Little Adam’s Peak
A pit stop en route to Yala National Park and suitably informed by the cardigan-clad residents of Nuwara Eliya about the climate change we were about to transgress. From a distance, I was wary of this “little” peak. After the exhausting day seeing Sigiriya and Dambulla, I was adamant my climbing days were over, ideally forever and certainly for this trip. Pumpkin was having none of this and persuaded me that this peak would hold true to its name. On holiday, rather like in marriage, one occasionally has to make a compromise and so I obliged – but on holiday, rather like in marriage, Pumpkin was right – this is an easy climb of which about half actually seems to be on the flat. Far less populated than Sigiriya and still rewarded with breathtaking views
Yala National Park
My 2nd safari and first since Tanzania and Pumpkin’s first safari experience outside Africa began with low-ish expectations. Sri Lanka is not famed for its safaris, there is one animal and one alone that visitors are hoping to see here and it’s never a good thing to come with such a focused check list. Furthermore, we were certain we had about as much chance of seeing a leopard on this safari as we did of ever managing to have a holiday anywhere without spotting a Durian. (I’ll put on a retrospective entry one of these days about our honeymoon and the Durian story will come to light)
Our adventure began at the Elephant Reach Lodge, a short distance away from Yala. The accommodation has a combination of smaller rooms and larger chalets. It seemed (unbeknownst to us) that we had booked a chalet, complete with AC, a TV and warm showers (warm showers, which you share with the occasional frog apparently – Pumpkin accidentally-on-purpose forgot to tell me about this until we had ascended above Sri Lankan waters)
Our driver arranged the safari for us and gave us the option of standard jeep or luxury jeep. It seems the only benefit conferred by the latter are the raised leather seats but the price difference is small in real terms and we paid about 6000 RS for 2 people.
The starts, as with most safaris, are early – I do not take well to early starts. I’m not sure nature intended for anyone who hasn’t popped a sprog to be up before 7am. (Sprog poppers and anaesthetists it seems) so Pumpkin took this in his stride and was rather shocked by my distinct lack of grumpiness when the 4.30am alarm went off. You are offered a breakfast package with your tariff if you wish but this replaces your breakfast and is far less substantial or appetising and furthermore, who on earth wants an egg sandwich at 5am?? I say, grab some cereal bars/biscuits or bananas and give the packet a miss. At 9.30am after returning from the safari, we were famished and made far better use of the breakfast buffet.
I made the schoolboy error of assuming it would be nippy at 4am and went in my long linens – stick to your shorts. This is not a safari for those seeking to venture into unchartered territory – in fact, upon purchase of the entry tickets, what ensues is the sight of drivers literally running into their jeeps, on your marks get set and go, all speeding off to try and get to the leopards first. The sight of jeeps in a traffic jam in the middle of the national park does ruin a bit and sitting 4th in a queue of 12 trucks again, somewhat takes away from the magic of spotting a leopard – but hurrah – we did!!
The sight of a leopard and her two cubs playing amongst the trees left me speechless (yes, once in a while, even I get lost for words). We only spotted one more leopard after this about 2 hours later, sleeping very lazily on the top of a rock and much further away. A good pair of binoculars would be a very worthwhile investment for any safari virgins out there. The leopards should have been the highlight for us – it is what Yala is famous for and spotting a cat was one thing we had missed out in Africa but this was superseded by an extremely poignant chance spotting of a peaceful 7am sip of water from a thirsty Mummy and baby elephant, harmoniously standing together near a watering hole, hydrating themselves in the humid air, totally oblivious to the their pull on our heart strings.
On the backdrop of dry yellowish land and through the 4 hour game drive, we went on to spot wild boars (having seen how cute they are, I’m now working on persuading sister to forgo her beloved Borough Market wild boar burgers), peacocks on every corner, monitor lizards, which seem to be mating their way around the world, hornbills, crocodiles and deer (I don’t think you can come from England and get excited about deer).
The game drive is broken up with a short recess near a stretch of coastline, tragically demolished during the 2004 Tsunami. Where a grand, ocean-view, expensive restaurant once stood, all that remains is it’s foundation, which now lies as a memorial to the 47 people in Yala National Park alone, who lost their lives, not to mention the total number of lives lost in Sri Lanka, estimating around 50,000. It isn’t possible to fathom just how terrified and panicked those people must have been, sitting in that restaurant that day, watching the tidal wave advancing towards them and helpless to stop it. May they rest in peace.