There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 30 January 2015

Kataragama and the Yala National Park: Part 12 of Sri Lanka, Isle of Serendip


Leaving Sinharaja we started the long journey down from the rainforest, the narrow road twisting and turning as it descended to the plain.

Around one o'clock we paused for a refreshing coconut and by half past we were on the fast road across the southern plain we had used yesterday. We paused for a late lunch at a plush hotel near the Udawalawa National Park which proved that opulent surroundings do not always mean superior food. Lynne, still feeling queasy, opted for a chicken sandwich (were those thin slimy slices from a packet really chicken?) while I had a steak baguette (I do not know why, it was as tough as every other piece of beef in Sri Lanka.)

In the national park the same elephant was still trapped between the fence and the lake and the same youths were selling 'mango, elephant lunch'. Further on we saw elephants in the distance living more as nature intended.
Elephants in the Udawalawa National Park

We continued eastward to Tissamaharama (known as Tissa), a small town with a large white dagoba beside an artificial lake. Our hotel’s address was Tissa but Ravi turned north towards Kataragama some twenty kilometres away. Our itinerary for the day included the Kataragama shrine but it was late and Ravi had said earlier that it would be better to go there in the morning. When we were within five kilometres of Kataragama I began to wonder.

Possibly a pied kingfisher
Between Udawalawa and Tissa
'No,' Ravi said, 'your hotel is here.' He slowed as he scanned the sign boards by the roadside. Eventually be found what he was looking for but seemed uncertain if the sign was really pointing down the bumpy track behind. Deciding it was he started to turn right without noticing a motorcyclist bearing down on us. I do not know if my 'hold on!' made any difference but he stamped on the brakes leaving just enough space to for the motorcyclist to squeeze through. With his own brakes full on and not totally in control the rider missed the space and clipped the wing of the car. Ravi wound down the window. I hoped the motorcyclist would use angry words rather than fists, but as he took off his helmet I could see he was laughing. After an unaccountably jovial exchange he puttered off and we completed the last hundred metres of our journey.

Despite the scruffy entrance, the hotel was new, clean…. and empty.

Southern Sri Lanka
We left Sinharaja and crossed the southern plain to Tissa and Kataragama
We ordered dinner at check-in. Tired of rice and curry, and very tired of chicken, I chose a fried fillet of fish with green beans and potatoes while Lynne, still a little under the weather, went for soup.

When dinner time came the whole staff (young, inexperienced but very keen) had only us to look after so the service was attentive, to say the least. I had two fillets, either side, of a fish much smaller than a swordfish, but with a similar taste and texture. It was a little overcooked and the garlicky green beans were a little under and a touch squeaky on the teeth but the potato wedges were perfect, roasted to crispy perfection outside and soft fluffiness within. Lynne’s soup was fine and despite its faults the meal made a pleasant change

There was nothing to do then but retire to our large and well-appointed bedroom. Lynne turned in at 8.45 leaving me with plenty of time to read.


In the morning we discovered we did not have the entire hotel to ourselves when two interlopers turned up for breakfast. Lynne, still fretting about her stomach, settled for toast while I accepted the offer of soggy pancakes, though with little enthusiasm. Then Ravi turned up and they brought him hoppers which had not been offered to us.

After breakfast we made the short trip to Kataragama.

Kataragama is the name of a small town, a large shrine and a God. He is the patron deity (or at least one of them) of Sri Lanka and Ravi said that when his travels brought him here he liked to do Puja - if we did not mind. We didn't.
Outside the shrine, Kataragama

The Buddha never claimed to be a god or a prophet and Buddhism, despite its cosmology and belief in re-incarnation, is essentially a philosophy more than a religion. Many Buddhists, though, apparently feel the need for a god or gods. Kataragama is a Hindu god; Puja, the making of an offering, usually of food, is a Hindu practice. Ravi, however, is clear in his own mind that he is a Buddhist. And the shrine we were going to visit? Well, that has something for everyone - there is even a mosque.

The shrine is large and the car park quite a way from it. We had walked a small distance when rain started to fall. It was heavy, but brief and we sheltered under a tree.

