The last day of my epic birthday week had arrived and once again it began with an amazing breakfast, which was then followed by a tour around the plantation. The estate was vast, there were poly tunnels upon poly tunnels. It was interesting to see the growing process from seed to shipment and learn all the intricacies involved. I’ll confess I did keep getting distracted by random bugs; what can I say? I’m clearly part magpie, movement and shiny things distract me.
Once again we were back in the car and on our way to a place called Saraii Village, we would be staying in tree houses for the night, to say I was excited doesn’t even cover it, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it stay together? I had, after all, seen some interesting building practices since I’d been here and their attitude to health and safety was a lot more fun than back at home. On the way we decided to stop off at the country’s 2nd largest waterfall at 720 feet (220 meters), Diyaluma, which is considered the prettiest in the country and it was lovely. However, the group of toque macaques sitting and grooming nearby didn’t seem that appreciative of the scenery. It was just a quick stop as we still had quite a drive ahead of us.
It was a pretty drive as we made our way out of the hill country and down into the dry zone. After some slight confusion finding the correct random dirt track we pulled into a wooded area, slalomed between the trees and parked up outside the reception. As we waited to be shown to our tree house, I noticed a book on Sri Lankan wildlife sitting on a table and decided to have a flip through. Surprisingly it did mention all 4 species of cat (Yay!) and had 2 pictures of a fishing cat – although one was incorrectly labelled as a rusty spotted. So close and yet, so far! I didn’t expect the majority of people to know the difference between the species, but an educational wildlife book? Come on! Before I could sulk we were whisked away. The tree house was AMAZING! It was 2 stories with only partial walls so that it was almost completely open to the elements and wildlife, I loved it! The lower floor was set out like a front room with a bedroom walled off and the upper floor had the bathroom and a much larger bedroom. As we climbed the stairs I heard this insanely loud buzzing and recognised it immediately as a carpenter bee. They were monsters of the bee world; they were inky blue fuzzy lumps of fabulousness (yes, I really like bees). I’d come across them a few times before at Thalawathugoda but they’d never stayed still long enough for me to take a picture, unless I happened to have left my camera somewhere else, that is. But this huge guy, it seemed, was boring a hole in the wood under our stairs which would take him a while. I finally managed to get a picture but it wasn’t great as I had to contort myself into the ground in order to get a passable shot.
The Village’s restaurant apparently had an array of international chefs and, wherever they were from, they cooked an incredible meal. Although I’d just eaten and was stuffed I looked forward to dinner but, before that, I was again going in search of jungle cats. We were headed to Uda Walawe National Park. Although Uda Walawe is well known for elephant sightings, I’d been reliably informed that it was a good place to find jungle cats and that they were spotted quite regularly. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours in the park but on the upside we would be there at dusk.
Almost as soon as we entered the park I finally saw my first Indian roller. It was a gorgeous bird that looked as if it had flown into a primary school classroom and fallen straight into the powder paints. Despite everyone saying how common they were around the parks, I hadn’t seen any at Yala and even here, it was just a single individual perched on some overhead cables. Although they are not that far from each other, there was a marked difference in the habitats of Uda Walawe and Yala. Where Yala was much more open, Uda Walawe was made up of close-knit shrubs and low trees. I didn’t see as much animal diversity there, the odd lizard and a few bird species, but that said, I was only there for a short period. We came across a total of 14 or so elephants, usually in pairs or singly, which should give you some idea just how easy it was to see them. One particular ele decided that she required more attention than the others and wandered down the centre of the track at a snail’s pace, slowly rounded the truck and then continued on her way. Once again I was denied any signs of a jungle cat, but as we headed back to the tree houses we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset.
By the time we returned to Saari Village it was dark, which meant it was time to get the torch out again and see what was crawling about. I needn’t have bothered as when I returned to the treehouse I discovered (to my delight) that behind each light shade there lurked a lizard. The lights attracted an array of bugs which the lizards gobbled up easily and greedily. Eventually, I re-joined Rajah and Mihiri on the sofa and we had a post-birthday drink. Sounds simple enough, right? Sit down and open a bottle, what could possibly go wrong? The answer is me. It was a bottle of fizzy something which meant a cork tied in place with some wire. Just unscrew the wire and ease off the cork, what could be simpler? I clearly wasn’t born with the finesse for things like this; on previous occasions I’ve accidentally ended up either firing the cork at someone’s face or at something breakable. This time it was just an epic fail. Without any walls to the treehouse I was 75% sure I wasn’t going to break anything, the cork would just fly straight out and on to the ground. What I didn’t count on was breaking off half the cork before it was even able to exit the bottle. Luckily I always carry my very pretty Leatherman (multi-tool) in my backpack. I relinquished both my Leatherman and the unopened bottle to Rajah who fixed the result of my ineptitude.
For the fourth time in six days it was a very early start, but we were off to join some fishermen to catch our breakfast. We hopped in a tuk-tuk with one of the Village guides and he whizzed us 10 minutes down the road to the fishing boats. Just as we arrived, two fishermen landed their little boats, which strongly resembled kayaks that had been squashed between two double decker buses, and began sorting out their catch. I immediately went over for a nosey. In the bottom of the boat, no surprises, there was a load of fish, mainly tilapia, but also some massive bright blue long-clawed squat lobsters. Always excited to see something new, I asked if it was OK if I pulled one out of the boat for a closer look. It was awesome and really quite cute. Apparently, they also fetch a good price. After a few minutes the fishermen who were taking us were ready, and Mihiri and I clambered aboard one of the boats whilst the other took off just ahead of us. The lake was enormous and –oddly – seemed quite choppy. Within a few minutes my horrendous sea sickness reared its ugly head and I had to stop taking pictures and focus on the horizon and not throwing up. After a while I was able to watch the other boat bob along and see the fisherman pull in his nets. It was by no means a great haul –1 shrimp, 4 tilapia and 2 other fish but, despite wanting to vomit, it had been a nice chilled experience.
As soon as we were back at the shore two chopping boards and large knives appeared. Within a few minutes the fish were descaled and gutted, some veg was chopped up, a fire was going and the food was ready to be cooked. It was absolutely delicious and a great end to a knackering – but phenomenal – birthday week. Next year had a lot to live up to as Sri Lanka had set an insanely high standard.
Massive thanks to my fantabulous Sri Lankan Mum, Mihiri.