Yolo in Yala

It’s 14:30 and I’ve just awoke from the deepest of sleeps. Lazy gits I hear the cry but wait we had another 4am start. This time to visit Yala National Park for a Jeep Safari.

Our driver and chief spotterer, Sachithra, arrived outside as agreed at 5am on the dot. I like that. We booked him over the phone from a recommendation from Priyan whom we met at the station in Kandy. We have learnt to be more trusting of people having initially been a bit skeptical of people’s intentions and continually been proven wrong. The Sri Lankan’s we have met have been super friendly and keen to help.

The young staff here at My Village were up early too. They had prepared a take away packed breakfast for us. We felt guilty for them having to get up so early just for our breakfast so we showed our gratitude and headed for the converted Land Rover Defender.

The gates to the National Park lay about 30 minutes from our hotel. Sachithra drove like a madman overtaking jeep after jeep, who were the only ones mad enough to be up at this hour. There is a queuing system at the park and we were number 38. The entrance fee was 5000 for the jeep and 7000 for Emily and I. £60 all in isn’t a bad price considering it’s about £50 for two adults to get into Chester Zoo.

The competition to spot the first animal in the national park was won by yours truly with a glorious peacock. In hindsight there were so many peacocks in the park that it shouldn’t really have counted.

Next spot belonged to Emily with some beautiful spotted deer just like Bambi.

Then they came thick and fast. An eagle perched in a tree, a herd of water buffalo soaking up the early morning sun, a couple of crocodiles and some lazy wart hogs soaking in a muddy Wala.

The spot of the day had to be a Golden Jackal. Stood perfectly still 90 degrees to our left and amazingly camouflaged. I have no idea how Sachithra managed to drive the jeep and pick him out at the same time. Beautiful fox like face, staring hard at us for a minute or so before darting into the undergrowth.

Although at the gate their were 50 or so jeeps the park is huge so there were no jeep jams as we were led to believe from old news stories. I guess things might have been different if any of us had sighted an elusive Leopard, the main star of the park. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a Leopard but we were the first jeep on the scene to two wild elephants cracking trees and munching on the bush.

What a treat to see one in the road up ahead then get closer once it had disappeared into the tree line. Our driver skilfully positioned us within about 10 feet and killed the engine. We sat and watched this magnificent beast tear branches from up high and use its feet to separate the juicy bits whilst the trunk fed its mouth. Despite being so close to a wild Elephant we both felt a great sense of calm. Looking directly into the eye of the elephant we could sense it was completely relaxed and going about it’s normal daily routine.

On a high from seeing the elephants we headed for a pit stop by the beach to eat our breakfast before calling it a day and heading home. Just before we stopped I noticed a spider the size of my fist crawl along the roof above Emily’s head. “Move seats now” was all I could say. Hearing the abruptness in my tone Emily moved without question. I pointed to the spider and she yelped. The spider disappeared into the vinyl siding of the jeep. As soon as we stopped we jumped out and told the driver. A group of fellow drivers all gathered around as our driver unrolled the vinyl and the spider jumped out at him. Chasing it around the back of the jeep with a flip flop whilst jumping up and down with many people laughing and cringing all in good measure was a funny sight indeed.

The beach was lovely and has given us a taste for what is to come. The next few weeks we are heading to the coast starting with Talalla and ending in Bentota.

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