We found a nice corner of Arugam Bay beach called Baby Point which is perfect for learning to swim!
It is sheltered from the waves by the main point break, so there are just little one-footers that break right on the beach. The water depth increases very gradually, so it’s easy to sit with the kids and lift them over any bigger waves.
It’s also a very entertaining corner of the beach; there are fishing boats coming in loaded to the gunwales with sardines and fish blood, local people swimming and taking pictures of the foreign kids, surfers headed out to the main point break, and ox-drawn carts hauling supplies and surfboards out to the hotels further down the beach.
The only downside of little Baby Point is that it is at the other end of the beach, but it’s only a 100 rupee tuk-tuk ride. Of course, since we’re super thrifty (or cheap if you prefer) we often choose the 20 minute walk in 40 degree heat. But we save one dollar (89 cents actually) so it’s probably worth it.
After our terrific morning at the temple, we had a quick all-you-can-eat vegetarian rice and curry (about $1.20 CAD) and off we went to Yala National park for our second elephant safari!
Yala is a little bushier than Udawalawe so sightings are fewer and farther between, but is apparently home to the highest concentration of leopards of any park in the country (I say apparently because we didn’t see any).
Our safari was great, and we really liked our guide Janith (sounds like Janet). He took his time and waited until we gave him the go-ahead to move on from each animal. We sat and watched the second elephant so long that we got to hear him slurp water up in his trunk before spraying it in his mouth. That slurping sound was the highlight of the day for me.
Janith somehow spotted a crocodile that was sitting so still that I wise-cracked “Looks like it’s made of plastic”. When the crocodile suddenly lunged into the pond and we all gasped, we heard a chuckle from the cab of the jeep and a quiet “No plastic.”
The highlight of the safari for everyone was near the end when we were retracing our steps in the hopes of surprising a leopard, we saw a sloth bear! Sloth bears sightings are even more rare than leopard sightings. They’re called sloth bears for their appearance more than their speed, because that guy hauled ass into the woods too fast for a picture.
Animal hit list
Elephants (two young bulls), a sloth bear, a crocodile, wild pigs, water buffalo, a mongoose, peacocks (one million), spotted deer, weaver birds, and a nightjar (object of the mighty telephotos).
Our last stop on the south coast was Yala National Park, which has three different entrances. We picked Kataragama because we found cheap accomodation (the deciding factor for many of our travel choices).
By the time we arrived, we had had a long day, so we decided to book an afternoon safari for the following day instead of at the crack-of-dawn like we did at Udawalawe National Park.
This meant we had a free morning, so we decided to go see the local temple, which is one of the more well known Hindu temples in Sri Lanka with an annual pilgrimage in summer. They have puja at various times of the morning, where ceremonies are performed and blessings given, so we showed up for the 10:30 puja and understood nothing at all of what was going on.
There were people praying and smashing flaming coconuts on the ground (a ritual I can get behind (because you wouldn’t want to be in front)), there were guys carrying stuff into a building, walking on a red carpet with other guys holding a silk sheet above their heads.
There were hundreds of local people carrying baskets of decorated fruit into the place; the streets in front of the temple are just rows of fruit stands. After a while some huge golf course sized sprinklers went off, maybe to cool down the sand since everyone was barefoot, maybe for some other reason. It was very interesting.
The highlight for us was when we walked out of the temple into the park area behind and there were two elephants about 30 m apart chained to trees. We figured they were there for photo ops until people started feeding them from the trays of fruit they had brought to the temple.
We had seen a massive lineup of people in behind the temple building all carrying fruit trays, so I think the fruit was meant for the ceremony but the lines were just too long. While we were standing around puzzling over everything, several people walked up and offered us some of their fruit.
When people saw that Elliot was not afraid to feed the elephants, his star-power kicked up a notch and there was a lineup of people waiting to give him fruit to hand over to the big trunk (we have video, but are suffering from technical malaise at the moment). He was like a middle-man in some weird supply chain. So many of the fruit suppliers wanted a picture of him or a selfie with him that I considered charging 200 rupees a pic, but I was worried about stealing business from the elephant guy (his backup muscle was a 2 tonne elephant, after all).
After the puja was over, the elephants went for a cooldown in the river. A very entertaining morning for us.