A Ride on the Somewhat Wild Side

The van ride out of Colombo was an adventure in part off-roading and part traffic-dodging.

There was a load of tile factories on the north side of town (which, come to find out, while Sri Lanka is mostly Buddhist with some Hindu, Negembo is almost entirely Roman Catholic) with tons of clay tiles drying in the hot, humid sun. Everywhere, it’s a challenge to avoid motorbikes and cyclists and slow-moving trucks going down one-lane gravel roads.

This was why it took six hours to the next destination, not one or two.

Fortunately, the van seats did recline really well, so it was a nap for all of us at some point during the journey. We had to sort out, at some point, what we were going to do that afternoon since we’d arrived an entire day later than we were supposed to. We finally worked out the jungle safari to see the elephants and other wildlife, as it was near the hotel and reasonable enough to do in an afternoon.

Aliya Resort’s pool –
Sigiriya Rock in the background

Our hotel was so well hidden in the Dambulla region that our driver had to stop and ask a few locals where it was located. Finally, we turn down a dirt road. The Aliya Resort and Spa was protected behind a huge gate, and when we finally arrived, it was a bit like a scene from a movie.

View from the cottage

At first, the concrete-industrial-like building looked a little out of place in the almost-jungle setting. The entrance was rather grand, with large pillars leading up the stairs to the top and a lovely flowing lily river on either side of the stairs. Once at the top of the stairs, the view was stunning – an infinity pool disappearing into the landscape and the beautiful, lushly green mountain of Sigiriya Rock (Lion’s Rock – UNESCO site) appearing in the distance.

After checking into our “cottage” – a luxurious place on the edge of the property, we had a buffet-style lunch at the hotel and planned out the safari for that afternoon.

I was probably the only person teaching in Asia who had never seen elephants in the wild before. Compared to a lot of people I work with, I was not nearly as well-traveled – yet. I have been working on that this year – almost like a goal, really. Since this is my first international teaching job, I have been looking forward to traveling extensively – my own “Amazing Race,” as it is. The fact I’d not seen a wild elephant or ridden one before came as a surprise. I hadn’t really planned on riding an elephant in Sri Lanka, but I darn well wanted to see some of them!

The jungle safari consisted of jumping into the back of a beat-up old Jeep (from 1948, according to the guide) and standing and holding on to the Jeep’s roof as we careened around tight corners and splashed through mud holes.

We zipped up and down the water banks, flying forward and back as we trundled along. It was by the water that we first spotted the elephants lumbering about in their majestic way and nibbling on long grass. If you didn’t see the elephants, you certainly smelled their dung on the way up to the herd!

In additional to the elephants, water fowl poked about as well, birds I had never seen before. The neatest thing was the peacocks, some male and some female, strutting about in the grass.

A large herd of elephants hung out by a tree grove, along with loads of Jeeps with tourists of all nationalities. Some of them had their paparazzi lens on their cameras, snapping away. I liked the general quiet of the late afternoon, as the sun was just starting to go down and leave the sky with some pretty colors.

On the way back to the base camp, another Jeep spun out in the deep mud and hit our Jeep. What ensued was a heated exchange of words between our driver and the driver of the other Jeep, with lots of gesturing and words in Tamil. It took quite a long time before our driver hopped back in and furiously drove off, this time actually being quite careful when we came to the deep ravine that the Jeep had to climb. At least I didn’t feel like I was going to flip out of the Jeep!

After the safari, we returned to the hotel, as we are out in the middle of nowhere and there aren’t many other options for food besides little roadside fruit stands. Dinner was almost delicious buffet with a band playing off in one corner and noisy lot of tourists from an ‘unidentified’ country chattering away as if they’d begun a screaming match instead of a normal conversation.

But, away from the noise, I looked up at the endless dark sky smattered with bright, beautiful stars.

It had been a long time since I’d seen the stars.

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