Once the rain stopped we passed an interesting notice, which I reproduce without comment,…

No Comment

… and progressed up a wide avenue lined with stalls. Grey langur monkeys ran behind the stalls or sat on the fence dividing the secular avenue from the sacred parkland.
Grey langurs relax on the fence, Kataragama

At the last stall Ravi stopped to buy flowers and deposit shoes.
Ravi buys flowers, Kataragama

We entered the enclosure of the Kiri Vihara. a dagoba originally built in the 6th century but, as usual in Sri Lanka, has been rebuilt so many times its actual age is anybody's guess.
Kiri Vihara, Kataragama
Ravi went to present flowers to the Buddha image and insisted that we had a lotus blossom each so that we too could make an offering.
Lynne makes an offering at Kiri Vihara, Kataragama
From the dagoba an avenue of soft sand (our bare feet were grateful) led up to a cloister surrounding the temple of Kataragama and two smaller temples.
Ravi enters the cloistered enclosure, Kataragama
Inside the cloister Ravi went to buy the offerings for his Puja and suggested we have a look around. We had not gone far when we were hailed by a thin elderly man in white robes sitting in the shade of the cloister. He wanted to know where we came from and as he was sitting with a sheaf of notes and a large English dictionary on this knee, he was delighted to have someone to practice his English on. He had visited England and America, he said and was an avid listener to the BBC World Service. He was certainly well-informed and felt the need to explain his solutions to all the world's problems, working through Ukraine, Syria and how to deal with the Chinese. Although undoubtedly eccentric, his heart was in the right place.

After his lengthy monologue he showed us what he was writing and asked for suggestions to improve the English. We were unsure whether he was composing an advertisement to find free accommodation for a student, or for himself or perhaps writing with an altogether more spiritual interpretation of 'accommodation'. We made some suggestions which he noted and then Ravi re-appeared bearing a cardboard box containing among other things, flowers, a coconut and a pineapple. 'Coming for Puja?' he asked, shooting a suspicious glance at our new friend.

We got up from our perch on the cloister and I shook hands with the venerable sage though, given his holiness, he was less keen to shake a woman's hand. 'Was he after money?' Ravi asked as we followed him to the temple. 'No,' we said, 'only enlightenment.'

Lynne and the Venerable Sage not shaking hands, Kataragama
We joined the queue for Puja, a dozen people along the side of the locked temple. As the queue began to build a large and officious man came and hooked us and a couple of other Europeans out. We repositioned ourselves at the front of the temple and waited patiently. The same officious man soon moved us back and strung a rope across to keep us there. Lynne went to sit in the shade while I hung about unobtrusively.

Puja queue, Kataragama
A bell started clanging and a group of monks processed from the adjacent monastery bearing something hidden but obviously holy. They disappeared into the temple, the door closed behind them and the Puja queue continued to wait.

Carrying something holy, Kataragama
Another group of monks processed across, one with his ears and mouth covered with cloth.

Monk with his mouth and ears covered, Kataragama
A red carpet was unrolled from the monastery to the temple and after several more processions I was beginning to wonder if Puja would ever start.

Something holy on a red carpet, Katagarama
My thinking was disturbed by a major clanging of bells. The doors were flung open and the queue lurched forward, though not far, it was a small temple and only a few could fit in. A different official with a more pleasant demeanour came over and beckoned me to follow him. I called Lynne over from her refuge in the shade and he led us back to the Puja queue. After the next clang and shuffle we found ourselves tucked in at the rear of the temple.

There was little to see inside the small, darkened temple. There were a few images, but whatever holy artefacts had been brought in during the processions remained covered. Most importantly, we were in, the only Europeans there, and we were duly thankful to Ravi whose hand was clearly behind it. Along with the faithful, we were blessed as holy water was sprinkled over all, then the priest went round smearing ash to everyone’s foreheads and finally we all received a gift of food, a small parcel of spiced dhal - much tastier than a communion wafer.

As we filed out our benefactor grabbed us and led us into the space between two temples and gestured that we should sit on the wall. He disappeared and returned moments later with a machete and two coconuts. At coconut stalls we always used the straws provided though many locals did not bother. There is a knack to drinking straight from the coconut, and if I had had that knack I would have spilt less on my shirt. As we finished Ravi arrived with a conspiratorial grin on his face and more fruit in his hand.
A school party at the Kataragama shrine wearing the universal all-white school uniform.
Dresses with ties? Yes, that is the rule.
We shared some watermelon and a pineapple with Ravi and his friend and then, with juice still on our faces, retraced our steps through the complex. To complete the symmetry there was another short sharp rain shower as we left, and another tree to shelter under. From Sinharaja rainforest in the southwest we had crossed the island to the extreme southeast; it was monsoon season in the northeast, so I suppose we were catching the edge of the monsoon rains.

