BentotaDecember 25, 2016 in Sri Lanka
After the wash out of Polonnarura we decided to move back down south for some much needed sun and relaxation, as well as somewhere nice to be for Christmas.
Having already done a lot of the south we opted for Bentota, which was also only an hour from the airport/Colombo. We booked ourselves for one night into a cheap guesthouse so we could suss out the area before comitting. First impression was that Bentota was quite different to the other coastal areas of Sri Lanka we'd seen. More developed with big fancy resorts on the beach, yet nothing else on the beach and a huge spread of unspoilt sand. No restaurants and few loungers it was a surprising contrast. We realised the next morning (after a rough night in a poor guesthouse) that we wouldn't be able to afford to stay in those 5* resorts, so opted to stay in nearby Althugama, a busy town only a 10 minute walk from the beach. The town is on the Bentota river and we actually found a lovely affordable place to stay with it's on jetty on to the river, garden, swimming pool and balcony with a lovely view over the water. Perfect! After our 1st night here we quickly booked in for over Christmas and the rest of our time in Sri Lanka.
The first few days were purely relaxing. We were both knackered and I had been feeling quite run down (unknowingly to me starting to be taken down by a stomach bacterial infection, but didn't take properly hold until Singapore). But the few days of rest did wonders. We'd swim in the pool, relax, go to the beach then find a nice restaurant for dinner. Not a bad routine.
One day while walking to a popular spot to eat we were approached by a tuktuk driver, instantly we assumed he wanted something but then we struck up conversation and hit it off. He invited us over to his house for dinner and we went. A little appreshive to what we'd agreed to, we ended up in a local village sitting in his half build house while his wife cooked. We sat out on a concentrate veranda chatting, while Phil and Dilip (pretty funny they had such similar names) drank a bottle of whiskey between them. We exchanged stories and had a good laugh. We were then treated to a feast of curries and rice, which we ate the local way with our fingers (not an enjoyable process, I'll stick to a knife and fork in future). Much later, half sloshed he drove us back in his tuktuk. It was a bumpy ride and made even weirder with the sounds of Shaggy's 'it wasn't me' blasting out of his speakers as we weaved down the quiet streets. At one point Dilip just let go of the steering waving his arms and singing, I swiftly planted his hands back into the controls. Thankfully we made it in one peace and he didn't want a penny towards the evening. Quite a unique experience!
Dilip also does day tours and he is helping a teenager set up a river cruise business so he said he could come get us from the hotel jetty. We knew we wanted to explore the wide mangrove filled river so went with him the following morning.
The tour was great fun. It is an impressive river, very wide with islands and huge boulders. One of which we stopped at and climbed on, it was awesome to be out in the middle of the river and would have been quite the isolated sunbathing spot! Dilip cracked his usual jokes and said bye and started to drive the boat away. It was pretty funny but there was a split second when I thought that would be quite the scam, making off with my camera, bag and leaving us stranded... literally. But of course that didn't happen.
We stopped by some locals who are hand raising some baby crocodiles so they can be released back into the river. The eggs don't normally have a very good survival rate so this helps the population. At a few weeks old they were very small yet big enough they could do some damage. So naturally he put the baby crocodile on Phils head. Phil was so taken aback he just laughed and stayed fixed to the spot. Random! But they were sweet and was cool to hold them.
We made some others stops including a coconut farm where we learnt how they make items from the coconut shells including utensils and rope. As we moved on to the main event (going through the mangroves) we suddenly saw a huge crocodile sunning itself on a big rock. Dilip said that was a 'small' one which is pretty crazy as it looked so big to us! We got close then it swiftly disappeared into the water. This was not a boat I wanted to fall off...
And would you believe we saw a lot of locals swimming in the river, madness!
From here we entered into the mangrove area. Phil has had a desire to see mangroves up close for years, so he was incredibly excited and completely awe struck as we glided through the calm waters. We were surrounded with mangroves so large, maybe 10-12m tall and the roots above our heads. The sunlight dappled through and it is incredibly mystical, like going into a lost world. We stopped at one point and climbed up into the branches as they are incredibly strong and felt like monkies enjoying hanging amongst the trees.
That was most definitely the highlight of the tour and in fact the whole area. It was also exactly what Phil hoped it would be and we look forward to exploring more mangroves at some our later destinations.
That afternoon we decided to do with Dilip to the 'brief garden' where an eccentric architect used to live and had some impressive gardens which we enjoyed walking around. There were unusual sculptures and gorgeous landscaping which was nice to see.
For the rest of our time in Bentota we enjoyed relaxing. On Christmas eve we had a 4 course special dinner at one of the fancy beachfronted hotels, which we throughly enjoyed and was a great Christmas treat to ourselves. On Christmas day we went onto Bentota beach itself and enjoyed swimming in the sea, and making sand turtles. Truthfully it didn't feel very 'Christmassey' but we didn't mind too much. We just enjoyed another relaxed day together. Of course we Skyped home and really enjoyed seeing family open presents from us. It was nice not to miss that as we really enjoy seeing people open their gifts.
Over the following days we continued to relax, eat great food and meet people until we were due to leave for an airport hotel on the 27th (early flight on the 28th to Singapore). Now the night of the 26th I hadn't slept well, with a bad stomach and feeling bitten to death by mosquitos. I woke up early at 6am and looked down at my body to find I was covered in a thick raised red rash and that explained feeling more itchy than usual. I woke up Phil as minute by minute I was struggling to cope with the itching and it was spreading. We went down to find some hotel staff (well actually a family who run the hotel) and the mama swiftly bundled me into her car and drove us to a doctor. It didn't come a minute too soon as the itching was everywhere including my eyes and throat. She translated and a doctor swiftly gave some injection (admistered like you would a blood test, weird) and within minutes the itching stopped thankfully. I was then given a big bag of medicine and cream to help. We got back to the hotel and the kindness the family showed me was so heartwarming. I gave the mum (Priya) a huge hug and she refused to take any money for all the driving and insisted on dropping us at the train station. Such a lovely family that run the place there.
Not long after we left for the train back to Colombo. After this we travelled on to our hotel and ended up having an early night ready for our journey onwards to Singapore!