Saturday 15 April 2023

No more blogs from me!

 I'm afraid that as Google  doesn't allow me to post my linked shots from Flickr I have decided to stop blogging as without the images the text loses value.

Saturday 8 February 2020

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 8 Negombo and home.

Leaving Mirissa behind we were once again taking another step towards going home. With hindsight I would probably have stayed another day there had I thought it through or maybe not. Maybe I'd have tweaked the whole of our planned holiday.
In the end we spent the last two days in Negombo doing very little other than lazing by the pool, oh and a couple of hours local tour to see the sights of Negombo and to stock up on a few spices to take home.
I had considered a dolphin trip to Kalpityia but the reality was it wasn't that practical. A 3 hour plus drive to get there, it was a long day and the Dolphin might not show. It did happen once before!
No I'd keep that one up my sleeve for the future and would arrange to stay up that end of the island too, take in Wilpattu NP again, maybe visit the far north, the area where the civil war was fought not that long ago. Over on the east coast there was much unexplored island to see as well. Certainly enough to make the visit interesting.
Had this trip been a success? Well, not as much as I'd hoped. We'd chosen well with the accommodation, eaten well, had excellent weather so from that point it had been a great success. I guess the one aspect that I wasn't happy with was the fact we never actually settled anywhere for long enough, never unpacked our bags. Then there was the local wildlife viewing opportunities, again a bit of a disappointment. I'd done so much better in the past from that perspective.
Don't let me put you off Sri Lanka as a holiday destination though. It ticks so many boxes if you plan it correctly. It has a bit of everything, history, culture, game parks and sealife, water sports, hiking, interesting travel modes from the old Pullman style steam trains to Tuk Tuks. I am actually trying to point my grandson to take a chunk of his gap year back packing there, it's ideal and a better option than the Far East in my opinion.
We will go back I'm sure, all being well in the future. If you have never been I suggest you go sooner rather than later whilst tourist numbers are at their current low. 
if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 7 Mirissa bound.

When planning this trip there was one place I knew I wanted to include, the lovely Spice House Guest House in Mirissa. 
Guest House? Well the proprietors call it that but it's more like a boutique hotel really.
I first discovered it about 6 years ago and it's been a pleasure to watch them grow the business. Their eye for detail and personal service is superb, the hotel is kind of quirky. It's set on a hillside just out of town. The main building houses some guests whereas other stay in separate rooms within the grounds. The rooms are very tastefully built and furnished using reclaimed materials for things like doors and windows which make an interesting different experience.
Last time we stayed we stayed in the Lemongrass House and I made a special request to have this room again because it offered superb wildlife viewing.
Leaving Cinnamon Wild behind I fully expected to have an improved garden experience. The taxi ride  had been arranged by Phil, the owner of Spice House. R10,000. Our driver did the journey in 3 1/2 hours, We were greeted by Spice House staff who carried all our gear to our room...thankfully... while we had a refreshing welcome drink in the garden.
Since our last visit they have continued to expand and progress and have built a new unit housing three rooms and another  swimming pool. 
Our room had changed significantly too.
The bedroom was now a living area.
The Spice House, Mirissa
The shower and toilet area remained as before.
Spice House,Mirissa
but a new bedroom had been added.The Spice House, Mirissa
a full window leads on to the balcony
The Spice House, Mirissa
where outside you can relax on the huge lounger!
Spice House,Mirissa
I mean what's not to like!! 
For 99.9% of the visitors they would say fabulous. Me, a tad disappointed if I'm honest.
In the 4 years since my last visit, the wrap round balcony that offered perfect viewing of the glade in the woods and stream of visiting birds had now been taken up by the bedroom extension.
Not that it mattered. The glade had disappeared too. Things grow at an incredible rate when you have sun and rain! Sri Lanka is incredibly green as a result. The trees towered above the level of the balcony. Ah well, it wouldn't stop me visiting again. No way. I love this place and it's very handy to wander in to town for a beer on the beach or a browse of the shops.
Oh, and the food is exceptional. £60 per night B&B, R3000 (£13-£14) the price for two for the wonderful banquet of local food they provide in the evening.
No, the answer would be to choose another room where the open aspect gives more avian opportunities and there are several to choose.
I wandered up to a more open area and did get some decent shots.
This was the only place I had a Drongo opportunity, strange because in many similar climate countries they are very common.
White-bellied  Drongo  Dicrurus caerulescens
I'm always delighted to see Paradise Fly-catchers
Indian Paradise-flycatcher  Terpsiphone paradisi
and the garden had both females and the long tailed males too.
Another bird that can be quite skittish is the Black-hooded Oriole.
Black-hooded Oriole   Oriolus xanthornus
That one posed brilliantly for a few seconds.
Back on our balcony though, the Toque Macaque were far from lacking in confidence. 
Our balcony was invaded every morning but they behaved themselves unlike the last time when one hurled itself at me with teeth bared having chased me down the balcony. Fortunately I'd managed to step inside the room and shut the door in the nick of time.
That particular beast is no longer, and I didn't ask too many questions as to his fate either.
No, the rest were far more amiable but still had a certain arrogance about them.
Toque Macaque
On one morning we had 15 on our balcony!!
The other monkey species seen in the garden , and I was pleased to see they were still there, were the Purple-faced Langurs. They are fairly shy and don't allow close approach. from that point of view our room was perfect when they arrived in the evening to feed.
Purple-faced Langur   Semnopithecus vetulus
Hopefully they will continue to survive in the area which is currently being developed quite intensively. The Langurs are a threatened species for this very reason.
No, our 4 nights in Mirissa were very enjoyable despite my disappointment.
Mirissa is famous as a whale watching departure point and for it's surfing opportunities. It was fairly windy while we were there so there were some decent waves. We were not too concerned as surfing was never on the agenda and neither was whale watching really. Well, not unless something special was out there. Not that Blue Whales are not special but once seen is enough for me. They might be the worlds largest but they are not exactly spectacular as they only show a tiny proportion of their body and the only action is a flip of the tail as they dive in to the ocean depths.
it was time to head back to Negombo and a return to where we'd started. We'd have 2 whole days to fill and I was considering a day trip to Kalpityia where the dolphin watching can be spectacular.

