Saturday, February 9, 2019

Memos from SRI LANKA. 6th Memo: Udawalawe - The Elephant in the Roam

Sri Lanka has so much to offer - they even have Safaris. The only kind of shootin' is with your camera, of course.


Solitary elephant taking a foot bath.

Although the most popular Safari-site is Yalla, the national park of Udawalawe doesn't offer only the far cooler name, it grants also a much more idyllic and intimate experience - mainly with elephants, that are not in the room since they are roaming practically everywhere.

In Udawalawe, everything is elephant-themed: Many hotels have something elephant-ish in their name and for certain in their logo.


Even towels come instead as swans in the shape of elephants.

And it's the elephants that attract all the travellers that do not want to go in a convoy across the far more known and popular natural reserve Yalla in the south-east of Sri Lanka.
Me, too, I opted for a more tranquil visit to the pachyderms and came to Udawalawe for one day.


Very tasteful design with a dash of jungle.

Staying at a very charming, tastefully decorated hotel pretty far from the town center and pretty close to the park's entrance, I spent the afternoon cycling. My accommodation, the Royal Tusker Hotel*, rents bikes to their guests for free, which is a great service.


A sugarcane field. They are actually also making rum in Sri Lanka.

Cycling on the road where all these maniacs are speeding and overtaking like there's no tomorrow would be like Russian roulette.
But behind the hotel are huge sugarcane fields and that's where I went.


Baby elephants being fed milk through a funnel.....

....and practicing how to feast on leaves.

After a short visit to the elephant orphanage to watch the babies being fed milk from long funnel, it was time to go to sleep: Pick up for next day's safari was scheduled for 5.30 a. m.


Then they go to sleep - and so do I.

The safari - what can I say?! It was a wonderful experience.
Admittedly, it starts a bit annoying: You get up at 5 a. m., the jeep picks you up at 5.40 as agreed. You get to the park entrance at 5.55 - where there are already many jeeps in front of you and many more to come; and there you wait forever for the park to open the gate, the guards letting jeeps pass, the drivers buying your ticket and so on.
If only this process was as fast as Sri Lankan bus drivers....


You rather be as Zen as Buddha or else you freak out over the check-in process.

Smart vendors walk along the line of jeeps, offering coffee and snacks.
I was very lucky that the lovely people at the Royal Tusker Hotel* had packed me very juicy and tasty club sandwiches along with a variety of tropical fruits; what a treat that was in the wee hours at the park entrance.


Picking a good tour operator is key.

But once the driver has the tickets and you went to the bathroom the last time, off you go into the wilderness. It's beautiful, the trees and bushes in the early morning sunlight - so peaceful. Also because first, every jeep goes into a different direction, you are not going in a convoy from tree to tree.
At least our jeep didn't.
But I must also say, that we - me and Adrianna and David, an English-Australian couple, were extremely lucky with our driver and especially with our guide Ruwan.
We were lucky to have a driver and a guide in the first place.
Many other jeeps had only the driver sitting, obviously, in the driver's seat in the cabin while the guests were outside on the high observation seats.


Green on green - thanks to our amazing guide, even I saw these bee-eaters.

I wonder how the driver was able to point out, explain, and answer their questions; and how he was able to spot something with his eyes on the road. Since there are, obviously, just dust roads - worn from the wheels and probably rains and extremely bumpy - eyes on the road is crucial.


A pigeon. Those in Europe are much less fancy.


Waterbird in a yoga pose.

So for eyes on the road, we had a very friendly and cautious driver, and for eyes literally everywhere else we had Ruwan.

This man must have been an eagle in his former life; and eagles were not the only birds he pointed out to us.
He saw all these birds, no matter how tiny, before everyone else - and was able to tell their names, explain in which state of molt they were by the color of their feathers.


Talking 'bout color of feathers.....there is a large number of peacocks at the park.

This man puts Dr. Doolittle to shame!
He showed us the most incredible nests and explained exactly how they were built.
All this in a great, perfectly understandable English.

He impressed me the most by making the driver back up to a tree we had passed: between the brownish-grey branches was a brownish-grey lizard, maybe six inches long; Ruwan had spotted him....literally by the way!


Here, I, obviously, zoomed in. From afar, this fellow looks like a branch.

Since I'm no eagle-eye and look around in nature pretty much like a blind woman, Ruwan was so patient and pointed a dozen times at the same spot.
Eventually, he took my camera, zoomed in, showed me on the picture where the huge bird's nest was - and voilà, now even I saw it way up there in the crown of the highest tree.
Super-nice and super-ingenious.


First, he was not that easy to spot way up high between the branches.

I assume without this man, I would have seen a beautiful landscape with many trees, something flying around....and possibly an elephant, since they are not that difficult to spot.


The scenery is amazing - with or without creatures big and small.

Of course, we saw elephants, but also buffalos, deer, crocodiles and much more. And I'm sure that thanks to Ruwan we saw probably triple of what the other visitors spotted.


Male elephants prefer to walk alone....

....while females roam in groups. Here a mother with a newborn baby.

Buffaloes seem to be a quite relaxed species.

Of course, it's possible to hire just the next jeep that comes your way. And maybe you even save a dollar or two. But your experience will never be like ours.
Nothing works like the concept of two people focusing on their respective job.


You are not allowed to leave the jeep for a reason.

Another point is the vehicle. Fortunately, we did not meet too often with other jeeps in one spot. But when we did, there were these cars that made so much noise that the animals chose to walk off; I don't blame them.
So also the quality of the jeep and a more silent motor should optimize the experience.


The elephants come really close to the jeeps - if you don't disturb them.

If you do, they just walk away.

I went with the fantastic people from lakpura. Not only was the communication beforehand quick, precise, and understandable. They were also very punctual and reliable - and like I said, they have the best staff to guide you around.


Obviously, very happy with my tour.

So if you choose to go on a safari in Udawalawe - and I urge you to do so - you should definitely check with them. You can book directly or as an Airbnb-experience.

And now, I let the pictures speak for themselves.


Note to the curious reader: Like I did during former trips, in my Memos from SRI LANKA, I'm posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.


Wanna know what happened before? Here are the former Memos: 


1st Memo: An unexpectedly scenic train ride to Anuradhapura 


2nd Memo: Little house on the P...olonnaruwa


3rd Memo: Rocking it in Sigiriya


4th Memo: My Kandy-d opinion


5th Memo: Out of Nuwara Eliya




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Disclaimer: I appreciate that lakpura LLC supported my blogger trip by taking me on one of their jeep tours. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren't by any means influenced by my cooperation partner. I do not get any commission from putting links to their site but do it as a service to my readers.

* I paid for my stay at the Royal Tusker Hotel their standard price, so this recommendation comes truly from the heart. However, if you book using this link, I'll get a small commission from booking.com.

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