After several more days of sitting by the ocean we decided to head inland to the town of Tissamaharama (try saying that when you are looking for a local bus 😉 ). Tissa is in the bottom eastern corner of Sri Lanka and the stepping off point for Yala National Park.
We had heard mixed reports about the park, many people saying that they had not seen much in the way of wildlife although the guide books and internet info all said it was one of the best places for leopards. When we arrived we were hijacked at the bus station (which is seemingly a great hunting ground for touts) and taken to a hotel with HOT water (Yay!!!!) and tours.
Still not being completely sure we decided to take a punt and go with the tour offered. Of course we forgot to haggle and paid a fair bit more than our fellow passengers but how bad could it be?
We arrived at the gates to the park at about 5.30am just as dawn was breaking. Only to find about 80 or more safari jeeps all lined up with their drivers all racing on foot to the park ticket office to be first ticket issued so first car in. Unfortunately we had a young lady that needed to go back to town so with all the fuss of getting her away we were one of the last cars in.
Turned out that was a blessing. We had only gone 5 minutes when we saw our first elephant happily smashing thorns for breakfast. He would grab a trunkfull of thorny branches, pound them with his foot, then stuff the whole thing into his mouth. It was a great start.
At any sighting of an animal there could be as many as 15-20 jeeps all jostling for a view with the drivers shouting at each other to tell what the sighting was. We were only a little way into the park when we hit a jeep traffic jam. It seems that way, way off in the distance there was a leopard. We hung around with me trying to get shots of something I could barely see. Thankfully the traffic was so bad that we had to stay there for a while and by the time it had cleared we were in prime position for the show of our lives. It was actually 2 leopards and they were in a playful mood. Before we knew it they were out in the glade, chasing and rolling around, playing like a pair of kids. For newcomers to the park we were in awe of the spectacle but I think our driver was even more blown away. Seems that sights like this are rare.
From the leopards we went on to spot everything from deer to langur monkeys, buffalo to crocodiles, even a small herd of elephants at a waterhole – apparently also unusual. Indeed by the end of it the guide just kept saying over and over – you are sooooo lucky, some days all the tourists see is other jeeps, never see leopards playing like this, you are so lucky 🙂
I know we certainly felt lucky and this would rate as a great place to get a taste of wild Sri Lanka, certainly for those lucky ones (like us 😉 ). In end the I would have to say that regardless of the cost we got way more than we either hoped for or paid for. All in all, a great day!!!!