Friday 7 February 2020

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 6 Yala, the Good the Bad and the Ugly continued!

Our 5 nights were soon gone at Tissa and it was time to return to Cinnamon Wild for another three night stay which would include the whole day safari into Block 1.
Before we left Serene Park we feasted on a special breakfast, a token of appreciation from our host for our patronage. Most of his guests appeared to be groups of touring Chinese who descended late in the evening and left the early following morning never to be seen again. The half day safari brigade.
We on the other hand had eaten there every evening and drank copious quantities of beer to help boost his takings! I had also taken some snaps of his new pool for him to post on his website.
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
Fair do's, they had worked hard to build up this business, it seemed the hotel hadn't been there very long and had only got planning permission in the prime lake frontage location as his farm house had been there before. They still owned some of the surrounding rice fields.
I paid my bill but did pass comment that the price of the safaris was a bit expensive compared to the advertised rates in town. The main man helper who handled payment asked if there was a mistake to which I replied, no mistake, it's what was agreed.
I had always had a nagging doubt that I was paying over the odds but it was still a lot cheaper than Cinnamon had quoted. Time had passed since my last all day safaris four years previously but I could have sworn I only paid £60 or there abouts for two of us then.
When I had enquired about a taxi to leave Cinnamon to go to Tissa, reception there had quoted R3750. A message to Serene and they sent one for R3000. It's not that far, and time wise it's only 30 minutes due to the state of the road to Cinnamon being very poor but compared to the trips from Negombo and Galle it still seemed expensive but you accept what it is. The 3000 had been added to my bill.
Now we were leaving, it would be interesting to see what the taxi charged on the return journey as I would be paying directly. As we bade our genuinely fond farewells I was told by our host the taxi back was on him. We thanked him for this kind gesture but at the same time my suspicious mind wondered if this was so we didn't find out how much the ride really cost. Maybe his way of making amends for the overpriced safaris too.
Anyway, the moral of the story is "shop around" or "put up". We all have a choice!

