After 100kms (that took six hours), we made to the beach resort of Mangrove Beach Cabanas near Tangalle. We had called the day before to book, but as we were soon learning, booking in advance is pointless. When we called, Mangrove Beach Cabanas said they had plenty of rooms so just turn up. We arrived, they were full. We headed to their big sister resort Mangrove Chalets. This place was nice. They had one room left, the family suite. It was well out of our budget but we managed to get it for the same price as the bungalows next door, so we were happy. The little huts were made of polished cement and were nestled amongst the coconut trees and soft sand, that only partially blocked the view of the ocean. It was also near the most important area for the next few day, the bar – ahh restaurant. We sat down, ordered an ice cold Lion Lager and chilled. Craving some delicious Sri Lankan food that we had read and heard so much about, we ordered some devilled prawns. It was amazing…. When the bar guys came over to clear or polished off plates, we promised to order it again the next day if they would show us how to cook it. The deal was made.
The only thing to make the day better would be a swim, but other than my now slightly infected foot causing me grief, the ocean in front of the bar did not look safe to swim in. Our thoughts were confirmed when we were told two people drowned right there a couple of weeks ago. Best to stick with just the prawns and beers.
We spent the next day doing the same as the previous afternoon, changing it slightly as we headed to Rekawa Beach where a small, but well run conservation company is monitoring and guarding turtles as they nest. Instead of the turtle eggs being poached for food, the conservation was set up to protect the eggs, hiring the poachers who walk the beach 24/7 checking if there are nest turtles and to chase away any dogs or people trying to get to the eggs. There is a policy that if you are lucky enough to see a turtle nesting you pay, rs.1000 and if you don’t, there is no need to pay. We waited in the open aired shed watching a Turtle’s Tale until 11pm where we were told it is best to head off and try another night.
Four and half hours later we were in car heading on the two hour drive to the highly recommended Udu Walawe National Park. Said to rival the National Parks of East Africa when it comes to spotting Elephants. We thought we had avoided another Sri Lankan Shakedown when we were asked to get into the jeep about 4kms away so we couldn’t haggle with the other jeeps at the gate. We stood our ground (or sat on our seats) until the driver got the idea we were going to choose ourselves. We managed to jump into another jeep with a young couple from the States and headed in. The price you pay, and it isn’t cheap, includes a spotter/tracker. Previously, on safaris in Africa, our guides/spotters have been some of the most passionate people when it comes to wildlife, getting excited by warthogs and beetles as much as lions, elephants or a leopard in a tree with a kill. If Udu Walawe wants to be considered as good as the Masai Mara or The Serengeti, it can start by sacking our spotter. We made it two meters past the gate when he made the driver stop the car. He said, I am here as a guide and spotter, but if you want me to show you something, you need to pay me. Everyones reaction was he same, basically, get stuffed. We had already paid for you and if you are good, you will get a tip. As we had all been told was the process. It was at this point he put in his poopie eyes and jumped in the front with the driver who was sporting the best/worst mullet we had seen to date.
We drove directly past two elephants, randomly stopping in front of a tree so we couldn’t get a good view of the peacocks before Mr Mullet stopped the car so they could smoke a cigarette. Well this was going well.
We drove around the park for one more hour passing no animals and no other cars. It was at this point we questioned our drivers motives. As we sped past a mother Elephant with her baby we realised they weren’t ever going to be on our side so we all banged the roof and made them reverse up to watch the Elephants do their Elephant things. It made the frustration worth while, but as we left the big lady and her offspring we drove out the gate, and realised they were cutting the drive short by a hour when we dropped off Mr Sulky Spotter Pants. He never did say goodbye? Luckily, Mr Mullet Head still proceeded to ask for a tip. We said no, in one way or another…
We headed back to our beach solitude. We sat contemplating our time so far in Sri Lanka, and after a few beers decided flying to the Maldives instead was not a better (cheaper) option. We cheered ourselves up by ordering some devilled prawns (cooking lesson included) and called our most trusted person in Sri Lanka, Jaja the tuk tuk man, to drive us back to the Turtle sanctuary. It was bittersweet, we got told there was a Turtle on the beach so we sat on the beach a hundred metres away to wait for her to build her nest. We sat under the starry sky listening to the waves come in. While we enjoyed the peacefulness, poor Mrs Turtle worked tirelessly to build her nest but it unfortunately collapsed twice. We saw a glimpse of her as she worked up her energy to head to sea to try again another night.
We packed up the next morning, jumped back in Ja Ja’s auto-Ricky and made our way along the coastal road to Matara. We had a train to catch to Colombo to link up with our overnight sleeper to Trincomalee. Thankfully we had an hour to spare, so stopped I a local little restaurant to give Rice and Curry another go. This was much better. Thanks to the smiley man and a bain-marie to keep it all warm.