Sri Lankan experience
Sri Lanka tour day 4
07.10.2012 - 10.10.2012 35 °C
We wake early yet again at 6.30 am we set off on day 4 of our tour of Sri Lanka. Our final day will see us head towards Galle to visit Galle fort, see the tsunami memorial and visit a turtle hatchery complete with a river cruise.
This area of Sri Lanka was the worst hit by the tsunami and it is very evident, there also seems to be more poverty in this area too.
Our irst stop is for coffee, where in the ocean there are many sticks set up for the stick fisherman but unfortunately no fisherman on them. After the worst cup of coffee ever!! We head off towards Galle, when suddenly our driver stops for us to take a photograph of a lone fisherman on his stick, or so we thought, what a tourist trap, no sooner had we taken a photograph and headed back into our van than the fisherman from the stick had raced from it to our van asking for money as we had taken a photo - our driver saw him off with a few rupees, although he was not a happy chap.
We arrive at Galle and enter the old town that is within the fort walls, we pass most of the government buildings as they are all within the walls of the fort. We pass the magistrates court and high court, which must have been introduced during British rule as it mirrors the British judicial system - there are many families waiting outside for the outcome of hearings. Our driver stops for us to get out and take some photographs, we can see the new bus station rebuilt after the tsunami, the cricket stadium and the rail station.
Next we head to the river for our cruise. Once on the river we drive through some mangroves and see a monitor lizard then we head towards cinnamon island where we disembark and go and watch a man making cinnamon sticks, which we buy as we feel obliged to. Our next stop is at a fish farm - not much fun but all part of the tour.
When the river cruise is finished we board our mini bus and head for the turtle hatchery. Here it smells bad, but we have to enter where we are shown the baby turtles and the females that are kept for several years till they are fully grown before being released into the sea. The male babies are released into the sea after 3 days. There is also an albino turtle which is rare to see, unfortunately this will never be released as it would die if it was.
Well that brought our tour to an end and we boarded our mini bus and headed back to the comfort of our hotel in Bentota to enjoy the remaining 10 days of our holiday.
Sri Lanka tour day 3
07.10.2012 - 10.10.2012 30 °C
Well it's day 3 of our tour and we are up early again 6.30 am and the sun is already shining.
Today we are all excited as we are off to the hill country to pick some tea ans see how it is made. As we begin our journey we first have to negotiate the rush hour traffic as we drive through Kandy, which is a nightmare, glad its not me driving dodging buses and tuk tuks.
We eventually make it onto the open road and head upwards to the mountains passing through many small villages watching the children all dressed in their bright white uniforms heading to school. The climate change is noticeable, the air is fresher, the surroundings greener with agriculture being the main occupation evidently.
After a few hours on the road the tea plantations suddenly come into view, the estates are all named and sectioned off as we climb higher above sea level. Our driver stops for us to get out and walk around a tea plantation estate to provide us with an opportunity to walk amongst the tea plants and see the top new leaves that are picked each day by the local ladies who are the tea pickers - apparently it does not pay much!!
We all get back into our mini van and climb even higher until we find some ladies picking tea on one of the estates and we stop to watch and take a few photographs. Now it is time to head off to a working tea factory to see how the leaves are processed into tea.
The tea factory is amazing all old machinery is still in use during processing, our guide explains each stage to us as he walks us through the factory. After our tour ends we head to the cafe for a well deserved cup of tea and a bun, a strange eating experience as the bun turns out to be a bread bun filled with a curry product a bit like Bombay potato, it was very nice though.
With breakfast finished we set off towards Yala National Park which is our next destination. It's takes longer to come down from the mountains than it took to drive up, as we pass through 'little England' and stop at a spectacular waterfall for a photo opportunity.
Once we reach the lower levels again a storm (monsoon) is brewing and before we know it day turns to night, the heavens open and their is a spectacular thunder and lightening show above, but our driver papa Patrick does us proud and gets us to Tissa (our home for the evening) in a comfortable hotel. We do a quick check in to the hotel then we are off in our jeep towards Yala. On the way the rain starts gain and we get a bit of a soaking even though the driver stops to let the sides of the jeep down to protect us from the rain.