Back in the same room in Cinnamon by request, it was very conveniently placed for the safari pick up point at the rear entrance. How many of these safaris are booked through the hotel I wouldn't know. Many people have signed up for tours of the whole island and these trips are part of the package.
Anyway, the alarm went off at 4.15, so it was a particularly early start! Claire was feeling unwell and asked if I minded her not coming. More to the point I asked if it was OK for me still to go. 
She replied that it wasn't a problem, she'd be OK. She was suffering badly with a bad chest, sore throat and blocked sinuses which had been plaguing her for sometime and certainly not something she picked up in Sri Lanka.
Anyway, with her blessing off I went. 
The benefit of being at Cinnamon is that it's a very short drive to Yala Block 1 entrance gate. We were there an hour before they opened and about jeep number 30 in the queue. 
It was still dark and I sat there alone wondering what I was doing there. Was this a dreadful mistake!
I had already told my driver who'd brought along a teenager, his younger brother perhaps, as an extra pair of eyes that I was not interested in Leopard jams and he was to stay away from them if possible!
He told me had he known he would have arranged to pick me up an hour later! The whole point of getting to the top of the queue was to be first at the Leopard sightings!
I wondered if he had any knowledge of birds whatsoever but he soon demonstrated that he did.
Once inside most jeeps shot off in the same direction. We didn't!
We headed down to the sea and were soon on to some good sightings.
Little Stint
Little Stint   Calidris minuta
and Little Ringed Plover in the early morning light looking good.
Little Ringed Plover  Charadrius dubius
Next we headed off down a side road and although there were other jeeps about they were not interfering with my enjoyment.
Both driver and the youngster had superb eyesight too, spotting things I would have missed.
I was asked what I specifically wanted to see and I listed Indian Pitta as my top priority.
Much to my delight they found me one in shaded undergrowth I would never have spotted myself.
Indian Pitta   Pitta brachyura
"What next?" 
"Chestnut-Headed Bee-eater" I replied.
They duly obliged!
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti
These two were good, very good. Better still they understood where I needed to be for a photo opportunity too. The youngster in the back instructing the driver where to put me in the perfect position for a shot.
As the morning wore on we started to see fewer and fewer jeeps and as we headed deeper in to the park most if not all of the traffic was heading out the other way.
Soon we found ourselves on empty trails! Magic.
Block 1 Yala NP Sri Lanka
Further along this particular track we suddenly spotted a Leopard walking right across the front of us at the upcoming crossroads. We had a clear view of the animal too but unfortunately by the time the vehicle stopped it was too late to get a shot, while it was moving, impossible to keep focus.
We took a right in the direction the Leopard had gone but he had left the road and was heading in to the bush.
Just missed!
Just too late but we'd had the sighting all to ourselves!
It was lunchtime and the safari vehicles are obliged to gather at a given lunch spot leaving the park free of traffic for an hour or two. There were just 13 jeeps here, the sum total of those on all day safaris which when you consider there are usually around 200 plus jeeps in the park. it wasn't a high percentage.
We set off again around 2.00pm and the number of jeeps stayed minimal until around 3.30-4.00pm when the evening safari vehicles arrived. Once again, we steered clear of the jams. Leopards had been seen but we were not party to it as instructed.
The afternoon continued in much the way of the morning session, we saw lots of species, most which I'd seen before but this time the sightings were much better.
Crested Hawk-eagle  Nisaetus cirrhatus
We didn't just see birds either, we had fabulous close up views of Elephant as well.
This particular one was interesting as it was feeding in a manner I haven't seen before. Food appeared to be plentiful with greenery everywhere but he was after something different. Kicking the ground he created clumps of turf which he then shook free of soil with his trunk before eating. The roots must have been tasty!

Indian Elephant   Elephas maximus indicusAll in all it was a very successful day and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, I just wished I'd found this guide from the off. Still, I have his details for future reference and he sent us some video footage of a Sloth Bear right alongside his vehicle the other day too.
Had we had another spare day I might have booked another full day out but alas, it was too late, we were moving on, next stop Mirissa and the Spice House Guest House.This was somewhere I have stopped twice before, it's a special place and knew what to expect...or so I thought.

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 5 Yala, the Good the Bad and the Ugly.

