The port of Hambantota was new and far more modern than expected. This area was devastated by the 2004 Tsunami, many structures were completely destroyed and their replacements are now about 12 years old. There is a huge double crane right behind where we were moored, but there wasn’t much evidence of this port being very busy. A fleet of new cars were parked nearby, neatly in rows, waiting for further shipment inland, but there weren’t any other ships being loaded or unloaded or any other activity in the port.
Our welcoming party consisted of a small squad of dancers and musicians who entertained the small crowd lining the railing on promenade deck, starboard side. Two signs welcomed us to Hambantota and highlighted some of the activities that were available here.
I watched the efficient deck department slide out the gangway from Deck 1, fold out the railings, assemble the pop up tent, place the Purell Handwashing Stations, roll out the Grand World Voyage mat and get everything ready for the passengers to go ashore.
Once everything was secure and safe, the Sri Lanka Immigration officials came aboard to review the paperwork and clear the ship. After a few minutes, Barbara, the location guide, and members from Shore Excursions went ashore to verify that everything was in place for the scheduled tours.
A few minutes later, the ship was cleared and a steady stream of guests began to flow off the ship toward the tour busses waiting about 150 yards down the quay. During a break in the flow off the ship, Henk escorted a couple of officials carrying large, secure looking drawers, which I presumed were the local money changers, back onto the ship.
We had not arranged any tours and there wasn’t much going on in town, our plan was to relax on the ship until afternoon and then take a taxi to the tourist area to shop for some souvenirs and take in the local sights and sounds along the way. Around 1:30 PM we left the ship and walked to the waiting shuttle bus that would take us the one mile or less to the main gate for the port. The weather was warm with a gentle breeze, but not blistering hot as was forecast.
At the gate to the port there were at least a dozen Tuk Tuk’s waiting for riders, but since it was so late in the day, there were very few passengers looking for rides. We wanted to find an English speaking driver who had an air-conditioned car. There was only one person who approached us that spoke English well enough for us to agree to hire him for 3 hours to drive us around town. Price $40, but I didn’t haggle very much. You could probably get a better price earlier in the day when there were more drivers looking for work.
We headed off toward town to find a place that sold souvenir T shirts, but there weren’t any shops that sold tourist stuff in Hambantota. I had noticed a town nearby called Tangalle that had a nice beach and several tourist type hotels. It was 25 miles away and 45 minutes – so for another $30 he would take us there and back. We agreed and were on our way. After we returned to the ship, we learned people paid anywhere from $70-$100 for a taxi/driver for the entire day. We weren’t sure how far they may have driven. I was at a disadvantage starting so late in the day because I had fewer available drivers and less time to haggle. It always pays to research well in advance where you want to go so you can have a firm plan in mind when you start to talk to a driver. Researching TripAdvisor an hour before you get on the shuttle bus will not produce the best result
Along the way to Tangalle, the driver discussed how he had survived the 2004 Tsunami because his house was located on a small knoll behind a larger rise in the land that diverted the waves around his neighborhood, leaving it undamaged. He recalled that at 7:30 am on that terrible day, the ocean receded 2KM for about 15 minutes before the Tsunami returned with catastrophic results. In those final 15 minutes he said many fisherman were out retrieving fish that were stranded by the extreme low tide. It is hard to imagine the devastation that ensued. Everything we saw had been rebuilt, and all appeared normal, but after you thought about it, you realized that all the buildings were about the same age – 12 years. There wasn’t anything older still standing.
Tangalle is a bustling seaside tourist town with a lot more going on than Hambantota. I would recommend to future travelers that unless you want to visit the National Parks, that you plan on going to Tangalle instead of Hambantota. Hambantota is a small Sri Lankan town without much going on. After doing some shopping in Tangalle we stopped by a café overlooking the Indian Ocean where we enjoyed some drinks and took a few pictures. The weather was quite pleasant here and the view was spectacular.
Another tip from our discussion of people coming back from tours where they hoped to see wildlife. People on earlier tours saw a lot of animals while people on the later tours saw nothing. So if you want to see animals, take the earliest tour possible, but even then, the number of animal sightings we heard about were limited. Keep in mind my small unscientific survey, but if you have your heart set on seeing animals, do a lot of research first to set your expectations and avoid disappointment.
On our way back to the ship, we came across a dozen water buffalo trotting down the center of the road, it looked like they were being herded, but we were speeding by in the opposite direction so it was hard to tell.
Our driver wanted us to sample the local watermelon, so he pulled over at a roadside market and picked out one volleyball sized water melon that he had the vendor slice open and we ate on the spot. It was fresh and very good.
We arrived back at the entrance to the port around 5:30 with an all aboard of 6:30. There were some guards at the entrance to the port, but they weren’t interesting in seeing our cruise cards, or any other ID. We walked on by them and boarded the shuttle bus.
The Sail Away party at the Seaview pool was lightly attended despite the very pleasant weather as it was right in the middle of first seating dinner.
We were by ourselves for dinner tonight as all our tablemates were on long tours and pretty worn out. We enjoyed another fine meal. I had the Linguine with Clams and Tomato , which was especially good and Judy liked the Scarlet Snapper Fillet with Lime Aioli.
There was only one show tonight in the Queens lounge at 9:30 pm. Joe West and Michel Bell performed new material for about 25 minutes each. They both put on outstanding shows and received standing ovations. We particularly enjoyed Michel Bells performance of the Lou Rawls classic “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”.
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