When we arrive at Yala the rain has stopped again and we enter all in wonder as we ponder whether we will catch sight of the elusive leopard. We see many peacocks, eagles, buffalow, elephants, wild boar, deer and crocodiles as we travel further into the park. Suddenly a jeep races past us and we follow it to a watering hole where to our surprise about 10 jeeps have all gathered to catch sight of a leopard chasing its prey into a watering hole. The prey escaped into the water but the leopard remained and began a posing show for us all to see. He lay down then began washing himself all the while aware of us all watching him. Suddenly he became more curious and headed towards the jeeps which was great as we were able to see him in full flow and what a beautiful creature he was. As he headed past our jeep into the wooded area we thought that was the end of our experience but we were mistaken as our driver had other ideas. We headed to the other side of the wooded area to a clearing when suddenly there he was and as he passed within a yard alongside our jeep we had a special view of this delightful creature and got some brilliant photos. As our guide in the back of the jeep ruffled the canvas the leopard turned to look directly at us and as it was so close it was a scary moment as we anticipated whether it would leap in our direction but no sooner had it turned to look at us than it was on its way again back into the trees. What an amazing experience and how lucky we're we!!
Well that was the highlight of the tour and was the focus of the conversation that evening as we enjoyed a traditional Sri Lankan curry in our hotel and a few drinks to celebrate our experience. Before we knew it time had passed and it was time to head off to bed before the final day 4 of our tour.
Sri Lanka tour day 2
07.10.2012 - 10.10.2012 35 °C
Well after a stormy night morning arrived greeting us with blazing sunshine and at 6 am we set off on route to Kandy.
Our first stop was at a spice garden where we were greeted by our guide who walked us through the gardens explaining each spice, tree etc and what it was used for - surprisingly there was something for every ailment. Following our tour we were taken into the garden shop where all the potions were for sale and as you do we bought a few each, hopefully they will do what they say on the tin!!
Before setting off again on our journey we enjoyed a nice cup of Ceylon tea and ate our breakfast that had been provided by our hotel as a packed lunch, mingling with our guide and other workers from the garden.
As we climbed higher above sea level through the mountains dodging old busses and tuk tuks as we went on our journey towards Kandy, we have a short stop to take some photos of Matale mosque. When we arrive in Kandy our first stop is the botanic garden. There are all sorts of flora and fauna here as our guide explains the history of some of the plants, orchids and trees; all very interesting and we take comfort from the shade that the trees provide. The gardens are well worth a visit in fact we would have liked longer to explore ourselves and chill a little.
Our next stop was a a lovely restaurant for lunch which was a traditional Sri Lankan buffet which was delicious.
After lunch we drive to the Temple of the Tooth where we are introduced to our guide and I am asked to wear a sarong over my shorts to be respectful and all 4 of us remove our shoes before we enter which is tradition in Sri Lanka when entering any temple. Inside there are lots of Sri Lankans who have bought flowers as their offering and we slowly walk amongst them trying not to disturb them as they meditate and remember loved ones past and present. This temple has the oldest Buddhist tooth which is centuries old, our guide explains the history and then asks us to take the opportunity to remember loved ones past and present and we all present a flower to the Buddha as our own offering.
When our tour is complete we head to our hotel. On arrival we are surprised as our room has a 4 poster bed and a bright blue mosquito net all around it, which I find reassuring as outside is our balcony and then a ravine with a river below so good breeding ground for mosquitoes and a storm is building in the distance. We have time for a swim and then we get ready to go to the Kandian dance that has been arranged for us. We find the Kandian dance experience very similar to the dancers that we have seen at our main hotel in Bentota a few days prior. With hindsight we would rather have spent 3 or 4 hours exploring Kandy itself, something to bear in mind for any other travellers embarking on the same or similar experience.
After the dance we head back to our hotel where our host cooks us a lovely meal and after a few drinks we head off to bed as we have an early start again tomorrow for day 3 of our tour.
Day 1 tour of Sri Lanka
07.10.2012 - 10.10.2012 35 °C
Our day starts early, a 4 am pick up from our hotel, as we sleepily embark on our 4 day tour of Sri Lanka.
As we bed down in our mini bus for the 3 hour journey to pinnewala elephant orphanage, we head north towards Columbo on the new toll road as we avoid the not so good roads that would provide a slow alternative route.
We arrive at the roadside near Pinnewala to a sign bearing the details of elephant riding and we are asked to vacate the mini bus to await the arrival of our elephants as they are still sleeping. Two huge sleepy and wise looking elephants arrive to our dismay we are expected to just get on them and ride down to the river to bathe them - no way we say as we feel sorry for them, they look so weary and sad and one grabs a running hose nearby and drinks gallons of water so we give a donation for food for them and opt for an early morning coffee in a nearby cafe by the roadside instead.
After our coffee we climb aboard our mini bus once again and head higher above sea level towards Pinnewala elephant orphanage hoping for a better experience. The roads are a harrowing driving experience but our driver Papa Patrick is experienced enough to get us through safely. We arrive at the elephant orphanage early as we had not done the elephant ride therefore we eat our breakfast that has been provided by our hotel.
