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  • Writer's pictureClaire

16/12/2023 Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Today we were up and at 'em in anticipation for our safari. We were lucky enough to have our lovely hosts accompany us on this adventure. Newton arranged everything and did a splendid job for us, the families company made the trip. We undertook the three hour journey in a very comfortable and luxurious people carrier, which collected us practically from the door. Our seats were like armchairs. Once we were all loaded in we set off. We passed through lush green countryside, rice fields, and cinnamon plantations. Cows grazed on the side of the road, which was the equivilent to our dual carriage ways. They were kept off the road by 3 men, one on a motorbike and 2 on foot , with the ones on foot brandishing sticks. The cows were so engrossed in munching on the grass, I dont think they were too interested and had no desire to get onto the road. Due to the heavy rains of late, we saw the aftermath, in the form of landslides. A lot of the banks along the way were reinforched with crates full of rocks.

Despite every village we went through being all different, they were all hives of activity, and bustling with life. On the roadsides there were stands full of fruit, and vegetables being sold to the passsers by. The smell of the fresh produce wafted into the car as we passed by them, making my mouth water. Just short of our RV point we stopped at a stunning Buddhist temple, the family got out to give thanks, and once they'd done so we continued to the meeting point. The temples and Buddah are very important to them and each Buddah we passed, they acknowledged.

We arrived at the RV point for our Safari Jeep Driver and PushPa produced a picnic lunch and coffee for us all. Lovely sandwiches that hit the spot, they were a very nice surprise and was so thoughtful of her. Our Safri driver arrived at 1300hrs, and we all climbed into the jeep. It was quite high up, and was reminiscent of climbing up into a Combine Harvester! Si and I clambered into the back seat which was so high, that even Si's feet didn't touch the floor of the jeep ... You can imagine how far from the floor my feet were!! With us all seated comfortably, we headed out of the RV point for the National Park. We bounced along the road and through some substantial flood water , the wind in our hair and keeping us cool as we whipped along. We'd had lovely sunshine on the way up to the Park and it clouded over as we approached. A few spots of rain were felt but nothing serious. The jeep had a soft roof on it anyway, so as long as the rain came straight down, we would stay relativey dry. It certainly wasn't cold, so all good. At the entrance to Yala, we stopped for Newton and the driver to go and get the tickets for us to enter the Park.. I took the opportunity to visit the loo, which came as something as a surprise. Naively i expected a throne, so when i opened the toilet door, to see a porcelain bowl with non slip treads on the floor was a tad unexpected. Needs must as they say. I have also discovered that wide leg trousers are not a good option when travelling, the hems tend to drag... in all sorts of things. I shall be putting elastic in the hems of my trousers once Ive washed them. You live and learn as they say. Tickets purchased, toilet break complete, jeep loaded up , we entered the park. We drove along dirt tracks, at 20km per hour eyes peeled for wildlife. Just as we saw the evidence of heavy rainfall along the road with the landslides, it was also evident in the flood water that was gushing over the track in some places. It was an awesome ride, and our driver seemed to take us the rough side of the track, at speed. No issues with that from us! I lost count of the number of times my backside actually left the seat and my head made contact with the roof. I will add, that there were substantial bars around the jeep that we could hold onto, for which we were immensely grateful !

A few minutes in to the Safari we saw two mongoose, or are they mongeese being more than one ?? They were a bit too rodenty for my liking, but thankfully far enough away from us for me not to be shrieking like a banshee!! Yay go me. I was most excited to spot massive piles of elephant poop, it convinced me would see Heffalumps. There are also leopards in the Yala, but we didnt spot any, but being wild animals, we weren't surprised when we didn't see them. The number of jeeps that go through Yala in a day, I think I'd be hiding in a tree somewhere far away from the tracks smirking to myself if I were a leopard.

Some cheeky monkeys were having a meal of leaves and berries, and the one was eating so fast, it was like me looking in a mirror. Sunday night speed eating all the junk food I can get my hands on before starting a diet on the Monday. I can relate to that little monkey. They were pretty cute, and so inquisitive , not so much as they approached the jeep, but definately eyeing us up.