Retracing our steps past the flower sellers Kataragama
We drove south to Tissa stopping at a hotel beside the big white dagoba, a good place for lunch, Ravi said.

There was a wedding in progress and the dining room was unavailable so we were directed to a bare and unattractive overspill room.

I was bored with chicken, beef is always tough and I did not fancy fish so I ordered an egg curry which came with noodles. I questioned my wisdom as I ordered it, but it was cheap and a change. It was also wrong; egg curry and noodles is a match made somewhere other than heaven. Lynne's plate of chips, a heap of comfort food, possibly indicated that a return to digestive health was on its way.
Curried egg and noodles - a poor combination and a poor choice

Lunch over, we waited in the car park for the jeep that was to take us to the Yala National Park. The wedding celebrations were continuing outside and the men were dancing, not all looking entirely sober, while the women sat in a circle tutting at them – or so it looked to me.

The sightseeing vehicles in the Yala National Park are converted jeeps with bench seats for six or more perched on the back; more than enough space for the two of us, and Ravi.
A bumpy ride to the Yala National Park
The drive to the park was brief and we bounced along with a good view over the surrounding countryside. We were still outside the park when we saw probably the most exciting animal of the day, a pair of jackals sitting in the grass barely fifty metres from the road.

Jackals outside the Yala National Park
Shame about the power line, but there was no way to move it!
At the park entrance we discovered we were back to the £16 individual entrance fees and as much again for the vehicle - and the hire charge for that would come later. It was no cheap day out. A sign said cards were accepted, so to avoid being cleaned out of cash I waved mine at them. This caused much head-shaking in the office, and a murmur of discontent in the queue behind me, but they coped. I make no apology for my small contribution to dragging them into the modern world – if they want to charge these fees they had better get used to it.

Yala is a wonderful place. Almost 1000km² in area, it has been a nature reserve since 1900 and has a rich biodiversity with 44 different mammals including many elephants and some 200 leopards, reputedly 1 per km² in the sector open to the public, the greatest concentration anywhere..

An as yet identified bird of prey, Yala National Park
That is the good news. The bad news is that no-one is going to see a leopard. The Rough Guide says ‘they have become …habituated to .. humans and … stroll fearlessly along the tracks in the park..’ Maybe that was once true but the government is using the park as a cash cow and there are far too many jeeps rattling around the often dusty but today muddy dirt roads. As word passes round that something can be seen at a certain watering hole, or in such a tree they all converge on the spot causing jams of snarling diesels on roads often too narrow for two vehicles to pass. No self-respecting leopard sticks around for that.
Egret and Ibis, Yala National Park

We saw mammals; buffalo, deer and wild pigs - one bounded across the road right in front of us -….
Wild Pigs, Yala National Park

…and mongooses (that is the correct plural), were common, as they are everywhere in Sri Lanka.’

Mongoose, Yala National Park

Monitor lizards, only slightly smaller than the mongooses, were also plentiful.

Peacock, Yala National Park
We saw ibis, egrets and peacocks by the dozen. It is always strange to see what we think of as an ornamental parkland bird in the wild - those tails seem a serious hindrance.

Peacock in a tree, Yala National Park
Those tails are something of a struggle
Several areas were alive with bee-eaters. Green bee-eaters are hardly rare, but they are pretty little birds and although rarely still, one kindly posed for me.

Small green bee-eater, Yala National Park
We spent the whole afternoon wandering round looking for certain animals and usually finding something else. At the first hint of dusk most of the jeeps bolted for the exit, but our driver set off in the opposite direction. I had not realised we were so near the coast until we arrived at an isolated bay.
We reach a clearing by the coast, Yala National Park
 There was nothing to see there apart from the bay itself, but that was justification enough.
At the coast, Yala National Park
Then we too made for the exit. Just before leaving the park we saw a huge hornbill in a tree right in front of us. Like Sinharaja, Yala had kept its best to last, but also like Sinharaja I have to rely on Thimundu and Wikipedia for a photograph.

Malabar pied hornbill
Photographed by Thimundi, sourced from Wikipedia
 We returned to the hotel in Tissa where we had eaten lunch and paid off the jeep driver. Ravi thought we should eat there, but we demurred and once he had picked up his laundry -  so that was why he was so keen to go there - we drove to a restaurant a little way up the road towards Kataragama. I had devilled fish which made a change while Lynne had a rather un-Sri Lankan French onion soup, then we made our way back to our hotel and our life of solitary splendour.

