When travelling the “backpacker” route in countries, it can be very easy to fall into line and do what everyone else is doing. I am a firm believer in not doing things because everyone else is,, but if everyone IS jumping off that bridge and it looks fun, I will give it a crack! A lot of people were taking the public buses between cities because for some reason there is no train line connecting the middle of Sri Lanka to the southern cities. As I didn’t do much hiking….ok any hiking in Ella, I had spent most of my time in the coffee shop or at restaurants observing the many buses that came past. They were very crowded, travelled very fast and there were no dedicated stops I could see. Cost wise it was the most economical way to travel but I really did not want to put myself through the stress of it all. In these situations I would apply the “would I pay this price at home?” logic. A private car for a 2.5 hour drive was only going to cost $80. In Perth, that is a taxi ride from the city to the northern suburbs, 20-25minutes, so to me it was worth the money. My driver was lovely and the car was only a few years old, very comfortable with decent air conditioning. I slept for most of the journey as we were making our way down the mountains and were on winding roads. I wasn’t in the mood to be car sick.
I was heading to Udawalawa for 2 nights. The only thing to do there is the National Park safari. The place I had booked, Kottawatta Village, was a large property with a mix of glamping tents and stand alone bungalow rooms. I had booked a room near the pool. When I arrived, I was shocked at the room, in a happy way. There was a tv, fridge, wooden floors and high ceilings. A big king size bed with a mosquito tent over it with scattered flower petals! An odd feature was the entrance, it was two huge floor to ceiling glass sliding doors. You either have the canvas curtains open and see the world and for the world see you, or keep them closed up.
The coolest feature was the huge outdoor bathroom! The sink and toilet were under the roof awning and the shower was out in the open.
I couldn’t wait to get changed and take a dip, but there was a man cleaning my windows….with the tv on for his entertainment. It was 4:30pm and being from the hotel industry I was less than impressed. I switched off the tv and just stood there. He asked if everything was ok , to which I replied “ It will be when you finish up and leave,” said with a smile and heavy undertone of annoyance. He did hurry up, and he left. My door lock was broken so I was given a chain to lace around the two door handles and a padlock. I felt more secure than the normal door lock, especially since the room was in the outdoors and not in a building, but I prayed there were no fires! I did keep the key in the lock when I was in the room, safety first!
Bathing suit on, kindle in hand, it was time to head to the pool. I scanned the small area and no chairs were available. I found a spot for my towel, kindle and padlock key while I took a dip. Maybe something will free up soon. I slid into the water from the pool ladder and the water was warm. I find this a bit annoying when the weather is humid outside because it offers no relief. Temperature aside, I bobbed about enjoying the water. I had avoided a large Sri Lankan family down one end as they had many kids, but I was soon bombarded by what I think was a Russian family. Their pre pubescent children thought it was be a great game to jump in one end, swim to the other, hop out and then jump back in. I ignored the first round. Then I could tell there was no letting up. My belongings were getting splashed at one end, and I was getting splashed at the other. I looked over at the parents. There was no acknowledgement what so ever from them that their kids were being little turds. I then got out, grabbed my stuff and went back to my bungalow. I then tried sitting outside on my veranda to read. There was a hammock but it was full of ants. Surely you can tell at this point my dear reader that I have only been here an hour or two and it is not going well? Annoyed with the world I went inside to my air con oasis. The afternoon storm had now hit. I turned on the tv to find no reception due to the storm! Deep breath. I then shut all my curtains, unzipped my mosquito net tent and crawled in. This was now my little safe haven. I had a wall of pillows, I got comfy and watched a movie on the old trusty laptop before dinner time.
