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There’s a well known TED talk about 4am, which in short says that 4am is the asshole of the day where only the strange, unusual, and generally undesired happens. Well not too much later than 4am, at 4:25, Kim and I woke up to go on safari at Yala National Park. I’m not sure, but I believe the name Yala is derived from Hindu alternative to YOLO (“You only live once”). YALA in this case standing for, “You’ll always live again”.
Fully alive despite lack of sleep, from 5:00 to 12:00 Kim, myself, and four other tourists went speeding about the reserve in our jeep in hunt of animals, particularly the elusive jaguar. There’s a primal sensation of keeping your senses tuned to the slight movement or incongruity of an animal hiding amongst the wild that is quite enjoyable. Though I’ve not gong hunting before, I can now appreciate more fully the appeal.
The safari was quite enjoyable and successful, as we saw mongooses (mongeese?), jackals, elephants, various birds, deer, rabbits, wild pigs, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and, a jaguar.Seeing so many different wild animals crowding around a drying water hole and watching them interact was quite the sight. And nothing much really happened besides gators being careful not to get stomped by a wild bull, or deer vary warily drinking water at safe distance from the same lurking alligators. I couldn’t imagine the exhilaration of seeing a predator actually attack its prey. Although it was the biggest expense of the trip, at 5,000 rupees each, it was worth it. Seeing so much variety of wildlife led me to my theory of the day:
Theory of the Day:
More knowledge = more wonder and enjoyment.
The reason seeing certain animals like the jaguar was special was because I knew they are quite uncommon to be seen in the wild, and had been briefly versed into how powerful and mystical they are. If I had the same knowledge about birds, maybe one of the many birds I saw was actually a rare and special sighting that, due to my lack of knowledge, I didn’t appreciate fully, if at all. Had I been a true ornithologist, I could have potentially doubled my enjoyment of the safari. The same applies for anything – cars, cultural traditions, plants, weather formations, etc.: the more you knowledge you have on a specific subject, the more likely you are to see, identify, and appreciate amazing, wonderful, and unique things around you every day.
Our guide, Janaka, seemed genuinely enthusiastic about finding and watching the animals, constantly chattering leads on his phone with other guides in the park, and occasionally jumping onto the roof of the truck to peer above the brush in search of God-knows-what. Watching him go about his business was almost as much part of the show as the animals and the park itself. I’d recommend going with him.
After Yala, it was time again to move on, so we headed towards Mirissa, on the southern coast. For the first time, we let a tuk-tuk driver take us from the bus drop off to a place he “recommended”. Fortunately, it meant our rudimentary requirements (bed, fan, mosquito net, bathroom) and was cheap, plus right on the beach, so we took it.
We were visiting in the off-season, during the monsoon, so the whole place was quite dead and the ocean was rough. I was not to enthralled with the town, it seemed a bit sleazy and touristy at least compared to the more authentic towns in the interior we’d been to, but it was nice to be on the beach. The weather was plenty good enough to do some long overdue relaxing on the beach and it was a nice change of pace from rice and curry to eat some grilled fish for dinner, though more expensive, at 750 rupees each for fish and some sides.
Reflections of the day:
- Five days into the trip and it just dawned on us that we didn’t know what the Sri Lankan flag looks like. This is quite peculiar, since in any other country you go to, especially second- and third-world countries, the flag is generally everywhere you look. In Sri Lanka, the Buddhist flag far and away dominates the country’s.
- Are there people in Sri Lanka who do not know what it feels like to be cold? Most probably have had the chills from a fever, but it is not likely that some lucky person has avoided getting sick in their live in Sri Lanka or any other tropical country, and thus never truly felt cold (beyond ice cubes in their mouths perhaps)
- Camping in Yala would be a very different feeling. Unlike anywhere else I’ve been, with leopards around you have to always keep in mind the risk that you could be actively be the hunted at that very moment, and not the hunter. Indeed, our guide told us that just last year a visitor was killed by a leopard while wandering too far from her jeep.