Wild thing, You make my heart sing ……

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March 30th 2012
Published: March 30th 2012
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On arriving in Tissa we decided to explore the town in search of transport for the following day’s safari and were advised to take the scenic route which took us around Tissa Wewa a large lake near our guest house. What a surprise was in store for us as immediately we happened upon a small troupe of monkeys just hanging around and then a little further around the lake an excited couple of young lads on a motorbike pointed to a crocodile lazing in the sun. Easy to be excited to see one when you have the luxury of a motorbike, but I wasn’t too sure we could out run one if necessary. Then further on still we saw hundreds of fruit bats in two large trees waiting for dusk and tea time. What a wonderful show from Mother Nature and best of all it was free, which is not something we have been used to in Sri Lanka.

On recommendation from a couple we met in Haputale we booked into the Sakura Guest House in Tissa and almost immediately wished we hadn’t, but it was only for one night as we decided we would leave the following day immediately
Eagle eyedEagle eyedEagle eyed

and super quick
after we had finished our safari. The room was very basic and a bit grubby with walls not joining up with ceilings meant later in the evening the bugs would be having a field day in our room. But by far the most bizarre thing was when we had dinner there. I have to say the food was quite nice and there was far too much of it, but as the family seemed to be having a new floor laid we were invited into their kitchen to have our dinner. How nice you would think – well it wasn’t. We sat at the table with the family sitting around on chairs just watching us all the time we ate. The two little girls kept up a constant flow of chatter and to be honest we both felt very uncomfortable. So we hurriedly finished the dinner and escaped back to our room on the pretext we needed to get to sleep for our early start the following day.

We had organised to share the cost of the transport into Sri Lanka’s second largest national park, Yala National Park, with 4 Czechs we had met in Haputale and as the cost for transport was 5,500 rupees, £25, we were well pleased we could share it. On the day there were actually 7 of us so even better. Unfortunately we still had to pay the highly inflated tourist fee, £25 each, to get into the park and we were hoping it would be worth it. Although we had read we would also have to pay for a park guide our driver assured us we didn’t need one, so we didn’t actually hire one but that doesn’t mean we didn’t pay for one in the overall price!

Yala covers an area of over 1000 sq km although visitors are actually only allowed into 1/5th of this actual area, the rest being a strict national reserve. It is home to wild leopards, elephants and a plethora of other creatures, so we were hopeful of seeing something but dared not to get too excited about seeing the elusive leopard, just in case we were disappointed. Our safari started early in the morning, 5am, so we could be at the park entrance for when it opened at 6am. It seemed ridiculously early to us, but as we soon found out getting there early and some very nifty driving meant we got almost to the front of the queue. Well done to our driver. As Chris was going to get our entrance tickets I saw my first wild animal of the day; a very large wild boar just mooching around the cars looking for a tasty morsel. Good start.

Most of the roads in Yala are red and dusty and bumpy, so a lot of the time it feels like you are being shaken around in a blender, but our guide certainly knew the places to go to see some of the wildlife. On the drive in we were lucky enough to see water buffalo, which I am quite fond of purely because of their sad faces, crocodiles, many brightly coloured birds, wild boar, deer and then there was a phone call. Before we knew it we were drawing up alongside a string of other jeeps to get our view of that elusive, rare and beautiful leopard. I can see why some people don’t like the idea of joining lots of snap happy tourists and the line of jeeps may detract from the spectacle, but we were seeing a
Just hanging aroundJust hanging aroundJust hanging around

looking beautiful
wild leopard and we didn’t care if we had to share the experience with thousands. It was fantastic, high up in a tree it was just lounging around and looking at us as if it had all the time in the world, or maybe it was sizing up which one would make a tasty snack for its next meal. We stayed there for a while but eventually had to move on to let others experience the delight we had felt at seeing such a beautiful animal in its natural habitat. We couldn’t believe our luck and with grins the size of Cheshire cats we cheekily asked our driver if he could now top off the experience by finding us some wild elephants. He would see what he could do, was his reply.