It was a small trek across the grounds to get to the restaurant. My dinning attire consisted of a rain jacket as it was still raining. Dinner was less than impressive. I had ordered sweet and sour chicken. Some how it was covered in pepper and enough chicken to feed all of the guests. I really wasn’t very hungry but was pressured into pre ordering dinner earlier in the afternoon as they were full and wanted to be prepared. I ended up having a few bites and re arranging it on my plate to look like I had eaten at least half. I was happy to go back to my room and give my outdoor shower a go! I made sure though I shook my towel vigorously and inspected it twice before drying off just in case there were some rogue ants!
I spent the night watching what was at the time the new star wars movie. I had nothing planned for the next day so I was happy with a sleep in. Unfortunately I woke up around 8:30am. A lot of the time I skip breakfast but thought breakfast food couldn’t be any worse than the dinner, so it might be wise to have a big breaky and skip lunch today. After filling up on pineapple and pancakes I came back for a cheeky post breaky snooze. I was going to try to snag a lounge early by the pool but by midday there was already another storm. I did sit on my veranda for a little while watching the thunder and lightning until the rain turned sideways. I spent the afternoon reading and writing. Having a shower in the storm was a fun experience with the cool rain water and the warm shower mixing. I loved tilting my head back to wash the shampoo out of my hair and seeing palm trees.
Dinner was another hot mess but at least I ordered a side of French fries which sustained me. It was early to bed tonight as I had a 5am pick up in the morning to go on safari!
I didn’t know the hotel ran their own safari jeeps in the national park, so I had booked an external company. I am happy I did as I didn’t read many great reviews from the hotel one. I was the only person on mine. For some reason, my eyes were a bit dry this morning. As I was climbing up into the open air jeep, my right contact lens popped out. I stopped and managed to get it back in. The driver asked if we were good to go and I said yes. No more than 30 seconds later my left one came out, but this time we were driving and the wind whipped it away. Shit!! I can’t see out of my left eye. Like I am blind, very very blind. I normally carry spares after an incident at work once where I had to go home by taxi because I couldn’t see. I had taken a back pack and left my purse back in my room as I wasn’t going to need it which had my back ups. I couldn’t ask him to turn around because the walk from the reception to the room was a long one and would have wasted a lot of time. I was going to have to do this with one eye. I was worried about two things, 1) I was worried about getting a migraine from the unbalanced vision and 2) What if I couldn’t see the animals? The whole point on coming to Udawalawa was to do this Safari. I tried to relax as we drove on.
As we approached the entrance gate I noticed there was a lot of other safari jeeps. I was concerned that with all the noise from the jeeps, it might scare away the animals. When we entered the park, my driver turned right, away from the other jeeps as they turned left. We drove for about 5 minutes and then we saw in the distance some large dark figures. My driver headed towards them and coming around the corner would have been a heard of ten or more elephants. It was one of the most magical sights I had seen (on par the them bathing in Nepal). They were coming down the track with the rising sun glowing behind them and we were the only two here to witness them. Next thing we know, the largest elephant of the group spotted us and started to charge at us! Ears flapping and picking up pace, she let out bit of a trumpet. I was crapping myself as the realisation set in that this not a zoo, we are in the wild and my guide is simply an unarmed driver! He quickly threw the jeep in reverse and we backed up until she stopped running at us. She just wanted space for her family to cross the path. The other reason she was so protective was because there was a baby in the group. I had never seen a baby elephant so young. It was the cutest thing ever After we enjoyed our private moment with the heard, my driver radioed the other jeeps of our spotting. As we set off again and as we passed a few arriving jeeps, I had the biggest smile on my face as I knew they were not going to get as close as we did.
During the 2 hour safari I saw some cool birds, lots of peacocks, water buffalo, monkeys, a crocodile, wild boar and turtles but the main attraction were the elephants. We got charged at one more time. This time there were other jeeps around and it was like a little traffic jam. I was concerned they were not going to reverse in time! I also learnt that male elephants live alone. We did see one. We watched them graze and play in the water. I could watch them for hours.
I was dropped back to the hotel around 930am. Enough time some breakfast and a shower before I had to check out. I had organised another driver to take me to my next stop, the coastal town of Mirissa.