Sri Lanka, The Isle of Serendip

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Sinharaja Rainforest: Part 11 of Sri Lanka, Isle of Serendip


The next morning we set off down the Ella Gap towards the southern coastal plain.

Down the Ella Gap
 Our journey had broken neatly into three parts, first the 'Cultural Triangle' in the north central part of the island, then the Highlands in the south centre and now the southern plain. We had avoided the far north and east of the island partly because this is the majority Tamil area where the aftermath of the civil war is most keenly felt - though it is now safe to visit - but mostly because of the weather. Sri Lanka is a small island (4 times the size of Wales, or a bit smaller than Scotland if you prefer) but has two distinct climate zones - in January monsoon rains still fall on the northeast while in the south and west it is the dry season.

Southern Sri Lanka (Locations relevant to this post are marked in red)
Reaching the plain we turned west on one of the main roads across the island and made good time. 

The temperature had risen considerably since leaving the highlands, but speeding along in air-conditioned comfort we hardly noticed. Passing the Udawala National Park we stopped to look at ibis, egrets and pelicans squabbling around a pond.
Pelicans, Ibis and Egrets, Udawala National Park

Further along, an elephant had strayed onto the neck of land between the park fence and a lake. Cars, and buses were stopping and young men were approaching visitors with the cry 'mango, elephant lunch!'

The beast had been lured into this spot and effectively trapped so that a gang of youths could profit from selling ‘elephant food’ – against the rules of the national park. We declined to buy a mango, but could not resist the photo op.
Unfortunate elephant, Udawala National Park

Beyond the park we turned north, pausing for petrol at the small town of Godakawela and using the ATM in the garage forecourt.  From here we took a minor road which climbed steadily back into the foothills of the highlands.

Spotting some clove trees Ravi stopped. I prefer to use dried cloves in moderation, the flavour can overwhelm and not always pleasantly. Fresh from the tree, though, green cloves have a powerful sweetness and chilli-like heat with none of the unhappy overtones of dried cloves - pure delight.

Hey, look, there's cloves on this tree!
 Further on and higher up it started to rain. Having made generalisations about Sri Lanka’s climate, I must now note some exceptions. Parts of the island are surprisingly arid, while a small area in the south west sees rain all year round. We were heading for Sinharaja, 82km² of virgin rainforest, saved from logging by its inaccessibility and now a forest park and UNESCO world heritage site.

Cloves, fresh, green, undried and utterly lovely
We soon reached the Blue Magpie Lodge just outside the park entrance. Holding up umbrellas, the staff clustered round the car, grabbed our cases and led us to a room in one of the long, low wooden huts surrounding the central grassy area.

With a concrete floor, wooden walls and a wooden table and chair the room was Spartan, as was the bathroom, though it had all that was needed. A sign even promised hot water from 6.30 to 10 in the evening and 'in the early morning'.

We had been forewarned that the Blue Magpie would be basic, but it was clean and entirely adequate. We washed our hands in cold water and dashed through the rain to the open-sided thatched hall that was the communal dining area. Although there was a scattering of houses outside the lodge, a hamlet rather than a village, there were no facilities and we were on full-board.

Dining area, Blue Magpie Lodge, Sinharaja
Lunch was served as soon as a party of a dozen or more British birders returned from wherever they had been bothering the local avifauna. Unsurprisingly it was a rice and curry buffet, but pleasant enough.

Afterwards we left the birders looking through books, arguing about identifications and ticking birds off lists and retired to our room. Outside the rear window was a feeding station, where watermelon rinds and coconut husks attracted both birds and stripy bushy-tailed squirrels. The birds were mostly pigeons, smaller and more colourful than the wood pigeons that infest our garden at home. Suddenly another bird rose from a low branch. It was a startling brilliant white, like gloss paint, a little smaller than a blackbird with an elegant tail several times its body length. It flapped into the air, body and tail moving sinuously, until it grabbed whatever morsel it had risen to catch, then settled back onto the nearest branch. We watched as it repeated the performance again and again. It was, by far, the most exotic bird we have ever seen.