Our safari to Yala block 5 started no later than it would have done to go to Block 1, if anything, slightly later in fact despite it being a much longer drive.
Because no one else was at the entrance gate when we arrived just before opening time at 6.00am.
This was more like it, we had the whole of the park to ourselves it seemed!
Not far from the entrance you arrive at the dam and the fast lake it has created behind it.
Block 5 Yala N.P.
A huge area of land was taken , presumably from the national park, in its making. I think it's been there about 20 years now.
Our driver stopped the vehicle below the dam and we searched the surrounding terrain for what might be there. Just the driver today, but we had every confidence he'd find whatever was about as he'd demonstrated his ability at Bundala. He told us he'd seen a Leopard at this very spot just a couple of days ago.
Leopard? Yes, it would be nice to see one but he knew the reason we were there was to avoid those Leopard jams that make wildlife viewing so unpleasant.
We started quite well with some good bird sightings even if they were mainly distant. Birds like Pygmy Woodpecker were a first for me
Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker  Picoides nanus

and within 30 minutes I had added quite a few species previously unseen on this trip, such as Jerdon's Bush Lark.
Jerdon's Bush Lark  Mirafra affinis
Moving on we descended into woodland before emerging up above the bed of the river  flowing from the dam.
Block 5 Yala N.P.
The scenery was quite spectacular and better still, as we drove alongside the river we came across this not so handsome bird!
Lesser Adjutant   Leptoptilos javanicus
No doubt the Lesser Adjutant's mother thought he was beautiful though.
Further downstream we stopped to have our picnic breakfast overlooking some rapids, small waterfalls and lots of birds fishing.
Block 5 Yala N.P.
Back in to the forested area we tried quite a few different tracks only to turn back where they had become judged impassable as vehicles had churned up the mud. We didn't seem to be getting much joy and the day was getting hotter and hotter. 
I suggested to our driver that maybe we should find some shade and park up for a while but he didn't take note and just carried on driving alongside what appeared to be a man made channel of water. We stopped to look at a Mugger Crocodile resting on the bank.
Marsh Mugger Crocodile
On we went and the early start and lack of action was starting to take its toll. I was sat with my eyes closed when the vehicle lurched to a stop.
"Owl!" Cried the driver.
And there it was, no distance away whatsoever.
I rattled off some shots.
Brown Fish Owl  Ketupa zeylonensis
Checked my camera to see that they were over exposed and quickly adjusted the settings.
However, in my torpid state, I turned the dial in the wrong direction and added to the problem!!
Brown Fish Owl
Fortunately for me, despite the bright sun reflecting off the top of the Owl's head, the shots were recoverable if not perfect.
I would have been as sick as the proverbial parrot otherwise.
The Adjutant and the Owl were without doubt the highlights of the day. Mammals are very hard to find in Block 5 it seems due to the nature of the terrain and the lack of traffic making them shy when they do come in to contact with humans.
We saw a few Spotted Deer here and there.
Spotted Deer
Some Water Buffalo
Water Buffalo
and the odd Ruddy Mongoose.
The one animal that wasn't shy was this Sambar Deer which appears at the lunch time picnic spot to get fed any spare fruit on offer.
Sambar Deer
He's extremely confiding and very placid but has, as all wild animals seem to have, an incredible sense of smell. Having polished off a few bananas offered by the driver of another vehicle he headed directly to me as he could smell the watermelon juice on my hands.You have to be careful of those horns which could inflict a nasty injury quite easily even if no malice was intended.
