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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Best View Ever
This hotel is a little way out of town and the road up to it is narrow and steep. The facilities are good, a nice hot shower, a big room. The breakfast was great; made to order a pleasant change from the usual buffet. Monkeys will watch you eat, in case you might drop anything. The wifi was good.
But the best thing about this hotel were the views. The view from the restaurant is wonderful, the view from the room terrace is amazing and the view in the morning as dawn breaks is exceptional!
This is undoubtedly the hotel with the best views that I have ever stayed in.
Of the 7 hotels, in which we stayed in Sri Lanka, this was the newest and the one we liked the least. It felt like an army barracks, the bathroom was bare concrete, the bed plinth was concrete, the seat outside the room was concrete. There was no wifi in the rooms and the wifi in the communal areas was intermittent.
There was no hot water in the shower in the morning.
The restaurant is open to outside and there were mosquitos in the evening. The food was mediocre.
Be careful if booking at the weekend, they do special offers for office parties to fill the rooms – it was quite raucous on the night we spent there. We sleep well, so it did not disturb us, but worth knowing if you plan to be there on a Friday or Saturday night.
It is within half an hour of Minneriya, Sigirya and Dembulla – all of which are amazing, but I do suspect there are other hotels in the vicinity which would have suited us better.
The hotel was built over a hundred years ago and even today is run to give you the experience of how it was to stay in smart hotels in days gone by. It does have modern conveniences, the bathroom and shower was hot and efficient, the wifi worked well, and there is TVs and DVD players in the room.
The overall experience of the hotel, right from turning in through the entrance gates is that of arriving at a colonial country house in days of yore. You are greeted in reception, told of the dress options for dinner, shown to your room – past the billiard rooms and magazine and book filled drawing room and library.
When we arrived back in our room from dinner there was even a hot water bottle in our bed!
Don’t come here if you want a sleek modern 21st century hotel, but if you would like a short break to step back in time, the Hill Club will give you an experience that will be difficult to match anywhere else.