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Asia » Sri Lanka » Southern Province
February 10th 2019
Published: February 12th 2019
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Actually I didn't have any plans to visit Sri Lanka, the Island hanging as a raindrop under India. But my son asked me to join him. So at last I decided to change the cold of the Netherlands for the tropical heat of Sri Lanka. And I must say it became a nice surprise.

Only ten days we had, which gave us just the opportunity to circle around the southwestern part of the island: from Galle to Mirissa, The National Parks of Uda Walawe and Yala, the Horton Plains and finally back to Negombo. Not that we were in a rush. Because we rented an car with driver, we could do it at an easy pace. If you ever plan to do the same, I recommend you our driver Sameera (Sam's tours Sri Lanka). He is a carefull and helpfull driver and a nice person.



Galle

The route from Bandaranaike International Airport to Galle takes about three hours. Sammeera had picked us up at the airport. It took only a few minutes to pass the customers.
The road is lined with cocospalms, rubbertrees and ricepaddies. 'You must taste the milk of the King's palm', says Sameera. 'It's delicious.' He points at some high palms with yellow coconuts and yellowish leaves, which contrast with the normal palms with green nuts.

The A2 is a toll road, which means there is hardly any traffic. 'Too expensive for normal people', says Sameera. Black birds fly in flocks over the road and land on electricity wires. They look a bit like our Western jackdaws (in Dutch: kauwtjes) with their grey heads and black bodies. It is the Ceylon crow, also called the House crow. Some years ago it became an invasive exote in the Netherlands. Now and then I hear the song of the Asian koel, which reminds me of Thailand, like the air which is full warm moist and tropical scents.

Galle is famous for its old Fort walls, built by the Portuguese and the Dutch. At Flag rock you can still see the circle on which the lighthouse once stood. The lighthouse has disappeared, but the walls of the fort are still there. You can clearly see the corals in them. The Dutch used them as bricks.

We have a hotel in the centre of the old city. Narrow streets remind us of the time of the VOC (The Dutch East India Company). Above the Old gate we find an inscription in stone of the VOC dating 1669. At the outer side is the British equivalent.

In the Marine Archaeological Museum we see items found in shipwrecks around Galle. There are also some Buddha statues from Thailand, who came here with the tsunami of 2004. The museum it self was once a huge warehouse, where the Dutch used to stock their spices.

Afterwards we walked to the Dutch Reformed Church. It contains the tombs of Dutchmen who died here in the 17th century. Most of them didn't become old. Only around 40 years. Apparently the tropical circumstances were not so healthy.

Galle has a fine beach where we had crabs, red snapper and curry for dinner.



Mirissa

Along the right side of the road to Mirissa, not far from Galle is a hatchery for seaturtles. In december seaturtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Though it is illegal some people collect them for food. To prevent that, people of the hatchery collect them, dig holes of 40 cm and cover them with sand, safely within the fence of the hatchery.
'There are five species', explains one of the guides of the hatchery. He studied marine biology but cannot find a job. 'We have the eggs of four of them.' He points at the little boards in the sand, which signpost where the eggs are hidden. The number of eggs, the dates and species are indicated. In all cases the numbers exceed 100. "Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Olive ridley turtle, Loggerhead turtle", I read on the boards. 'Hawksbill turtles are endangered', tells our guide. 'It's because of the colours of their shells. People collect them for decoration. In China they use them for medical purposes.'
Also the loggerhead turtles are a vulnerable species. Often they are found in fishnets. 'Look here. This one of them.' Our guide points to a turtle which misses his left for leg. 'They just cutted the leg off to get him out of their net. Otherwise the net would have been damaged.'
After 6 weeks or so the eggs hatch. The young turtles are placed in containers and fed. 'Once they are big enough we bring bring them to the sea. Several years later they will come back to this spot. Then it's their turn to lay eggs.'

Also Mirissa has a fine beach. Sareema brought us to a restaurant where we ate Kotthu. It's chopped roti with cheese, meat and egg. Chopping takes place with two iron choppers on an iron plate. It makes a characteristic and rithmic sound: hakketakkehakketakkehakketakke. Very loud. I thought a drum band was coming along.



Uda Walawe National Park

About 60 jeeps are waiting for the entrance of Uda Walawe National Park. At 6 am the porch will open. We are hungry and sleepy. The hotel wasn't able to organize a breakfast or something to go with. So we bought some bread, cookies, bananas and water.

At 6:15 there is some movement, the porch opens and all jeeps rush to the front trying to be the first to enter the park. It's the worst traffic jam I have seen here in Sri Lanka. All day we follow bumpy roads. Indeed it's a good place to see elephants. We see several of them. The Sri Lanka elephant became a subspecies of the Indian elephant since the population was separated by the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait from the Indian subcontinent after the last ice age. The other two subspecies are the Indian elephant and the Sumatran elephant. The Sri Lanka subspecies is darker than the other two subspecies and has more depigmentation spots. It seems that wild Sri Lanka elephants become smaller since some hundreds of years, possibly due to island dwarfism. The biggest are taken out to do work.

But there is more to see in Uda Walawe National Park apart from elephants. Specially birds. Most abundant are the Indian peafowls. You see them everywhere, even in top of the highest trees. We saw birds of prey like white-bellied sea eagle, crested serpenteagle and changeable hawk-eagle. Waterbirds like painted stork, open billed storks, grey herons, black-wing stilts and black-headed ibis. Smaller birds like green bee-eaters, white-breasted kingfisher and common wood pigeons.

