Friday 2 November 2018

Notes from a Travel Journal: Negombo and Monkey Island

In July, I upped sticks and spent a couple of weeks in Sri Lanka, exploring the country on a tour with G-Adventures.  As a solo traveller, this was a great opportunity for me: they're a company I have always had great service from, and being part of tour is a very easy way to get around, as well as providing you with a ready-made group of fellow travellers to hang with. Today's travel post is about the time we spent in Negombo on our first full day travelling together.

We spent the afternoon cruising the Dutch canals which interlace Negombo, in brightly coloured little boats. The canals are a little worn, left over from previous, colonial life, but they are still used by fishermen today and seabirds flocked around. 

After pootling up and down one canal, we headed out towards the sea and the mangrove islands, fringed with long-fingered roots reaching into the murky water. We spied herons waiting patiently to fish, large crabs caught in pens, a monitor lizard basking in the sun and sliding into the water, and it was lovely to be on the water with a bit of breeze brushing through the thick, humid air. The sky was overcast, but the brightly painted boats added a splash of colour as we slid past.

Out to sea, the skipper grounded our boat on a little sand dune in the middle of the water and offered us the chance to paddle. Hesitant at first, I did jump out into the cool water, only ankle deep, and splashed around. And then I splashed slightly less confidently when I came across a crab peering up at me impertinently through the shallows.

Once we were out and paddling, our guide produced a birthday cake for one of the group and a machete (optimistic) to cut it with. Balancing the cake on a stool in the water, the birthday girl did eventually manage to find a knife and we enjoyed a sing song and a slice of cake, standing bare foot and ankle deep in swamp water. It was a brilliantly surreal birthday moment; a contrast of traditions from 2 cultures, the wide shallow waters giving the appearance of a picnic on the sea's surface.

Back on the boat, we headed to Monkey Island. The clue really is in the name, and the captain pulled the boat up to the bank, pressing into the mangroves and rustling a packet of ice cream cones.

This brought the monkeys out in abundance, including mothers concealing tiny babies and inquisitive adolescents. They reached out politely to take their nibbles, but were soon careering through the trees squabbling over the morsels, and hopping onto the canvas roof of the boat to wrestle each other.

I stood on the back of the boat, balancing precariously and leaning on the roof to get a few pictures and a couple of the more adventurous monkeys came right up to peer in my lens. I think they must have been attracted by their own reflections but as they bounded towards me with unlimited enthusiasm, I withdrew in surprise, laughing and their boldness and daft antics. 

But I kept both hands firmly on my camera, which I refuse to give up to even the most impetuous of monkeys.

It was a lovely afternoon’s trip filled with laughter and sunshine and cool breezes and green swamps, and it put everyone in good spirits for the rest of the adventure ahead.

We rounded off the evening with a drink by the beach at the hotel - something involving gin, “passion” and lime, and then we ventured out for dinner at a restaurant called Lords (Lonely Planet recommended). Lords turned out to be run by a British chap and was loosely themed around cricket. The service was extremely slow but we weren’t in a hurry and that gave me chance to try the fish foot spa. That’s right folks, they had tanks of the feet-nibbling fish for restaurant guests to have a bash at. It was a tickly, slightly strange sensation but not unpleasant. No one else wanted to try so I had a go by myself, but after a long wait, dinner and complementary cocktails (for the long wait) the group seemed more up for it and we all had a go together.

With a tummy full of delicious curry, and a camera full of monkey pictures, it was time to catch up on a bit of shut-eye, ahead of the coming journey.

Kisses xxx

P.S. This blog post is part of my November travel series; I'm spending the month documenting some of the trips I've taken this year, sharing extracts from my travel journal and my photos. My aim is to do this for each day in November as a personal challenge, to get photos and words put together and record some of my favourite experiences from the year. As the weather turns chilly, it's a lovely feeling to curl up in doors and reminisce about travels past, and plot travels for the future.

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