We are nearly at the end of my Sri Lankan Odyssey. Driving through Yala National Park was an experience. We were surprised to see a huge military presence there. There were camouflaged bunkers every 200 metres or so, and lots of men with guns. Our driver explained that during the war, highwaymen operated here and the army were there to protect us. The danger had apparently passed but the army remained.
Then, we came across an entire herd of elephants. Females and alpha males (usually king elephants – the 7 in 100 males that have tusks) herd together, with their children. Teenage males are kicked out of the herd and go solo. It was usually these lone male elephants we saw. This time, there were about 15 elephants all together, right on the side of the road. We stopped and watched them for a while in the fading light until a man with a gun waved us on.
Compared to that the safari itself was a bit of an anticlimax. We had to get up at 5:30am, which was a little difficult for those in our group who had partied all night! This particular guest house was split into two areas: there were the hot water, nice rooms upstairs and the cold water, mosquito-ridden rooms downstairs. We were downstairs, but at least it was quiet! Maya dealt with the mosquitoes quite efficiently, and by the end of our stay we were the clear victors. I think I got one bite, but by using a mosquito net at night (and tucking it in), wearing long, pale-coloured clothing, and putting repellent on all exposed skin it’s not too difficult to keep the mossies off.
It was quite a long drive to the national park. We watched the sun rise over the salt marsh.
The park was quite crowded with safari jeeps. Our group split up.
Some of our group managed to see a leopard, but we didn’t. We saw a couple of elephants off in the distance, or hiding in the vegetation.
Our guide, Pusa (which means “cat”), was entertaining. There was a sobering moment though when we stopped at the tsunami memorial and he told us that many of his friends had died.
Water buffalo. One of my favourite foods in Sri Lanka was buffalo curd with kitul treacle. The curd is like yoghurt, but with a really zingy flavour to it. It almost fizzes on your tongue. Kitul treacle is the sap of a type of palm tree, like maple syrup in consistency but with a different flavour. You can have it for breakfast or dessert. On my first morning back in London I woke up craving it.
We also saw a crocodile, two different types of deer, lots of different kinds of birds and an iguana. My wildlife photography skills leave much to be desired though!