Monday, March 23, 2009

The Golden Light

The morning started early as we had a 7am departure organised.  Mark and Chris laid on true feast for breakfast; lots of fresh fruit, yoghurt, scrambled eggs with cheese and ham and home-baked pastries and muffins (I hate to think how early Chris was up to prepare them!) and plenty of coffee to perk us up.  It was a great way to start the day.

We met our driver for the fortnight, Maliq, and set off into the morning rush-hour, heading south.  The traffic was busier and more chaotic this morning than it had been yesterday afternoon but it wasn’t long before we escaped the Colombo suburbs and had as open a road as there is.  The trip to Udawalawe took a little less than four hours, which was better than expected.  I gathered so many impressions along the way that it’s hard to integrate them all into anything coherent, so I may leave talking about my general impressions until the end of the trip when I’m more familiar and in a retrospective frame of mind.

At the park entrance, we said a temporary farewell to Maliq, as he goes off to find himself accommodation while we are on safari. and we said hello to Mark, the owner of Kulu Safaris and our host for the next two nights.  As soon as the luggage was transferred into the jeep we headed off into the National Park.  Our camp is located fairly centrally within the park, so it was about a thirty-minute drive along the dirt tracks to reach it.

Along the way we saw our first selection of game; a distant group of elephants, some deer and several peacocks.  The camp itself is a marvel.  It’s set on the side of a river, in which we can swim, so long as someone watches out for the crocodiles and which is crossed on a regular basis by a herd of water buffalo who are hunted by the crocodiles.  Brett and I have a tent, all quite luxurious as camping goes, with a decent double bed within an insect-free inner and our own awning/lounge space.  Nearby there are enclosures for toilet and shower and in the other direction a canopy for dining under if it rains and the kitchen/staff tents.

We settled in, and then had a beer and lunched on the bank of the river; the boys had prepared us a selection of Sri Lankan dishes; mostly vegetarian and spiced/curried.  After a siesta we headed off into the bush around 3pm for our first proper safari.

It was quite a quiet afternoon and we didn’t really see much up-close.  The jeep ride along the game trails is an experience though – better than any rollercoaster I’ve ever been on!  It also rained from about four o’clock, but rain in the tropics isn’t quite the miserable thing it is in the UK.  Mark and his team had ponchos at the ready for us and when it got heavy, we rolled down the plastic shield at the front.

As we headed back towards camp around 6pm, the evening light turned the whole landscape from yellow, to orange, to red before the sun finally set.  It was quite special.

It was still raining a little when we got back to camp so we were dining under cover by lamplight.  I tried out the shower first though; they fill the reservoir with hot water on request (although normally it’s not required) and I had a quick shower to wash off the dust of the road before dinner.

Over dinner we chatted to Mark; he co-owns Kulu Safaris with a friend and they also have a boutique hotel less than an hour from Colombo.  Ping asked him for the card as it sounds like the sort of thing Mark & Chris may like to try.

After dinner we were joined in camp by their occasional guest, a foraging porcupine.  Once he’d wandered on though, we turned in for an early night.

No comments: