Alarms woke us up stupidly early and, after a quick cup of strong coffee, we were given a plastic bag of omelette sandwiches and put in the jeep for our full day safari in Wilpattu National Park. There is an entrance located within 10 minutes drive of the guesthouse – but it can often be closed if there has been recent heavy rain, as it causes the river (which goes over the road) to flow too fast to make it safe to cross. Fortunately, the river wasn’t flowing too fast so we didn’t have to drive 2 hours to the main entrance although it would have been too fast for me to consider driving across it, even in a 4×4 jeep!! We got our entrance tickets, having to wake up the park ranger as we were there so early, and headed into the park. At 1085 sq km, it is Sri Lanka’s largest national park and is made up of lake areas as well as dense, dry country woodland. The guesthouse owner explained that visitor numbers remain low, even in the high season, and we didn’t see more than 6 other tourist jeeps the entire day. The park felt genuinely wild and the animals here are certainly more skittish than those in heavily visited parks, thus sightings are rarer. In spite of this information, we were excited to both be on our first safari, heading out into the wilderness keeping an eye out for any wildlife. We stopped first at the deserted church – the park used to be home to an entire village before it became protected. The houses were demolished but the church still remains and is used once a year for a festival. We got back in the jeep and headed deeper into the park. Jayne was impressed by the abundance of dry forest, water and coastal birds – taking more photos than is healthy!! Even our guide/driver started asking ‘bird or animal’ when she banged on the side of the jeep to get him to stop! We saw spotted deer, wild pigs, crocodiles, water monitor lizards, birds of paradise, bee eaters, hornbills and flamingos (to name a few!). The drive around the park was lovely and it was wonderful being in our own jeep as we could swap sides as much as we wanted and we didn’t feel hurried to continue driving. We stopped at one point to have lunch, backing the jeep into a saltwater lake and as Jayne bird, snake and crocodile watched, I fell asleep in the back of the jeep – think the diesel fumes and bumpyness of the journey had turned my stomach slightly! Continued driving after our lunch stop and, after talking to another driver in a jeep, headed off in the direction of a herd of elephants. Got to see about 30 elephants, including babies and a very pregnant mother, grazing and playing in the water. Had to keep a safe distance as the heavily pregnant elephant kept coming towards us and making (trumpety) noises. Reluctantly headed back to the entrance after the last elephant disappeared behind a bush, only to see two more sets of about 8-10 elephants on the drive home. Also saw a terrapin cross the road (at speed!!) and a family of monkeys watching us from a bridge. Got back to the guesthouse and I went for another nap as Jayne uploaded the hundreds of photos onto our hard drive. Was woken up for dinner, of which I managed a mouthful of plain white rice, before being given a lime drink by the guesthouse owner – it surprisingly settled my stomach enough to make me stop feeling sick but I still couldn’t eat anything.
Monday 8th February 2016