Camping again - DeJa Vu
Trip Start Dec 29, 2010
152Trip End Dec 05, 2011
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The day started out remarkably well. Having debated at length with numerous people at Tea Trails as to the best way to drive to Yala, we went against our guide's judgement, and took the shorter, windy and rough route across the southern mountains. We managed the journey in only 6 hours, instead of the 7-8 hours journey that the guide wanted us to take. It was a beautiful drive through tea plantations and forests, with amazing views, if some slightly nerve-wracking corners with steep drops down into the valleys and dodgy reversing down single track mountain side roads.
The rain that provided for great canyoning and one too many leaches had in fact been a significant storm affecting the central and southern part of the country. 16 people died near the coast, and many rivers had burst their banks. As we turned up at the entrance to Yala our guide briefly mentioned that the safari camp that we were supposed to be staying in had been moved due to the water. That was all that was said…..
We all piled into the safari jeep, full of excitement at the thought of seeing some more wildlife and hopefully seeing a leopard, and spent an enjoyable 2 hours getting to the camp, spotting wild elephant, hornbills, crocodiles, mongoose and monitor lizards along the way.
Then we entered the camp. Or should I say a cross between a building site and a rubbish heap, located next to a raging torrent of a river. In fact, it reminded us straight away of a jungle version of the ghetto we stayed in of the West coast of Australia – only with wet mud everywhere. Trying to hide the mess that was the service area/kitchen, the driver almost drove into a big tree, almost taking out poor Benjamin with long hanging branches. We learnt that the night before we arrived all their safari tents and equipment had been flooded in a flash-flood, except for 3 tents. There had been so much rain in the mountains that the reservoir sluice gates further up stream had been opened releases torrents of water through the park.
All 10 members of staff had worked through the night to cobble together a camp of sorts for us to stay in. They obviously had been working up against it, and, whilst we had tents and beds to sleep in, they hadn’t had time to rig up the showers or put together their kitchen/service area, nor tents for themselves, find enough torches, level the ground, dry out the rugs in the tents or generally make up a mobile safari camp.
The kitchen was 2 gas rings next to a huge heap of stuff – the waterlogged remnants of their previous camp - all loosely covered by a tarpaulin against the (still continuing) rain. The main kitchen was still under 3 feet of water back at the old site. Their boss, currently in Germany, seemed to have no idea of the magnitude of the storm and how much work was involved in re-establishing a camp.
Brad called our contact in Sri Lanka – Miguel – who had coincidentally stayed at the camp 2 days earlier and had had to evacuate due to the rain. Apparently he had thought about calling us to warn us about the state of the camp, but felt that the guys on the ground could pull it all together in time. And whilst he had left his 18 month behind with a nanny rather than take him on safari, he was quite happy to recommend that we progress with our 3 in the post-storm conditions.
Brad was fairly calm and relaxed at the same time as telling Miguel to come up with a solution for tomorrow night (we decided that the children, after 8 hours of driving, couldn’t drive another 2 hours back to a hotel). I, however, lost my sense of humour. We had paid a lot of money for a traditional Africa style mobile tented camp type of experience, and at this stage in the trip I was too tired to grin and bear it.
Anyway, we had to make the most of the rest of the day, so Brad and I did another mini-safari with Benjamin, while the other 2 relaxed and played lego in the failing light. By the time we got back we had to don our headtorches and cagouls, make sure we had enough bedding for everyone, store our bags away from more potential rain, then we sat down to a welcome bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and a couple of strong gin and tonics. At least we weren’t cooking as well like we were in Australia.
The night was better than expected. Thankfully it did not rain again, a blessing given that Benjamin’s cot was right up against the canvas in our tent, stretching it outwards. Georgie and the kids seemed to sleep ok despite their "triple tent" actually being a double bed with 3 pillows. I also managed to put all thoughts of the river flooding again, and washing us all downstream, to the back of my mind.
We all got up at 5am to a remarkably dry day and had a 3 hour safari, searching for leopards. Sadly we just aren’t meant to see big cats this trip, so had to be content with all the other wonderful animals in the park. Part of the safari stopped at the beach location where the tsunami of 2004 took the lives of 49 tourists while on Safari in the park – there is a memorial and remains of a former bungalow to remind everyone of the devastating event, and certainly the 3 of us found it very eerie imagining the huge wall of water that came ashore taking so many lives.
Back to camp for a great breakfast. The staff, embarrassed at having to try to entertain guests in this make-shift camp, showed us photos of their normal location: a picturesque site next to a river with sandy beaches, surrounded by lovely flat ground with large leopard-friendly trees. We read the visitors book too – a collection of praise for an amazing experience, together with the “best food in Sri Lanka”. We left feeling really sorry for the staff – they had worked so hard to try to get things right for us, being given only 12 hours by their boss – and it was never going to be close to enough time.
As we drove out of the park, the diggers and bulldozers drove in to properly level the camp, and the guys have 4 days to a real safari camp up and running. But first they are going to get a few hours well deserved sleep…..