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Peter Connan

That looks like a beautiful road @@xelas!

 

I am amazed that you still have time to work on this, with your next disembarkation just days away!

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Although we have been clear that leopard is not our main target, it could be visible in the looks of both the driver and Prasanna that they were keen to show us one. As the shadows started to become l

Bigger than Barking Deer is the Sri Lankan Axis Deer, or Ceylon Spotted Deer. This male was a majestic exemplar.   Bigger mammals also means bigger raptors. Close-up of a Crested Serpent Eagle.

Lizards are always interesting photo subjects; the problem is, some of them will display all their colours while others will try their best to use their camouflage as best as they can.   Green Fores

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I have to finish this one before embarking on a next one! Almost done, 3 more posts.

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Dave Williams

Alex! Fancy finding you here. I have only just joined the forum having first found your Namibia report then this one.

Both include stunning photography and excellent information.

I must admit I was put off even contemplating self drive in S.L. on witnessing the overtaking procedures that often have a line of several vehicles abreast all overtaking at the same time. That is scary until you see a likewise formation coming the other direction towards you. You imagine you are doomed but somehow it all works out. Not all roads are like this, some are very quiet. Not sure I fancy driving in Colombo either!

Hiring a car and driver or a taxi when needed worked well for us but particularly on our last visit when we wanted to experience the Colombo to Ella railway journey.

As for SL as a holiday destination, I have to agree it's brilliant. Very safe, somehow more infrastructure than India but it doesn't quite have the same mystical charm. There is a wide variety of things to see and do which is ideal for those travelling for a non interested, well, non obsessed wildlife watcher. Must see wildlife spots for me are Bundala,Yala, and dolphin watching at Kalpytia. Coming close behind Wilpattu and Mirissa for the whales.

I have been to Wilpattu once and Yala twice. I saw Leopard all three times although only briefly on the last trip to Yala. It was a bunfight we were glad to leave behind but were lucky in as much we were one of the first vehicles on the scene for the fits two sightings which were incredibly close.

30424920985_939b69b56c_b.jpgLeopard by Dave Williams, on Flickr

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Hello and welcomed to Safaritalk, @@Dave Williams ! Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for your fantastic leopard photo.

 

As you have said, traffic rules are different but also, traffic accidents are rare. Quite many roads were almost deserted. I can agree being a passenger might alleviate a certain degree of stress ... but not to me :lol: !

I would be much more stressed if could not be in a control of a car.

 

Have fun reading, and I do hope you will become an active participant of this excellent forum. No doubts there that you have plenty to share with the rest of us. And you will also find some known characters from other forums here :D

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16/8 - 18/8 – Sinharaja NP (continued)

 

 

Sinharaja NP is the biggest remaining patch of rain forest in Sri Lanka, protected and as such a heaven for birds and birders alike. It has two main entrances, one south and one north. Ours was on the north side. It is where the most endemics can be found, and if lucky to encounter, a »flock« can count up to 25 different bird species.

Lodge manager said 20 minutes to the park walking, and we mentally doubled that time, which meant being out of the room early. We skipped the breakfast but were promised that it would wait for us when back, around 10AM the time we forecasted as our return.
It took us only 25 minutes to reach the park headquarter and ticket office. First to buy tickets and get a young park ranger/guide (a guide is always included in the cost of the entry tickets).
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We were also the first on the trail. The light was still poor, and overall, taking photos inside of Sinharaja was a real challenge. AutoISO is obligatory to use, and with a half-decent shutter speed for moving birds (1/500 sec) the ISO value was mostly above the ISO5000 mark. If we would have had any older consumer camera half of photos would have been completely useless. With D7200 at least we got some decent documentary quality shots. The pace was steady as was the incline for the first 90 minutes. Walking slowly was the answer. There were almost no birds visible so we have concentrated on other members of local fauna and flora.
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Sri Lanka Kangaroo Lizard
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The second snake we have seen in Sri Lanka was a venomous one:
Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper
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Edited by xelas
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Once the trail levelled the sun also came out, and with the sun the birds as well.