After half an hour the orphanage opens and our guide gets first in the queue for our tickets and we are in in no time. It is amazing lots and lots of elephants of all sizes frolicking in the sunshine. We pay one of the keepers and he allows us an excellent photo opportunity with one of the elephants. We watch them frolicking and eating for several more minutes before moving towards another area for feeding time. To our amazement we are given the opportunity to feed bottles of milk to the baby elephant (although he is 4 years old and much bigger than us) he is very gentle but the bottle of milk is gone in seconds. The bonus of organising a tour locally rather than with a major tour operator is that you get that extra personal touch as the other visitors look on with jealousy.
After the orphanage visit we head towards Dambulla to the rock temple, to our dismay when we arrive there are hundreds of steps to climb in the seering 35 degree heat - pure hell!
We climb the many steps passing local people selling their wares, beggers, ice cream sellers and monkeys. By the time we reach the top we are exhausted and wringing wet due to the steep climb and the heat. Before we can enter the temple we remove our shoes, thankfully we are wearing socks to protect the soles of our feet from the scorching ground beneath us.There are 5 temples and our guide takes us into each one explaining the history. All 5 are filled with many ancient Buddha statues - an amazing site worth seeing which makes the steep climb all that more worth it and the views from the top are spectacular. We have a few photo opportunities and then start our journey back down the hill.
At the bottom we board our mini van and head for Sigiriya to the rock. When we arrive it is scorching and our friends decide that they do not want to climb the rock so they head off for coffee. We start our climb in the scorching heat and the first thing we see is a sign warning climbers to keep quiet so that they do not provoke a wasp/hornet attack - this is a worrying development as we are walking along side a group of noisy kids - help, I am contemplating not going any further until our guide explains that as the rainy season has just ended all the wasps have been washed away and only the nests remain; phew, reassured we continue. Climbing a spiral metal staircase which is hanging off the side of the rock is quite scary, but we manage and survive and it's all worth it as the view from the top (1622) steps later is spectacular, but I still cannot wait to be safely back at the bottom all the same.
Once safely at the bottom we head to our hotel for the night and once checked in we head to the pool for a swim as a storm brews in the distance with thunder and lightening getting nearer. What a day - cannot wait for day 2 of our tour.
Day 2 Exploring Bentota - the tourist trap almost avoided !
03.10.2012 - 03.10.2012 30 °C
As we sit and relax on our balcony facing the Indian Ocean drinking gin and tonic we reminisce about what a glorious day it has been.
We were awakened this morning by the sound of the ocean waves crashing onto the beach and the colonial train that passes out the back of the hotel, although not in a bad way. The day began with a stroll along the beautiful Bentota beach, which although still early morning the temperature was very warm but the beach was practically deserted apart from the odd tourist tout and a kind Sri Lankan lady selling sarong's plus the many small crabs that scuttled across the beach as you approached them.
After a mighty breakfast upon our return to the hotel, we left the hotel to explore the town of Bentota and it's many surprises that were to greet us. Immediately we were met by a man named Cirri who preceded to walk with us all the way to the temple. Cirri was a pleasant man, he showed us the sleeping flowers that shrivel up when touched, the local primary school, a British post box and some good eating places. We take this all in our stride knowing fine well that we will need to pay this guy for his services but not much money which is well worth it for the insider knowledge albeit biased.
After walking for some time we finally come to the temple, where we are asked to remove our shoes, and What a fine place the Buddhist temple is. Cirri talks us through the history of the temple as a Buddhist monk looks on, he explains how local villagers come each morning and evening to worship and bring flowers and he also blesses us with the holy water from the bowl in the ancient temple. Upon leaving we make a small donation.
From the temple, Cirri takes us to the edge of the river where a small boat and 2 other local men are waiting. We board the boat and soon we are on the bentota river. To our surprise we are rowed through the mangroves where we see a monitor lizard relaxing in the shade and a variety of other flora and fauna. As we approach the end of the mangrove tunnels we surprise a tree of sea eagles and there is suddenly a mass of brown and white above us in the sky, a glorious sight. We also disturb the odd fruit bat the circles above us and what a size they are.
When we leave the boat we are asked for 4000 rupees (£18) by the two rowers, but we haggle and manage to get the price down to 2000 rupees (£9) - a reasonable price for the great experience of discovery we just had and everyone is happy.
We thank our guide and pay him a small amount for his time 350 rupees and return to our hotel happy
What started off as a quiet stroll around Bentota turned out to be a great experience of discovery and although we fell into the tourist trap on stepping out of the hotel the experience we had far outweighed the trap at very little cost.