Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sri Lanka; The South Coast, 8th – 15th March

Tissamaharama; Yala National Park, 8th – 9th March

Thanks to the taxi decision, we arrive around midday at our guesthouse, Vikum Lodge, a lot earlier than previously expected. The guesthouse is pretty, but unfortunately, badly run and not as clean as it should be. We spend the entire day in the outdoor communal area of the guesthouse, reading, drinking beer, engaging in philosophical discussion with a very sweet English couple and dining with a lovely French couple, Carole and Luc, from Marseille.

It’s a 5am start on Tuesday morning and we’re in a jeep heading to Yala National Park ... the whole reason why we have come here to Tissa. We have organised a morning safari around the park. Despite a disorganised start, it turns out to be amongst one of the best things we’ve done on our trip. Luck was on our side today, big time!

Yala National Park, is a wildlife protection zone of spanning over 120,000 hectares in size ... made up of forest, scrub, grass plains and lagoons. Heaven for animal lovers. We see all sorts of wonderful birds, crocodiles, monitor lizards, wild boars, funky faced monkeys, dear, peacocks, buffalo, mongoose, the jungle fowl (Sri Lanka’s national bird) ... we feel truly blessed already. But this is only the beginning. In this massive piece of land, there are about 30-35 leopards inhabiting the space. Of course, being shy animals, and being so few in number, we are warned that the likeliness of seeing one is very slim ... if we’re lucky we may see one very far and high up in the trees. Well nobody could have been luckier than we were today.

We approach another jeep (that turned out to be Carole and Luc’s jeep), and they signal to us to slow down and keep quiet. We turn off the engines and peer through the bush, eventually spotting this majestic cat. What a moment, it was so amazing to see that we found ourselves holding our breath longer than we should! It disappears, we wait a while, and we see it coming out of the bush right in front of us. It moves with such grace and finesse. This cat defines elegance. It’s crouched down hunting the young buffalo a bit further up the road. What a treat to this cat in its natural habitat! The master of camouflage is out in the open and has seen us, but he doesn’t care, he’s more concerned about his next meal! Even the guides and trackers were intrigued ... this is a rare occasion even for them. How lucky to get such a clear, close-up view, and for such a long time! That is until another jeep comes screeching up behind us, with two English tourists screaming their heads off ... of cause the leopard got scared away! Did they think they were in a zoo or something? So irritating!

Our luck didn’t stop there ... 10 minutes later we spotted some wild elephants, and then a black bear running through the bush and on to a massive rock, and then, just before leaving, we get a quick glimpse of yet another leopard! A female one this time, but she was scared of us and ran off into the bush. What a wonderful morning, the chance to see all these wondrous beasts in their natural habitat! There’s not much in life that can compare to that.

We got back to the guesthouse around 10.30am. Luc and Carole did a full day in the reserve, but offered us a lift to Mirissa (our next destination) as they had hired a private driver and were going there too. We couldn’t face the bus again. So we hung around at the guesthouse waiting for them to finish their day of animal spotting and tell us more about it.

Click here and here for the wonderful pics.

Mirissa, 9th – 12th March

In the car at 6.30 and in Mirissa by 9pm. Sri Lankans go to bed early, everything seems to be closed, but luckily we manage to get some dinner with Carole and Luc at their guesthouse ... fresh grilled fish with fries and salad, perfect.

The next day we decide to change our guesthouse for one on the other side of the road for a quarter of the price, but still with the most perfect view of the sea. We’re pleasantly surprised by just how idyllic Mirissa is ... we thought that we were all beached out, but it’s so lovely here that we consider staying a little longer than planned. You’re almost in paradise here.

Our main reason for coming to Mirissa is to go Blue Whale spotting, as you can apparently see them not far from the south coast of Sri Lanka. We take a scorching hot walk to the port to find out a little more about it ... it turns out to be ridiculously expensive, so unfortunately no whale spotting for us this time. The next two days are spent with Luc and Carole; hanging around on the beach, lunching and dining on some mean rice and curry dishes, drinking cocktails and battling the playful waves.

Click here for photos.

Galle, Unawatuna, 12th – 13th March

Friday morning, we’re up early and have breakfast at a little food hut right in front of the guesthouse ... Roti (Indian bread) and Dhal (lentils) curry ... a classic breakfast for any Sri Lankan. A short trot down the road and we’re back on another bus to Unawatuna, where we will spend the night and use as base to visit the city of Galle.

Once we find an appropriate place to lay our head and dump our bags, we’re back on another local bus to Galle. A very impressive city, where the Dutch influence is incredibly pleasant. Now being a mainly Muslim populated town, we thought that we had come to visit at the worst time ... Friday afternoon, when most of the town is closed for prayers. It actually turned out to be the most peaceful time to visit, and meant that we didn’t get suffer as much from tourist harassment ... just a continuation of the long hard stares at Renu ... presumably wondering what a ‘Sri Lankan girl’ is doing in Western dress, walking around with a white man! Ignoring the stares, Renu indulges in watching a little part of a cricket game, while Nico comments on the futility of the game:-)

Back in Unawatuna, we change into our swimming gear for a late afternoon dip at the beach, mainly to cool down from the heat of the day. The beach is nowhere near the idyllic place the guide book describes it to be, but we make do:-). As we come out of the water, we turn and see unexpectedly our friends Carole and Luc that we’d left in Mirissa. It’s really nice to see them, we’ve known them barely a week, but have got quite close and it feels like with known them for a lot longer! We have a few drinks at a beach bar as the sun goes down, and then head off for probably the best Italian food in all of Sri Lanka, this is once Luc and Carole has bought almost an entire shop’s worth of hard carved wooden objects!

Click here for the pictures.

Hikkaduwa, 13th – 14th March

Another bus to Hikkaduwa, we didn’t originally plan on coming here, but as it’s Saturday night, we thought it might be a good place to do a little partying, especially as Carole and Luc plan to join us here. It turns out to be a wonderful surprise ... a fabulous beach with perfect ways for surfing ... we decide immediately that we will definitely be back here for a future holiday of surfing, tea and curry! We spend the afternoon playing in the waves, while a thunder storm breaks out above us. Fabulous. Unfortunately that night, we’re unable to find Carole and Luc, so the party ends up being a quite one between the two of us. We’re just sad that we don’t have more time to spend here. Back to Negombo tomorrow.

Pics are here.

Negombo, 14th – 15th March

We need to head to Colombo where we’ll change buses to get to Negombo as we get our plane to Chennai tomorrow. Its long painful journey on a local, rusty tin-bucket city bus, not enough room for us and our bags ... jam packed, crazy driving, constant beeping and sweaty bodies falling all over you. We arrive at the same guesthouse we stayed in two weeks ago, Ocean View ... in a state of disrepair. The evening is spent recuperating before possibly the hardest part of our long journey ... our visit to Incredible India!

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