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And as we have mentioned to our guide Saantee that we have not seen an owl yet, he regularly disappeared into the gullies and thick shrubs to search for one. Serendib Scops Owl is the first prize in Sinharaja. We had to be happy with the consolation prize: Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Not an owl but close enough.


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The one thing everyone is hoping for is to meet the flock. In Sinharaja birds often travels in flocks, 30-40 birds strong, and can be up to 20 different species in a flock. We were lucky to cross paths with one smaller flock.

Ashy-headed Laughingtrush

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Malabar Trogon

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Hump-nosed Lizard, Hump Snout Lizard or the Lyreshead Lizard.Choose whichever name you want, you will always get this lizard. It must be a rare sight as our guide was very excited.


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When we made a quick stop to catch our breath, and to drink some water, I checked my phone for the first time. Heck, it was already 10 AM. Time flies by quickly in the rain forest. When I wanted to call the manager that we would have to skip the breakfast, no luck as there was no signal.

Another hour of following the main trail (there are several side trails but they all are very narrow and from the look of the initial part, also quite demanding to hike) we decided it was time to return home. Walking down the slope was even more demanding than walking up; not only because by now both me and Zvezda were already starting to feel the toll of previous 5 hours standing on our feet.


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Geen Vine Snake

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We had been in the rain forest for full 6 hours, and to our great relief, only a few drops of rain had fallen at the end of our hike! Quite rare for Sinharaja; rainforests do need rain after all.


Saantee, our young guide in Sinharaja

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Edited by xelas
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We were back in the lodge at around 1PM, to be received with a somewhat disapproving look from the »mess manager«; there was our breakfast still waiting for us, and we consumed it quickly, together with a couple of cold beers. Being late might be the reason why the beer today was 750 LKR, and the day before 600 LKR?!


My fitness hours paid off, after two hours I was ready for more birding. Zvezda declined the opportunity to walk back to the park entrance, saying she had to show our neighbours some previously made photos of wildlife. Myself, happy to get the hold of the camera, and wanting to not only stay at Blue Magpie Lodge but also to take a photo of one, retraced my steps to the park parking area where it was supposed to be the good place for spotting one. No luck with that but I had some nice conversations with park rangers so no time was wasted, IMO.


Legge's Hawk Eagle

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Black-capped Bulbul

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Ashy Drongo

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Layard’s Striped Squirrel

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Grey Hornbill

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Gilgamesh

Just wanted to add, still enjoying all the segments. That last place of worship you posted might be a Buddhist temple from the half dome figure drawn on the left corner of the front wall. Also, the entrance seems to have peacocks on the top. Which implies it could be a Hindu god, like 'Murugan' who is worshipped by Buddhist. Which AFAIK is common in Sri Lanka.

 

That photo with Zvezda and a kid on the roof top, had rebar metal rods poking through the top and broken concrete and yet not a single word from you. That says a lot. Enjoying the beauty of the place and not stuck with minor 'issues'. That's the way to enjoy ones trips. My wife and I enjoy every trip we take, even if there were issues which could have ruined some peoples entire vacation. It's sad to read some reviews where an exposed barbed rod would have ruined some peoples entire vacation. You are very well suited for such wonderful adventures.

 

I don't want to elaborate too much on this. but, you know that toilet hose has to be installed on the right side and not left :)

 

P.S: That's not a peacock, but may be a swan which symbolizes a different goddess, which could be worshiped by Buddhist too.

Edited by Gilgamesh
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@@Gilgamesh

 

Thank you for helping me out with your vast knowledge! I should have learned, and remembered, more about social life in Sri Lanka.

 

But yes, I have used my right hand when shaking hands, and paying for stuff, etc. And I have also been instructed how to eat with fingers. Not so easy as it looks!

 

Your observations about the roof top photo is absolutely spot on! Those detailes are part of their life, and we were guests in that life, so why would we be bothered by them?! On the contrary, that is why we love so much to travel, and to travel by driving ourselves. Meeting hosts and persons and trying to get a quick peek into their daily life. Birds and leopards are nice but people are amazing source of stories and memories!

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Atravelynn

You may have been self driving for birds but your lizards, frog, and the guided outing for sloth bear and the posing golden jackals are highlights too! I am only up to the jackals.

