipe.com/), located on the other side of the island, on Sunrise Beach where people gather to watch the sunset. One of the most commonly-used pictures to illustrate Koh Lipe has been taken from this hotel and on the right side you see my version of this view.

We paid 50€ per night for a “deluxe garden view” bungalow and the price felt more or less correct until on our last day I woke up with bed bMountain resortug bites (again!)…. If you decide to stay at this hotel, do yourself a favor and minimize the risk by staying at one of the concrete bungalows (bed bugs prefer wood). We liked the location of the hotel and the beach in front of the hotel you see in the photo above is really gorgeous. Unfortunately the beach is not well maintained and there is a lot of rubbish (see the photo below). Such a pity!!

Mountain ResortThe other downside was once again the food: the hotel food was at best mediocre and you are sort of stuck because there are not many options as to where to eat near the hotel. You need about 10 minutes to walk to the Pattaya Beach and the “main road” where most of the services are located.

A tourism professional we later on met has been going to Koh Lipe for over ten years now and he said that there are only two hotels that meet professional, international standards, and they are Castaway Beach Resort (http://www.castaway-resorts.com/)  and Serendipity Resort (http://www.serendipityresort-kohlipe.com/). We stopped by at both resorts and Castaway seemed to attract chic clientele with stylish decoration. The reception person at Serendipity was not welcoming regarding our request about prices and rooms, and the prices seemed excessive.

This same person shKoh Lipeared our impression that the tourism has gone wrong in Koh Lipe. When you look around, on the island or in the sea, you see lots of rubbish. I found this particularly shocking because it felt that the National Marine Park status means nothing! Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the clientele was not at all what I had expected, and once again I asked myself how the locals feel about watching those drunks… The original inhabitants of this archipelago are Malay aboriginal sea gypsies, also called Urak Lawoi people. Since 1974, when the Tarutao became a National Marine Park, their lives have gone upside down and if I were one of them, I would ask what happened to that once beautiful and innocent island called Koh Lipe.

PS I by no means want to upset any of my dear readers by this article, but I think it is important to share sincere opinions. If you are in love with Thailand and think my experience does not give justice to Thailand, then please write to me and provide me with the coordinates of your favorite secret, unspoilt beach destination and I will try it the next time I am in Thailand!