Contracts & Udawalawe Safari

Obviously the leopard dress is for Safari

I woke up early and did some overdue blogging in the while the others slept – as one ought.

As the others eventually woke we went to try out the breakfast buffet. I guess the best way to describe it was “strange” ? No yoghurt or curds, but various lassies or juices freshly made and a chef who made omelets for you etc, to go with this was some deep trance music which seemed more than a little out of place but did explain the thumbing bass sounds an hour earlier. Mona pointed out the music choice to the staff by the end of the breakfast, and then changed to the obviously intended playlist with calm piano music.

I called Lakphura, a travel agency for Safari that Mona had verified met our standards and labelled themselves as considerate to the animals and environment, to double-check how the whole booking a safari tour went. Obviously one would pay in advance for a booking of the jeep and a “English speaking naturalist” – but ideally not the entry tickets since those were quite higher price than we been informed by our hotel they were on site. It also was not required a ticket for Juni which saved us some costs. Last but not least they would get back to us on whether they could pick us up or not – or for what price. That is after I’ve already paid for the booking. It worked out fine in the end, and we got our confirmation mails saying we were to be picked up at 14:00.

As we were slacking by the cabin and pool the cleaning lady came by asked if we would change rooms today and we said no, then she came back with a phone. Apparently the lady in charge explained that we did need to change room after all. I asked her to come by and bring the contract we signed when checking in since we confirmed it with her staff then. She brought the paper, and had added comments and stroked out the dates on the signed invoice. That’s typically not how contracts work, but I saw her point, she had guests coming that expected a nice cabin and we had initially booked a cabin + tent so easier for us to change and not cause problems for the next guest. I however was not that keen on explaining to Juni we would need to move to a tent and pack all our stuff up because of her staff had misunderstood something and presented an invoice with a signature where I added mine where had an agreement yesterday which as mentioned we even confirmed. As luck would have it right after the argument between me and the lady in charge one guest decided to leave a day earlier, so the lady in charge asked us to just forget about this argument. So apart from writing it now, I intend to try doing just that.

We had again a quick lunch and then were picked up and driven to the Udawalawe National Park. We met our English speaking naturalist, who sat with us in the open back and explained everything as well as spotted things the driver didn’t and signaled to him how to drive. I can’t understate how much of a difference that person did to the whole trip, it was well worth that 15 USD or whatever it was on top.

The safari was about 3 hours long, and we’re going on small roads, it felt sometimes like a set course rather than exploring the national park but a good first safari for Juni who by the end was struggling a bit with the attention and for the last half hour had her iPad since we weren’t bored by looking. As for the sightings we were lucky (ever heard that before on a safari?) and managed to see and get nice photos of a jungle cat. Other than that it was quite a few birds including some eagles, lots of elephants to Juni’s delight and some well camouflaged freshwater crocodiles, some water buffaloes and a few lizards.

After the drive back we had another nice dinner buffet and went early to bed all being tired after a long and adventurous day.

Colonial delights & Udawalawe

I managed to sleep quite well after that nice shower and felt the steps from yesterday in the legs. Juni was eager to play with all the toys belonging to the girl of her age so while she did that I prepped and packed everything for checkout.

We had our breakfast at Peddlers Inn Café, credit to Mona who scouted that out earlier. Galle’s Royal Mail coach service started in 1838 on July 2nd, and since 1908 the property has been in the same family and now converted into a café. It was very nice designed (however we couldn’t figure out why in the world one would put up the wallpapers depicting the leaves sideways), good selection and very tasty breakfast. After our primary needs had been satisfied we took the mandatory stroll along the wall of the fort and talked to Juni about the function of lighthouses.

We took our time walking up the now rather well-known streets back and forth but this time with Juni both present and awake. Mona found another dress, and decided to celebrate that with proper gelato – something that Juni also found acceptable.

We then returned to our hotel and checked out and met our driver and his car outside the hotel. The car almost matched our requirements – it did have AC, however broken. And it did have seatbelts, you just couldn’t fasten them. Some mental calculation of alternatives later, we tied the seatbelts securely and opened the windows. The owner of the hotel had some dialogue with the driver and although I didn’t understand a word I got the sense he was more than a bit irritated about the state of the car for his former guests.

It was really hot in the car as we were moving in walking tempo through Galle but once we got past the city core it was fine. After some initial chatting we turned to our podcasts, audiobooks and iPad respectively until Juni fell asleep. The drive was all in all a rather eventless story, which I consider positive given 3-4 hours could have been way worse.

We arrived at Udawalawe, or Kottawatta Village to be specific, and to our pleasant surprise we had managed to get the nicer cabin for two nights and avoided changing to a tent for the other day. After confirming this was really the case with the staff we tried out the pool right outside our cabin and unpacked our stuff.

