Travels with V
Rare animals and tsunami memories
Tissamaharama and Yala national park
The trainline stops in a town called Ella, but the only thing we do there is hop into a taxi and let ourselves be transported comfortably down to the south-east part of the island. It’s a few hours drive and actually the only way to get there within reasonable time.
We stay in a town called tonguetwistingly Tissamaharama. It’s nicely situated by a lake and it’s for many tourists the starting point for a visit to Sri Lanka’s largest and most famous national park, Yala. The only place in the country where there are wild leopards. But to see them you have to be very lucky. We meet one guy who has spent two whole days there and not seen one.
Our guesthouse is on the town’s outskirts, with a great view of the lake. In the evening we sit on a great balcony watching the fishermen in their small boats on the water. And the water buffaloes who have been lying in the cool water all day rise and begin their journey home. And to get there they use the same road as cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and humans. Everybody has to stand aside when the heard of big brown bodies passes.
Three o’clock the next morning we are awake, dressing quick and getting an omelet and coffee breakfast. In pitch black darkness we are transported to the gates of Yala. While our driver handles the tickets and permits the dawn breaks. We see all colours from deep red via orange to clear blue sky before we can continue into the park.
The first animals we see are some water buffaloes and a crocodile. But siddenly the driver’s com radio crackles and a voice says something in rapid Lankese. Instantly the driver makes a u-turn and races onto another dirt road. When we stop after a few hundred meters we just can’t believe our eyes. Right before us, maybe 10-15 meters away an on a small cliff two leopards are resting. We are so lucky!
The leopards are two cubs, but almost fully grown. They are a little rowdy, like kittens, they fight and bite gently, seemingly not bothered at all by the handful of jeeps now parked on the road. With people, camera clicking and excitedly whispering.
The leopards are incredibly beautiful. For us it’s a first time and it’s magical.
The remaining hours in the park are maybe not as dramatic, but rewarding. We se mongoose, marabou storks and pelicans, crocodiles, wildebeest, lots of colourful birds and a wild rabbit (!).
We take a break and a snack in a place where Yala meets the ocean. Here lie the foundations for two small guesthouses that once had a terrific location by the beach. But the tsunami in 2004 smashed them both to pieces and 45 people died, including 15 Japanese tourists. The houses were never rebuilt and today they are a memorial commemorating the catastrophe.
Next: We’re learning more about the devastation caused by the tsunami when we visit a true hero.