In my last post, W1702 – James Bond Island, I described a fabulous shore tour that Carol and I took from Phuket in Thailand by speedboat to see the iconic islands made famous in the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.
We then had two days at sea for some much needed recuperation before we arrived in Sri Lanka, where we had two ports of call on consecutive days. Our first port of call was at Hambantota on the east coast of the island.
We arrived at the port just after breakfast, and looking around as we sailed in confirmed what we suspected, that this was a small port in the middle of nowhere – not even the rows and rows of containers we so often see in ports. Two things however did stand out – two local drummers and a dancer performing on the quayside, and never before have I seen so many people on the quayside just standing around watching the gangplank being set up:
The tour I had selected to do from Hambantota did not leave until the afternoon, but having heard that you had to hire a tuk-tuk or taxi to the nearest small town, and that there was nothing to see when you got there, I elected to rest in the cool of the ship until then.
The tour I had chosen was a birdwatching safari to Bundala National Park. The park is an internationally important wintering ground for migrating birds in Sri Lanka, and was designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2005. Spread over 62 square kilometres, it is host to over 15,000 shorebirds at any given time between the months of August and April. As well as 149 different species of resident and migratory birds, the unique area of mudflats and lagoons is also home to elephants, deer, monkeys and wild buffalo.
There were just 16 of us on this exclusive tour, plus a representative from the ship’s crew and local guides who were also wildlife experts. We were taken by coach from the quayside to the outskirts of the National Park, and on the way we stopped several times beside the road in order to see some of the local birdlife. Our guide also told us about the park and about the local area, which was much affected by the tsunami in 2004.
Close to the park we transferred into three jeeps, each having having one or two local guides in the cab, and up to 6 of us sat high up in the rear. I was fortunate to get one of the seats at the front of the passenger area, and with the front window wide open had great views forward as well as to the open side of the vehicle.
We then set off into the park, sometimes travelling along tarmac roads that would suddenly become just gravel and rocks, and sometimes along earthen tracks. At the most distant part of the tour nearest the Indian Ocean, we drove along narrow banks between the lagoons of water, this was as the sun was setting and the light was fading. We were lucky enough to see plenty of fabulous birds and animals as we toured around, including a large bull elephant blocking the way right in front of us as it drank from a waterhole, and especially lucky to see a Black-necked Stork, as our guide told us there were only around 5 birds known to be in Sri Lanka. Here are a selection of the many photographs I took during the tour:
It was almost dark by the time we returned to the coach for the return drive to our waiting ship. We arrived there much too late for my fixed dinner time, so after a much needed refreshing shower and watching us set sail it took a call to room service to provide much needed sustenance.
We were setting sail for the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, where we would arrive early the following morning. My adventures there will be the subject of my next post.