There are mammalians like water buffalo's, wild boars, tufted gray langurs, toque macaques, grizzled giant squirrel and golden jackal. The grizzled giant squirrel is the national mammal of Sri Lanka. It is endangered and it is said that it seldom leaves the trees. But here in Uda Walawe it does. It is wandering around my feet, asking for food. We also see reptiles like Asian water monitors and mugger crocodiles. So there is far more to see here than just elephants.



Yala National Park

Not far from Uda Walawe sits Yala National Park. We have a excellent hotel (The Cool Nest) in Tissamarama, not far from te park. They serve a nice breakfast with sandwiches, fruit and hopper with curry. Hopper is a kind of bowl made of rice flour and coconut milk. You can put all kinds of food inside.

Near our hotel is a buddhist temple. Contrary to the colorful temples in Thailand, the temples of Sri Lanka are just white. Also the Buddha's are white. 'White is pure', says Sameera. 'Also school uniforms are white.' He himself drives in a white car. 'White cars are more expensive', he tells, 'because everyone wants them.'

Yala National Park is famous for its leopards. If you haven't seen any leopard in your life, you can do it here. Unfortunately we'll not see any leopard during our safari. Neither we'll see the sloth bear in spite of the efforts of our driver, who immediately drives to spots where such an iconic animal just have been seen crossing the road. Apparently all drivers are in contact with other. As soon one of them has seen a leopard or bear, all of them race to the very spot. The consequence is a congestions of jeeps waiting for the bear to cross the road again. So finally we said to our driver to stop this nonsense.

Actually we liked Yala more than Udo Walawe. It's grasslands are more open with now and then shrubs, outcrops of rocks and swamps. In the swamps huge mugger crocodiles are waiting for their prey: spotted deer and wild boars. We see less birds than in Udo Walawe, but that might be due to that we visited the park in the afternoon. Most animals we have seen already in Udo Walawe, but there also some specials like malarbar pied hornbills, hoopoos, jungle mina's, Indian hare, Oriental garden lizard and a sunbathing Indian flapshell turtle.

Jus before we left the park we see a jeep along the road. It has been crushed by an elephant, according to our driver. A little bit farther we find the elephant who did it, a big male with enormous tusks. It is protecting a mother with her young. Our driver provocates the animal by just driving in front of it. I don't like it. It's dangerous. Every year 50 people are killed by elephants in Sri Lanka. I tell him several times to stop it. Only when the elephant comes after us, he gives in.



Ella

One of the best hotels we had during our trip is Rest Inn Ella. The owner and his wife are very friendly. Every morning we are surprised by the breakfast, be it coconut cakes with dahl or hopper with curry, which is served in the garden with colorful flowers and the songs of all kind of birds. Actually we only met very friendly people in Sri Lanka. We really feel welcome here.

Down in the centre of the city is a hustle of tourism with restaurants and pubs. It's like Khao san road in Bangkok. Five years ago Ella was just a little village in the mountains. Since the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and Sinhalese came to an end in 2009 more and more tourists discovered Sri Lanka. Nowadays Ella is booming.

The village is surrounded by forestated hills, about 1000 meter above sea level, which makes a nice climat for walking. We walked little Adams peak. It gives nice views over the hills, though it is quite crowded.

One of the atrractions is watching the train passing the Nine Arches Bridge. Well, it is absolutely nonsense. About 100 people gather around the hills, waiting more than half an hour, just to see the train passing by in 10 seconds and take that picture everyone has taken already.

Better it is to walk Ella Rock. It takes about 4 and a half hour up and down. Though a guide isn't actually necessary, we took one. Banda is his name. He is 88 and he walked without any problems the whole hike. Bare feeted! 'You should do more exercises', he told me, when he noticed I found the hike quite strenuous. It was on my lips to tell him I was already 71, but I kept my mouth just in time.



Horton plains

It's two hours driving to the Horton Plains. It is about 2000 meters high. So it's quite fresh. But not today. Today it's beautiful weather. The plains are special because it combines Cloud forests, Patana grasslands and Montane Peat Bogs. Together they host countless endemic species. At least that's the theory. And indeed while climbing we see how the forest is changing. Giant treeferns and special trees replace the eucalyptus trees downhill, which were introduced once by the British. Once on top there are grasslands - mainly Mana (Chrysopogon nodulibarbis) and Gawara mana (Garnotia exaristata) - with now and then rhododendrons (introduced by the British as well). So I was very excited to see this special landscape and hoped to see some special animals. We made one mistake though. We came here at Independent day. Thousands of families were walking the same path as we did. Actually I didn't see any animal, apart from a Sambar deer, who was begging for food at the parking place.

The night we spent at Nuwara Eliya and had a nice dinner at Indian Summer Restaurant.



Negombo

To come from Horton Plains to Negombo takes about five hours. We pass several tea estates. At one of them (Blue field Tea Estate) we do a short tour to see how the tea is manufactured.

We spent our last day on the beach of Negombo. Late in the afternoon we leave for the airport, which is only 20 minutes from Negombo.

Sri Lanka will be in my memory as a nice country with beaches, mountains, forests, nature and culture, nice food and above all nice people. Actually Sri Lanka has it all.


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