“Is that noise your stomach or is that a giant sloth bear?”

We arrived safely in Habarana, although it was a little uncertain drive as our very sweet driver, Adam, risked taking an unknown shortcut, which actually resulted in us asking locals for directions on every little corner. Old school Sat Nav, ey. 

The following morning we awoke to greet the day with climbing up Sigiriya Rock – a bold statement of a 274m rock standing proud in the Sri Lankan countryside, which has gained a respectful reputation of being the 8th wonder of the world. With that kind of status = an overcrowding sea of annoying tourists. 

Why are you here. 

Why did everyone come in the morning. 

Why are you walking so slowly. 

Why can’t Mum and I have a selfie with the rock without someone else’s selfie stick poking me in the back. 

I’m a terrible person. Of course, Mum and I are also making everyone else feel that way too. 

(Note: I haven’t yet progressed to the selfie stick dark-side and I only sink as low as the classic long arm and forced grin). 

Apart from the irritating crowds, Sigiriya was a phenomenal experience. Our calves were burning from the never ending steps and our scalps were burning from the penetrating sun, but those views at the top: wow. It’s mind blowing to see the ruins of the palace up there. Imagine building that on the top of such a rock!? And what ‘King’ wants, ‘King’ gets. He even had his workers put two swimming pools up there. How the heck did they get the water all the way to the top!? What a lad. 

It was a little touch and go being so far away from the bathroom up at the top… 

Due to the nature of travelling, the way of life out here, and the exotic and occasionally risky food… Tum tum is in for a bumpy ride… 

I feel over the history of this blog I’ve already revealed too much about my bowel movements, but take a look at any of my previous India or Thailand or Indonesia posts and you’ll get the idea…We’re actually (touch wood) not too bad at the moment, but equally in a constant state of never wanting to be too far away from a washroom… 

We next made our way to a traditional rural village location. Now I’m gonna risk sounding like an awful human (again) here, but our local guide who we had leading the way did my nut in (thank goodness it wasn’t a full day tour). He was like an overgrown Boy Scout / Dora the Explorer type. The type who definitely always raised their hand in class even if they didn’t know the answer. The type that takes too many selfies. The type that says too much irrelevant information. The type that would probably make great First Dates material on Channel 4, offering high doses of cringe…

We took a catamaran across the lake to meet a Sri Lankan family who showed us how to make traditional roti and coconut pol sambol for lunch. All old traditional tools were used for making it – like an outdoor sturdy table and big rolling pin for crushing the chillies, salt and lime, and also a large old blade for slicing and grating the coconut. All very heavy equipment. They joked, “no need for the gym here!”

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We ate with our suncreamy fingers off a large banana leaf as our plate.  Warm roti (almost like a thicker chapatti made with rice flour / coconut) was so good it feels like your tummy is smiling when you eat it. And the fresh, fiery red chilli pol sambol was utterly mouthwatering. Cleanliness of the whole process: questionable. 

We rode back to meet Adam via a bullock cart and were greeted with a much appreciated air conditioned vehicle. Soon to change though. After our bad luck over the last two days with no wild elephant sitings… we have both agreed to pay for safari number 3. Thanks to making a Sri Lankan friend with local knowledge, he found ‘our guy’ with a jeep and knowledge of the wilderness tracks. (As with anywhere in the world… it’s who you know!!) 

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Well aren’t we two lucky ladies. My dream to see one wild elephant – no fences, no cages, no vets bills, roaming free, living off the land… That dream was injected with steroids and multiplied as we were greeted with SO MANY WILD ELEPHANTS. I stopped counting at 26.

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We first cast our eyes on 3 females and a baby – no older than 6months old. Tugging at the foliage. Wandering. Who knows where. Just free. 

It was an unusual sensation I felt when seeing them. Joy. Excitement. Slight guilt. Intrigue. 

The slight guilt comes from even though these guys are wild, the fact I was there, looking at them, holding my camera, still sparked some negative feelings. 

Maybe they don’t want me looking at them. 

Maybe they don’t want their photograph taken. 

Have I gone ‘must get consent’ mad? 

Am I too sensitive? 

I tried to stamp on my niggling negativity and just embrace this moment and feel blessed for looking upon such beautiful creatures. 

We saw more as we drove deeper into the wild park land. Sometimes we were extremely close, at one point, so close I could almost lean out of the roofless jeep and touch her. 

Thank you, Habarana, for giving me my wild elephant dream! Next stop: Kandy… 

Buffalo & Brexit

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. 

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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.” 

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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. 

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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). 

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***

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. 

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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….