Sri Lanka. High on my places to visit list for a long time. I’m not even sure how or why I picked it as a destination, but after my family told me they’d be going on a cruise for Christmas, I couldn’t help myself and booked another trip in no time.
I think most people will fly into Colombo and it is actually a quite decent airport. Fill your immigration forms beforehand and try to get there quick. I was actually lucky and needed about 3 minutes to get through, but other people had other experiences. One thing’s for sure, the humidity hits you like a wall. Coming from Europe’s winter, I was used to -5° C and was still wearing jeans and a sweater too. Not for long, that’s for sure.
The airport is actually closer to Negombo than Colombo, but most trips and tours start from there, so you’ll end up taking a taxi from the airport, which took about an hour through traffic. Our hotel was far far away from the city center though, which somehow happens a lot with tour providers. A Tuk Tuk ride to downtown took a good 25 minutes, but cost only about 2 Euros. As a tip, there’s the app Pick Me, which works like Uber for Tuk Tuks!
I was warned, so it didn’t catch me by surprise, but you don’t find that much to do and see in Colombo. As I was too lazy to find myself around on the very first day, I booked a tour with a local guide and ended up with two lovely Australian ladies on a Tuk Tuk tour.
The tour took us through the Hindu Shri Ponnambalawaneswaram Kovil temple, where you can find beautiful stone carvings inside. We were able to speak to a few people and got a glance of how friendly and open minded Sri Lankans would be on my whole trip.
Other stops on the tour are the famous Gangaramaya Temple, where they have a hair relic of the Buddha and a quite nice collection of classic cars in the basement, as well as Wolvendaal Church, a dutch church built in the mid 1700’s!
After meeting my very international group in the evening, we started our trip with a short visit to downtown Colombo again, where we walked across a big market. You wouldn’t find too many fruits or veggies there, rather loads and loads of clothes, bags, toys, used electronics of all kind and everything else that gets thrown away by our first world society. On one hand it is funny to see all these old cell phones, computers, printers, etc., but on the other side I’m happy someone finds use for it. The market is still interesting and if you keep your eyes open, you’ll find a few good snaps.
Negombo is only a short one hour drive from Colombo, as you can use one of the small number of highways to get there. In general, highways is nothing you should expect and mostly you’ll go on two lane roads with an average speed of 50-60 km/h. Our driver was a master in passing cars, Tuk Tuks and other tour busses.
Just south of Negombo you’ll find a beautiful lagoon. Covered tour boats will take you around and even though it’s hot, the roof really helps and gives you some shade. The lagoon has extensive mangrove swamps and attracts a wide variety of water birds including cormorants, herons, egrets, gulls, terns and other shorebirds (Wikipedia).
We were visiting on one of the public holidays, so all the fishing boats were in dock and you couldn’t take your eyes – or camera that is for me – off the beautiful and colorful painted ships.
The boat ride took about 1.5 hours with a short break in the middle, where our two captains served watermelon and drinks. We stopped close to a mangrove and could actually walk in the water, as the spot was very shallow. The people living and fishing in the area seemed very friendly and I was actually able to capture a few nice smiles.
I’m not a bird watcher, so I can’t judge how interesting the area is, but there was a lot going on if you just wanted to test your wildlife and photography skills. With my new Fujifilm X-T3, the focus was very responsive and the 55-200 lens got me close enough to make this a fun target practice.
On the program for the next morning was a visit to the local fish market at the beach. You could smell it from far away and it didn’t get better as you got closer. One of our girls on the group carried a can of Wick Vaporub and it was a well sought item before getting in. As I learned later on the trip, Vaporub can actually cure almost anything, including mosquito bite itches. Don’t look for scientific test results on that statement!
Our guide was a former fisherman, who’s now taking tourists around the market, explaining how fish gets caught, dried, cut, gutted and sold. He had a few interesting stories and if you can take the smell, it is really worth a visit.
Most of the workers will first give you a bit of an unfriendly look, as probably a lot of tourists pass by every day and most likely don’t buy any fresh fish to bring on the tour bus, but if you manage to talk to them or friendly ask before you take a photo, most of them are actually pretty open and give you a nice smile!
I personally found the preparation area a lot more interesting than the market itself, but you get to see all kind of fish and if you find a booth were the guy is slicing a big tuna, it is a bit of a show.
Part 2 – Sigiriya will follow soon.