As a final, unexpected addition to our week in Sri Lanka, we embarked upon a Madu River Cruise, suggested by our driver and thankfully so, as it has not featured a mention in our guide books. Just over an hour’s drive away from Galle before you pull up and see row upon row of boat tour operators, competing for your custom. We were taken straight to one selected by our driver.
At 40 USD per head (which includes a 1.5-2 hour trip and a guide,) I wonder if we were in fact ripped off, as this seemed heavily overpriced even taking into account the cost of tourist attractions. I am cross with myself, in hindsight, for not negotiating or raising the issue.
The Madu River
The river named after its largest island used to contain hundreds of small islands, now only approximately 60 exist, some inhabited by handfuls of local families. On a sunny day, which we were fortunate enough to have, it really is idyllic.We glided through cocoons of mangrove trees, on serenely still waters, occasionally stared at by monitor lizards (try and spot it in the final photo) and bright blue kingfishers. Groups of water lilies decorate the Madu river, looking rather like large thumb prints dotted along the water. I was given a handmade lotus flower necklace by the guide, who plucked a long-stemmed lotus from the river to make this for me. (Not the famed Sri Lankan pink diamonds that I’d been egging Pumpkin on for throughout the holiday but more novel, more thoughtful and really – did I ever stand a chance?!)
There are various stops along the cruise. Opportunity to hold the dressed up baby monkey? No thank you. I do not consider this kind. Opportunity to do the fish pedicure – quite popular it seems but another no thank you from us. This bio-active form of pedicure hit London with a frenzy a couple of years ago but I never took to it. The idea of shoals of live animals nibbling at my feet gives me the eebie-jeebies and the neurotic doctor within me can’t help but wonder about infection risk.
So we steered clear and instead stopped off at the island of Madu, now home to a Buddhist temple. We were greeted by a monk, who kindly lent me a sarong (ladies, in summary – while in Sri Lanka, keep a sarong in your handbag at all times and you can’t go too wrong).
This was actually the first temple trip during our visit where we were given a good explanation of the history of Buddhism, the symbolism of the colours of the Buddhist flag and the components of a Buddhist flag. We also saw authentic ancient Buddhist scriptures and had a quiet moment to pray at the neighbouring Hindi Vishnu temple – apparently several of the ancient Buddhist kings married Hindu queens, accounting for the ample examples across Sri Lanka of the 2 places of worship, co-existing adjacently.
Where we felt cornered though was at the end. We were always going to tip but after the monk’s account of how the temple needs renovations and the expenses incurred by distance from land, we were subsequently shown a book of donations and our proposed tip was suddenly made to feel rather small. We had very limited change so ended up donating generously. Nothing overt was said to pressure us and you shouldn’t feel guilty or obliged with these things (but we did here) and for that reason, carry a variety of denominations so you can give at your own discretion.
Next stop : Cinnamon Island – and I just loved this 15 minute burst of Cinnamon goodness! The place, full of cinnamon trees, smells like one big dessert. We are shown how to make cinnamon sticks, powder and oil, which the Sri Lankan people use for medicinal purposes rather than cooking. The roof above our head has been made from cinnamon leaves and at the end of the demo, a plate of these three products is brought to us for sale. Once again, very hard to say no especially when there were only two of us. Fortunately, I didn’t have to face this awkward predicament, as I happily nabbed 3 bags of sticks, as requested by sister (the unknowingly talented chef amongst the clan).If you’re thirsty midway through the tour, stop off for a fresh coconut drink in the middle of the river – you’ll find a small coconut stall on stilts manned by a single elderly gentleman – definitely the strangest place in the world to have spotted a supermarket…Part of the #SundayTraveler Link Up