Wake up time 4:30 am, Departure time 5:00 am. I packed and left the luggage in the office of the Travelers Home, the guesthouse where I stayed in a charming cabana surrounded by palm trees. The jeep was waiting and boarded it together with two Italians from Bologna and drove in the dark about half hour till we got to the Yala park’s entrance. The park fee of about 3500Rs was included in the 5900Rs I paid for the tour, in a jeep with two other people. Probably if you are 6 in the jeep is cheaper. We waited to enter the park about 15 minutes and when we got in flashes of lighting where on the horizon. Luckily the rain went some other way and the weather was perfect till we left the park, around noon, when rain pelted us till we got back in Tissa. The animals were awake waiting for tourists….First we saw an elephant swimming, Pumba wild boars crossing the road, stork and ibises, etc. The drive is intense and the jeeps are chasing locations where they hear from other drivers, or from cell phone calls, that there are animals. But you may just bump into animals by simply cruising, The highlight for the spotters, employees of the park that may come with you in the jeep, is to see a leopard, We did not have a spotter but our driver was a pretty good one anyhow. There are about 250 leopards in the park but they are very elusive and is very hard to spot them. At one time we waited for a while because in a tree we saw monkeys who were having a commotion , an indication that the leopard was close but after a longer wait we gave up. We drove around going to all the lakes from Block 1 and we saw a bear, jackals, water buffalos swimming and sitting in the mud, lots of occasional elephants very close, one of them doing a mud bath, lots of birds of various colors big and small, peacocks, etc. At one moment it happen a commotion because the word was passed that a leopard was spotted in a tree. All the jeeps rushed there driving at full speed on the unpaved and very bumpy road and when we got at the right place we found a jeep line like at the gas stations during Sandy. We waited for a while and we got our position to spot the leopard who was sleeping on a branch in a tree, oblivious of the human commotion he created. If he were able to sell ticket for the show of his existence he would have been a rich leopard. But the interesting part was when we left the spot and we realized that the jeep line was really huge, maybe 30 cars or more being in line to spot the animal. So probably because of the leopard show the park was emptied and we almost bumped in a elephant family of 5 who were roaming and eating happily on the road with no spectators. So we assisted them for a while till other jeeps joined us for the show and we left toward Tissa on the way out bumping in jackals and large lizards hidden in the trees, spotted deers and bocks and many others. When we got off the park the rain that was threatening us in the morning materialized and we had to close the jeep on the way back not to be drenched. All of us considered the safari being of an excellent quality including Mario, the Italian from Bologna who was also in Kruger National Park in South Africa. We all loved what animals we saw, the diversity and richness, but mainly we loved the park being so green and full of life. The drive itself, bumpy and intense, is a pleasure and added to the value of the trip. It is definitively a do-not-miss destination in Sri Lanka. In Habarana they told me that there are no elephants in Yala; we saw more than what we needed so don’t believe the touts ever. We got to Travelers House, paid for the night and got a recommendation for Starfish Beach House in Tangalle the next place where I was going. They have this way of doing business, they recommend each other, guesthouses of the same level of comfort, and they even call to let them know that you come. But meanwhile I had to go in Tissa, or Tissamaharama as is officially called, to change some money. The banks were closed on Saturday but obviously I easily found somebody to change in a store and I was able also to get, as I was advised from Ella, a battery to bring to life my watch that decided to stop at one moment. I returned to the hotel and said goodbye to my nice host praising the Yala trip, send some emails from the always-anywhere free wi-fi, a far cry from the “first world countries” where you have to pay for wi-fi through your nose and got soon in a bus to Tangalle (1 1/2 hours, 120Rs) on the Southern cost of the island. The driver was driving like a maniac, like all do, but the traffic is more manageable than in India and we got in close to 2 hours in Tangalle. …Tuk-tuk (150Rs) to the Star Fish beach Hotel who knew that I come but they did not have rooms and they pointed me to the neighbor, a German, Walter who came here 30 years ago and never left again. He had a bungalow available around 5:00 pm in Villa Abaliya (2500Rs) so I left my luggage and asked them for a coffee that it work as my day brunch at 3:30 pm waiting for evening for the only meal of the day. Again! It is no time when you travel and food is optional…I left for a walk and it looked like everybody in the village wanted to have a chat because I was approached by many, one telling me about his pleasure to have foreigners come, another showing me his decoration from military and his wounds fighting the Tamil Tigers and offering me a very good fruit, medicine fruit, that he prepared with palm honey and it was delicious. I found out where the fishermen are coming at sunrise and and somebody said that they will meet me tomorrow morning there. Quite a hectic life here in Tangalle! I took a late evening bath in the warm Indian ocean replacing the shower that I could not have after Yala. When I told Walter that people are so nice, he told me that some just act nice… I am sure he knows better but still I did not have bad interactions this trip. Finally I returned to Star Fish and had the promised fish BBQ they were talking about all day and a well deserved beer on the beach writing my blog.
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka