An Afternoon on the Bentota River, Bentota, Sri Lanka

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Seneka, our driver, said “I have a cousin who has a boat, for US$10 he will take you out on the river. For another US$10 his brother will show you everything and act as a guide. His English is very good. There is lots to see.” So, we agreed to go.
 

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Our boat arriving to pick us up

 
We had hardly left the shore when we saw a water monitor, at least two metres long, sunning herself in the garden of a riverside house. I was impressed. Our guide was less so “Water monitors, there are many, look in the trees” I looked up, indeed in the branches almost directly above our heads, there they were – just as big. I was less impressed and more nervous now. “Don’t worry” he said “They have no interest in people. Oh look! A chameleon.”
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And there it was, showing off, changing colour as we watched, becoming less green and more stick coloured as it moved away from the leaves. Dotted along the banks of the river were jetties, some with boats some without. One had a man sitting on it, with a baby crocodile beside him. “Is that a crocodile?” Michael asked. “Oh yes, it’s his pet”. We pulled up. “Would you like to hold him? It’s quite safe” The baby crocodile was thrust into Michael’s hands before he could refuse. I was secretly very pleased my hands were full with the camera at that point.
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“Will they keep him as a pet?” I asked. “Oh no, he will go away before he gets big, we will see very big ones soon” The river is wide but we stayed close to the edge because crocodiles like to be submerged in the shallow water and the shade, away from the afternoon sun. Michael had the camera again and was on the water side of the boat watching out for the crocodiles. I was on the side near the bank. I noticed the boat driver gesticulating at me. “Duck your head down low, now!” Michael said, in an ominously calm, yet urgent, tone of voice. I complied immediately. I looked back as I did so and I was confronted with a Green Vine Snake less than a foot away from my face.
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I paled, but I did not scream or jump out of the boat. I’m proud of that. Michael leant in  to take a photo. Our guide announced “It’s a Green Vine Snake; very pretty, but it is poisonous.” Michael leant away again. “It’s not interested in us, it mostly eats frogs and lizards.”  I obviously appeared horrified. “Oh look, Bee Catcher Birds” he said pointing upward.
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There were a pair in the tree above our head. They do actually eat bees, they pull out the sting and then eat the rest whole. These larger Blue Tailed Bee Catchers also eat wasps. The wasps in Sri Lanka can be very large and dangerous. His distraction worked. The snake was forgotten.
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The next strange thing was the shop, on stilts, in the middle of the river. Nothing near it, and no customers, but it was definitely a shop. It appeared to sell coconuts, fruit, soft drinks and boxed groceries. It seemed rude to question why it was there, so I didn’t ask. Soon after this we began to see the crocodiles. We saw four or five, but they were hard to photograph, partly because we didn’t want to go too near and partly because they stayed mostly submerged in the cool water – out of the warm sun.
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On the way back we saw Giant Fruit Bats. They really do look like the batman motif when they fly and they are surprisingly big.
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We took a shortcut through the mangrove forest on the way back, which was pretty but eerie. It made us very happy that we had remembered to use our mosquito repellent before we set off.
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We saw egrets, ducks and herons. We also saw a mongoose that was too quick for us to photograph. In total we spent about two hours on the water, we had a fantastic time. It was a great introduction to Sri Lanka, after all this was still our first day there.
Photos courtesy of Michael Jolly.
 
 
 
 

Manchester Museum, Manchester

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Manchester Museum has got such a wide variety of exhibits that any visitor is likely to find something that they find fascinating. It is particularly good at providing a story behind the items it has on display.
It contains the skeleton of the elephant that walked from Edinburgh to Manchester. It has a, stuffed and mounted, Tigon that lived in Manchester zoo. It has a beautiful, live, Panther Chameleon. It even has some gilded bees!
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It is free to enter, with plenty of helpful staff. It is surprisingly large and did not feel crowded even though there were many people there on the Friday morning that I visited.
There is a very good and interesting Egyptology section with various mummies and a granite head of Rameses II.
It is well worth a visit if you have a couple of hours to spare when you are in Manchester. I really enjoyed it.
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Natural History Museum, London


The Natural History Museum is holding a series of special events on Friday evenings throughout the summer. Each one is different but I suspect that all of them will be awesome! I went to the butterfly ball, which had a number of talks and exhibitions about moths and butterflies. The people involved clearly love what they do, they were interesting and entertaining, we got up close and personal with moths, butterflies, spiders, snakes…
It is a fantastic experience to be in the museum at night, great to be able to wander around the normal exhibits with a drink from the bar. It is a very relaxed way to view the museum … and there are no school parties to contend with.
The talks are wonderful, the general exhibition is amazing, but even if the whole place was empty the building itself is staggeringly beautiful. Think Hogwarts on steroids! It’s incredible that even with the brilliant things on show here, that the ceilings, arches and floors can contend for your attention.
As you can probably guess, I have been struggling for superlatives to describe my night.
Go for the event, go for the general exhibition or just go for the architecture!

 

Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

This will never look the same on different days, today the low cloud cover gave it a brooding dark appearance. I’m told it can seem brilliant and shiny when in direct sunlight.
The closest view is about a thirty minute walk each way from the car park. This will be different in different seasons and dependent on the weather. It is not an easy walk; quite steep and lots of loose scree. However it is not without attractions; through the steep cliffs that the glacier has carved out over the centuries.
Glaciers are not pretty things, looking dirty and rough, but one can’t help but be in awe of something that can clear mountains out its way. It is also interesting to see how much it has receded since 1750.