A little further along a Peacock crossed the track in front of us, and a few yards further down the track was another one, tail fanned out impressing a female, and he certainly put on quite the show whether it was for us or the hen. Although I have seen peacocks before, I've not seen them in the wild, nor so many of them!

As we drew alongside a swampy bit of the park, i was most pleased to see my beloved flamingoes. Although these weren't all pink ( lack of pink food) but they had the prettiest pale pink tails and the great long spindly legs. Yes thats envy you hear!!

We spotted sleepy little wild boar, snuggled down in a mud bath keeping cool, Iguanas sun bathing,

The driver had eyes like a shithouse rat and spotted a tiny little bird perched in the bushes, aparently it was a Bee eater, a really vibrant blue,green and yellow little thing . After seeing one, we saw loads, probably because we knew what we were looking for.

Hiding in the bushes behind the Bee Eaters were spotted deer, I SAW BAMBI!!! to start with there were only one or two at a time, but soon we were seeing herds of them. The bucks with their antlers, keeping a watchful eye on us. The driver was great, as soon as we spotted something, he turned off the jeep so we could get a good look and take photographs. He was also spotting things we were missing, which was brilliant, like the kingfisher perched high up in a tree.

Although its a national Park, there are signs that man has been aiding nature a little. This was clear when we came upon a weir, that was obviously man made. In it were several crocs, all waiting at the bottom ledge with their mouths open. They were, what I can only describe as, lazy eating. Small fish come down the water so the crocs just lurk there, their mouths wide open waiting for lunch to swim in. They were about a metre long, and there was a larger one, sunning itself on the bank, by the size of him, i think he'd got up early to eat a good portion of fish before the others even woke up. He was definately in a massive food coma.

At a watering hole, we saw our first elephant, having a tree snack, red brown from the dust and mud, I'm sure it was smiling at us. I think the watering hole was a man made one, it looked far too regular to be natural, but the elephant didnt seem to mind too much. Park etiquette is you stop your jeep for a few minutes for observation and photos, then if another jeep comes up behind you you move on so their passengers can see the animals too. Happy to have seen what I went for, I wouldnt have minded if I had seen nothing else all day. Well, actually that's not true, but I was pleased to have seen one in its natural enviroment.

One of the tracks we took, hadn't been used much through the day, as there were no vehicle tracks anywhere. A lot of the track had deep ruts where it had been washed by the rain making the ride seriously rough and bumpy. large rocks loomed out of nowhere, and I was half expecting Raffiki to appear, holding up a lion cub. But no, cos there are no lions in Sri Lanka! In a small clearing between the rocks were some more spotted deer, relaxing on the grass, not a care in the world. Also not remotely interested in us.

Sri Lankas national bird, is a Jungle fowl. It looks like a cockerel, but is obviously wild. It's very pretty to look at, but very fast moving so much so, I found it difficult to get a clear photo of it. Frustrating to say the least. The water buffalow were not so elusive, a couple shot out of the undergrowth at speed, crossing the track just in front of us. With a swish of their tails they were gone, all that remained was the noise they were making as they crashed through the undergrowth and out of sight.

I began to wonder if we were a bit lost because the treack we were on had not been used any time recently. It was so rough, we were being bounced around like ping pong balls in the jeep and holding on for grim death. Going through some substantial flood water, the jeep began making sounds like a bull elephant, and a couple of times, a loud crunch and scrape could be heard as we failed to clear a sizeable stone/rock. I quite probably wouldn't buy a used vehicle off any of these guys any time soon!

We found another watering hole, and it had lots of tree skeletons in it, making it feel really eerie, in the background were large rocks. rising out of nowhere to look down on it. The watering hole had some sizeable crocodiles in it, and lots of birds nesting in the trees. There was a stream just off the watering hole, and it was full of flamingoes and more crocodiles. There was one was getting much too close to a nest I think because there was a bird getting quite irate at it for encroaching on her space. Im sure i saw it lick its lips, must have been fancying a scoobie snack. It rose up out of the water with its mouth open, before disappearing again from view. No snack this time sunshine.

