We leave Wajiya beach for Yala National Park ( which is apparently the closest we can ever expect to get to a real live jungle book moment ) in the competant friendly hands of Amila our driver. It takes about 3 hours in our van heading east along the coast. When we get close to the park Amila phones his friend Ranjit who is one of the jeep drivers that tout for business in the town outside the national park. He tool’s up in this ancient 4 wheel drive Land-Rover and we strike a deal. He has to pay for the vehicle and together we drive a harder bargain with the owner, the bigger the discount on the vehicle the bigger the tip Ranjit will receive.
After lunch we all pile into the back of the jeep and head off on our safari. Axel standing up in the back looking out over the cab with his imaginary machine gun strafing everything in site, Lisa with Elka on her knee bouncing around in the back.
Before we get to the park Ranjit goes off road beside this lake and pulls up to the waters edge and shows us a huge crocodile, we don’t get out, our first taste of the wild.
When we arrive at the park we have to pay our entrance fee and are supplied with a guide. I think this is another one of those third world jobs for the boy’s strokes because he spends more time talking to us than animal spotting.
The landscape here is not as jungley as the beach area we have been staying in, there are more open spaces, trees and scrubby bush. No shortage of wildlife, the first thing we spot is a mongoose, followed by a family of wild pigs then a jackal, all in the space of 5 minutes.
At this time of the year there are far fewer visitors to the park than in the high season which is good as there are far fewer vehicles to disturb the animals. The most sought after animals in the park are the leopards, of which there are about thirty , so sighting’s of them are quite rare, we were lucky. A jeep passed us and the driver said something to Ranjit who immediately did an about turn and started to hare down this rutted track. I think he forgot about us in the back in his excitement to get to the spot where a leopard had been sighted. We were bouncing and flying around the back, Elka flying around in mid-air till we came screeching to a halt at this big tree. It took us a minute to spot him after all he was a leopard. A big male leopard if his balls were anything to go by, Lisa’s observation! He wasn’t too interested in us and we had too leave him to continue our safari. A few minutes later we get more information from another passing jeep and the roller coaster began again, rattling down another dirt road at a rate of knots, Axel whooping and hollering with excitement, Elka making her strange cock crowing sound, cawkcawkcaaaaaw.
Round another bend and we spot our first elephant sauntering along on its way to a watering hole for a late afternoon drink, we stay with this elephant for a few minutes and then take off again down the track to the actual watering hole where we find a family of elephants, seven or eight females with some teenagers and a couple of babys all enjoying a bath and a drink. We are about thirty metres from them, Elka is so excited. It is really an amazing sight too see for the first time. After about ten minutes they finish up and head back into the forest where they dissappear off into the distance. For such big animals they really are hard to spot once they are in their element.
At this stage we have added some spotted dear, wild peacocks and other assorted wildlife to the list of sightings when we are once again rushing down another rutted track. The trackers have spotted another leopard. We arrive at the sighting and there on a rock is another big leopard relaxing in the late afternoon sun, just lying there out in the open, an amazing site.
Ranjit has been driving in the park for over 20 years and is better at spotting anything than the tracker’s that are supplied by the park, I don’t know how he does it, keeping his jeep on track and catching the smallest glimpse of an animal that you or I wouldn’t see in a million years.
We are off again, hurtling down another track, unbelieveably an other leopard sighting, this time it is young one and we are less than 10 metres away from him, he is definitely not as cool or relaxed by our presence as the two older ones we have seen today. This one is a little agitated, and doesn’t hang about as long. All the same it is another leopard. Apparently some people come to the park just to try to see the leopard’s, and return again and again only to be dissapointed at their elusive nature. We are told the baby must have brought us look as we saw 10% of the parks leopard population in one day. Thanks Elka, Cawkcawkcaaaw.