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Published: September 6th 2017
After 3-4 hours sleep, my alarm went off as Glyn and I were to be picked up at 5.30 for a safari around Wilpattu National Park. Upon stepping out of our room, Bandara was straight on us, wanting to give us coffee but we tried to explain we had no time, 'but it's included' he called. 'We are due to be picked up in 5 minutes' we explained.
Undeterred, Bandara followed us up the dirt track to the roadside where we waited for our pre-booked Safari, but Bandara wanted us to do our safari though him, despite Glyn explaining over and over again, and showing him a print out of the booking. 'Jeep man come?' he said (not for the last time by a long chalk). Jeep man was late and after 10 mins, Bandara was pointing this out, explaining that the park opened at 6am and was only open for 4 hours; we should go with his mate, the caretaker guy. Glyn phoned our safari tour and the guy who replied told Glyn to put him on to our hotel guy. How did he know that he was stood right next to us? Is following your guests to the
roadside the norm around here? Anyway, Bandara tells us that jeep man is coming in 10 minutes and we think he'll leave us be now. But no. Caretaker guy turns up in his jeep and we're told to get in. Sigh. 'No, we have already booked' etc etc. Caretaker and Bandara chat for a while, and park the jeep next to us. Bandara asks how much we want to pay for a safari with caretaker guy. Again, we explain. Bandara says for the 100th time, 'jeep man come?'. YES!!!! Eventually caretaker guy drives off, Bandara saunters off and jeep guy turns up 20 minutes late. It was only ten to six in the morning and it felt like a day had passed. I think we are the only guests here which doesn't help.
Wilpattu National Park is said have have the biggest population of leopards in Sri Lanka; plus elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, monkeys and loads more. It's not as popular as other parks as due to the size and thick foliage, it is quite hard to see the animals. Also, all wild animal numbers have depleted a lot during the recent civil war. On the plus side, there
were only a handful of other jeeps waiting at the entrance so it wouldn't be ram-packed full of other tourists. A guy jumped in our truck claiming to be a tracker but couldn't speak much English. We were dubious, are we having to more pay for this? The lack of English meant lack of discussion. Oh well.
We soon came upon an elephant breaking its way through brittle bushes and small trees, it was hard to see it in the dense foliage and almost impossible to photograph, but nonetheless, it was an elephant in the wild. Various birds including many peacocks and a turquoise dove (that's a green pigeon in my book) were pointed out to us as well as a few mongooses (or is it mongeese?). I was proud of myself for spotting the first monitor lizard halfway up a tree and got the jeep to reverse so we could all see it. We did spot quite a few more after that. Other animals seen were warthogs, deer, water buffalo, an eagle and butterflies. The dirt track was so bumpy that my Apple Watch was convinced I was taking exercise and notched up a lot of calories burned!
The gaps between animals were quite big, but it was still nice to drive around Sri Lankan jungle and marshes. After a couple of hours, the jeep pulled up at a clearing with other tourists taking selfies and a nearby lake. Our tracker pointed out a swimming crocodile near the waters edge, we wondered how close we could go before we got told off (or eaten by the croc). Pretty close it turned out, but the croc wasn't interested in us and casually swam away. It was amazing to see a crocodile in the wild, and it was quite a big one. We were the only ones to see it too, but we missed out on taking selfies!
In the nearby trees were lots of small macaque monkeys, some were really tiny and very cute. The young one barely stayed still and it was great watching them bouncing around and playing. One threw a piece of fruit at a tourist which was awesome. We drove around further and saw more of the same animals, but no leopards. However, the spot where leopard cubs were seen yesterday was pointed out to us. A bonus was that I saw a
couple of cats outside the exit, having naps in the sun. Aw!
When we got back, we wanted to go to bed as we'd only had a few hours sleep last night and I was drifting off during the safari, almost missing the eagle! But the doorbell rang and it was Bandara of course, jeep man wanted paying despite us pre-paying. It took a lot of talking, not understanding and calling the booking number. The guy Glyn called said he was coming and we thought we would never sleep. But Bandara suddenly told us it was no problem and I got an hour's sleep.
We had lunch at the Wilpattu Holiday Home, not because Bandara said it was cheaper than anywhere else (although he did) but because we couldn't see anywhere else to go and we were too tired to try. It turned out to be quite nice, we asked for veggie food as I'm a vegetarian and Glyn did not want to risk meat, him being famous in some circles for his extreme jippy belly when travelling abroad. Afterwards we were given watermelon and really tasty small bananas like fat yellow fingers.
Still tired, we returned
to bed, setting an alarm for 1.45 as we had an afternoon safari booked. Caretaker guy must have been waiting outside as he rung our bell the second our alarm went off. Glyn dressed, answered the door and sighed; caretaker guy wanted to take us on safari and it took a lot more explaining and 'jeep man come?' before he gave up.
Jeep man was a different man this time and arrived 10 minuted early. It was blistering hot when we left but as we approached the park, I saw dark blue-grey clouds in the sky and the thunder cracked as we arrived. There were less jeeps than this morning and no tracker guy. Word must be out that he got no tip this morning (he didn't give us time to be honest). We soon came upon an elephant not far from where we saw one this morning. Then the rain really kicked in and I was glad I'd brought an extra shirt initially for sun protection but now to wrap up in. Jeep man offered to pull down the coverings but we kept it open at the sides, preferring to risk getting wet rather than missing any animals.
We did see another croc, plus a wild dog thing (a jackal perhaps?) ran past before we could photograph it. More buffalo, deer, monitors and birds were seen. We stopped at the same lake and watched the monkeys again. There was a lot of driving about, passing a few other jeeps and although I can't speak Sinhala, I could tell it was not going well for leopard spotting by the way the drivers looked at each other. The rain eventually slowed down but it was still very damp and the jeep had to plow through a lot of deep water.
All of a sudden we were overtaken by another jeep, the driver waving his arms about and shouting 'yiyiyiyiyi' or words to that effect. Jeep man put his foot down and we bounced around in the back like jumping jelly beans. A few other jeeps caught up and there were around 6 of us tear-arsing around the dirt tracks looking for something. If it was another green pigeon, I wouldn't be happy! Eventually there was a small jam and we edged forward slowly to see a sloth bear digging it's way through an anthill. It totally ignored us
all staring at it, being far too busy chowing down on ants. Glyn was happy about this, an ant bit him yesterday and it really hurt, so this was karma. We were also extremely happy to see a bear in the wild.
We left the park at around 5.30 when it was closing and the light was going. It was still raining and we were dreading what would go wrong when we got back, but strangely there were no disputes and jeep man told Bandara that we'd seen a bear.
The outside dining area is sheltered so we had our evening meal there despite the ongoing thunderstorm. Meat was served despite us asking for veggie, but Glyn ate that. The rest of it was nice enough and dessert was a set yoghurt with honey. Bandara switched off the main light because it attracts insects and instead placed a small lamp on the table which also attracted insects. The flying beetles here are really dumb, they land upside down and flail their legs around, until eventually they stand up. Well most of them do, I spotted a few dead ones. I also spotted a small frog and finally a
cat! It was small, mostly white and very skittish; it took a lot of effort to get its photo!
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