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August 18th 2018
Published: September 12th 2018
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Jetwing YalaJetwing YalaJetwing Yala

Posh Safari Style Hotel
R: We headed off the next morning for our next stop - Yala National Park. The day started with a 4 hour drive through the hill country. It was still pouring down in the hill country so we had a quick drive around Nuwara Eliya, including the red brick post office, the somewhat dilapidated looking race course (built by a previous British governor of Sri Lanka), and a large old British style hotel which seemed to be hosting at the time a "largest strawberry tart" contest - the one outside reception probably measured about 6 metres in diameter. There were also ponies walking all over the street - apparently they give pony rides in good weather, but are allowed to roam the streets the rest of the time. The roads are occasionally peppered with red GR post boxes and there is definitely evidence of British rule here - apparently the Sri Lankan's love it though, and it becomes a hot spot every year in April when a large festival descends onto town. (Or maybe that's what they tell the British tourists)

We drove down to Ella in the pouring rain through estates of houses similar to those currently being constructed in suburbs all over the UK - very weird. Ella itself wasn't massively interesting to look at - but seemed noticeably full of backpackers. Ella Gap on a good day is a very steep valley that leads down to views of the sea - but despite the rain finishing, this wasn't possible today though the valley was still very impressive. We got to Ravenna Falls which was a waterfall down the rock face which made for a quick walkabout, but what was most noticeable was the number of sweet corn and mango stands along the roadside here. Having had an enormous breakfast we didn't partake but Ranjan did. We took the windy downhill road that clung to the cliff and eventually pulled out onto a dusty plain. The noticeable thing was the temperature - we started off at 14°c and sheet rain and ended up at 32°c and full sun - the altitude really made the difference.

We got taken to a seafood restaurant for lunch with very slow service, but amazing coconut and mango prawns (note to self - must make these when we get home) then headed on to our next hotel which promised to be a bit flash. We were staying at Jetwing Yala - one of the closest hotels to the park entrance. After some time checking in we went to our amazing room - done out in a sort of safari style, with a great balcony overlooking the pool, and a strangely outdoor bathroom (but private). After checking this for snakes for Cate, we went off on our afternoon safari. Yala is famous for leopards and elephants as well as abundant bird life. As is usual in Sri Lanka we got our "tip" briefing and how much cash to hand over for what kinds and numbers of animals, then set off into the park. This park was much less crowded than the previous one we had been to, and we often had areas of it to ourselves. We wound around dusty tracks spotting crocodiles, ibex, peacocks, storks, eagles, monitor lizards, deer, but sadly no leopards or elephants. Now we weren't really expecting to see a leopard but word came in over the mobile phone that there was one drinking at a local watering hole. The jeep got slammed into a very fast reverse and we headed over at speed. We were about 5th to arrive but soon more jeeps piled in as clearly all the drivers communicate. No leopard however.... we left without a sighting of a leopard or elephant. In summary, it wasn't as magical as our previous safari but was still fun.

As we pulled into the hotel, we became aware of a presence just past the gate - a large female elephant was hanging out just inside the electric fence that is put there to stop elephants straying into the hotel areas. It had picked up a hose that was being used by some maintenance men and delighted the few tourists just returning to the hotel. After watching this for sometime, we also spotted a bright green bird (a green bee eater).

The hotel had an amazing bar so we sat and watched the sea roll in to the beach below the hotel and indulged in a few cocktails and celebrated not having to hide indoors from the cold and rain. Clearly having noticed us in the bar, the staff tried to push cocktails on us all evening, which we obliged to a point. There were rumors that an elephant was crashing around in the foliage below the bar (which was raised up on a platform) - we could hear it, but we couldn't see one.

And so the next day was our last day with Ranjan.

We headed off in the morning along the south coast road which passes numerous pretty beaches and coves, interspersed with dull looking towns. There is also quite clearly tourism in this area as we passed tourists walking down the streets and small resorts. After a quick water stop at a little roadside place where I clearly disappointed the owner by not wanting to stop and chat for long, we arrived in Galle.

Galle is a Portuguese fortress which has been adopted by the British and the Dutch over time and extended and adapted. The walls are great for a walk around and you can get great views across the coastline. There were more snake charmers here so we had to be careful where we went but managed to have a look around. Ranjan dropped us at a buffet restaurant which we quickly bailed on and found a health food place - having eaten far too much buffet for the last few days. From the Sun Bastion of the ramparts we could see right into the international cricket stadium at Galle, famous from TV cricket broadcasts around the world. Apparently, it got ruined by the tsunami in 2006 and Shane Warne paid for it to be rebuilt, but now the Sri Lankans want it bulldozed and replaced with something much bigger.

By the way, we have been getting daily updates on India's progress in the tests in England. It's what most people want to talk to English people about here, despite their team currently playing a test series against South Africa. From the ramparts you can see right into the stadium and Ranjan tells us at he has previously driven groups of barmy army around the country, and during match days they gather on the top of the ramparts to watch the match if they don't have a ticket. We run had to try and explain the meaning of barmy....

Galle itself was fun to wander around, with lots of alleys, small shops and restaurants that are a bit geared for the visitors, as well as crumbling Dutch and Anglican churches and mosques - this area is now mainly inhabited by Muslim folk. Being 30°c again, we ended up at a craft beer place - or so it said. It only served Lion beer or Heineken.... A Lion beer was purchased however. It was nicer to wander than Kandy owing to the lack of traffic and sea side location, and we were sad we couldn't send more time here.

After a brief visit to the loos - where I washed my hands and got handed a dirty towel which made my hands smell - then asked for a tip!!!! (too much detail). We were on our way to our last stop - Bentota for some relaxation.

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