7 Days in Sri Lanka Day 5 – Yala National Park

Glamping was a first for both of us.  Coming back from an incredible safari, which included a lucky sighting of the elusive leopard at a watering hole, we were welcomed with the scene of a ring of candles around a single dining table, another smaller table full of wine and spirits, smartly dressed waiters….and we were all alone here in middle of Yala National Park, under a million stars.

It hadn’t been a smooth start.  We’d arrived mid-morning in a hire car arranged at Peacock Villa in Mirissa – destination Yala.  Except the Big Game camp is in Katamaguwa, which apparently is further away, so the inevitable ugliness that is money issues spoiled the trip, with the driver constantly pestering us for more money, phoning his boss who spoke with me, phoning Peacock Villa, who spoke with me….at the end of the day, a price had been agreed, we had said we were going to Yala, and it was not really our fault they hadn’t checked exactly where the Big Game camp was.  I refused to pay more.

We arrived at the meeting point to transfer into the safari jeep (the camp is in a forest and a normal car would not be able to get there).  We were met by a friendly-looking chap with silver hair and twinkling eyes, called De Silva.  Smiles turned to frowns quickly, however, when he realised that I was not one, but two.  Apparently my booking on booking.com was for one person, and they had prepared accordingly.  This was a problem.  One that, of course, involved more money, but not for the moment.  That was all settled at the end. We jumped in the safari jeep anyway, and headed off into the forest down bumpy tracks to the camp, where we were welcomed with tea and biscuits, refreshing in the hot, humid air.  I was uptight, convinced we were being scammed, thinking I wasn’t even in the right camp, and where were the tents, where were the other people, anyway?  I demanded to see credentials, I needed reassuring this wasn’t an elaborate scam.  I calmed after the tea did its job, credentials were shown, and slowly issues were ironed out.  We were the only people staying in the site, and because of that, they’d decided to upgrade us to the best luxury tent.  We walked into the camp site, spacious, a pond in the middle where kingfisher were looking for lunch, a dining area behind that, and little paths leading off to tents which made it all very private.  Our tent was big, with a living room area with chairs and a sofa, and inside the tent, a double bed and a bathroom with hot shower and toiletries.  There was also a resident frog hopping around.  It was a new experience in camping.  Glamour camping.  Glamping.  The last time I camped on a safari was in the Serengeti, in a tiny one-man tent in a campsite open to the elements, with elephants and hyenas wandering through.  This campsite was ringed with Elephant wire, and was like a little luxury hideaway resort in the forest.

We were served a delicious lunch.  It was quiet but for the buzzing of crickets, and the stop/start sound of tiny claws climbing trees – there are lots of squirrels in this forest.  Lunch was filling and delicious.

I arranged an afternoon safari, and paid for a ranger to explain things to us –  Keith is a lovely young chap, very educated and passionate about his work, who is going on to do his PDD in South Africa soon.  Well worth getting him to come along with us.  It was hot, dusty, the tracks full of deep dried track marks and holes, making me wish I hadn’t eaten just before. Still, we saw all sorts on the hot and bumpy trip- some grumpy-looking buffalo, crocodile, warthogs, elephants, and, right at the end, a leopard at a watering hole – a beautiful sight, and we lingered there for some time.  It’s not Africa of course.  There isn’t an abundance of wildlife, which makes it all the more exciting when you do see something (even if it’s a turtle by the side of the tracks), and a ranger here has to work harder to find some sightings.  Still, sightings of impala around the waterhole, herons standing on the heads of buffalos, elephants walking up the lake banks past crocodiles basking open-mouthed, and the ever-present but seldom seen leopards made for a very special afternoon.

Back at the camp we were met by the incredible sight of a table laid with white tablecloth and cutlery, surrounded by candles, under the stars. A small bonfire was burning too, and we had pre-dinner drinks in front of it, just the two of us in the whole camp, the wait staff there, but invisible in the darkness, fully respecting privacy, yet whenever we needed something they were straight over. The only sounds were the soft crackling of the bonfire, the night insects, the clinking of our glasses.
We were shown to our table. The food was fantastic, and the Lion beer (for me) and white wine (for my wife) were just the ticket. There was a huge selection of drinks (for a price of course), and they had put them all out on a small table, even though it was just the two of us.  I felt guilty not going on a bender.
We had a good night’s sleep (once we put the frog outside the tent!). In the morning I went for a morning nature walk with Keith. Elephants had somehow taken down part the elephant fence in the night, and we saw leopard and bear tracks. To think they’d been walking around our campsite! We returned and had a lovely breakfast by the pond, watching kingfishers diving in to get their breakfast. They have a lounge area to chill out in too (with wifi!), so we rested there, sorted out the payment (we had just enough for everything in a mix of US dollars and Sri Lankan rupees), all smiles now from De Silva, before the jeep took us to the main road where we met a driver who took us on to Ella.

All in all, it was a fantastic Glamping experience. One night was probably enough for us, especially if you have a good half-day where you see everything you want to see as we did…..a very worthwhile experience, all in all.

Author: Neil

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