Squirrel on the bird feeder, Sinharaja rainforest
(because I failed to get any pictures of the birds)
Returning to the dining area we set our sights on another bird feeder. There was a greater variety here - though the people who could identify them were donning their waterproofs and heading out into the rain - but there was nothing like the shimmering white wraith we had been watching before.

After the birders left, the rain eased and then stopped. We set out for a stroll and were soon accosted by two small boys who asked our names and tried out their rudimentary English. Their names were long and unpronounceable, at least by us. Sinhalese personal and place names can be of extraordinary length and native speakers often appear to become bored half way through; the ends of long words becoming the verbal equivalent a squiggle at the end of a signature. 

The houses looked well-built and prosperous but we wondered why people who live on a sun-drenched island should choose to live in the only place where it is always raining, about to rain, or has just stopped raining.

The hamlet outside the Bue Magpie Lodge, Sinharaja
On the way back we were passed by a truck loaded with tea. It stopped to drop off a woman and the two lads we had spoken to earlier climbed into the back. It was the school run, of sorts.
The school run, Sinharaja

We passed the rest of the afternoon chatting with Ravi and making some notes before all the residents reassembled in the dining hall in the evening. The birders covered their tables with books and laptops as photos were downloaded, additions made to lists and discussions held about what they had and had not seen.

We found ourselves seated by a young French Canadian on a five month solo tour of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia before returning home to embark on a PhD. He had spent much of the last year cataloguing arctic birds, so he too was an expert birder, if a little out of his area. We described the graceful white wisp of a bird we had seen and he knew exactly what it was. Leafing through one of his books he found a picture of a paradise flycatcher. The species is polymorphic, the common form being reddish while we had been fortunate to see the rarer brilliant white version.
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Photo by Munish Jauhar, sourced from Wikipedia
This one was photographed in northern India - ours had only a small patch of darker colouring on its head
Predictably, dinner was rice and curry. Given the limited repertoire we were happy it was our last main meal there. Dessert was buffalo curd and treacle, the first time we had encountered this Sri Lankan favourite. The curd was not unlike Greek yogurt, and pouring on the thick product of the island’s cane sugar industry completed an unexpected pleasure.

In the morning the sun was shining, though the overnight rain had left humidity hanging in the air and mist clinging to the trees.

Mist clinging to the trees, Sinharaja rainforest
Last night’s curry and rice had upset Lynne so she made do with bread and jam, but it had done me no harm so I enjoyed a spicy omelette.

The surrounding hamlet had no shops so travelling tradesmen made morning calls, music blasting from their tuk-tuks. The baker announced his arrival with Disney’s 'It's a Small World After All' while the swelling melody of 'Swan Lake' was a slightly surreal call from the grocer.
Ready to set off in unexpected sunshine

Ravi drove us the short distance to the park where we paid the entrance fee (more modest than some we have encountered recently) and engaged the services of a local guide. Intending to walk out for an hour along the main path and then return the same way, the guide was not for navigational purposes but we hoped a park ranger would be able to spot and identify birds and animals we would miss on our own. Sinharaja means ‘Lion Kingdom’ though there are, of course, no lions and the probability of seeing any of the 15 resident leopards was vanishingly small there was still the potential to see much of interest.

Tundu, our ranger, told us was it would not rain that morning. Showing remarkable (and, as it turned out, well placed) trust we returned our rainwear to the car.

We had walked a very short distance when he proved his value, spotting this rather cute female green garden lizard from the far side of the path despite it being camouflaged and motionless.
Green Garden lizard (female) Sinharaja Rainforest
We spotted the very obvious giant wood spider ourselves. Lynne claims that this spider is not horrific because its body and legs are in proportion. Maybe she has a point, but had I blundered into such a web with such a denizen my reaction would probably have involved a little mild panic. This would not be arachnophobia, that is an irrational fear of spiders; according to Tundu said this one's bite was 'slightly poisonous' so my fear is entirely rational.

Giant Wood Spider, Sinharaja
Tundu then saw a male green garden lizard to go with his earlier female.
Green garden lizard (male) Sinharaja rainforest

We followed the track as it rose through the trees, crossing many lively little streams bubblingly full of fresh rainwater.

The Sinharaja Rainforest
Tundu was good on vegetation as well as animals. He showed us bright yellow hibiscus, and spiky lianas and described their uses in traditional medicine. Had Tarzan been a Sri Lankan resident his preferred method of locomotion (which in any case defies the laws of physics) would have shredded his hands.

