Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – Istuti!

Sri Lanka was one destination we were super excited about and so glad we added to our itinerary. We made the epic journey from an island in the north of Malaysia to Colombo, Sri Lanka in the same day. It was a bit too much for the kids and a melt down or two was in order by the time we touched down.

Our first stop was a beachside town called Negombo. It was about a 20 minute drive from the airport. Luckily Negombo is an easy place to spend a couple of days and unbeknown to us at the time, the most ‘cosmopolitan’ place we would visit on our our journey through southern Sri Lanka. That bucket of beers with the fireworks ( Murray’s FB post) would not be repeated… ha ha… instead we got used to sipping tea.

Moving on from Negombo we planned a circular route through the southern end of Sri Lanka with a bit of beach, hills, trains and well we had no idea what else we might see. Unawatuna was the first stop, but before we hit the road we went on a quest to buy a rice cooker for our visit to an orphanage. Buying a rice cooker turned out to be a comical experience. Firstly , our tuk tuk driver was was slightly baffled with our request but delivered us to a small electrical appliance shop. The not-so-busy shop employee proceeded to show us the three different models on offer. I quizzed him on the ins and outs of each model as I wanted to buy the biggest and best and after much deliberation decided on one. “Sorry madam, we no have”…. “ah ok then I’ll have this one” I said pointing at another… “sorry madam, we no have”….. “ right then, how about you just give me the one you have?”. He could have saved a lot of time if he just said that in the first place! We quickly paid, naturally the computers weren’t working to give us a receipt, and we hopped back into our tuk tuk with our rice cooker. The Orphanage was an eye opening experience. The kids were delighted to see us. We were greeted with huge smiles. They showed us their writing ( kids were aged 3-5) and sang us some songs. Admittedly the language barrier was difficult but you don’t need to translate a smile and a laugh. These kids who had so little gave so much in return.

We arrived in Unwatuna, a sleepy sea-side village that was probably a little busier in high season. Our accommodation was right on the beach but in all honesty, from what we saw, it doesn’t compare to beaches in Australia. Like other parts of asia, with dense population and poverty, garbage is a problem and infrastructure is limited. To put it into perspective though, this part of Sri Lanka was hit heavily by the 2004 Tsunami. Whole communities were wiped out and they have had to rebuild from scratch. It gave us a glimpse into how horrific it would have been on Boxing Day 2004.

Unawatuna, however, offers an unforgettable experience to visitors, and that is a trip to a turtle hatchery. There are plenty to choose from and they are home to a lot of injured or disabled turtles as well as babies. Fishermen collect the turtle eggs and bring them to the hatcheries. The eggs are buried in protected sand pits. One turtle can lay up to 150 eggs. Once the turtles hatch they are kept in the hatchery for 3 days to build some strength then released back into the ocean. We were lucky enough to see 1 day old hatchlings and release some 3 days old babies back into the ocean. Sri Lanka is a very ‘hands-on’ country. You are encouraged to get involved, touch, see and involve yourself in everything. We experienced this at tea factories where the kids were encouraged to feel the tea that was being processed for commercial production and at this particular hatchery. We basically carried our tiny turtles ( named Sandy, Shelly , Shelly, Rip-tide and Survivor) to the beach and let them go. There were no rules, no supervision, just us and the baby turtles. It was an amazing experience and one we will never forget. We hope our little turtles are some of the lucky ones who survive until adulthood and come back in 30 years to lay their own turtle eggs.

We then hit the road and head towards Yala National Park where we read that we might see some elephants and other animals in the wild. What we didn’t realise was that we would start to see them on the road , until we passed an elephant in a truck.

Arriving at the Cinnamon Wild in Yala felt like stepping into a different world. We were inside the National Park. It was rugged, sparse, very brown and well just ‘wild’. There wasn’t anything around the resort other than more wilderness. On our way to our resort cottage we paused to read a sign that basically said if you come across an elephant at night then run for your life. Ha ha … surely a joke right? The staff at reception also advised us to request an escort between our room and the restaurant/pool in the evening and early morning. I don’t think it actually sank in until we were sitting around the pool later that day and Brooke pointed to the lake behind us and said ‘elephant ‘. Yes, there was an elephant taking a stroll. Not to mention the crocodiles in the lake and the deer and water buffalo too. And there were no fences.