We thought that perhaps we could squeeze in a bit more for today so had a quick snack, prepped the camera bag and tok a Tuk-Tuk and went off to the Elephant Orphanage which Juni has talked about for quite some time. It was a rather nice arrangement, people were seated on a viewing platform, like a amphitheater – but with the stage a bit further away and were able to view the orphaned elephants get their milk (and some grass). This unlike most other elephant watching events made the effort to minimize human contact for the elephants and would release them into the wild once they no longer require the milk.

Colonel Hathi would be proud of the orderly fashion to the milking station
Although some are more eager than others for a refill

We went back and had the dinner buffet – which when going for the local options was quite above average. There was also next to the restaurant a playground very conveniently so while we finished our dinner Juni could play around still within sight. She made some local friends including a rather playful medium-sized dog. She isn’t afraid of dogs but when a puppy not much smaller than her size tries to “play” in her face and put their paws on her shoulders I chose to interfere. Turns out the dog wasn’t trained at all, didn’t belong to anyone and after I had more forcefully taken it down a few times and given in a knee or two as it tried to jump at me (still playing) I felt this was a matter for the staff to sort out rather than myself and since the dog ran away at the sight of the staff I guessed this is a recurring matter.

As we all went to sleep I realized that it was very clear skies and you could see countless of stars from our outside bathroom which was quite nice – one often get used to the light pollution so it’s easy to forget how amazing the sky can be, especially when you’re taking a dump on your toilet.

Galle – return to the fort

10 years since our first trip – still having fun and looking great together

It was time to check out from Star Holiday Resort, which had been a great stay with very accommodating hosts. As per tradition we sent Juni with Gunnel to the beach to get some peace while packing everything and then took the 09:00 Express train to Galle. Again twenty minutes delayed, again bought 2nd class and were unable to sit – this time with our luggage as well.

Prince of Galle – a bit on the posh side

As we had our luggage with us this time we took a Tuk-Tuk after some quick haggling to our room for the night, Fort de 19 Villa. We dumped our bags, and quickly headed off to Fort Spa to pamper ourselves again. This time pedicure for yours truly and a full body massage for Mona – it feels good to be a gangsta. In order not to break any habits we followed up with lunch at Poonies were I got the Vietnamese pho again – which was as good this time as last.

Fort de 19 Villa – household and three rooms for guests

Well fed we got back to strolling the alleys and streets and bumped into a familiar restaurant – Lucky Fort, now full we decided we couldn’t fit 10 different curries although it was interesting to see they still offerred the same menu after seven years and only a 20% increase in price since then. Mona checked out some dresses, and liked three different ones but couldn’t really decided but when looking at the price tag realized she didn’t have to choose so bought all three. We headed back to our hotel and now got a look at the room and common balcony. It was a nice room, with big bathroom, fridge and even decent wifi – the only possible downside was the stairs to get to the room, my mother would get nightmares so I’ll simply refrain from posting pictures.

We then went to the train station where we met up with Gunnel who had taken the train with Juni from Hikkaduwa. She was to be picked up Deepthi who was in the town and fetch a ride back but he was apparently an hour late so again walked the streets and ended up at Heritage Café – a colonial style, very nice although unsurprisingly also quite pricy. After ice cream and fika we explored more shops and stalls while Deepthi was getting closer after every call but extending the delay with 20-30 minutes each time as well but finally arrived and picked up Gunnel who still wasn’t feeling 100%. He unfortunately hadn’t got our texts earlier where we enquired about getting a car from Galle to Udawalawe but could set up car for tomorrow for a higher price than we got without haggling from our first tuk-tuk here in Galle. It seemed easier to get something local so we asked our landlords, and they said that they could set us up for a lower price and with a driver was already present in Galle which reduced factors that could go wrong so we went for that option.

With those practicalities sorted out we decided to play some football, while waiting for the sunset to watch (photograph).

Well hello little ship, thanks for your timing

After the sun had set we returned to a leather shop where the seller had offered me a special 30% off when I showed my interest and then left earlier as a last attempt to change my mind. There were two bags of same design, one in cow and one in water buffalo which I thought would be a good complement to my existing collection. So I started to check, compare in generally and investigate the quality meticulously. Juni at some time here fell asleep, I finally ended up buying the cow bag, and I don’t think I spent more than 40 minutes or so.

We had seen a dumpling hole-in-the-wall dumpling place just across the street from Poonies, “Dumpings Cafe” – and thought it would be something convenient while Juni slept in the stroller. It was really tasty and we kept ordering more and and more while watching passersby.

On the way back Mona wanted an ice cream and as we finally got home I realized Juni’s water bottle was missing. So I walked back to the dumpling place where we had drunken from it, but without luck. As I was back at the hotel again Mona remembered she had indeed taken the water bottle from there, but placed it on a table when she was looking for ice cream. So I went back to the ice cream place next to the dumpling place, there was nothing on the tables but the luckily the staff had taken care of it. After the last walk home and a nice shower I fell asleep.