Sri Lanka Revisited
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Where I stayed
Paradise Beach Hotel
Sri Lanka 26th November – 12 December 2013
After yet another visit to The Quality Airport Hotel, where we were greeted like old friends, we flew back to Sri Lanka.
In the Maldives Pauline and Colin's Thomson rep. Rohan, was very helpful and he arranged for a driver to collect us at Colombo airport and take us straight to Galle, so avoiding the waste of a day travelling if we had stayed near the airport overnight. Not only did the driver meet us but also Rohan's friend who had been asked to take care of us as it was night
We arrived eventually after about 4 hours (despite the distance only being approximately 140 kilometres) at Pedlar 62 in Galle, a lovely, friendly and immaculately clean guest house. After a delightful day wandering around the streets and ramparts as well as visiting the museums we decided we had recovered from the journey and would venture out to a small patch of rainforest the next day. Ravi at Pedlar 62 arranged for a tuk-tuk to take us there and when we arrived we met a guide. These arrangements are all done by mobile phone and always seem to work precisely.
Our guide was a character. He started by asking how old we thought he was. Difficult question! I said about our age or younger and he told us he was 83 but ascribes his youthful looks and behaviour to breathing lots of oxygen in the rainforest
At first the birds were elusive as it was misty. Unfortunately the leeches weren't. Our guide was barefoot and wearing shorts. Every few minutes he would stop and remove leeches from his feet and then dig around up the legs of his shorts and down inside the waistband for others. Idreaded to think where they got to! He also checked us but as we had trousers, leech socks and were liberally sprayed with DEET we fared better, although Jim did have one draw blood on his arm.
The birds appeared with the sun and then it was a very interesting walk clambering up the steep sides of tea plantations and through the forest. We were given lots of information about trees and their medicinal properties en route
We said goodbye to our guide and drove on to a tank at Hiyare. As it was later in the day we did not expect to see much. However, by the tank (lake) is a learning centre for young people, like a scout hut with dormitories etc and a couple of classrooms. It was not in use that day but wandering around by the lake we met the Chairman of the facility who took us inside to view certain trees around the building. They were buzzing with birds, lots of different species and he expertly described them all to us. His real job is with a multinational company but his passion is birds and developing a respect for wildlife amongst young people. It was a wonderful visit as he raced us from room to room so we could look out at various trees or track the birds as they moved.
I realise now that when a few birders get together in such an environment, (like the Hornbill Camp) it provides an excuse to literally run around, behaving like rumbustious teenagers made acceptable by the veneer of quasi scientific investigation
After 3 days in Galle and even more besotted with the town than on our first visit, we moved on to Kataragama to the east. Again, we are grateful that Rohan suggested we go there as otherwise we might have missed it. It is close to Yala National Park but also has an important
After 3 months we have had our fill of temples but Kataragama is an important pilgrimage town and at 7pm each evening (and a couple of other times during the day but evening is the main ceremony), there is an amazing spectacle when hundreds of pilgrims, dressed in white, bring huge trays of fruit as offerings. There is plenty of ritual with a red carpet being laid from one altar to another holy building, then removed, the ringing of a huge bell, and the altar ceremony visible from the forecourt. Drumming and a special Peacock dance is also performed
The remainder of the town seems to comprise 'Rests', accommodation for the pilgrims. Many of these are run by large organisations so there is a Ceylon Bank Rest available for it's staff with a lovely restaurant attached, a CWS Rest and lots more.
We stayed a Dinaka Rest. A lovely small complex with just four rooms opening onto the garden. The sole member of staff, John, an older man, looked after us with great attention. We did not dare eat everything out of any of the serving dishes or it would be whipped away and refilled in seconds. The only other guests we saw were a group of pilgrims who arrived all dressed in white after the evening ceremony and left early the next day
Just when we were wondering how to arrange a trip to Yala, (John's English was not up to discussion of this) a jeep turned up and all was settled. Presumably it had been called but these things seem to happen of their own volition.
5am the next day we set off to Yala, a beautiful National Park, supposedly similar to the savannah of Africa but without the wildlife. There are numerous wild peafowl, and we saw lots of the peacocks displaying, or dancing, as the guide calls it. Spotted deer are everywhere, as are wild boar, sambar deer, mongoose, iguanas, Asian hares and too many bird species to list. The driver, Mr Budikka, from Esara Yala Safaris was very good, avoiding the potholes whenever possible and the seats were so well cushioned that it was surprisingly comfortable. Just as well because although most people do half day safaris, morning or evening, we had chosen to do a whole day in the hope that this would give the best chance of seeing a leopard, plus I wanted to see the Park from dawn to dusk
Then about 9.30am we spotted a leopard. It was amazing! I had expected a brief glimpse of something moving through the grass if we were lucky enough to see anything at all, but there it was, stretched out on a tree by the side of the road. We watched it for 10 minutes or so, then it casually yawned, rose up on tiptoe and arched it's back, like a ballet dancer on four legs, and leaped down into the bush.
In the afternoon we parked by a waterhole and as Jim and the driver dozed the guide and I looked for birds. The guide had not been too interested in the birdlife until he borrowed Jim's binoculars then he thought it was fantastic and he became addicted. So few people here have binoculars it is a shame as they can't appreciate what they are seeing.
After 4 nights we left Dinaka and John but only after we had had our photographs taken with John for the boss and we had been given a lottery ticket each for the big draw the next day
We only moved some 15 kilometres down the road to the Serene Park guest house in Tissmaharama where there are a couple of tanks, the reason for stopping there. It is a lovely family rest, with excellent food and positioned in the midst of padi fields. A second floor is being built on top of the existing 3 rooms and they will have a lovely view over the tank.
Again we spoke to the owner and said we would like to go for a walk and look at birds but the best tank for birds was a couple of kilometres away so we needed a tuk-tuk. He told us about a young man who knew where there were owls and he said he would tell the tuk-tuk driver to contact him. So off we set, the young man, Sandun, was waiting when we arrived and we had a fascinating 3 hour walk with him. He is very knowledgable, and speaks good English. He has his bird book in hand. We were his 4th 'group' as he has only recently been given the book and he is now trying to build up a reputation
The walk was so good we arranged to get up early the next morning and repeat the trip. That time we were taken into the village, through a garden and down to the river to where we could see 2 Brown Fish Owls on the other bank. What made it special was the way the other young men of the village were helping Sandun spot birds, keep track of the owls etc. As they can now see the business potential it helps to preserve wildlife. A first for me were the numerous Bitterns, Yellow and Black, but they were not easy to photograph as they hide in the reeds. Also had a good viewing of the Asian Koel, male and female.
As our time in Sri Lanka is coming to an end we have moved to Mirissa where we hope to go and see whales, but only if the wind drops! I would not relish a boat trip at present a there is a very strong wind. The hotel, Paradise Beach is on an isolated stretch of beach right by the sea. Surprisingly there is a small pretty reef just yards off the beach with beautiful table corals
We have really enjoyed Sri Lanka but we were very sad that Richard and Beverley couldn't join us. I hope they make it here another time as there is so much to see and do, and the people here make it very special. Most of the Rests and Guest Houses are run by fascinating characters who really try to make your visit special. It is probably the first place in Asia where I would be tempted to live, probably in Galle.