From the backseat of the jeep I watch my three friends sitting in front of me laughing out loud. I try to capture the moment but I can hardly keep my camera still. I am balancing on my chair while we drive through the pristine wildness of Southern Sri Lanka with Eco Team Sri Lanka. This is my first safari and I never expected this to be in Sri Lanka. This diverse country keeps surprising me. Yala is known for its variety of wild animals. The National park is home to ‘the big four’ of Sri Lanka: elephants, leopards, sloth bears and wild buffalo’s. Our eyes are focused on the branches of the trees, a well known hiding spot for leopards, it’s our mission to see one.
Yala harbors 215 bird species. Several peacocks with the finest colors cross our road. Through the binocular we spot a range of tropical birds with the most beautiful colored feathers. My favorite is the green bee-eater, but we also spot the woodpecker, red bird, blue kingfisher and even the hornbill with his huge pecker and deep blue long tail. Driving further I see little wild boars running after their mother and a huge wild buffalo appears from the bushes. When a jeep full of people passes us, they tell that there is a leopard spotted not far from us. We get super excited, let’s go! We approach a huge line of jeeps with people hanging out of the cars taking pictures with huge zoom lenses. We capture a glimpse of the beautiful black and white spotted creature lying down in the bushes. She is the star of the show, but doesn’t seem to care.
We pass by lagoons with crocodiles swimming around and pools with buffalo’s taking a bath. We drive through grasslands on dry crushed roads. It reminds me of the desert in Mongolia. Through the clouds of dust we see something walking in our direction. Two little jackals are walking side by side in the afternoon sun. I see a huge ear coming from behind a tree and shout it out. Elephants are ambling on the other side of the water we pass. For a while we stop to watch them play in the water and reach out for food high in the trees. We have seen three out of ‘the big four’, I couldn’t be more happy.
Satisfied we drive back to the camp and take in the beautiful landscape while the sun sets. By dark we arrive back at the camp. One of the guys guides us to our tent through a path enlightened with flaming torches. A typical safari tent is set up, inside is a large bed with mosquito net and a bathroom with a toilet, shower and wash bin. After a refreshing shower we are picked up for dinner and guided to a mysterious open space. It feels like I am part of the television show Expedition Robinson and just won a dinner for two persons. Around the campfire there are two tables with candlelight’s and one is ours. Although I am not with my lover, I am with my soul mate enjoying a three-course dinner with red wine underneath the Milky Way. This typical situation on Valentines Day makes us giggly for the whole meal.
Early morning I hear birds whistle and small footsteps on the top of our tent. Time to wake up and prepare for bird watching with Savanga Mendis our guide and a true bird expert. We walk on a path along the electric wires protecting us from the animals that live behind it. I am aware that an electric wire does not stop a leopard. Savanga is able to distinguish all the birds from each other by listening to their call. We see many beautiful tropical colored birds without even using a binocular. Back at the camp breakfast awaits us on a table next to a pond. Monkeys swinging through the trees surrounding us, and little frogs jump around our feet. Behind Iris I see a huge tail hanging out of the tree. It’s a giant squirrel. Until our last bite we are surrounded by wild life.