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18/08 - 19/08 – Galle

 

 

Next morning, I repeated the drill of the previous afternoon. The lure of the Blue Magpie was just too strong. No luck so also Blue Magpie joined the list of "I want to come back for" animals. To add "insult to injury" also the tea man did not opened his station that early in the morning. No bird no tea ... time to move on :) !

 

There are two options: the easier, shorter and quicker one that involves driving on the E1 highway for almost ½ of the trip, and longer, slower and more scenic one, back over the mountains to Rakwana, and then on the newly constructed road to Galle. As you already know me, it was not much of deliberation which one to take. Reaching Rakwana was relatively quick, the weather was good (with occasional rain shower), and in Rakwane the new road was constructed. Good!

 

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Yeah, good indeed. Until we reached the bridge at the end of the town (i.e. in about 400 meters. The first warning should have been the group of boys playing cricquet on the road. Kids usually stayed away from the busy roads, buses and trucks are not to be challenged. So when we crossed the bride (narrow but they are all narrow, aren't they?) the road abruptly turned into a one and a half track, even narrower (and worse by looking at it) than the one over the mountains we had just done. What to do now?! Going back was not an option. But going back to the town to fill up the fuel tank of our car, and to buy some snacks and drinks, was obligatory.

 

The part of the road A17 between Rakwana and Kotapola was one of the most scenic ones I have ever driven on. Like driving over the Vršič Pass in Slovenia. Or any of the steep passes in the Dolomites, Italy. The road was just much narrower, no railings, and more potholes that I have hoped for. At least those have been worked on, by locals who, when passing by, looked quite amused by the sight of two foreigners passing by, and no sight of a local driver in a car. Maybe they had left him somewhere??

No, we are not lost on a side forest road!
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There were too many hairpin turns
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An unusual sight by the road
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More tea plantations
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A Bench With A View
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What is missing on this photo? A guardrail!
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Surprised? Confused? Amused?
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Bus station
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God's Window Sri Lanka style
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Finally civilisation!
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After cca.175 km, uncountable bends, among which at least 15 hairpins, and 6 hours behind the wheel, we reached the lovely old Dutch fortified town of Galle. Phew!
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I have booked one of the boutique small hotels, Mango House. At 80 USD per night it looked a good value on the paper and on the photos. Yet, once we stepped inside a small walled garden, it quickly turned into a hidden gem. Exactly the type of the hotel I am willing to spend a bit more to stay there. Calm, few rooms, great interior decor, room fresh and lovely smelling, bathroom large and also smelled refreshingly. Perfect end to our trip. As I had two more nights before departure flight, I asked if there was a free room for the next night. »Yes!« the manager answered, and showed us another lovely room, this one even had a small garden area. »176 USD per night.« quickly returned me to my original itinerary.


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Galle is an old fortified seaport town. Many say it was constructed by Dutch, but in reality it is a work of the Portuguese architects and constructors. It is the only town with distinctive architecture, and although it was severely damaged by 2004 tsunami, most of the houses were restored, and now they are hosting restaurants, shops, and many hotels, both boutique and hostels. It is very easy to navigate it as all streets are in a crosshatch pattern, and high walled enclosure keeps the wandering tourists inside, where the many restaurants and even more shops are located. It reminds me of Dubrovnik (only smaller) or Piran (only more tourists).



Tourists are out!

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Beach time!

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Tourists are out! part 2

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Galle lighthouse

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Beach time! part 2

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Meera mosque

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Street impression #1

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Street impression #2

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Street impression #3

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Street impression #4

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Edited by xelas
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As Zvezda's shopping was not done yet, that was what we did here, on the afternoon of our arrival, and on the morning of our departure. No museums, no guided tours, so whoever interested into the history and facts, there is always Uncle Google to consult :) ! After a lazy breakfast in the beautiful garden, we have done some more street walking and street photography.

 

All Saints Anglican Church

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Dutch Reformed Church

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Wise advice

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Bike and coconuts

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Delivery man

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Around midday we have left Galle for our last leg towards Negombo. This time it was the Expressway. Not many locals are using this newly constructed highway, so most of the time we were having the road to ourselves.

