After our day of gorgeous sunshine and not so gorgeous sun burn we decided to brave the slightly drier roads and venture into the wilds to find some elephants. The hotel did warn us that the elephant do not like the rain so there was a possibility that we may not see any. Deciding to see the elephants was the easy part now we had to actually had to find a park that was actually open to tourists because of all the rain. Also we wanted to try find something closer to the hotel for the kids but we were not in luck and so we set off on a nearly two and a half hour drive to the Minneria Eco Elephant park. Again I cannot explain how grateful we were to have taken our kids car seats with us! As we drove through the country side we were able to appreciate the natural beauty around us. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different shades of green before.
Through the different towns we could still see the after effects of the civil war that raged just four years before and this was highlighted by the multitude of military camps which we drove passed. There were infantry camps, tank divisions and many others sprawled across open patches of land but their presence was unmistakable. As we got closer to the park we saw that we were heading into a more touristic part of Sri Lanka, there were national heritage sites, Archaeological dig sites and huge Buddha statues.
As we headed out of town we can around a corner to the mist beautiful lake and there it its edges stood four lone bull elephants but there were so many cars parked to take pictures of them, even though they were so far away, the road was full of cars, we drove on to find our safari guide. If we were excited to see elephants the kids were bouncing off the roof! That’s all the spoke about. We finally reached the pick up spot and to our surprise we found ourselves at a back packers restaurant and hotel. (Calling it a hotel is a bit of a stretch but they had rooms for rent) after a quick bathroom break we were piled into the back on a makeshift Land Rover that had a Jeep chassis and Tata wheels, we soon realized that every safari vehicle was made out of different vehicles and it was common in Sri Lanka to see this. I cant say that I was confident about the vehicle but none the less we were off! There is something thrilling about standing on the back of a bakkie (pick up truck) with the wind blowing through your hair. It brings me back to my childhood and the hours spent with my step father going to different parts of the farm on the back on his bakkie. This was a happy memory for me and I was grateful to be able to share this with my son.
We were scolded by the driver so we soon had to sit down until we got into the park, soon we plunged into the overgrown depth of the eco park where the roads were not actually roads but rather dirt tracks that have been washed away or seeped in over two feet of mud. So to say we were driving is being optimistic when we were slipping along. Of course, we were all on the look out for the elephant while trying to hold on for dear life. Thankfully the roads were quite bad so we couldn’t really drive fast. Not far into our journey we hit a snag, and the back tires suck into the depth of foul smelling mud and to vehicle could move no further. Even though I’m a farm girl, I refused to get out and push! Not that it would have helped anyway, we were well and truly stuck! And so we sat waiting for another vehicle to arrive to pull or push us out. While we sat waiting for a rescuer we started seeing the first foreigners, all standing on their own mix and match vehicles and shaking their heads at the lack of seeing an elephant. Slowly our optimism dwindled but on a lighter note we found a rescuer and we were soon on our way out of the mud and plunging back into the wilds.
We came around a corner and lo and behold we found about 40 tourist vehicles, no wonder there weren’t any elephants in sight, it felt like we were tourist spotting instead. To spice things up, when ever we were asked if we had seen al elephant one of our friends kept telling them we had seen a tiger behind the bush just around the corner, some poor souls even believed him. We fought our way through the throng of tourists and finally the herd thinned out a bit and we were making head way into the park when finally we found a lone elephant cow munching her way through a thicket. The kids nearly exploded with excitement. Munching away the elephant slowly disappeared into the bush, we saw other elephant at a distance and I think the thing that struck us the most was how much smaller they were than the African elephant, typical Africans, everything is bigger and better 🙂
We decided that bindu bashing was getting on our nerves and we headed back the way we came towards the park entrance but made one last stop at a very big rock. It was not quite a mountain or a hill but we huffed and puffed our way to the top, the kids were grateful for an opportunity to stretch their legs. The view from the top was glorious and in the distance you could hear a trumpeting herd of elephant. Dusk was soon upon us and it was time to head back to the bus.
The ironic thing is that as we left the park, right along side the tar road there were two large elephant having their dinner! Our driver took us through the back route back to meet our bus to go back to the hotel. As we wound though the jungle we saw the simple lives that although the people lived only a couple of hundred meters from a main roads had very little access to the outside world. The undeniable beauty around us was breath taking and the flooded valleys reflected the glowing sunset with colours of faded indigo and peach.
We decided to grab a bite to eat at the restaurant we had been at earlier that afternoon, I sure if we were being brave and flirting with food poisoning. The guys ordered off the braver menu while us girls had more traditional food. It soon transpired that we were the wiser for doing that as our food was great and theirs was terrible! The seafood platter, which was actually a lake food platter to be honest was possible the scariest plate of food I have ever seen! The prawns were the size of a large puppy! I wish I could exaggerate the size but they were that big!
It was fully dark by the time we started home, the kids where asleep soon into our journey but Sri Lankan villages looked very different at night. With the general elections a few days after our departure the towns had election rallies held over a loud speaker and it was very disconcerting. After a two hour trip in the dark we finally made it back to the hotel and we were very grateful to fall into a warm fluffy bed!
Elephant sighting or not it was a great and eye opening trip into the country!