We are sitting here this morning in our jammies watching the sun come up, and praising God for the beauty of His creation. Sights such as the view out our window are part of the treasure of a lifetime of travel. This particular view is right up there with the Cape Breton coastline and the view from the balcony at Palau Redang. We feel fortunate to be here, even if we had to get up at 5:45 to see the sun rise on Adam’s Peak. That’s it over there on the right. You can’t see up to the top in this view, but if you listen closely perhaps you can hear the spectacular waterfall cascading down its slopes.
When the kitchen opened we ordered coffee, showered and warmed up in the window overlooking the valley. After a passable breakfast we hit the road, stopping as little as possible as we wanted to hit Tissa before noon. We overshot our mark and got there by 11, paid and tipped the driver and checked into to a very nice little guesthouse on the side of Tissa Lake. Not knowing quite how to set about exploring the town, we settled on the guest bicycles, and started down the dirt track that wound around the lake. Along the way we saw all kinds of waterfowl .
About half-way around the lake we were hailed by a friendly fellow who insisted we check out the view from his place. We acceded (sometimes it pays to be gracious, as you will shortly see) and allowed him to pick some papaya and blend it into a juice for us. While we sat sipping and watching the waterfowl, a Safari Jeep pulled into the compound to drop of a load of smiling tourists. Now we knew that Yala National Park was nearby, and had in fact chosen Tissa as a destination for that reason. We knew too that Yala was very highly rated, both for its diversity of wildlife and the management of its plants and animals. We also knew, because we had checked before we left Malaysia, that it was prohibitively expensive to do a safari there. But since the Jeep was right there, and the guy was right there, we had to ask. To our delight it was only going to be 5500 rupees, about $50 Canadian, for both of us and wouldn’t you know it the next five hour safari started in about twenty minutes! We were in!
We quickly scooted back to the guesthouse and loaded up on water and bug repellant, made arrangements for supper and packed our cameras and the binoculars. I always travel with binoculars, but today I would be wishing I had two pair, for it was hard to share when the sights were so engrossing. Right on time the driver showed up, and we drove through some very pleasant scenery for about an hour to get to the park entrance. The park wanted another $50 bucks and our passports, so if you are going – and if you come to Sri Lanka you should – then be prepared. We haven’t seen any room safes on this trip, so we have carried our passports in a waist pouch since we landed. Lucky for us, as no one had told us they would be needed. We also took on a ‘tracker’, who turned out to be worth his weight in gold.
Pam spotted our first sight within minutes, a large bull elephant grazing on some trees right beside the road. Our tracker figured him to be about 40; he had no tusks, unlike his African counterparts. His appearance seemed to set the tone for the next three hours; one sighting after another in rapid succession. The highlight was undoubtedly the large Sri Lankan leopard, a huge male with golden fur and white spots resplendent on his rock outcropping. After that we saw sambar, which are elk-sized deer, spotted deer, golden jackal, wild pig, all manner of water buffalo, three more elephants, a black-napped hare, black-faced hanuman languor with their grey fur blending perfectly into the grey bark of the tree, and a lone crocodile patiently tracking its prey through the water lilies.
With over two hundred species, the birds in the park were almost too numerous to catalogue. There were snipes and shrikes, egrets and spoonbills, stilts, stints, crakes and cranes. We saw jacanas and hoopoes, bee-eaters and flycatchers, both very lovely birds by the way, peacocks and pelicans, whistling teals and night herons. We saw an Indian roller, a beautiful bird with blue feathers a green back and an orange breast, and an Indian darter, much like a cormorant, but more colourful. We saw the national bird of Sri Lanka, the Ceylon spurfowl, a shy rooster-like bird and lots of white ibis, with their black curved bills. We saw a magnificent crested hawk-eagle, and the flamingo-like painted stork. My personal favourite was the totally inappropriately named common kingfisher. He was a gorgeous fellow with his electric blue back and wings and pumpkin orange breast. I don’t think I named them all, but you surely get the picture; it was a banquet for the eyes!
Our last view of the park was the massive back of the Sri Lankan leopard as we drove reluctantly away to make the 6 o’clock closure time. The guidebook will tell you that this is Asia’s premier wildlife preserve. What it won’t tell you is what kind of effect that has on you. After dropping and profusely thanking our trekker whose eagle eyes has spotted so much wildlife, we drove the hour back to the guesthouse in semi-stunned silence. We had another lovely meal and went to bed exhausted not from the effort, but from processing so much sensory information in such a short period of time. It was just fourteen hours from the dizzying heights of Adams Peak to the almost spiritual experience of Yala National Park. Our guest house neighbours summed it up by saying Sri Lanka is like a shrink-wrapped India. Everything you can find on the mainland is here, it is just condensed. It can be a little overwhelming.