Breakfast included a party of cyclists. This group of elderly pedallers hailed from Melbourne (Australia, not the village near York). One of the party was a lot younger. By the coffee urn I asked if he was the guide? ‘No’ he said. He was the son of one of the party. I quipped that given his age he presumably was expected to fetch and carry for the rest of the party? Apparently that wasn’t the case but he was their ‘IT Help Desk’ in residence!
As she was developing a penchant for complaining Anna sought a different tent for the next night: one further away from the early risers in the kitchen. Before returning to our new abode then there was the small matter of elephants. At the Udawalawe National Park we clambered on board our 4 x 4’s and set off down the bumpy tracks to find wildlife. We certainly found the odd elephant or two!
There were so many jeeps it was hard to drive around. Here in the park I regularly inhaled diesel fumes as we parked up for passengers to gorge themselves on photos. Craig wittily commented, under his breath, that we were ‘experiencing a large migration of safari jeeps’.
This park had some other creatures including water buffalo. It was a privilege to get close to the elephants and see how they ate. Note that one elephant was apt to reach into the jeeps, this caused a little bit of anxiety for the passengers.
From here we went to an Elephant Rehab Centre. We were sat across a small moat watching about 30 animals troop into a large pen for some milk. This was a supplement to the diet of vegetation they spent all day consuming.
Elsewhere in the pen was some broken branches with tasty leaves. You could see that the babies were not sure how to consume the leaves and watched the larger elephants a little lost. This partly explains why all these ages and sizes come together. It’s because the babies can watch the other animals behave and learn: this is what would happen if they had a mother to teach them.
Sri Lanka only has a few thousand elephants but had, Prabash suggested, up to a million before the British arrived. I think the inference was that the expat gentry and military had shot them all. It has to be said that ivory was highly sought back in the day. I inherited some ivory figurines from my grandmother. She probably bought them without a second thought about the elephant population early in the 20th Century. There was a thriving industry in Europe in ornaments and piano keys.
However, I think you also have to look at a shrinking habitat and a growing Sri Lankan population displacing these giants as a contributory factor. In 1980 the population was around 15 million. Today it’s nearer 21 million. No doubt it was a fraction of that 100 years earlier. Apparently marauding elephants, in pursuit of the contents of farmer’s fields, account for about 25 human deaths a year. It’d be reasonable to guess that bereft families have killed the odd mammal. Today in these discreet areas they are kept in by electrified fences.
It was tremendous to see these animals being nurtured. Human contact is minimised and the plan is to return the animals exclusively into the wild when appropriate.
Up to this point the G Adventures itinerary had been superb. However, we ended up with a spare afternoon without an activity. In fact the plan was to spend a further night under canvas and go back to the campsite. Campsites and canvas are awful on hot sunny days – you’re best getting there when the day’s heat is falling. Prabash had the solution for us staying around the swimming pool at a hotel we’d had lunch at. The logical question was why didn’t we stay at this hotel or get on the bus and head south nearer our final destination?
The campsite meal was nearly identical to the night before. The insect bite relief came in handy at 2am after one of these little bastards bit my thumb.
It was the final bus ride as we headed south to the coast. We had lunch in Matara which is about as south as you can get on the island. The reason for this direction was to pick up a motorway back up to the suburbs of Colombo and Negombo. The speed of the motorway was worth this ‘long way round’ rather than a twisty urban route. As we’re zooming along there a pop and a bit of a shake. The rear offside tyre had punctured.
We were all allowed to stay on the bus whilst the driver and assistant did a swift job in fitting the spare. Ferrari or McLaren would have been proud. Negombo was our last location/stop on the trip. Anna had booked us two nights. We all went out for the last supper at a fish restaurant and there was lots of clinking of drinking glasses by way of our goodbyes.
Anna signed off in style (sat next to our excellent driver)
Negombo is a bustling town with a coastline dotted with hotels. Ours is fine and nicely sat on the beach, it may not be in the first flush of youth but neither is Negombo.
I’m aware patronising Westerners can be wrong in their lofty condemnation but it’s useful to show the other side of the coin as regards the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside. (Yet again I would add there is rubbish on some of our UK housing estates but we have a local Council prepared to collect their trash).
This was found amongst the fishermen on the shore mending their nets or sorting their catches. Why not pick it all up? I’m assuming that there is an agency that would carry the detritus if it were all bagged up and ready to collect. The town itself was heaving. Lots of small shops selling everything.
Being back at sea level meant the heat was intense and I walked around a stationery shop literally melting. I was afraid to touch anything made of paper as I might leave it wet.
So one last night and it was up early to get to the airport and then a long two flights back home. Amazingly on the Dubai to Manchester leg we had live Premiership football – I watched three games as well as tracked the Leeds United score on the internet. My oh my how the inflight entertainment has come along.
So in summary Anna and I enjoyed this holiday immeasurably. It was always interesting and well paced with lots to see. The country is vibrant and colourful with kindly people who never posed any safety issues or discomfort. The weather was amazing and transportation quite easy. The culture was absorbing and educational. I did fancy cycle touring much of it (not the bigger towns) such was the quality of road surfaces, availability of food and water and the gentle gradients. The guide and his crew were truly exceptional. I hope we were seen as reasonable and that we all tipped them adequately.
Being on a bus was interesting with such a mix of nationalities in the party. We got along fine although it took eight days for one person to pluck up the interest or confidence to start a conversation with me. The two millennials were brilliant and I learned a lot from both. The ‘singles’ were a trifle indulgent in a conversation: always happy to bang on about their lives in the most excruciating detail, loving the attentive audience, but never thinking to ask you a question back. Maybe this is why their single?
Only one member of the group was a burden. I haven’t talked about them here as it seemed mean and a downer. I think they had some mental health issues. One amusing story was that at one place we transferred from the bus to two jeeps for a safari. Two of the party took a toilet break including this person. When the first of the party reappeared there was a big shout from both jeeps for them to join one of the two jeeps. This shout went up because no one wanted the remaining person to join them. Craig, in this instance, was touched by the surprising affection he’d suddenly accrued!
We filled in the questionnaire saying what we thought about the trip. We were happy to give top marks except for the camping.