It was a national holiday when we tried to leave Ella so buses were in their rariety. Also there were seven of us, all with big bags, stood at the bus stop. Drivers don’t like picking up tourists with bags let alone seven! So instead we jumped into a shared taxi and meandered our way down to the rather lovely Tissa. After an altercation with a guest house in the Lonely Planet, where the owner lost his cool due to noone wanting to stay there, we eventually settled upon the wonderful ‘Lake view’ guesthouse. A bargain with glorious owners and a picturesque view over…guess what…the lake! We swam with the locals a number of times after reassurances that there were no crocodiles.
At 5am we loaded into two jeeps and accelerated towards the main reason people come to Tissa, Yale National Park! We had hoped we would have the charasmatic and entertaining Nirlin as our driver but due to their being too many of us we went in the other jeep with the owner of what appeared to be the most miserable face in Sri Lanka. On the journey there we prayed that he was getting into the right frame of mind, getting motivated for the day ahead. We were not hopeful.
But how wrong we were! As soon as we passed through the gates our eagle eyed driver was a man in his element. Everytime he spotted wildlife, he realed off more informaiton that you could possibly comprehend before goiing silent and focussing on his next find. Quite simply, he was a man of facts.
It was with his amazing ability to see animals a mile off trhat made for so many great memories. The first find was actually outside the main entrance gate. With between eight and twelve in the park, seeing a tusked Indian Elephant was quite a stroke of luck. We watched from our jeep as it feasted on the grass around it. From then on in the animal sightings kept coming. We saw spotted deer, water buffalloos and a large array of birdlife. But it wasn’t all about the animals and birds. The watering holes and jungle, where large rocks emerged, all leveling out to the enterance to the ocean, was spectacular.
Just as were about to head for breakfast we were directed to a huge rock. With the help of binoculars you could make out a leopard asleep on the rocks. Not as close a sighting as we might have hoped for but as we arrived at the beach for some rice idly and dal we were buzzing with excitement.
After food we breezed around for another hour or so. We saw land monitor lizards a plenty. The best sighting of them was a couple in a tree. How something that size could climb up there was anyone’s guess. Incredible creatures. By far the highlight though was seeing a mother elephant and her calf. We sat there for ages admiring these wonderful animals stripping leaves and preparing them before eating. Due to the heat around the middle of the day, we retired to the river where we were served a superb rice and curry and a variety of fruits.
We passed time playing cards for a couple of hours before it was time to head back out again. Straight away we struck gold, finding ourselves a meter or so away from a fully grown male elephant. We watched as it collected grass and kicked the dust off it (into our eyes) before eating it. It’s a moment I will never forget. We might not have got lucky on the leopard front but we were quids in on elephant sightings. At this point we had had great value for money, but it got better!
Our driver took us to see a dead elephant carcass. How lovely of him! Maybe not the nicest smell in the world, but through the trees we could make out jackals scavenging from it. Close by were many crocodiles. Their ability to stay hidden is so impressive. The longer and closer we looked the more we spotted. Our complaisancey at lunch by the river was called into question. We would have had a seriously hard time seeing one of those coming at us! It was amazing just how close the jackals could go to the crocodiles without coming into any danger. At one point a crocodile walked past towards a jackal eating. We preapred ourselves for a fight but alas this was not ‘fight corner’.
Now ‘fight corner’ was the last stop on our safari. We stopped to look at two peacocks (there are tons in the park). Unusually they were not flirting but fighting! They did this by walking around in a circle. We were much amused. Then suddenly the spotted deer, right next to them, locked antlers. The sound of them colliding was immense. If that wasn’t enough, two crocodiles approached each other. In the water they faced off before an almighty splash as they clashed. Our driver looked bemused. It had all gone a little mad. It was an incredible sight being able to observe wildlife at its most natural. As for the results. Well the crocodiles one was over quickly with the largest one chasing the smaller one away. The deers was the most unsporting with numerous blows when the other wasn’t looking. The poor peacocks fight, well it just never ended. As ‘fight corner’ calmed down, we left them to it, just walking around in circles.
The park and Tissa itself was a real highlight in Sri Lanka. The amount and variety of animals, bird life, and scenery meant even for a full day driving in a jeep (that alone was fun due to the terrain!) it never got boring.