After much blathering and de-roping over the course of three whole years, the bunch of monkeys from the old office finally managed to get their acts together and loiter over to Yala on a trip this weekend. As if the drought and tourist season wasn’t giving enough pain to those poor animals, we decided to add to their misery too.
As head honcho, I took on the role of overall instigator of Project Trip-To-Yala (creative, think you not). I swear I will never make that mistake again.
I never realized that organizing a trip could be more stressful than running America. Not only did I have to battle it out with ten ninnies for weeks in order to convince them all to come, but I also had the pleasure of playing headmistress and chaperone in talking to their parents and assuring a few wrought mums that I’d return their precious angels in one sober piece. Mind you, these are mostly adult males we’re talking about. One even as ancient as I am. I had to make vows of responsibility and sobriety, even going into the extent of sending out group mails listing out rules of conduct to the lot. I felt like one of those parents promising to babysit a slumber party. I spent sleepless nights budgeting out the cheapest options for travel and accommodation, with some of the bunch kindly volunteering to do much of the dirty work of calling around for quotes and securing deals.
But in the end, we did finally go, and none the sooner. It was wild, it was whacky and it was, in every sense of the word, a trip.
For cost and adventure purposes, we settled on taking a train to Matara and then finding a way to get to yala from there. The drama began in the wee hours of the morning when the cab we’d hired to pick us all up and take us to the railway station turned up minus four seats. A moment of panic, and it was decided that some of them would go ahead to the station on their own. A good decision on their part, because those of in the cab spent two hours pulling our hair out every time the gears flunked and we got caught to checkpoints, fearing we’d miss the train. But all turned out well, and we did catch it on time, thanks to the brave souls who went ahead of us and purchased tickets.
The train journey itself was eventful too. To begin with, none of us knew where the 2nd class compartments were, and ended up getting in late and not having seats. Most of the gang stood for a whole three hours right next to a rather gruesome cabin toilet until people got off and seats became available. I, being the queen that I am, secured myself a nice plush seat next to a snoring passenger and rode in comfort. The weather decided to be an arse and kept raining now and then, which meant the train windows had to be opened and closes at least eight times during the journey. I could see Lady Divine’s face turning very, very sour every time she ended up wet. The train also featured quite a number of entrepreneurs who passed the cabin selling different versions of vadey, kadaley, and pitiful stories in order to make a buck. Five hours hence, I’d almost emptied my pockets and we arrived in Matara.
From Matara we hired a cab to take us to Yala. This one actually had enough seats. We stopped on the way to buy food provisions and ended up alarming the employees of Cargills. The boys spied the liquor section and there went my no-drinking policies. En route to Yala, yours truly had the pleasure of treating everyone to a delightful bout of travel sickness. Luckily, that was as dramatic as it got, and we slept the rest of the way to our lodgings.
As our accommodation of choice, we chose the Panthera Lodge – a charming bungalow on the fringes of the Yala park. Never realizing whom they were handing their premises to, the lodge owner gave us a very cool deal that included the services of their fabulous cook, Liyanage, who could whip up gourmet fantasies out of rocks if we let him. The lodge itself is basic in architecture, but quite well built, with a novel ‘outdoor’ feel to it. All the beds were lined up on this massive verandah so that we could sleep under the stars.
She actually responded to it, too, giving us full view of her tummy and plenty of access to the scratchable areas behind her ears and neck whenever she was called. Soma’s speciality was her inclination to fart out the world’s smelliest dog farts, rendering everyone green in the face for hours.
Even the bathroom was open-aired and lacked a ceiling in a very ‘designer’ way, giving passing birds a shock of their lives. We even had the pleasure of the company of the lodge’s delightful little watchdog, who did anything but be a watchdog. We called her Soma.
But even Soma’s farts could not stop us from enjoying ourselves. In the midst of the hilarious moments of Mafia, poker, word games, sing-a-longs and home-made movies, I can’t remember a single second that I wasn’t laughing. If the daytime wasn’t crazy enough, the night was even better. Open air sleeping arrangements meant a lot of Yala bugs visited us out of curiosity, necessitating the use of convenient mosquito nets – one per every two beds. Securing them was enough of an adventure. We spent hours not sleeping on that row of beds and methinks we kept the whole of Yala awake with the screeches, guffaws and giggles throughout the night. The boys shared beds with each other and left nothing to the imagination of what was happening under those nets.
The next morning we slouched off to the park for our Safari. An early start meant an eventful waking up ceremony at 4 am that warranted another episode of hilarity and drama, with everyone trying to find ways of keeping the others awake. However, all drowsiness was forgotten when we entered the park at 5.
Now I’ve been to Yala before, and it’s always been the same old same old. A dabbling of elephants, a few lazy crocodiles and a couple of deer. But this time around was excellent. Whether it was the drought luring the animals out of their hiding or pure luck, we managed to have an excellent experience. We even saw two leopards! One was an exceptional large, lazy one walking on the road just in front of the jeeps and the other was a cub who shot out of view the minute he heard us coming. Because the universe is highly unfair, I didn’t manage to photograph either. Bummer. But the park encounter was worth every cent, given that we saw a huge number of creatures in all sorts of positions. Here are a few photos that aren’t my own, simply because the other guy had a better camera than I did.
If there was anything that outshone the eventful safari, it was the cook. His meals were beyond fabulous, especially the scrumptious barbeque he whipped up on our last night. BBQ-ed chicken, sausages, grilled whole fish, garlic bread, potato salad and cheesy pasta. We ate copious amounts of it, not wanting to stop.
With that BBQ came the end of the trip, and we all got back into a van at midnight and took off for the Matara station. The train ride back was far more comfortable than our original, though I don’t remember much of it, given that I slept for all five hours of the way home.
And now here I am, pondering and pining to go back there. Just for two glorious days I had my mad lunatics back together and the world was good again. I went back to a time, two years ago, when I worked in a place I could call home with a super group I could call my family. It's little trips like this that makes all those good memories come back to life again. Makes you wonder if everything else in life has a point.
Where to next, peeps??