Leopards-0 : Snakes-1

Trip Start Sep 26, 2011
Trip End Feb 16, 2012

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Friday, December 23, 2011

The final stop in our trilogy of Sri Lankan adventures was the south coast, famed for Yala National Park, fabulous beaches and the Galle, a fortress city which is now a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately the south coast also gained international attention from the damage it sustained by the 2004 boxing day tsunami, which killed 30,000 people along the coast of Sri Lanka. Most towns and villages along the coast are only a few feet above sea level and as a result sustained significant damage. Gravestones and overgrown abandoned buildings along the coastal highway were a sobering reminder of the catastrophe besieged upon communities. One resident of Galle shared his photo album with us that chronicled the days following the tsunami. Water churning in the streets, people marooned on rooftops, and buses and boats which found the same resting place pushed up against buildings. All the time we were on the coast I admit to have a slightly uneasy feeling when I look out to that point where the sea meets the sky wondering how such a prosaic view could turn so quickly and unexpectedly into a destructive force.

Leopards?...... not!

Our fist stop on the south coast was Yala National Park where we continued Alison`s quest of seeing a large cat in the wild. Yala is known for elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles, sambal and spotted deer and a large variety of exotic birds, and... as having one of the highest density of leopards in the world? Leaving our guest house at 5 am we had just entered the park, when a light drizzle started to fall. Soon afterward the drizzle built to heavy rain blowing through the Jeeps open canopy and flooding the Parks dirt roads. Despite having our Gortex jackets we were soon soaked to the skin. Fortunately much of the wildlife in the park was not as particular about getting soaking wet as we were. Elephants played in the mud, water buffalo continued being water buffalo and the deer stood around as if it was just another day in Vancouver. But our hopes of seeing the elusive leopard however were a complete washout. There were none sitting atop rock outcroppings warming themselves in the morning sun nor were there any lounging on a tree branch devouring their morning kill - oh well, maybe next time.

Life's a Beach

Alison and I are not big for extended amounts of downtime and hanging out on beaches, but the allure of Sri Lanka's south coast was enough to convince us to try it for a couple of days. Mangrove Cabanas with its six rustic but chic open air huts was an ideal spot to test our resolve, and we failed miserably. It was no problem to spend the the next couple of days moving only fast enough to keep our feet from burning in the hot sand between the water closest a shady palapa. Although Christmas was the furthest thing from our minds, we were able to virtually join in, through the wonders of Skype, for an annual Christmas party with friends gathered at Hillary and Andrew's place back in Vancouver.

An unexpected surprise was that Sri Lanka`s south coast is on the annual migration of the world largest animal, the blue whale. The pamphlets, which featured pictures of the mighty beasts breaching and their tails rising high above the water, convinced us that this was a "not-to-be-missed-opportunity-of-a-lifetime". Although reality did not live up to the pictures, we did see 6 or 7 whales. Even from a distance it was impressive to see the size of these animals. From the first spray from the blow hole, its loooong back seemed to take for ever to pass before the tail rose majestically out of the water before diving out of sight.


Our final destination before turning northward back towards Colombo and the airport was Galle Fort (pronounced Gawl). Originally a Portuguese settlement before being conquered by the Dutch, Galle is now a World Heritage Site. The old city walls, which rise up from the rocky shores on three of the four sides, protected the Fort from the 2004 tsunami. Inside the walls, the city oozes with historic charm. Restored buildings with red tilled roofs spread out like patchwork over the city. Boutique hotels, trendy shops, expensive restaurants and a lack of traffic gives it a elite European feel. Outside the walls in the new city, loud speakers, traffic, and a bustling market jolt us back to Asia. We stayed inside the fort at the Beach Haven Guest House (nowhere near the beach!). It was run by the delightful hostess Mrs. Wijenayake, who has been running it since the 1960`s and is a former city councillor.

The Unexpected

One thing I love (and hate) about travelling is the unexpected. For example, on a day trip out of Galle we loved coming across a delightful little restaurant on a deserted part of the the beach near Unawatuna, just in time for lunch... and .... I hated discovering moments after getting on a bus (sometime after eating at said restaurant) that I REALLY needed to find a washroom.

When we got off the bus the closest place in sight that might meet my need was part restaurant, part welding shop and part printing shop. I made a bee line for it. As I was about to duck under the metal awning there was a large Klangggggg just above my head. To my obvious surprise the tail of a snake (about 3 feet of it) swung down in front of my face before it slithered up and away. Needless to say this almost eliminated my immediate need to find a washroom!

Where the snake came from, I have no idea. Had it fallen (or jumped) from a higher roof? As I have mentioned in a previous posting, snakes give me the willies and even under the most controlled circumstances there is no love lost between us. Is life so bad for snakes in Sri Lanka that they are lining up on roof tops and throwing themselves off? If that is the case someone should reach out and help. It just won't be me.

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