You crazy water buffalo...
Saturday 15 Jan 11 - Saturday 15 Jan 11
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A more active day today, though it didn’t start that way. I was woken by a call from Mum about important pharmacy business at 8.30, and we took our time getting ready for the day’s activities.
Expecting a visit from the Centauria crew at 10.30, we were a little taken aback when at 11 we received a call from the hotel telling us to get to the bus quick smart. As it happened, unsurprisingly, we weren’t the last ones on the vehicle, and we were on the road well after the originally set time of departure.
Our first of two major stops for the day was a girls’ orphanage a bit more than an hour’s drive out of Embilipitiya. It’s very isolated, a good half-hour off the main road through winding, unsealed jungle roads, and as a result few foreigners know about it or have a chance to support it. We’ve been there a couple of times before with some gifts and foodstuffs that have always been well received – they are given an allowance of 40 Rs. Per child per day for food, which equates to about AU$0.12 per meal. They also have forty girls staying there at the moment, which is more than the twenty-eight beds they have.
They were all a little shy at first of the twenty or so strange Westerners turning up on their doorstep (although one or two recognised Mum), but they quickly got into the swing of things. They tried their fairly limited English on us as we tried our extremely limited Sinhala on them, generally resorting to body language for communication.
We distributed gifts of exercise books, toothbrushes, some calculators, stationery, liquid for blowing bubbles, notebooks and picture frames amongst other things, and they kneeled at our feet as they received them.
Sweets were also given out, and perhaps that sugar boost prompted the dancing scene that followed. We tried some Bar Mitzvah-style dancing, the hokey pokey and Rina did a solo to warm them up. They responded with a burst of Kandyan and then Bollywood dancing, which we all clapped along to. A small girl of maybe five or six attached herself to Dad and insisted he give her high fives until his palms were burning, while Claire and Anna wanted to adopt at least one child.
Pulling ourselves away, they waved us off at the gates and we made our way to Uda Walawe National Park, just north of Embiipitiya.
Again, we’d been there a few times before on ‘safari’ – in small jeeps trying to spot an elephant or two and some brightly coloured birds. We separated into three groups and took off with a tracker/guide in tow, who did not speak much English but knew all the names of the birds and animals and could spot them as we sped past when everyone else had to squint to see them.
The tracker we had this time was exceptional. On a fast moving vehicle, he’d see a deer out of the corner of his eye that the rest of us wouldn’t have seen had we driven past a hundred times, and this skill set this trip apart from others. A couple of other factors may also have been of assistance: the recent rain, which may have brought more animals out; and also that our jeep was the front of the convoy, meaning that we would see the birds that others missed because we scared them away.
A few highlights: seeing wild elephants maybe five metres from the jeeps, observing a peacock open its tail in the twilight, the crocodile basking in the sun by the water’s edge, the rare ‘Common Hopo’ (that a bird with ‘common’ in its name could be rare delighted the girls), watching eagles taking flight and seeing the beaks of the Hornbills, which have huge bills similar to that of a toucan, and learning how to call each other crazy water buffaloes.
The weather was great, too, a very nice temperature and a cool breeze as the open top jeeps drove through the Park’s roads. We bussed back to Embilipitiya, arriving at the guesthouse at 7.30 or so, a good time for a run around with Akcher before dinner (that was again delicious) and bed.
Note: the photos for the last couple of weeks will be coming soon. I haven't been taking any photos myself - I'm leaving that to everyone else - so when this AuSLMAT trip finishes I'll collect the photos from the whole group and upload the best. Thanks for your presumed patience!