The next morning we went for a stroll around the resort and noticed all of the animal poo on the paths. Some were alarmingly large. On the beach we also noticed a large amount of animal poo. Unfortunately Murray noticed one animal pat a little too late which the girls found hilarious. We also booked a safari and set out at the crack of dawn in a Jeep to hopefully get a closer look at some of these animals. Within the first 15 minuets we were literally stopped in our tracks as a family of elephants crossed the dirt track in front of us. We were close enough that we could almost touch them. The safari guide didn’t seem too alarmed- they were a bunch of females with a baby. Apparently quite safe. A short while later we came across a male ‘tusker’. Apparently this was cause for concern as male tuskers are typically aggressive. Our guide kept a good distance and asked us to pass all belongings into the lockable front part of the Jeep. This sounded like a good idea until I realised that the guide himself would be safely locked in his safe compartment while the rest of us were unsafely hanging out in the open back section. Another few jeeps had also arrived on the scene and unfortunately for one, theirs got a little too close to the tusker who decided that he was going to have a poke around in their back section, while they could only hope he didn’t take too much of disliking to them personally. Luckily all ended well and no humans were harmed. We were considering ourselves pretty lucky at this point to have come across elephants, come face to face with a male tusker, spotted mongooses, toucans , water buffalo, deer, crocodiles and wild boar. The ‘big’ sighting of the day however was waiting for us on a lone stretch of dirt road, the leopard. We were told that it was rare to see a leopard however I am convinced that this big cat could sense a fellow cat lover ( or a Jeep full in our case). Our guide drove straight past it until I shouted out ‘leopard ‘ and sure enough it was sitting in the brush waiting for us. I was so shocked I nearly forgot about my camera until it sauntered behind our vehicle and disappeared. It was bright orange and black, big, majestic and just gorgeous. Being a cat- loving family we were all thrilled to have been in the presence of this magnificent creature. We joked about bringing it home and wondered if our Teddy Bear would still be top-cat. Hmmm , probably not! We finished the safari off by watching about a dozen elephants frolicking and bathing in a water hole. They are quite agile for a large animal, rolling around and playing with each other.

We spent four luxurious days at Cinnamon Wild just in awe of our surroundings, swimming in the beautiful pool, indulging in the buffet and spotting wildlife. We walked around the little resort cottages taking photos of monkeys and lizards. It was all fun and games until we stumbled across a lone wild boar. It probably stood about knee height and had a long pointy snout. Murray shimmered past the wild beast with Maya and Brooke in tow. He signaled for me to follow with Sienna but I swear it looked at me and was about to charge. Needless to say Sienna and I raced for our lives weaving through little cottage gardens. At one point we thought we were safe only to come face to face with about a dozen of them. Had he called his mates? Were they all after us now? Sienna and I by this stage were nearly hyperventilating ducking and weaving in every direction. We were spotted by a resort guide and escorted home. Apparently the wild boar are ‘quite harmless ‘ and like to eat the berries on the trees in the resort. Hmmmm … one for the wild boar. It wasn’t such a laughing matter however when later that night an elephant decided to come for a drink at the resort bar. Thankfully we were tucked up safely in our cottage but another guest showed us photos of the elephant strolling past the pool, through the bar and towards a guest’s car. It then started tearing branches off trees and lifted the car off the ground trying to get to some fruit inside it. That sign we saw on the first day …. it’s no joke.

Our next stop on our journey was a hill town called Ella. It was picturesque and our homestay was literally on the edge of a mountain looking down a ridge. We went and saw the famous 9 arch bridge, over the railway track, visited a tea factory and chilled out at Cafe Chill ( they served beer). We then hopped on a train (7 hour journey) to the next stop, Kandy, or as Brooke and Sienna call it “that lolly place”. The train took us through tea plantations and small villages. You could hang out the window and wave to local villagers. It was an unforgettable journey through some of the prettiest scenery we have ever seen. The main attraction for us in Kandy was the Pinnawala elephant orphanage. You might have thought we had seen enough elephants by now but this place was quite special. It was home to about 50 orphan elephants and twice a day they are taken to a nearby river for a bath. We were lucky enough to witness this incredible event.

Overall Sri Lanka has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. We experienced things we couldn’t have imagined experiencing before we arrived. The Sri Lankan people are so warm and generous. They invite you into their homes and lives and treat you like a part of their family. The one word my Sri Lankan friend taught me before we arrived was ‘istuti’ , pronounced is-tooti. We used it a lot. We had a lot to be thankful for. Sri Lanka feels like a country in the infant stages of tourism. Go there before it is over run, over developed and you are not encouraged to get your hands dirty so to speak. We are already planning our family reunion at the Cinnamon Wild when the kids are older. I’ve got a score to settle with a wild boar.

Next stop Singapore where we might catch up with Kim and Don 😉

Special thanks to my gorgeous friend Nelu for helping to plan this trip to Sri Lanka.