Since we’ve arrived in Sri Lanka, I’ve been dying to see an elephant in the wild, just one, even from really far away. As long as I can tell it’s an elephant then I’ll be happy. Even better if it waves it’s trunk in salutation, but I’m not picky. Just one pachiderm, please! So far we’ve had no manner of luck in this regard. The one National Park we could have gone through had a road that was under 4m of water. Accustomed and all as we are to aqua-biking after all the flooding in Croatia, it simply wasn’t possible. Today there was also a chance we would be able to pass through elephant territory and I woke up, eager to get on my bike to get Nellie spotting.
Our day began, as it has so often recently, with rain. But glimmering on the horizon was a great big band of blue hope, and by the time we had breakfasted and packed up, the sun was shining brightly. We brushed the cobwebs on our sunglasses and set off, making sure our MOD clearance was safely tucked away with our passports. We’re not sure how many army checkpoints we’ll have to pass through today, but hopefully the further south we head, the less likely it’ll be that we have to deal with labourious, pointless form filling.
One great thing about the direction we’re heading now, asides from the chance of a bit more vitamin D, is that the wind is behind us as we cycle south. Although we wiggle back and forth on the bendy roads, the majority of the time we ae not hindered by the wind coming off the sea. This route is peppered with battle scarred buildings, some have been patched up with filler, standing in the sunshine like spotty reminders of a conflict still fresh in everyones minds. Elsewhere, the red cross have been busy building people new homes so they can resettle and, I hope, start their lives afresh. However, while tourists need permits and are constantly tracked and there is still a massive army presence in the area, the economics of recovering from a war can only remain difficult. Nonetheless, we are greeted with massive smiles. The women, in particular, always seem pleased to see me and I get the biggest grins and most enthusiasic waves from the women doing roadwork. There are a lot of them!
We stopped early in the day at an Army canteen. They are a fairly common sight in the north as there is barely a kilometre we have passed through that isn’t occuppied by some form of military camp. After a cold drink and some short eats, Sam headed to the bathroom. A young guy casually sweeping the floor asked him his name and where he was from. This isn’t an unusual occurrence in Sri Lanka, they’re a pretty nosey bunch and generally want to find out as much about us as possible. This was different however, as soon as he thought Sam was out of earshot, he was on his phone talking to someone about their conversation. This weird feeling of being watched has been pretty pervasive since we arrived in the worst of the conflict affected areas, it’s pretty unsettling, but also quite laughable, I’m not sure exactly what they think we’re up to!
After our break, we decided to check out the road through Kokilai Bird Sanctuary, if it’s passable, we will cycle though as it is home to 30 wild elephants. It’s not a huge place and so we thought it would be a good place to spot them. Unforunately, someone (probably the Chinese) has recently dug up the road. It’s just a massive heap of muck and completely unusable. So we turned back, passed the army canteen again and headed towards Padaviya slirting alongside the Bird Sanctuary. Fortunately, this road is great. It was marked as a tiny faint line on google maps and so we expected a gravel track at best, but it has a perfect tarmac surface and even road markings!! We saw quite a bit of evidence of elephants as we skirted the park, namely huge poos and mahoosive footprints, but the elephants themselves were nowhere to be seen. I’m beginning to give up on the idea of ever seeing one without a sunburnt, overweight tourist strapped to it’s back. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable cycle with huge forests either side of the road giving way to wewas and more built up areas.
When we arrived in Padaviya, we had no idea what accommodation would be available. A guesthouse at the edge of the village seemed to be all there was after a brief recce of the one street town. After inspecting the room and hearing the price, I almost threw a hissy fit. I had absolutely no intention of paying $12 for a windowless, damp cube. And despite the owners assurances that it was well ventilated (how?), felt like hopping on my bike until I found something less shit, or at the very least, the same amount of crappiness with a lower price tag. Eventually, realising he wasn’t going to get the cash out of us, he agreed to let us stay in the night rooms. These are used for drivers for groups of wealthy tourists, and the bathroom is in the garden. But it costs half the amount and we were much happier to stay somewhere a bit pants if it wasn’t costing us most of our daily budget. The only issue was waiting so I could have a shower. I’m the only woman staying there and the showers are open, so once all the real drivers had showered, Sam and I scampered down to the loo in the garden and he kept watch while I showered quickly.
Heading into “town” we found a small hotel (a hotel isn’t a place to stay, it is a small basic food joint) which was mostly staffed by deranged people (it was opposite the hospital so patients were bought over to eat). They were friendly and lovely, but all mad as a bottle of chips. As we ate our dinner, one guy who had taken a particular shine to Sam, stood propping himself up against his chair – far too close for comfort. As he watched him eat standing shirtless, one hand on Sams shoulder, he masterfully twisted a small piece of newspaper to a fine point and proceeded to clean the inner edifices of his ear with relish.
Heading back to the ranch, we’ve discovered that our bed seems to be mostly constructed of driftwood and offcuts of wood and has a weird speed bump type feature in the middle, despite this, it feels strangely comfy! I’ll probably dream about elephants tonight, it seems the only place I’m going to see them is in my dreams!!