Riding the Rails

Sri Lanka

Colombo to Wilpattu National Park

Today we stepped out of the harried pace of the capital city, Colombo, and into the rice paddy hills. The train ride begins before the sun breaks. Our journey surrounds us with groups of Sri Lankan families and friends. The children smile at us and David quickly chats with a father who is standing beside him at the open door to the carriages.

Hawkers pass through the train selling wares and food. A group of 20-something Sri Lankan’s in the seats opposite play drums and the men sing throughout our journey. David and I pass the time reading, playing games and staring out the window.

Wilpattu National Park

Our hotel near Wilpattu National Park is in the middle of nowhere. Stalls with people selling food and goods line the road to the park. We walk to the only bar near us, a few kilometers away, and chat with some locals who have been drinking since 10am. Little children love to stop and wave or say “hello” to us as we past their houses on our walk to and from the bar.

In the morning we wake at 5am to begin our safari to Wilpattu National Park. The park is best known for jaguar sightings. It’s 8 kilometers from our hotel and after a cup of tea we are on the way. The forecast called for rain; however, we’re lucky to be dry. Our guide tells us that the downpour last night may harm our chances of seeing a jaguar.

Immediately into the park we are assaulted by birds and deer. A fish eagle is perched in the trees and stares back at us with her yellow eyes. She’s still, aside from the slight bobbing of her head. Peacocks are sitting high in the trees. The lakes throughout the park are a gathering point for animals and two types of deer are in abundance.

At a rest stop for some breakfast we hear the crash of monkeys above us. Several skitter down the trees to pick up banana peels leftover from a group of locals. They become riskier, and one monkey grabs a plastic bag from the hands of another safari goer. From the trees above he rips through the leftovers in the bag and snacks on a half eaten banana before throwing the remains back to the ground below.

Monkey eating a banana in Wilpattu National ParkMonkey at Wilpattua National Park

It’s as if the animals have self organized, and in the reptilian area we immediately see iguanas lounging on logs. A while on David spots a crocodile in the waters. It knows it’s too close to the Jeep and moves off in the direction of a turtle on the bank. The turtle doesn’t last long in the open before it to makes for safer areas.

We never see the elusive jaguar, but it finally feels like we’ve started our travels. We’re away from the planes and cities that started our journey. Now it feels like we’re actually on the road.