Ayubowan! (Sri Lankan greeting).
The journey from North Yorkshire – Heathrow – Colombo – Wilpattu was a long one, but, you’ll never guess what – smooth. What a shame. I thought we may have done a boob and flown to Colombo (Brazil) by mistake. We didn’t. (What a blog piece that would have been though!). Or I could have drawn the predictable short straw and spent an 11 hour flight sat next to someone stinky, such as frequent bottom burper. But no, it was actually just Mum and she was fine. Surely I at least accidentally left my retainers at home? Alas, no. The experience was genuinely smooth as silk.
It was still a 4.5 hour car journey from Colombo airport to our first destination, Wilpattu. I don’t think we said a lot to each other (Mum and I). Or maybe we nattered the whole way. I wouldn’t know. Being overtired and experiencing some jet lag means existing in a bubble of confusion. Maybe we were in Brazil?
Fear not, we made it. Wilpattu National Park: Sri Lanka’s precious land where one has the best chance in Sri Lanka to cast their eyes on a wild leopard. Perhaps an elephant too, if you’re lucky. It has always been a dream of mine to see such creatures in the complete wilderness. No cages. No fences. Just roaming free and living off the land.
For our first night we slept in a treehouse. I think a squirrel of some sort was in there too along with mosquitos (of course) and a family of unnamed exotic bugs.
It was a long night but the sun eventually rose and I felt blessed to greet the day in what already feels like, a rather special, beautiful place in the world. I’m in Sri Lanka, I thought.
I have just woken up in a tree.
I have just woken up in a tree, in Sri Lanka.
I like it here.
Breakfast is usually my favourite meal of the day so I was looking forward to what our first Sri Lankan breakfast would bring. They smile fondly at us, the foreigners, expecting to eat with cutlery. Sri Lankans just get straight in their with their fingers and hands and I’m sure they think we’re rather odd and rather demanding for expecting a spoon.
Firstly we were given a ‘Leaf Soup.’ They call it ‘Green porridge’ and it’s basically a leafy green warm smoothie with some rice in there too.
“Very good. Very nutritious” said our new friend Sanjay who served it to us. Mum and I shared a glance between us both. Quite a clear “Erm. What the fudge” sort of glance. But then we both smiled that “bottoms up / when in Rome” sort of smile and put the green porridge to our lips.
My response boiled down to an unimaginative, unintelligent, “errrrmmmm…..” basically meaning; it’s not vom in your mouth awful. But I also shan’t be adding it to the weekly shopping list.”
Next is what you’d expect for breakfast before 8am – potato curry and spicy chutney. Why not. Must say, it was pleasing to have some sliced pineapple and watermelon too.
Our next couple of days would be spent with wildlife enthusiast, Namal, who would unleash on us his incredible knowledge, humour and truly exquisite Sri Lankan hospitality (staying in one of his very cool tents at Wilpattu safari camp).
He has a kind face, a fascinating brain and a rather round belly. “I. Just. Love. Food” he told us as he cradled his stomach and pops his 4th chunk of chocolate Swiss roll into his smiling little face. “Come, let’s go and find some leopards…”
As we sat around a camp fire, under the Sri Lankan stars, (Just the 3 of us: Mum, Namal and I) I had that wonderful “pinch me” sensation. It’s only now looking back at it, I was in a little bubble of present moment bliss (something I rarely experience). For once, I wasn’t worried about work. Life. Relationships. Self doubt. I was just sitting, watching a campfire. Wondering if a leopard was watching me. Starting to smell that delicious Dahl, Sri Lankan String Hoppers (like rice noodles) and coconut sambol. Dinner was served…. (must add, these moments of forgetting about life back at home can’t be said when in the car listening to Sri Lankan radio, for even THEY are barking on about Brexit).
It’s 5am and we’re up ready for safari day 2. Just had a questionable coffee and some cream crackers to line the stomach before the bumpy Jeep ride into the depths of the wilderness.
During our two days in Wilpattu, unfortunately we didn’t see a leopard or an elephant. (So I’m holding out for our next location, Habarana!) We did however see deer, buffalo, exotic birds, mongoose, crocodile, snake and a giant sloth bear! The sloth bear stopped in his tracks when he heard our engine. He looked right at us. All I could think of was FLOPPY EARS. He has such floppy ears!!!
We had a picnic breakfast in the camp as the sun slowly started to warm our skin. Namal had kindly packed some boiled eggs and egg sandwiches in the back of his jeep as a vegetarian option for us. I told him yesterday I liked bananas and so he had bought be a whole bag full of sweet mini bananas for me too.
As we bid farewell to Namal I truly do wish him a treasured life, for he is such a gem of a man. May his Swiss rolls always be sweet and his curries always be fragrant. And may he always look back fondly on his memories doing Iron Man before he, quote Namal, “did his back in.” (That guy really was full of surprises!) Take care, Namal. Now on to Habarana we go….