Tangalle is a lazy beach town with a thriving tourist economy and a replenished fishing trade both of which were hit hard by the tsunami that devastated this area in 2004.
After a long walk along the ocean, John and I had breakfast at a small guesthouse on the beach that our hostess’ family had rebuilt after the tsunami. Our hostess told us she was in the kitchen cooking for their guests when she first saw the water fast approaching. Miraculously, her family and guests ran inside the guesthouse and rode out the flood. Many of her neighbors were not so fortunate. They were among the more than 30,000 Sri Lankans killed by the tsunami.
Sri Lanka’s tourist economy is based on cash and the Tangalle guesthouse we booked through Booking.com, Conch Villa, did its best to extract an extra 25 percent in “service” fee add-ons to an all-inclusive rate. When we flatly refused to pay the extra fees and showed our host the confirmation email with the all-inclusive rate clearly stated as such, he threatened to call the police.
We said, “Don’t bother. We’ll meet you at the police station.” The Tuk Tuk driver we had hired to take us to Uda Walawe National Park stopped at the police station on our way out of town where our lets-stiff-the-tourists landlord caught up with us.
The police saw it our way after we showed them our confirmation email and we gladly left Tangalle behind to begin our adventure in Uda Walawe.
The Tuk Tuk ride to Uda Walawe was an experience! The young driver stopped at a shrine on his way out of town to ask for travel blessings which was our first clue that taking a Tuk Tuk 35 miles would be like running a gauntlet.
Our driver was young and quick, effectively navigating the bikes, motorcycles, people, cars, trucks, tractors, animals and other Tuk Tuks that fight for space on narrow Sri Lankan roads. Driving or riding in any vehicle in Sri Lanka is not for the faint of heart.
We stopped at a huge reservoir outside of Uda Walawe and I learned later that its construction was the impetus for the Uda Walawe National Park. The animals displaced by the reservoir now live in the 119-square-mile national park –all except for this strange bird I spotted on the bank of the reservoir.
We made it to our guesthouse in Uda Walawe, run by a wonderful Sri Lankan family, and were treated to a delicious home style meal. One of the family sons, Max, was our safari tour guide as we set off in his Jeep for an amazing three-hour exploration of the park in the late afternoon.
The variety of animals was stunning, everything from monkeys to peacocks to crocodiles to water buffalo to elephants. It was a virtual cornucopia of wildlife.
I’ll let the photos we took do the talking.