Today we left Colombo. It’s a Monday morning after a holiday weekend so we finally got a taste of real Colombo traffic. An intricate dance where horns blare and vehicles get within inches of each other. That said, it’s not nearly as crazy as New Delhi!
We had a long drive ahead to Pinnawala, the elephant orphanage that is on most tourist itineraries. It was wonderful to see more rural Sri Lankan life and its lush landscape. Our ever accommodating driver, Prashanta, stopped when we wanted to grab a few photos of roadside stalls. It seemed every town had it’s specialty or industry, fruit in one, coconut in another, then cashews and even inflatable toys in yet another town. You’d see many stalls all selling basically the same thing but not much of anything else.
Rice paddies, pineapple and coconut plantations filled in the scenery between towns and finally, in the distance we started seeing the hills. We drove through some dense forests as well. The highway is being widened to 2 lanes so this means some houses and businesses have had to have their front walls demolished to make room. A few looked like they were cut in half. Sadly, I never did get a good photo as an example.
In Pinnawala, we parked and our driver got our tickets organized. We walked down a road that’s also used by elephants to get to the water for bathing. Along the edges are your typical tourist trap shops selling elephant poo paper, carvings and clothing with elephants printed on them. There are hotels and restaurants right on the edge so you can view the elephants from your room or in our case, while having lunch. It is a beautiful setting and tourists are guaranteed some great photos but it was a little confusing to see signs that said not to feed or touch the elephants yet the men herding the elephants were often the ones encouraging it (although not widely). While most elephants are free to roam around, three were chained at the water’s edge. When I asked about it, I was told they were troublemakers and needed to be. They were unchained when it was time to head back to the sanctuary on the other side of the highway. We went there after lunch to see them feed the babies. This also felt like a show put on for tourists. I had hoped that the visit to the orphanage would leave me feeling good about supporting a sanctuary for animals who aren’t able to survive in the wild but it felt rather conflicting and more of a tourist attraction. Still, the natural setting and open space they have is much better than any zoo and they care givers really do seem to care. So do your research before you go and decide what feels right for you. Personally, I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing some in the wild in a couple of days when we visit a national park.
After Pinnawala, we still had another long drive to Habarana where we’ll be staying for 3 nights. On the way we stopped at a lovely outdoor restaurant for tea. Foolishly, I left my big camera in the van – it was just a tea stop after all. I did have my iPhone so after we placed our order, I got up and walked to the fence to have a look at the rice paddies that were next to the restaurant. Below was a little creek and movement caught my eye. Well, you can imagine my surprise when a saw a huge water monitor lizard walking along not 2 meters away from me (luckily on the other side of the fence). I snapped a photo as I waved the others over to have a look. I also took a video that I posted on Instragram. I’ve often resorted to shooting a video when I know my pictures won’t do something justice.
After all the excitement we sat down to have our tea. Not 2 minutes later, I see some movement in the trees – a giant squirrel! It’s about 3 times the size of our squirrels. So the lesson I learned is to always bring your camera!
We are now at the beautiful Sorowwa Resort on the shores of a small lake (all lakes in Sri Lanka are man made – some centuries ago). Another magical sunset and a great dinner capped off our day. Tomorrow we climb Sirigiya!