Block 5 reminded me of Wilpattu. Scenically even prettier but similar in wildlife opportunity. We did see things that we didn't find elsewhere but the photo opportunities bar the best two sightings were mostly difficult because of proximity, light and vegetation.
What I did like was the lack of traffic, even if the arrival of another safari jeep had flushed the Owl.
During the course of the day we saw maybe 10 individual jeeps, and most of them later in the afternoon.
There was a reason for this it appeared. Come the hour we turned off the main route in to the park and headed off down a side road where to my amazement there were about 10 vehicles all parked up.
 Block 5 Yala N.P.
It was pretty obvious what was going on. You could hear the alarm call of a monkey that signalled the presence of Leopard.
There was near silence bar the people in one jeep laughing and chattering. Idiots!
Suddenly one of the jeeps fired up his engine and the next minute all hell let loose. Our driver who had been so careful in his choice of routes and avoidance of getting stuck, was calm and collected in his driving on public roads, suddenly become a leading contender to win Whacky Races as he cut up his rivals and jockeyed into his preferred position.
It was a moment or two of madness before everyone stopped and turned off their engines again.
We sat patiently for 15-20 minutes but there was no sign of the Leopard and the warning cries of the monkey stopped. One by one the assembled jeeps gave up and left although our man stayed to the bitter end. In fairness he gave it his all and we were the last jeep to leave the park at exactly 6.00pm closing time, 12 hours after entering.
Was it judged a good day? Not exactly. Wildlife watching involves a lot of luck. Finding the Owl was indeed outstanding luck as the Brown Fish Owl is largely a nocturnal hunter but the rewards for $165 and 12 hours could not be described as outstanding.
Would I go again? Probably not, in fact having made the southern end of the island my main target area on this trip I may well never go back now and if I do it will be to discover previously unseen parts of the island. 
I gave our driver a R3000 tip and bade farewell. I wouldn't be taking any more trips, not through our hotel at that price anyway.
The next couple of days were spent in the hotel in Tissa, much of it spent processing shots taken over the last couple of days but we did walk in to the town and I had the odd foray to the edge of the lake with my camera. Opportunities were not the best though so I came away with little to show for it.
In the back of my mind though I had a nagging doubt. I'd come all this way to Sri Lanka, would spend around £3500 in the process and was in danger of going home wondering"what if?"
On one of our wanderings into "suburbia" we passed a simple house with a jeep parked outside. I decided to ask the question.
How much for an all day safari to Yala, pick up at the Cinnamon Wild hotel? This of course needed no further description of which part I meant. Everyone goes to Block 1!
"R9000 for the jeep plus R4500 per person entry tickets" was the reply.
" I'm going to book it" I said to Claire and to my surprise after the 12 hours in Block 5 she said count me in.
18,000 rupees is the equivalent of  nearly £80 or $100. Half what I had paid previously.
It was Friday and I booked for Monday. I didn't want to be in the park at the weekend, it would be far too busy. 
I asked him for assurance he wouldn't let me down and not turn up and the deal was done. He was obviously as nervous about us not showing and took details of Claire's What's app number as we didn't have a Sri Lankan SIM card.
Back at the hotel we discovered a message asking if we wanted to be provided with a packed lunch but we declined. Still, looked likely he's turn up at the agreed meeting time of 4.45am.
What the hell, I was prepared for the worst.
Bring it on! Traffic or not.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 4 Tissamaharama...and safari time!

