There hadn’t been a drop of rain on the plains for three months, so it was serious bad luck that fifteen minutes into our Sri Lanka safari we were up to our knees in water and battling against driving monsoon rains that threatened to make the safari less of a memorable occasion and more of a life-threatening one.
Twenty minutes previously the sky had been clear except for some moody clouds in the distance and a dull rumbling in the mountains.
“There could be some rain,” Chandra, our guide, made possibly the understatement of the century.
A couple of spots turned into a few great dollops and then some celestial being emptied their bath water over us. Even as the rain bounced off the hard, dry earth, Chandra still wanted us to enjoy a safari experience.
“Look, look,” he pointed to where an electric blue peacock sprinted past a large, lumbering tortoise; both of whom were no doubt heading for the ark. It was the first and last examples of Sri Lankan wildlife we saw.
The rain fell in such volumes that the dry earth just couldn’t absorb it and in a matter of moments we were in a pool that was rapidly becoming a lake.
“We’d better go to the truck,” Chandra advised; the concerned look on his face confirmed the brevity of the situation.
From then on it was a twenty minute battle as the three of us waded through the rising waters to where the army truck was waiting to collect us. When we finally saw the battered old vehicle I could have bent down and kissed the ground…except I would have drowned in the process. Even the truck represented only relative safety as it lurched and swayed precariously along the flooded jungle tracks. Thankfully the driver was no stranger to these conditions and, after what felt like an eternity, returned us to the campsite safe if bruised, battered and totally bedraggled.
We were so wet that we had to strip down to our underwear on the porch of our semi-permanent tent so as to not turn the inside into a muddy swamp. Everything was soaked including, depressingly, my camera and camcorder. Even though the bag they were in was waterproof the rain had fallen with such a force that its defences just weren’t good enough and the interior was a swimming pool.
We were only staying at the campsite one night and had brought a change of T-shirt and underwear but no change of bottoms. Our shorts were too wet to wear. Thankfully we did possess two sarongs bought a couple of days previously on Bentota Beach.
Wet, depressed and dressed like locals we carried our sodden clothes to the Walawe River beside the campsite. At least there we finally got to see some animals as a troop of monkeys crashed through the treetops, pausing to laugh at the two funny foreigners trying to dry their clothes on the smooth grey rocks.
As safaris go it was an unmitigated disaster but at least the camp bar stocked very reasonably priced Paul Masson wines. As we saw off a litre of a pleasantly light Californian red, the wine accompanied by exotic jungle cries helped lift the dark cloud that had descended over us and then, as if by way of nature’s consolation, we experienced a real ‘buzz’ moment.
The Buzz Factor
Something touched my ankle. Normally I would have been out of that chair as if it had an ejector button, but the wine had dulled my senses. At first I thought I’d imagined it but then it happened again, this time more forcefully.
“Something’s touching my ankle,” I told Andy.
Both of us bent down to have a look at what was going on underneath the table.
In between my feet was a turtle about a foot long. As we watched, it placed one flipper against one ankle and another flipper against the other and gently pushed my legs apart until there was enough space for it to be able to waddle through and carry on its way.
The camera was broken; the camcorder was broken and our clothes were a mess…but that one special little moment made it all worthwhile.
There are a number of camping/safari options in Sri Lanka’s national parks. Whilst they don’t hold a candle to African safaris in terms of animal quotient, they’re still incredible experiences and guarantee some holiday buzz moments.
Ours, although memorable, could have been even better if we’d been better prepared:
A mosquito net when travelling around Sri Lanka can often prove a useful piece of equipment. If venturing into the great outdoors during monsoon season a waterproof rucksack liner can be a lifesaver or, in my case, a camera saver.
Our trip to Sri Lanka was booked via a Kuoni tailor made package.
P.S. The photo of the elephants is included because we did actually see some…after the safari was over.