Today was an 8am departure bound for Yala National Park – a two night stay and the second last stop on our tour before a week at Shailini Villa. Our time at Udawalade has been short but we had managed to experience the National Park and see that the reality had lived up to its reputation. Vast amounts of elephants spread over a huge expanse both of dense scrubland and open plains. It made us optimistic for what we would see at Yala National park which is billed as the best national park in Sri Lanka and also unfortunately the busiest.
Our first stop today was the Elephant Transit Home, a drive of around 15 – 20 minutes from the hotel and the place where orphaned elephants are rehabilitated. Now Mr. Kandy man has learnt our dislike of all things unnatural to animals particularly when in Sirigya the other day he asked if we would like an elephant ride and we all said in unison “absolutely not”. Seems strange that you would come to a place to see animals in the wild and then jump on the back of an elephant that has chains strapped around its legs and neck and a rider who carries a stick …a little of a contradiction don’t you think?
The transit home could be seen as a wanky feel good kind of place for do gooders who like elephants. In actual fact, it lies right on the fringe of Udawalwe and attempts to rehabilitate them back into the wild…so far having achieved this for around 100 elephants. Given that it’s about putting them back not keeping them in captivity it has to be a good thing, although the three legged elephant with the prosthetic leg did pose some questions about whether life for all elephants is a good thing.
From the transit home, we drove a couple of hours to Yala National Park veering off to enter the Yala Jetwing hotel. This place is superb; only built about five years ago after the Tsunami came through and perched overlooking the ocean. Most areas are open and the view from each room over the pool is superb. Staying here two nights…perfect.
We had the afternoon free so it was a great chance to head to the pool, swim up to the pool bar and order ourselves some interesting drinks along with a late lunch. The drinks themselves consisted of a banana smoothie for Philip ( surprising everywhere we’ve been they haven’t been able to give up a banana drink), and Claire and my favourite a drink consisting of mint, lime, sugar, passion fruit and ginger ale. We stayed for a while and then Philip went back to the room to work on the Blog and some photos whilst Claire and I wandered along the beach checking out the opposition and also noticing the sand dunes which have been used to cover tsunami walls that have been created. It was a really nice way to spend a lazy afternoon especially since it was probably going to be a late night and an early morning tomorrow.
At 8pm, we headed down to the restaurant for the Gala Dinner which had been included in the package but mandated by the hotel for any guests staying there tonight. When we walked through the doors of the restaurant we couldn’t believe what we saw. Each table was beautifully decorated with Bon bons, celebratory hats and lovely lights. In the centre of the room was the dessert table which consisted of four tables making a square and a massive fruit display which had been arranged and carved to perfection.
Around the edge of the room were tables containing all manner of seafood and other creative displays. Walking outside there were copious tables, people playing saxophone and piano, and more buffet stations arranged in countries – India, Sri Lanka, Thai, Japanese, American, English, Spanish. There was also a salad station and a table with all manner of ‘picking plate’ options. A further station had around 15 types of breads and two types of soups. It was the biggest buffet selection we had ever seen.
We spent the night sampling the different options that were available, taking our time so as not to fill ourselves up too quickly. We also had a great waiter for the night, for whom we enjoyed his company and who told us of his dreams to leave Sri Lanka for another country doing hotel management. This seems to be a common thread as we have travelled… Sri Lankans who want to find a way out of their country (apparently in every newspaper there are Australian Government ads informing people not to come to Australia by boat so this must be a problem)
We ended the night around 11:15pm which we figured was pretty good effort given that tomorrow we need to be up at 5. Whilst it wasn’t the fireworks and bonfire of Iceland or the Pizazz of Paris, this New Years Eve was a really beautiful one and one that we will recall as a really nice way to end a year and celebrate a new year.