Our next stop over was to be the longest of the trip. Five whole nights in one hotel! The Serene Park is set back from the main promenade that fronts Tissa Lake and is surrounded by rice fields.
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
As with everywhere we stayed it was spotlessly clean and although it wasn't the cheapest at £42 per night for B&B it was probably the simplest room we had.
No fridge, TV, or even much space to store clothes so as with everywhere else we just lived out of the suitcase.
We managed perfectly well although it isn't ideal and is one of the biggest drawbacks of touring holidays. The room had the two things we did need, a decent bathroom
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
and aircon because it was pretty hot in the room until the early hours of the morning.
The best thing about the hotel though was the friendly owner and his staff,  well his main man who seemed to do everything from carrying our bags up to the second floor to taking food orders and serving drinks. 
Oh and the food was excellent!
Who needs a buffet with maybe 100 things to choose. This simple curry and rice did me well!
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
Yes all those dishes are mine, Claire opted for a simple chicken and chips. My curry came to R1500, around £6 and with large bottles of beer at R500 it was happy days.
Breakfast was superb too!
We had 4 full days here and my original intention was to take 3 safari trips. One to Bundala for $130, two to Yala at $165. But after seeing how many jeeps were milling around everywhere and hearing tales of Leopard jams I had decided against Yala and asked if it was possible to go to Udawalawe NP, one I have never been to, instead. I was dissuaded from going on the grounds of distance from Tissa and instead it was suggested we try block 5 of Yala NP. Yala is divided in to 5 blocks, Block 1 is the most popular by far as it's closest to Tissa and has the highest density of visible game.
Ok, I agreed we'd try it but first we'd go to Bundala NP, a firm favourite of mine.
Bundala is low lying, has a lot of wetland area and is a magnet for birds. 
They are everywhere, particularly in winter when it holds migrating species as well as the resident ones.
Best of all those it's practically deserted as far as safari vehicles are concerned and only attracts avid birders!  
Bundala N.P.
I think we probably saw about 6 other safari jeeps during the course of our day and we were definitely the only ones to spend the whole day in the park. Our host hotel owner who had arranged the trips seemed surprised I wanted to spend a whole day there but I was insistent. I certainly wouldn't be bored. In fairness he arranged a driver who had an excellent knowledge of birds and we also picked up a park guide at the gate too. 
Guides are definitely an advantage as it seems their eyesight is so much better than mine.
I would never have spotted that!
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
This turned out , as expected, to be an excellent day's birding. Some of the highlights were as follows
Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Pheasant-tailed Jacana   Hydrophasianus Chirurgus
Yellow-wattled Lapwing
Yellow-wattled Lapwing  Vanellus malabaricus
and some stunning close ups of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters
Blue-tailed Bee-eater  Merops philippinus
Out on the salt flats there were hundreds of gulls and waders, my favourite being a pair of Small Pratincole
Small Pratincole  Glareola lactea
and best of all, a Black-necked Stork, a lifer for me.
Black-necked Stork.  Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
My biggest disappointment was that a superb area of reed bed no longer existed having been destroyed by elephant.
Yes, there are Elephant in Bundala, not many. maybe 25, but we managed to see 6 of them during the course of the day.
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
No, on a previous visit I managed to see Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern and Ruddy-breasted Crake all in the one small area, this time there was just a couple of small pools with no reed whatsoever there.
I did manage a Yellow Bittern at another spot but the views were distant and the photo opportunities poor.
Despite the disappointment though, my trip was judged a big success. I would recommend anyone to spend the day there.
Nice spot overlooking the sea for lunch.
Bundala NP
Not only birds but a few mammals too.
Ruddy Mongoose
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
and Toque Macaque
Bundala NP Sri Lanka
With no traffic there was no need to get there early either, just two vehicles entered the park at opening time and I think we were the only two of the morning too.
To be honest a whole day trip works out at far better value for money too so for me it's a no brainer.
Tomorrow we would be exploring a new place all together, Block 5 of Yala.
I wondered how it would compare.