A bit more driving around, and a chat with a jeep driver coming the other way down a track, saw us darting off to see something else and as we rounded a corner there, munching its way through the swampy grass, was a wild elephant. We love elephants, as you probably have gathered, but seeing one in the wild was nothing like seeing them in

as they should be
captivity. For a start this lovely young male had the most beautiful, scar free skin, unlike those in domestication who have been beaten, broken and injured to gain their obedience. He couldn’t care less about us, but was happy tucking into his breakfast. For us, being able to see a leopard and an elephant definitely made the entrance fee and the early start worthwhile.

After all that excitement we were still lucky enough to see another two elephants, monitor lizards, more beautiful birds and some monkeys. In fact we have been robbed twice now whilst on this trip and both times it has been by a monkey. This time we stopped at a river where the jeep drivers stop for a break and because they feed the local monkey troupe they have become unafraid of people and even a bit cheeky. One very cheeky chappie decided to have a quick rummage through our bag left open in the jeep and, with the choice of either bananas or a packet of biscuits, decided to make off with the latter to everyone’s amusement.

As far as Yala is concerned it is expensive when you take into account the entrance fee and transport, but if you are like us and get to see wild leopards and elephants suddenly the cost seems insignificant. A great experience and we were even back by 10.30 am, so were able to head off to our next destination and yet more wild things.

The bus took us to paradise, or Tangalle, and the Mangrove Garden and Beach Cabanas on Marakolliya. With a couple of nights in a lovely cabana right on the beach with its bathroom in a basement accessed by a trap door we were very pleased (although be warned the trap door is very heavy and hurts when you drop it on your big toe, as Chris can attest to). The food was very nice and the staff were helpful and on our first night there we set out with one of the young lads in search of female turtles who scramble exhausted up the beach at Rekawa to lay their eggs. Now a nice stroll along a gorgeous beach in search of turtles sounds idyllic, well it did to me anyway, but it actually turned out to be a 3km route march over the softest sand.
National BirdNational BirdNational Bird

of Sri Lanka
After half the way I was flagging terribly and seriously considered just laying down on the beach and letting the sea take me. Unfortunately there were not turtles that night so eventually we turned round, but for some reason the young lad thought that my pleas for a tuk tuk on the way back was a joke and was met with laughter, suddenly I was funny and I didn’t even know it.

So after a day spent relaxing on the beach we decided to do things differently and go along to Rekawa and the Turtle Conservation Project to see if we would be more successful. Local lads keep an eye on the nests to protect the eggs from poachers, and seeing as most of them used to be egg poachers until converted they probably know what they are looking out for. The project provides turtle nest protection and research at Rekawa as well as environmental education training, school lectures, free English training and nature guide training for the locals who were once dependent upon turtle egg poaching.

As soon as we arrived we were quickly ushered onto the beach by one of the guides informing us that a turtle had just laid her eggs. She turned out to be a huge Green Turtle and by the time we arrived she was just adding the finishing touches to covering up the nest and was trying to turn round to get back to the sea. The guides don’t shine any lights on the turtle when she is making her way up the beach and when she is laying eggs because they don’t want to put her off, but now that the job was done she was illuminated so we could see her. She seemed to be confused by what was going on, with the people around her and some were trying to touch her as she made her way down to the sea. I have to admit I felt a little uncomfortable at this point and started to feel that I shouldn’t be there. But after she had made her way back into the sea most of the other people left and we stayed for a while speaking to a local chap, by which time another had struggled up on to the beach and we were herded off. Not knowing how I would feel this

but eggs laid
time, we quietly made our way up to the spot and it was immediately obvious there was something wrong. She had started to laboriously dig out her nest right by the water’s edge and we could see that in no time at all the water would be spilling over the edge. With only a few of us to witness the spectacle this time things were much quieter, but the guides and project volunteer were obviously worried about the turtle. As the water started to spill into the nest she started to abandon it and then it became obvious what was wrong; she had a damaged front flipper. The guides carefully helped her to dig out of the hole and she slowly made her way back to the sea, apparently to return 2 or 3 more times to try again but if unable to lay her precious eggs she would have to dump them in the sea to ensure her health. Talking to the Turtle Conservation Project Volunteer her injuries were probably as a result of being caught in a fishing net, which is apparently a common cause of death for these lovely animals. Apparently, although they can stay under water for about 5 hours, if they get caught in nets they panic and can drown within 10 minutes, so although injured it was lucky that she was still alive and at least able to swim. We all had fingers crossed that she would gain strength and if unable to lay eggs this year, maybe would be recovered enough next year to make that exhausting trip back to the same beach, carefully lay her precious cargo in the warm sand and help ensure the future of turtle numbers.