 

This way to Colombo

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The truck ...

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... and the driver

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It was a quick and easy drive ... almost all the way. The only complicated part was near Colombo, where we exited the E01 Southern Expressway to reach Negombo. Some skillful navigating by Zvezda, and a couple of U-turns local style were enough to get back on track. Arrived at final destination!

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Dave Williams

Just caught up with all the report Alex. I have to say another excellent account backed with some superb photos.

From my own experience of three visits I stick to the opinion that self drive isn't for me in this location. Some of the roads are straightforward, some are manic! Looking at your rental cost of R130,000 without fuel and with limited( albeit presumably adequate) mileage that was in excess of the amount we paid for a car and driver covering virtually the same route in 2014. We hired him for 12 days at a cost of 57,600. Although I like the flexibility of driving myself it's also nice to have an experienced local who knows the roads and places to visit. As a passenger you can sit back and enjoy the scenery.

On our third visit ( the first was a package based at a single hotel) we elected to use trains and taxis and that saved us a considerable amount but we only covered half the route previously undertaken electing to spend more time at each location.

For anyone who hasn't visited SL your report is a great advert. So many different things to see and do.

From a wildlife point of view for me the highlights , despite the tourist numbers in Yala, were indeed the latter, Bundala ( but don't go in the wet season unless first checking conditions as the place was flooded when I went the second time and access severely limited) Wilpattu and from a birdwatching perspective, the whole island. I haven't been to Sinharaja but would love to. I decided it wasn't the best destination for my o/h and it's a long way off the main routes. We have been to Mirissa Blue Whale watching ( and possibly others) which is good but Kalpityia is better still for close up encounters with Dolphins.

For the non wildlife enthusiast Sigiriya is a must ( actually for everyone), the botanical gardens, the tea plantations, the temples and the scenery are stunning. A rail journey is something special if travelling from Kandy to Ella too. Book the luxury coach.

So yes, SL has something for everyone and it's much more affordable too. A month in SL with a decent standard of accommodation can cost little difference to a couple of nights at a "standard price" ( very expensive in my book) safari experience in many parts of Africa.

Edited by Dave Williams
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Thanks for adding your knowledge, @@Dave Williams ! About driving, well, it is just an important part of travel experiences for us. I agree with you that using car&driver would be less expensive (but not as cheap as in your case). And as stated elsewhere, if having 2-3 weeks, and staying at each location 3 nights or more, using a different car&driver for each transfer can be even more affordable.

 

Indeed Sri Lanka is an overlooked destination. Good tourism-related infrastructure, still reasonably affordable, a good mix between nature, culture and relax, friendly locals. I hope this TR will attract at least one of readers to put Sri Lanka on "to-go" list. I hope we will return soon.

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20/08 - 21/08 – Negombo


Safely back and without a scratch on the car (a newly added, that is) I was eager to return the car, and to write the post on the Sri Lanka forum about self-driving. The agent from Casons came as agreed, and the car passed the outside inspection with flying colours. Then the man opened the boot, and looked at the spare wheel. OK, no problem there, I have not taken the tire out of it so all was good, yes?? No! The agent pushed the spare tyre and declared: »It is empty. It must be punctured!« What On Earth was he talking about?! Then one thing dawned on me; I have not checked the status of the spare tyre on pick up!! There were two possible outcomes:

1. I would be »shaved« for a new tyre

2. I could have had a flat tyre on the dreaded A17

Now, as Zvezda could tell you more vividly, when I find myself in a similar situation, my body produces three reactions: my face turns red, my speaking becomes fast, and my voice become loud. And while I was explaining to the agent the possible outcomes of me being stranded on the top of the Rakwana to Kotapola A17 road with a flat tyre and with a spare tyre that had a finger-wide hole in it, he obviously decided that I was close to either a heart attack or worse, the brain stroke (and in the second case, I might start to speak Sinhala) so quickly he abandoned any thoughts of getting a new tyre out of an unsuspecting (or better to say, careless) client. He excused himself and his company profusely, and off he went. Lesson learned: next time take the spare tyre out and check it thoroughly!