As dusk began to fall, the bird noise incresed dramatically, and as we came to a gap in the trees, there were hundreds of flamingoes, heading home to roost. The noise was almost deafeneing, but it was an incredible sight to see so many in one place. Just a little further on we came across a herd of water buffalo, they were a bit skitish and bloody huge ! Besides the ones wandering about and kicking up their heels, there were two, living their best lives in a mud bath. They didnt even look our way as we slowed down to get photos. They were definately enjoying a bath before bed! I mean, who wouldnt??

Given the time of day, the animals we were seeing were in larger groups, I imgine, the whole safety in numbers thing kicks in autotmatically for them. They were all peacefully grazing, having a last bite to eat before bed. Having only seen the one elephant I was a bit disappointed because were heading back towards the park entrance, and there was a quite a queue of jeeps ahead of us. They had come to a standstill, which was not unusual, and when it got moving again we could see why. There was an elephant, just on the side of the road. The jeeps were stopped for their passengers to take photographs. Our driver, overtook 4 of them and pushed us in close to where the elephant was. It came so close to the jeep, I could have touched it. It was an experience and a half, this huge creature, with the most soulful, gentle eyes, was walking beside us as we moved off slowly. It kept looking in to the jeep and making eye contact its trunk swaying and ears flapping, just beautiful. We sped up and moved on to let the other jeeps have their fill of it, and as we were in the back, we were able to photograph and video it as we drove away from it. Simply breathtaking. Such a stunning and majestic creature, and it made up for us not seeing more because we wouldnt have been that close to them if there had been the whole herd.

Our day was made, and we were stilll a way from the entrance. The rain had started and was blowing into the jeep, but we had been so lucky with the weather that it bothered none of us. The tracks soon filled with water, making it difficult to see whwere the ruts were... We had an even bumpier ride , and I'm sure the driver sped up to meet each one at speed. By the time we got to the park entrance, it was almost dark, and we made our way back towards the waiting people carrier. The flood levels had risen whilst we had been in Yala but it was no match for the jeep and we made light work of them. It also helped that the road was actually tarmac now so didnt hold any unpleasant surprises.

As we were out of the Park, the driver put his foot down, and overtook at every opportunity. That in itself wasn't a bad thing, the issue was, we were sat a lot higher than him and could actually see what was coming the other way. We had several close shaves, but thankfully made it out alive! yay! always a bonus. We arrived back to the people carrier and it was pitch dark, and after all unloading from the jeep had a discussion about food. We weren't particualarily hungry, so said we'd push on and get back to the apartment. A few miles down the road there was a food stand in a layby and the driver stopped. Newton and he jumped out and went and got the family some hoppers. Light pancakes filled with spicy vegetables and meats. Even though we said we didnt want anything to eat, he came back to the car with some for us. He had got us plain ones because the fillings would have been to spicy for us. They are such a fabulous family, so kind and thoughtful. Once they'd all finished eating, we carried on our journey home. It was after 2200hrs by the time we got back, everyone was tired, and happy after such an awesome day. We collapsed into bed under the mosquito net after a shower to swill off the grime of the day, had a quick drink and i think were asleep before our heads even hit the pillows.

Given it was our final day in the South, it couldn't have been more perfect. It is a beautiful place,and we've made some wonderful memories to cherish forever. More imprtantly, we've met some truly beautiful people who we will never forget. The kindness and hospitality that Newton and his family have shown us has been amazing, and we are very grateful to them for sharing their home and family with us.

Should you ever go, these are the best people to stay with. I have their address and contact details. let me know.

much love

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Dec 23, 2023

We went to Ayala and saw a leopard, python and sloth as well as what you saw. We stayed overnight in little cabins and had to call for an escort to go to dinner and breakfast as there were a lot of buffalo 🐃 around which could be aggressive. It was really funny eating dinner and watching the elephants coming to drink out of the swimming pool. Love you xxx

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