Softly spoken Sri Lanka travel blog followed on from Part 2 here.
13. Yala National Park
We spend a good part of the rest of the day making our way back into the flatlands and toward the east coast to Yala National Park.
Along the way, we stop at Buduruwagala where we make our way through an alley of mature gnarled trees to a field in front of a magnificent trifecta of Buddhas carved into the side of a small cliff. This place has a real feeling of place, sacred place, and we learn from Nisha that the buddhas represented here include one that will return in or around the year 7500 wearing a lotus blossom on each shoulder. YES.
Shortly after and almost to Yala we stop at a roadside Sri Lankan curry place for their lunch buffet. This is officially the buffet that puts us both over the edge and I don’t think we went to one thererafter – too much food, meagerly heated, westernised, always the same.
At Yala we get a peek at of our safari-style hotel before being whisked off in another 4-wheel off-road machine. This one with a roof, into the vast oceanside nature reserve there, where again we’re on the lookout for sun bears, elephants and leopards.
A couple of hours revving past other tours, spying many peacocks, a gaggle of water buffalo, a couple of alligators, and after not quite making it in time to see a leopard that’s been spotted by other groups, we finally do glimpse one lazing in a tree. Ali and I surmise that it was probably just some dude in a leopard suit.
I cant remember the details of the dinner menu, but it was an extensive, fixed, 5-course type of deal and after being regaled by our very friendly nurse matré-de.
Plus some more dog and cat shenanigans including sending one with a mad case of fleas back into his pack stinking of peppermint oil (much to the howling consternation of his fellows) – we take a swim in the pool under the stars, after hours, all the while smiling into the cctv camera and expecting the hotel overnight guy or local militia to show up in force at any minute.
Down at the broad, rounded base of the Sri Lankan bunsen burner flame is the surf coast. It’s also where you’ll still see fishing boats fitted with tree-branch-supported pontoon outriggers and guys standing on wooden poles in the sea by the shore, fishing. According to Nisha, this is now done only as a photo op for tourists and the fishermen are after Instagrammer tips rather than a bait nibble.
Our place at Weligama is a casual beachfront hotel with palm trees growing up through the middle of the balconies that frame perfect views of the sunset from the mosquito-netted canopy bed outfitted in white, turquoise and navy.
The balcony is huge and comfy chaises are just the thing for after-dinner lounging. And what a dinner. The darty (day-party) starts early at lunch with grilled crabs, Lion beer and plenty of French fries with mayo. The darty continues at the pool with a game of sink the beachball and on the beach with pineapple cocktails, pesky bugs, body-surfing and a pretty spectacular sunset.
The darty becomes a narty and involves another visit to the neighboring crab place, though this time for club sandwiches and fries and mayo and a discussion of folk/rock/blues/country taxonomy and a near brawl over same and finally a howl at the moon over the surf.
Our last full day of Sri Lanka travel (or mine anyway) consists of barely making it out of bed for a whale watch, barely making it onto the whale watch boat, barely seeing humungous blue whales and almost not making it to the pod of minute, frolicking speeding spinner dolphins that bring us nearly to tears with their spastic ‘look at me’ spin dives with belly flop landings. They’re smaller, darker and goofier than I expected.
We spend the afternoon in Galle with a meander around the Dutch fort there, but for me, all I’m seeing is the fast-approaching end of this incredible journey. The end-of-trip sadness is real and achy.
Nisha knows the trick and hosts a seafood feast for us at the same crab place next door where it turns out he is buddies with the owner. We hear about his experience falling out of his family’s graces for marrying a Christian girl and compare notes on the vagaries of careers and travels in AU, US and Sri Lanka.
Final words on Sri Lanka
There was nothing loud or abrupt or forced or splashy about Sri Lanka as far as I could see.
From the virtually deserted miles-long stretch of sunset beach at Negombo (an easy 20-minute ride from Colombo airport) to the solemnly majestic and massive charcoal-colored stupas at Polonnaruwa. The calm and quiet are tempered by heat, breezes, monkey chatter and lots of coconuts — King coconuts machetéd open to drink through a straw from a road-side vendor.
Fluffy finely-grated coconut called sambol which is infused with ground chilies, lime, and onion and must translate to the perfect accompaniment to everything Sri Lankan served at breakfast lunch and dinner.
Deep-fried sugar-dusted coconut fritters, and most importantly, the base ingredient along with the 100+ others in the oil that’s drizzled rhythmically on your forehead and applied body-wide as a basting before you’re set to steam-cook in an Ayurvedic coffin/dumpling basket designed specifically for serving thoroughly relaxed humans.
To say Sri Lanka is low-key and humble is like saying mid-town Manhattan can get busy around the holidays. But it’s not deadly quiet. And it’s far from boring.
The unmarked, unofficial middle lane traffic, ruled by careening, phantasmagorically-painted busses tooting their ring-tone truck horns and the fire-walking, balletic-spinning acrobatic dancers provide the staccato accompaniment.
Goodnight, Sri Lanka – I love you and your gentle, soft-spoken warmth.
Nisha(organised the WHOLE trip for us):
WhatsApp; +94 77 626 4733
Tharanga(did most of the driving & educating):
WhatsApp; +94 70 363 6046
For discounts on accomodation through Booking.com, click HERE.
Have you been to Sri Lanka since the recent turmoil? I’m interested in your thoughts on this stunning, warm and loving country, so please leave your comments or queries below.