Robin's Adventures

Sri Lanka
The Pearl of the Indian Ocean

The Adventure Begins

It wasn't easy to get to Sri Lanka. We spent 20 1/2 hours in airplanes and about six additional hours waiting around at airports. The whole journey, which covered about 10,390 miles, took more than a day. So, what drew us to this small island south of India that is often referred to as "the pearl of the Indian Ocean?"

Our two week adventure allowed us to explore ancient ruins, Buddhist and Hindu Temples, plantations with tea and spices, and the mining and processing of sapphires. Best of all, there were lots of elephants and monkeys along the way. Our journey took us through farming villages, small towns and a big city. As we walked along sandy beaches and wandered along mountain trails we found many new things to explore.

River Safari

After spending more than twenty hours in the air, we were ready for some serious sightseeing. We arrived at our hotel, but check in time wasn't for several hours and our tour didn't officially start until the following day. No problem. We managed to set up a half day river safari through the Hamilton Canal to the Negombo Lagoon.

We hopped on a small boat with a local guide and made our way down a series of narrow waterways that were rich in plant and animal life. As we made our way to the lagoon, we saw swampy areas, mangroves, and deep water environments with lots of birds, monkeys, and monitors. It was a relaxing journey with lots of interesting things to see.

Local Fishermen

It was interesting to see the local fishermen at work. The technique being used is called net casting and it involves throwing a small round net that has weights evenly distributed around the outside edge. As the net is hauled back it, the weights close the opening and fish are caught inside. One of the fishermen that we met was using this method to catch prawns and he proudly showed us his catch.

Fishing is for the Birds

Along the river there were many egrets and cormorants that were fishing for their breakfast.

The egrets will stand motionless in the water and when a fish goes by, the egret quickly grabs it with its long beak and swallows it whole. In the 19th century, women's hats adorned with egret feathers were very popular and the birds almost became extinct as a result. This practice was banned in 1910.

Cormorants have a long narrow hooked beak, webbing between their toes, and relatively short wings in order to help them dive and swim through the water to catch fish. They are excellent divers and use primarily their feet to move themselves through the water.

The White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) is an excellent fisherman and can snatch fish right out of the water. It also hunts turtles, sea snakes, and small birds and mammals.

Colorful Birds

Kingfishers are small and colorful birds that have been referred to as "pocket sized predators." They generally sit very still on a branch until a small fish comes close and then, with lightning speed, swoop down to ambush the fish. They have also been known to catch insects while in flight. We saw a Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopis capensis) and a White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis).

The blue tailed bee-eater is a colorful little bird that is fond of eating bees, wasps, and ants. They appear almost acrobatic as they capture their prey during flight. Then they hit the insect against a tree branch to tenderize it and remove the stinger. They swallow the insect whole, but later regurgitate the hard, indigestible parts as a small pellet.

Rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) mostly eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Farmers consider the birds pests because flocks can do significant damage to crops when they feed. We saw one that was emerging from a hole in a tree.

Indian mynas (Acridotheres tristis) are scavengers and will feed on insects, fruits, vegetables, and table scraps. These are loud noisy birds and they mate for life.

More Feathered Friends

Red-wattled Lapwings (Vanellus indicus) live on the ground and are actually incapable of perching. They mostly eat insects and snails. When they nest, they will soak their belly feathers in a nearby pond to cool the eggs during the heat of the day and to provide water for their chicks after they have hatched.

We also saw some Striated Heron (Butorides striatus) and some Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) hanging out near the river. These small herons camouflage well with their environment. They are ambush predators that stand near the water's edge and hunt for small fish, frogs, and aquatic insects. They sometimes cleverly use "bait" by dropping a small leaf or feather onto the surface of the water to attract fish.

The White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) digs through the mud in shallow waters to catch small fish and insects. It is interesting to note that the bottom of their body is very flat to allow them to move easily through reeds in the water.

Monkeys and Monitors

Toque Macaque monkeys (Macaca sinica) are only found on the Island of Sri Lanka and they live in forested habitats. They are social animals that live in small groups with a social class hierarchy.

Water Monitors (Varanus salvator), which can grow up nine feet in length, are considered to be the world's second largest lizard, smaller only than Indonesia's Kimodo dragon. They are semi-aquatic and very good hunters.

Hertance Negombo Hotel

Negombo is a small fishing town that is noted for its white sandy beaches and its lagoon marsh and wetland environments. We spent our first two nights in Sri Lanka at the Hertance Negombo Hotel.

Interesting Transportation

Although there were many modern vehicles, such as cars, on the roads of Sri Lanka, we also saw some very interesting forms of alternative transportation throughout the country.

Perhaps the most commonly used vehicle that we saw was the tuk tuk. Tuk tuks are three wheeled motorized vehicles that are sometimes referred to as "motorized rickshaws." They have a maximum speed of about 25 mph.

We also saw some interesting two wheeled tractor devices with a variety of different carts being towed behind them. This seemed like a very efficent way to haul things.

Saint Mary's Church

Located in the heart of downtown Negombo, Saint Mary's is one of the largest Christian churches in Sri Lanka. Although construction began in 1874, the church was not finally completed until 1922. The paintings on the ceiling, which depict the life of Christ, were done by a local Buddhist painter.