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 3 Cinnamon Wild Yala.

The journey from Galle to Yala took a bit longer than expected, 4 1/4 hours to be precise. The taxi driver was making noises that it was further than he's realised when he'd quoted R9000 for the journey although he did acknowledge he'd been there once before. I gave him R10500 and he went away happy. I'd been looking forward to this hotel, the Cinnamon Wild Yala 4* as one of the , if not the highlight, of our stay in Sri Lanka. The hype surrounding it makes it sound as if you are going to see lots of wildlife wandering around locally in the grounds of the hotel that back on to the Yala National park itself. Happy days I thought! It was somewhere I wanted to try but when I'd looked previously it was always beyond my budget but I'd been browsing on Black Friday and the deal they were offering looked excellent. Just £75 per night for D,B&B ! Just one catch though, the dates were limited. No problem, a cunning plan was hatched. We booked in for two nights, we'd then go somewhere less expensive for 5 nights and then return for a further 3 nights the following weekend at the special rate! Considering if you go on Cinnamon's website right now and book their special offer on D,B&B with 40% discount its $330 per night this coming weekend . has it for £271. So yes, we'd got it at a bargain price. Was it worth it? Yes and no!!
There's no doubt the rooms were well appointed, we had a 'Jungle chalet".
Cinnamon Wild Yala
Surrounded by bushes there was no view but hopefully they might attract some birds to photograph.
Inside the room, it was very comfortable indeed.
Cinnamon Wild Yala
The best thing was there was a TV showing Premier League matches so I could watch my team playing live. Mind you it was hard keeping awake when the kick off was 1.30am!!
No, you couldn't fault the room and the huge choice included with the buffet dinner was pretty good too, especially at the price we'd paid but that's were they can catch the unsuspecting. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere so there are no alternatives. We chatted to a couple of ladies who'd paid a mere £50 for their room but then had to fork out £32 for breakfast and I'm not sure what they did for dinner but the  BBQ would cost them $60 so their deal wasn't so clever after all. Drinks in the rooftop bar were not extortionate but at R850 for a bottle of beer they were twice the price of everywhere else we went. Happy hour was more of a smile than a laugh as the price reduction was only 15% and only applied to cocktails!
Oh, and as for safaris they were outrageously priced. They weren't going to get me though. Oh no, I had had a cunning plan, well at least I thought I had. I was taking my safaris from the next place we were staying  in between Cinnamon stays. More of that later but suffice to say, Cinnamon quoted me $120 more than the price I'd agreed to pay. Even a taxi fare to get us out of there had an additional 25% premium. Fortunately we had come prepared for all that and my objective was to just spend my time at Cinnamon exploring the grounds.
That however, was the big disappointment. 
The hotel hypes up the fact that you are in a wildlife environment and after dark they insist you are accompanied back along the well lit paths to your chalet by a member of staff. Yes, a sizeable lake is in front of the hotel, yes it has large crocodiles in it. Yes, there are Water Buffalo wallowing in the lake and yes, one might wander in to the grounds on occasion. Yes, there are "wild" boars wandering around too but I witnessed a member of calling them to come and get some scraps of food he was dealing with at the recycling plant! They are totally harmless, the Buffalos are disinterested and the monkeys leave you alone too. The odd elephant intruder might pose more of a threat but as the hotel grounds have security posted all over I'm sure they'd be aware if one entered. If they are not they wouldn't be much point would they!
So my plan of taking in the wildlife was dashed by the limitations of the grounds which was largely made up of narrow pathways lined with bushes. Access to the lake was extremely limited and the minute you set foot outside the property you were instructed to return by security. I was told that the hotel could provide a guide for my safety if I wanted to go for a walk. 
Of course they would if I paid .
No, for the money we paid it was a good deal. They get excellent reviews on the likes of Trip Advisor but their clientele by and large have different objectives to mine. Most stop one or maybe 2 nights, take a morning and/or afternoon safari that lasts just a few hours and then leave. I rather suspect that their safari experience is only judged successful if they see a Leopard although maybe an Elephant or Bear would suffice. They tend not to be interested in anything else and a 3 or 4 hour trip is the limit of their attention span.
The safari business is big in Yala and the nearby town of Tissamaharama. There are jeeps parked up everywhere. They seemed to have grown in number even more than on my last visit 4 years ago.They were causing chaos back then and from what I was hearing in the hotel, even more so now. The problem is that most folk just want to see a Leopard so consequently that's exactly what all the jeeps try to do, satisfy their clients hoping for a bigger tip. The result is a rush to get to the latest sighting with speeding vehicles desperate to get ahead in the queue to view. 
I decided to cancel my two booked trips to Yala and instructed the owner of the next hotel that was my intention. I would stick with the one to Bundala and if that was a success I'd go there again. 
So, what did I see at Cinnamon?
The only bird species I saw there and nowhere else was the Indian White-eye but the view was brief and the photo opportunity difficult.

Indian White-eye  Zosterops palpebrosus

The one benefit of being on foot as opposed to being in a safari vehicle is the point of view.
Being on a level plain with the subject always makes for a better shot and this Spot-billed Pelican is a good example.
Spot-billed Pelican  Pelecanus philippensis
As is this Monitor Lizard that was so close I couldn't fit the whole beast in the shot!
Land Monitor Lizard
Sometimes the problem isn't fitting the whole subject in the frame, it's having it all in focus. Using a telephoto lens has the advantage of getting closer to your subject without frightening it away but the shallow depth of field these lenses have present their own problems.
Garden Lizard
All in all, I was perfectly happy at Cinnamon Wild. I can see why most guests think it's great but personally I probably wouldn't have returned for a second visit if I hadn't already paid. I much prefer somewhere where I can wander freely even if the standard of accommodation isn't quite as high. 
As for the buffet meals, and the huge choice that invites gluttony ( well you have to try everything don't you?!), maybe I'm better off with a freshly made meal made especially for me!
Anyway, I'd sent a message asking our next hotel to send a taxi over to pick us up. The hotel owner came too as he wanted to check out the pool signage so he could get some ideas for the pool he'd just had built.
First stay over, maybe the next one would now be the highlight.
Fingers crossed!