A wonderful experience for a total of £17, including the tuk tuk ride up there and back. It is always difficult with these types of things to know if visiting is the right thing to do and apparently it will take up to 30 years before the project has collected enough data to know if it has had a positive impact on turtle numbers. But the fact that the local villagers, who were once turtle egg poachers, have now become passionate about turtle conservation can only be move in the right direction.

With all the excitement of the last few days we were off again, this time to Mirissa, on the trail of more wildlife: the blue whale. Mirissa has a pretty enough beach, but like all we have seen so far in Sri Lanka has a roaring surf to contend with, so not family friendly. It is also congested with cafes where you can sit and wile away the time, until the tide comes in and washes you away! But we were only here for the whales so didn’t really mind about the beach. We booked the trip through our guesthouse at a cost of 6,500 rupees, we chose the higher priced trip as the boat looked better than that offered for 4,500 rupees. It was a boat which seated 50 people but only had 17 on the day so was very spacious, but not sure what it would have been like with 50 on board. It was relatively cumbersome to manoeuvre, however, and a number of the smaller boats we saw on the day were able to zip around so much easier on the trail of the largest animal on the planet. So if we did it again we would probably try and get on a smaller quicker boat.

On the boat ride out to the area where blue whales are spotted we happened upon a huge pod of Spinner Dolphins and, guess what, they do exactly what their name implies. They were frolicking around and launching themselves out of the water and dizzily spinning before plunging back into the choppy seas, only to do the same thing again almost immediately. What an energetic acrobatic display, and not knocking these lively little things, but to be truthful we really wanted to see whales. After a little further out to sea one of the lads on the boat pointed to a puff of water a little distance away which we were reliably informed came from the blow hole of a blue whale, apparently identifiable by the size and slight angle of the water jet. We couldn’t believe we were actually going to see one and so early on in the trip as well. We know they are the biggest animal to ever have existed on the planet, but seeing them up close really brings it home actually how big they are, and we only saw a little bit of it the rest being below the surface. Truly breathtaking. We were amazed not only by the size but also its power evident by the wake it left in the water. We had seen the biggest animal on the planet for a few moments before it gently arched its back and surged down to the depths. After that it seemed as though the whole area was besieged by blue whales, everywhere we looked in the distance the tell-tale puff of water gave away the presence of these giants. Unfortunately for us, however, most of the time they were too far away to get to in time (hence the smaller zippier boats are better) but even so we must have seen about 8 or 9 (some we may have seen twice but impossible to tell) and a couple came so close to the boat that they were too long to get a complete photo of. This was an absolutely fantastic trip, we don’t know if others are as lucky with the amount they see but apparently for some reason the blue whales love this part of the world (and why wouldn’t you) so sightings are fairly often.

In a few days we have had the privilege of witnessing some of the best aspects of our planet; beautiful creatures as they should be seen in their natural habitat and not imprisoned in zoos, suffering at our hands, or through pictures of once beautiful creatures that roamed the earth but are now extinct. We can only hope that the effect of tourism is one of protection which ensures that they are still around so future generations can experience what we have been lucky enough to see.

Additional photos below
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3rd January 2013

Love your story
I loved reading you're blog and pleased to read that you saw so many animals. My boyfriend and I are looking forward to our trip in March and hope to see as many as you did! If you have anymore tips please contact me.
16th January 2013

Thank you Eveline. I hope you have a wonderful time. It is a stunning country and Yala is amazing. I wish we had the chance (and money) to visit more of the National parks. We have travelled a lot but have never seen the amount of beautiful creatures, in one country, that we saw in Sri Lanka.

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