Tangalla to Uda Walawe

Tangalla to Uda Walawe


What do you normally do when an elephant attacks?

After breakfast we check out, a little sleepy, but happy to be moving ahead with the journey.  We drive along the last bit of southern coast that we will see and then head north, towards Udawalawe and the Uda Walawe National Park.  It is a challenging three hour drive to the home town of our driver (which happens to be very close to our hotel and the National Park)... and by challenging I mean challenging to stay awake.   The scenery is pretty, but fairly uniform as we pass smaller towns separated by stretches of tropical vegetation.  At various points throughout the drive MG and I catch each other on the verge of sleep. 

Our driver is kind enough to bring us to the home of his parents.  It is a quick stop, but we have time to drink king coconut juice, sweetened with sugar and served with lime on the front porch and chat with his father, a retired tour driver.  When the drinks arrive I look to MG to see if this is something that is likely going to kill me or if it is safe to drink… he responds with a shrug and we both sip our drinks.  We get back in the car, only to stop again up the street and agree on a price and car/driver for our safari later in the day.  Then we drive on to check into our next hotel, the Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort, which just opened for business in the last two months.  After our less than ideal stop the night before, our driver is on his top behavior, doing everything in his power to ensure we are happy – insisting we check out the room before check- in to make sure it is satisfactory.  The hotel has been nicely designed (both the property and rooms) with a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces.   Safari details are well incorporated and it is marketed as a luxury hotel (while it is nice and we have no complaints about our stay, the hotel falls short in its attention to detail needed to create a truly luxury experience – and with tons of staff idly available there is really no excuse).  It is still early days for the hotel and would be interesting to fast forward a few years and see what develops. 

We make the short drive to Uda Walawe National Park, stopping at a roadside restaurant with a…can you guess…rice and curry buffet lunch.  We are surprised when it is the best food we have had so far on the trip and thoroughly enjoy lunch and a large fruit plate for dessert (mangos, bananas, pineapple, and papaya seem to be the most prevalent fruits of the island).  Then it is on to the park.  We are in a large jeep-like vehicle that seats 10, but we have it all to ourselves.  Our driver and the jeep driver are in the front cab and MG and I sit in the back with our Safari guide.  Within seconds of starting the journey into the park, our shoes are off and we are standing on the seats looking left and right for elephants.   


One of the waterholes in the park

The park is over 300 square km of lightly vegetated land and home to over 500 elephants.   It is mid-afternoon and the sun is strong, but we seem to have the park to ourselves.  Only at the end of our tour do we see other jeeps and 4WDs touring the park.  Overall, the safari does not disappoint!!  We see elephants, monkeys, jackals, birds, water buffalo, a crocodile, a turtle, and lizards, but mostly elephants of all ages and sizes.  Males travel alone and females in packs with other females and younger elephants.  Upon each encounter we stop and observe the elephants eating and covering themselves with plants/dirt to keep cool.  In general our presence is unacknowledged by the elephants – except for one male elephant.  He seems upset and runs towards our jeep each time we inch forward.  I will admit I am a little scared…being the littlest one in the exposed jeep, I am sure I will be attacked first J .  I ask our guide if this is normal and he explains that sometimes the elephants come right up to the cars.  


Apparently, they have very sensitive ears and when they come too close a guide will touch the ear and they usually retreat.  In our case, the elephant kept a safe distance and eventually moved back into shade allowing our vehicle to pass…elephant attack averted!  As we near the end of the safari, the heat of the day has also disappeared and we sit watching a large group of elephants and young elephants eating and playing before heading out of the park and back to the hotel. 


Back at the hotel, our safari experience isn’t quite over.  We sit at the patio bar enjoying a cool drink, watching at least a dozen monkeys jump through the tree branches above us.  With no free Wi-Fi in our room, we people watch in the open air lobby until it turns dark and the mosquitos start to appear.  Later we have dinner at the hotel, arriving as the restaurant opens for dinner at 19:30.  We eat dinner along with families travelling with small children.  The preferred dining hour in Sri Lanka is much later than we are used to in Switzerland and other guests seem to start arriving as we finish our dinner and turn in for the night.