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I have not written anything about Palms Villa it on our arrival day because I knew we would stay 2 full days at the end. Palm Villas is located in the residential part of Negombo, away from the beaches but that assures its being a calm oasis to relax after the long flights to Sri Lanka, and again to relax before long flights from Sri Lanka.


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It is owned by Gerard, or just Gerry, a nice person who worked in England, and is running this business with great success, judging by the many positive reviews on both Tripadvisor and Booking.com. Our room was on the ground floor (same on both visits) large room with even larger bathroom and excellent A/C. In the garden is a small pool with seasalt water that looks really refreshing and inviting.


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Gerry is also a cook, and if I have understood him correctly, he was/is a chef. The food cooked was always delicious, either we have opted for local fare, or as on second visit, for more European/British flavors. We have had a delicious seafood dinner.


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This is a popular spot for families because of the pool and because the sea and the main road are quite far and thus keep the older children at 'home'. For us, it was a great find, comfortable and welcoming. We have had 2 full days to explore around Negombo (Dutch Canal and Negombo Lagoon being top attractions) yet we have bee lazy, laying by the pool, taking more photos, catching up with internet, reading books, unwinding after 20 days of travel filled with safaris, driving, birds, meeting people, all great fun.


Everybody enjoys splashing in the pool

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Cleaning lady

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Breakfast time

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After the bath

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Come back soon, my friends!

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CONCLUSIONS and TIDBITS



About rooms: as everywhere also here not all of our accommodations were equally good/interesting. We had our Top 3 and Bottom 1 places. Top 3, for different reasons:

Mutu Village in Habarana for food and a friendly manager

Mango House in Galle for romantic settings

Jungle Tide above Kandy for the views and the pool

Bottom 1

Heidi's Homestay in Nuwara Eliya for being a damp, cold, concrete cellar type of room


About food: breakfasts were always enclosed in the room rate. Too many times we skipped it, or got a »package lunch« due to very early starts to safari drives. When having time for it, breakfasts were tasty and filling. If gallo pinto is a staple food in Costa Rica served at every breakfast, so is rice & curry in Sri Lanka. Plus fresh fruits. We never had lunch. Not even a late one. Usually we (I) ate a rotti or two, left over from the breakfast, and bananas. Dinners were mostly cooked by the owners or caretakers. They were all very tasty, and due to too many European visitors, one has to ask for the »local fare« i.e. »make it spicy, please«. Although the kitchens were usually not to the HASAP standards, we have had zero issues. Three times we have eaten at restaurants. Also here the food was good and fresh.


About drinks: even locals drink only bottled water! Sri Lanka is full of small shops. A wooden shack on every corner, literally. Water is sold in each of them. Price is printed on the plastic bottle, 60 Rs for 1 liter. Other soft drinks are also widely available, from local ones to imported. But also the prices differ widely! For 100 Rs (LKR) you can get 1 200 ml Coca Cola … or the 625 ml! Alcohol is only sold in a few Liquor Stores (those with iron bars on the shopping window) or in selected hotel bars. Local beer is Lion; unfortunately heavy floods in June 2016 stopped the production and noone knows when it will start again. Tiger (from Thailand) or Carlsberg are usual offers. In a shop a 660 ml bottle costs 450 Rs (about 3 Eur) while in a hotel from 600 Rs upward.


About costs: very discutable topic. I have found overall costs (room, food, entry tickets) to be in line with what we have paid in Costa Rica or in Namibia or elsewhere. The problem is that there are local prices, SARC prices and Foreign visitors prices. And a difference between Local price, for say Kandy Botanical Garden, and Foreign visitor price is about 1:25! So I decided never to look at the local fare, but have always tried to reason if the entry fee was good enough for what it offered to me. In fact, Foreign Tourist Price is almost omnipresent fact of Sri Lanka tourism. There are only a handful of items a tourist will pay the same price as the local for: water, fuel, bus and train tickets, and when shopping in one of the few markets with bar code readers. Everything else, not even if you try your best to haggle! Yet, food prices are reasonable (a full fried fish with side dishes goes for 6 -10 Eur, a good portion of Fried Rice for 3-4 Eur, etc) and you will pay exactly what will be priced in the menu presented to you! Just that there has to be two menus under the counter: the local one and the tourist one! There are, or better, eateries that do not charge Tourist Prices should exists. I think those »Hotel« signs are where one can eat as a local. A »Hotel« sign does not mean there are rooms; it is a basic place, like a bigger garage, with long table at one side and plastic tables and chairs, where rice&curry is served from a buffet style table. We have seen plenty of those in every small town but were not brave enough (or stupid enough) to enter any.