Looking down I saw something about size of a match torn from a book of matches end-over-ending its way up my trouser leg. I brushed it off. Then I realised there was another on my sock. 'Leeches, ' said Tundu, knocking that one off too. 'Tuck your trouser legs into your socks.'
Here is a picture of some fungi - they are less ugly than leeches
We did as advised. Ravi, who had joined us on this walk, tucked his sharply creased dark trousers into short black socks above shiny black shoes; an incongruously urban look in a jungle setting. Tundu’s leech socks, closely woven and as impenetrable as chain mail, reached almost to his knees We had read about the advisability or otherwise of leech socks before leaving home. 'Leeches can be a problem after rain,' we had learned, which here means always, but we had, naively, assumed that if we were not wading through streams there would be no difficulty; we had not expected them to be tiny things jumping up off rocky paths.

Ravi - a little too urban for the rainforest?
The only other thing we saw before the ridge was a giant millipede, indeed we saw several and I have included Lynne's foot in the picture to indicate its size. I sometimes have difficulty coordinating two legs, how it copes with all those I have no idea.

Giant millipede, Sinharaja
There was a hut on the top of the ridge where we paused to sign the visitor’s book.

In the small tree beside the hut, in an area of full sunlight, Tundu spotted a green pit viper. Curled round the branches a metre or more above our heads it was sleeping in the sunshine. It was not presenting itself well for the camera and showed no inclination to move, but poking a viper with a stick seemed foolhardy. 'It is poisonous,' Tundu agreed, but added reassuringly, 'but a bite would probably not kill you.'

Green pit viper, Sinharaja
 We walked along the ridge for another fifteen minutes into a cleared area but saw nothing more of interest except an army of ants rebuilding their nest after yesterday's downpour. 'They do that every day,' said Tundu. 'Wouldn't it be easier to move?' Lynne asked.

Back at the hut the viper was still motionless and we headed down the path, chatting with Tundu as we went. He had lived in the village by the Blue Magpie Lodge all his life and had started working in the forest as a volunteer twenty years ago when he was 13. He joined the park service straight from school and had been trained up as an ecologist on the job. His wife also came from the village and they had a six year old and another child expected imminently.

Tundu showed us a pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant, trapping and digesting its prey in pitcher shaped leaves.
Tundu and a pitcher plant

Lynne and I lingered to look at it as he moved on, then I looked down and saw a large red patch on my sock. At the centre of it was one of those tiny little leeches, now grown to the size of a pencil stub and obviously intent on growing further, and at my expense.

Everyone knows you should not pull off a feeding leech, they leave their mouth parts to fester in the wound, but the traditional method of burning them off with a cigarette was unavailable. 'In the African Queen,' Lynne said, 'when Humphrey Bogart became covered in leeches, Katherine Hepburn removed them with salt.'

Lynne’s handbag contains all manner of useful and unexpected items, including a packet of Thai Airlines salt, removed from a dinner tray a year or two ago and kept for just this situation. What foresight my wife has.

The leech reacted to a bag of salt like the Wicked Witch of the West to a bucket of water, instantly shrivelling and dropping onto the path.

Leech attack - the aftermath
I cannot believe I have just posted a picture of a bloody sock - this blog used to have standards, you know
We had just caught up with Ravi and Tundu when Lynne spotted the Sri Lankan blue magpie. Rare and endemic to this rain forest it is the 'poster bird' for the park and, of course, the lodge we were staying at was named after it. With a raucous cry it flew from the tree behind us, right beside us and settled in a tree just ahead. It could not have behaved better if it had set out to show itself off.

The rain forest had saved its best for last, even if the picture is not my own (thank you Wikipedia).

The Sri Lankan Blue Magpie
(Photo by Thimindu, taken Sinharaja, 2010, sourced from Wikipedia)
We said goodbye to Tundu and drove back to the lodge, hot and sweaty after immersion in the steam bath that was the rain forest.

Lynne says 'goodbye' to Tundu and his impressive leech socks
Although the water heater was off, there was enough warmish water for some sort of a shower. When clean I applied antiseptic to my leech wound which was still bleeding freely; leeches are cunning, their saliva contains an anaesthetic, so the first I knew about the attack was when I saw the bloody patch on my sock, and an anticoagulant, so they can just carry on sucking - and the wound carries on bleeding long after they have gone.

Sri Lanka, The Isle of Serendip