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.

 

 

 

 

London City Airport, Silvertown, London

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If you are going for a short getaway, this is the place to fly from. It is 20 minutes on public transport from London Bridge to the check-in desks, and it is even less from the city. Once you arrive, unless you are unlucky, it will be no more than 10 minutes from station to airside. This airport really shortens your travel time, important if you are only having a few days away.

When you check in, try to get a window seat because the views of London from take off are spectacular.  The runway is straight in the direction of the city and the planes fly relatively low over town. This provides passengers with a better prospect of the London skyline than the London Eye, The Shard and the Skygarden combined.  If you are lucky enough to have an evening flight arriving into the airport, on your return, you will have an added bonus of the approach into London’s glittering city lights and the glistening river Thames. The takeoff and landing views are worthy of being a London attraction all by themselves.

All in all, London City Airport provides a truly premium experience and should be considered, if you are visiting London and planning a short side trip away.

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Reflected in glory

Yesterday we visited the Recoleta Cemetery where for 200 years the great and the good of Buenos Aires have competed to build the most ornate mausoleums in stone and marble.

I loved the way that with a little care it’s possible to capture a brief vignette of the architecture and stained glass reflected in the glass of doorways used by relatives to visit their ancestors.

These are my favourite photos of the day.

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Hobbiton, North Island, New Zealand


Unsurprisingly photogenic!


 This is a well organised tour, the sets look just as they do in the films. You will leave this day with many great photos. We booked by phone in advance because the site says that it is often difficult to get tickets if they turn up at the shires rest. As it happens there were people managing to get tickets on the day as they arrived while we were there and this was on a bank holiday weekend.


 The beer and the cider in the Green Dragon are good too!


Thoroughly recommended.

Whale Watch, Kaikoura

 This isn’t the cheapest of the many tours in Kaikoura, but we enjoyed it and found it to be good value for money.

We liked the fact that if you don’t see a whale, they will refund 80% of the ticket. We reckoned that meant they must be pretty confident and indeed it turned out be the case.

We saw a sperm whale very close, and many many dolphins, also albatross. The guides were witty and informative. They do warn about seasickness and there were some who were but I recommend this trip heartily.

  
  
   

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

This is a big varied garden just across the road from the river. It has grassy knolls overlooking lotus filled lakes, tree filled areas and nice views over the city.
It is beautifully maintained and it is possible to take a gondola ride around the lake. (They don’t sing opera, though!)

  
  
  
Make sure you walk up the hill to Guilfoyle’s Volcano, which has a fantastic collection of succulents and cacti around it. A nice day out from city sight-seeing.

Chinese garden of friendship, Sydney. 

These gardens are right between Chinatown and Darling Harbour. There is a small entry fee but with this you are allowed to enter as many times as you like during the day. It is a lovely, calm garden with, carp, birds, waterfalls and statues. Right in the midst of the the hectic city of Sydney. As such, it add a nice new dimension to this vibrant city. Take a step away and enjoy some moments of calm in the Chinese garden of friendship while visiting Sydney.