About environment: we were positively surprised by average cleanliness of this country. North-West was cleaner than South-Eastern part, places in the hills were the cleanest. Also as much as tea plantations are extensive, they are a far less disturbing sight than the palm oil plantations. On average Sri Lanka looks very much like Slovenia; green, relatively clean with enough nature left intact to impress a casual viewer.

About the »touristy factor«: another topic one could discuss ad infinitum, and 10 persons will have 11 opinions. Ours is, we did not have that feeling being »tourists sheep ready to be be shaved clean«. Maybe also because in most of the important cultural places, local visitors outnumbered the foreign visitors. Vendors are pushy all over the world but at least here they have a decent sense of humour. Like for example, buying the Map of Sri Lanka. Zvezda told me to buy it for max 50 Rs. First offered it for 700 Rs. Second one, overheard the price and saw my facial expression, jumped in with 350 Rs. I finally bought the map from an older man pleading to me he has young kids to feed (grandkids, I recon) and bought it for 120 Rs, to be frowned upon by Zvezda. But we both had a good laugh when we saw the back page of it, illustrated with photos of different cultural sites … and a quetzal bird!


About safety: as we have finished our trip »unscathed« my words should be »Safety is perfect!«. As there is no crime-free country on this planet, I cannot say this. But our personal safety feeling was very high. We have strolled the back streets/roads quite often, with big lens mounted on the camera, and not once have I had that odd feeling of someone lurking in the shadows, trying to find a way to get that »donation«. Of course we have strictly followed our self-imposed safety procedures: never ever leave anything of value in the room if going out.


Overall impression: we liked Sri Lanka. A lot. It is green and it is safe and it has great sights and tasty food. Maybe it was due to the month we travelled, but I have had only a handful of mosquito bites, and Zvezda none! Having a room with an A/C is essential in the lowlands, even for A/C hater like me. The good thing is that much of Sri Lanka is hilly, and air there was fresh and cool. Almost every person we met was friendly and smiling.


Bottom line: we will go back again in the future. There is still a lot of the country we have not seen, and in another season maybe we will have better luck with leopard sighting. That they do exists, here are two photos by @Prasanna Ambigaibagan taken in Wilpattu NP.


post-47185-0-90468100-1477033581_thumb.jpg


post-47185-0-54359600-1477033583_thumb.jpg


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Prasanna Ambigaibagan

Wow amazing report. in my personal life, this is the first time i have read this long trip report...

still i feel bad i haven't seen some birds what you seen in Sri Lanka, do i will make a 1 week full tour on for birding in around the island.

 

its so sad that what casons did, even i was with you when did you check up the vehicle but we miss check spare wheel, thank god you reach safely without any problem in middle of the road.

 

i am warmly welcome you next time, really i wish to take you more days in willpattu and Yala and try my best to get a leopard sighting for you.

 

Regards,

Prasanna Ambigaibagan

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Peter Connan

Marvelous trip report once again, thank you @@xelas.

 

Safe flight and see you tomorrow! :)

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Finished one TR starting new trip ... what a beautiful life !

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@@xelas

Thanks for a wonderful report and for adding a new country/place on the list of places to visit :)

It was a wonderful journey, and although I don't think we would drive ourselves, I'm sure we will love it.

Where is the next trip? Can't wait to hear about it and see the pics. Happy travels!

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Next one, just around the corner, is to South Africa again, this time to Kruger NP. Courtesy of kind invitation by @@wildlifepainter !. And as it became already a habit when flying to JNB, birding one day with @@Peter Connan !

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