Monday, 3 February 2020

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 1.

This trip was planned at fairly short notice, just around 6 weeks in fact. We should have travelled to Goa in November but our package tour company, Thomas Cook, went down the tubes and our holiday went with it. We weren't bothered, in fact we were quite happy about it as we were due to leave just three weeks after returning from the four week trip we'd had in South Africa. Fortunately, the package was covered by ATOL so we got our money back very promptly and all we had to decide was were to go instead.
We did want to go to Goa but the prices seemed to have shot up, both for packages with the one company still operating, and for flights, with Qatar now asking almost £1k for an economy return. Out of the question when you can go to Sri Lanka for less than £600. 
So, that was it then. Sri Lanka it would be. 
This however would be a different trip to the previous ones we had made to the island. Well, the previous two at any rate. This was to be our fourth visit and this time the emphasis was on R&R rather than touring and sightseeing. Claire was due a relaxing holiday as the previous one had been non stop driving and wildlife watching for a month. 
No, the objective would be a good standard of accommodation, hopefully some wildlife for me to wander off to watch whilst Claire relaxed with a good book. ( That's why I love The Gambia so much, you can just wander off when you are bored and find plenty of avian subjects to photograph).
We decided the dates we could fit in a visit, booked the flights then went to to book hotels.
How did it work out? Well, as you'll find out, the accommodation and food was where we wanted it. Very good indeed. However, my planning could have been tweaked for a better experience with less "living out of a suitcase" and certainly my wildlife expectations didn't meet with the plan.
So, on with the trip! 
Leaving home on the 7th of January, it wasn't that long after the Christmas holiday period at home. Qatar Airways chosen again as we could fly from Manchester rather than travel to London for other alternatives. We don't mind the break in the flight at Doha, an opportunity to stretch the legs although it can be an extremely long walk, especially with 12 kilos of camera gear on your back. 
Doha airport.
The first place I'd booked to stay was called Optimum Residencies in Negombo, a short distance from the airport. What attracted me wasn't just the incredibly low price of £27 per night but that it included an airport pick up too. I'd booked 2 nights knowing it takes time to acclimatise and get over the time difference of 5 1/2 hours, especially after a 17 hour journey to get there.
We were pleasantly surprised. The owner of the hotel/guest house was waiting for us at arrivals and we were soon at the hotel and flat out on the bed fast asleep at around 10am!
Optimum Residencies Negombo
The room was simply but perfectly adequate. Spotlessly clean, we had a TV, a fridge with water and beer chilling, the bathroom had a "wet room" shower arrangement, oh and we had aircon too.
Stepping out of our room through the French window we were next to a small swimming pool.
Optimum Residencies Negombo
They served freshly made meals and although the choice was limited the food was outstanding value and delicious. The breakfast was quite a spread of Sri Lankan food and again, more than enough to set you up for the day.
OK, not everyone would order fried garlic as a starter, and I have to say I was taken aback when it was served but I ate the lot! As for the consequences, don't ask!
Fried garlic
This was indeed a gem of a find being so close to the airport and compensated for the fact that the place we have used before didn't respond to my email enquiries. Apparently they only opened the business 2 years ago, starting with 2 bedrooms. They have now increased to 11 with plans for further expansion. While we were there they were adding a new swimming pool and a new kitchen and covered dining area. 
If you are looking for somewhere I can thoroughly recommend this place. Lovely hard working people who are giving it their all to succeed. They go beyond the call of duty to help you make your trip a success, happy to arrange onward transport etc, etc.
Oh, I didn't mention did I, Sri Lanka was hit by terrorist bombings in early 2019. In fact the worst atrocity, a local church, was just 500m away. 153 unfortunate people died in the one attack by a single suicide bomber and amongst them, some relatives of our hosts. This didn't halt their determination and although the tourist trade took a hit, their business continued to grow.
On the second day of our trip I decided to hire a Tuk Tuk and take a ride up to Waikaal  to see what had happened at our previous favourite stopping place. I also knew I could do a spot of birding there too! Leaving Claire behind off I went.
What would I find at the guest house. Why no replies to my email enquiries? I suspected perhaps the owner had sold up but no, they hadn't. What I did find though was a bit of a shock.
Sri Lanka
The once beautifully manicured gardens and pristine swimming pool were now totally overgrown.
Sri Lanka
The swimming pool was now full of green water and had been planted as a wildlife pond it seemed!
And the owner was still there.
She'd only just that week taken over the business from her parents on our last visit. She claimed it wasn't making any money and the terrorist attacks finished it off. When I told her I had attempted to email her she said she'd changed all the email addresses as she got fed up dealing with enquiries which was odd considering she'd told me the business wasn't there.
No, I think she just couldn't be bothered and had turned this once magnificent property in to something resembling a hippie squat. Her parents must be dismayed.
Ah well. I bade farewell and headed down to the beach via the Ranwelli hotel, the first place we stayed in on our original package tour holiday in 2013. 
That wasn't looking well occupied either with just a handful of guests in evidence in a once thriving business. Maybe the bombings had contributed but complacency and greed wouldn't have helped them either, they had been heading that way already. 
Ah well, the beach was much the same with many of the usual suspects so I spent and hour or so with the camera before heading back to Negombo.
Lesser Sand Plover  Charadrius mongolus
Lesser Crested Tern   Thalasseus bengalensis

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave, I'm really looking forward to reading this. Unfortunately it looks like my trip to Goa will have to be put on hold. Pat has just been given some bad news health-wise. We are waiting further tests and a treatment plan but the March trip isn't going to happen. Maybe we'll be following in your footsteps to Sri Lanka once again!
    Ian Hargreaves