Trip Start Feb 23, 2009
29Trip End Mar 18, 2009
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We left Unawatuna early, because Hasantha had some things he wanted to show us. First we stopped at a turtle hatchery along the coast, close to Galle. An original hatchery had been wiped out by the 2004 tsunami, but volunteers from England and Australia had remade the concrete pools which held the baby turtles or the few giant adults. There was also a sand pit area where eggs were buried with the species names (loggerhead, green, and something else) and expected hatching dates, and when the workers disturbed the sand pile with our date, they revealed baby turtles that had just come out of their shells (or a very good special effect). Another pool had a rare albino loggerhead as big as a manhole cover, although they're not generally used as manhole covers.
The owner told us a story in his broken English about how when the first small wave from the tsunami hit his hatchery, he grabbed the valuable albino adult, and ran into the jungle far enough so that they were safe when the huge wave wiped out the hatchery
We were headed inland to the elephant sanctuary, but on the way we stopped a few times to buy fresh cashews and tea. Miles wanted to take the tea to his teachers and co-workers at the coffee shop where he works, so we stopped at a tea palace where they gave us a full tea service and then we picked what we wanted to buy. In Sri Lanka, these are hot teas of course...if you want to buy iced tea you have to go to a country where they grow it in an icy climate.
It was after lunchtime when we reached Pinewalla, the government-run elephant sanctuary. It was started years ago when the government had 8 sick elephants that it wanted to take care of, and the group has grown to more than 80. Some of them are orphans, some of them are injured, and at least one is injured from stepping on a landmine from the ongoing civil war with the Tamil Tigers
For weeks I'd been talking about riding elephants; it was one of the main incentives to get my son on the trip. Pinewalla doesn't do elephant rides, so we went to a private enterprise nearby called the Millennium Elephant Foundation, which promised a 15 minute ride for 2000 rupees ($40/person). Yes, we got on top of elephants, but it was far from what I wanted.
I paid for the family at a kiosk outside, but while I was pocketing the receipt and looking around, Miles had been ushered inside. When Jae and I got inside, I was annoyed that Miles had already been placed on an elephant, and was being led out of the compound. "Wait a minute," I said to the man who seemed to be in charge. "I wanted to take some pictures." "Oh, sorry," he said
Our elephant was a 42-year old named Lakshmi, and according to our leader, she had "acted" in more than 30 films. I've been around a lot of actors, so that didn't make me any less nervous. Jae was sitting behind me, but I had to lean so far forward to hold the rope that was around Lakshmi's neck that I felt like I was going to lose my balance anytime. It was okay when we went uphill, but when we went downhill I really felt I was going to fall off. Our leader ran ahead to videotape Miles, leaving us alone with Laksmi's mahout, who spoke no English. When I tried to get the mahout to understand the problem, he just laughed, with orange saliva coming out of his mouth (from chewing on the beetlenut, which is a mild narcotic). Then he led us up onto the busy road. I now had an unpleasant choice about which way to fall off the elephant, to the left where there were cars passing, or to the right where we were walking along a barbed wire fence.
Finally I got the attention of the leader, who had been videotaping my son up ahead, and told him we needed to go back
And by the way, both Jae and Miles LOVED the elephant ride. I suppose if "Dad" had fallen into traffic or onto barbed wire, that just would've given them a better story!