Today was an early morning 7am start as we had our longest driving day, an anticipated six and a half hours with the goal being to get to Udawalawe National park in time for the jeep safari at 2:30pm. We were given breakfast boxes to have on the way and then collected Keeth at his house. He was his usual bouncy self and eager for the day to begin.
Now yesterday I explained that Kandy is tucked in the valley of a mountain range, right in the bowl of where they all meet. Whilst this brings great beauty and a real contrast to what we have seen previously, it also means that to go elsewhere one has to drive out of the valley onto the other side. Therefore a four hour trip of windy roads, hilly stretches and a lot of playing chicken with Tuk Tuks, motorbikes, trucks and buses made for a unique experience (one that Philip is not keen to repeat).
After about one and a half hours driving we stopped at a tea plantation. Every available space on the hills around this area is taken up with tea crops. From a distance it looks like green grass given that the crops are no more than a metre high and the bush themselves is quite compact. We were given a tour of how tea is made and then a ‘free’ cup of tea and the option to purchase a piece of cake in the process (3 slices $2.80 Aus…expensive hey). The lovely lady showing us around also took us into the plantation so that we could have a go ourselves and also get a photograph (Keeth ‘Kandy man’ special). There an old lady who has been picking for years worked alongside us taking great delight in the fact that we couldn’t keep the basket attached to our head, or manage to throw the leaves over our head and into the basket. Not an easy job at all and all to earn $6.50 a day for eight hours work. Don’t make the 22kg productivity amount and no pay. Add to this the slope they work on, the possible weather conditions and the need to bend over to pick only the new growth and it makes for a job that many Aussies would balk at.
Now Sri Lankans we have discovered have an interesting take on how long it takes to get from one destination to another and usually their response is a whole lot shorter than the reality. Now this is particularly bad when you’re someone like Philip who was suffering badly from car sickness and just trying to hold it together, or if you have planned to be at Udawalwe National park at 2:30 for a jeep safari. Despite us being on a tight timeline, Keeth continued to stop to buy some pastries (interesting concept – bread roll filled with hot spicy onions and another stop for a toilet and drinks break).
As a result we finally got to the park gates almost half an hour late to which we were then hastily ushered onto the back of the jeep and whisked into the park.
Now Udawalwe is known for the proliferation of elephants, although not having seen much at Walapattu we were just hopeful of seeing one or two, not wanting to get our hopes up too high.
The park itself is quite large with a diversity of terrain ranging from scrub to open plains to a huge lake filled area. The elephants are plentiful and it didn’t take long to rack up the elephant count, along with the peacock count that continues to be high. Whilst there were a number of jeeps, it wasn’t too busy and so you could drive around and find yourself some elephants and then sit and watch them or take photos largely uninterrupted. We drove around for a few hours and then the sun began to set, meaning it was time for us to depart the park and head to our hotel for the night – the Grand Udawalwe hotel. It was about 7 km from the park gate (even though a sign indicated that it was .7km – hmm the point makes a lot of difference) and was very nice with large open areas, a great pool and a huge dining area that you reached by going over a forested bridge with a river underneath. A buffet was on offer, or you could go th a la carte option but for around $20 each we took the buffet given that it had a number of different cooking stations. It turned out to be a good choice – especially the chocolate chip cake, complimented by sugar bananas and chocolate mousse. Yep life is tough.
So today we had to traverse the countryside and Philip had to zonk himself out on medication to get here. We also experienced a Sri Lankan box breakfast which supposedly contained a chicken sandwich but looked more like chicken in a can and learnt that a bread roll is not a bread roll but some kind of crazy hot spiced onion pastry. We also discovered that travelling time is some random concept made up by over anxious foreigners who need to stress less and that if you have enough money to pay people they’ll wait despite how late you are.
Apart from all that, we have experienced a fabulous national park, seen some amazing wildlife, created terrific memories and have only a short drive tomorrow to our two night stay at Yala National Park.