We hired a driver who ended up being a very nice guy named Kumar. We drove to Pinnawala where the elephant orphanage is.
With most drives in the mountains of Sri Lanka, you can judge the time by the distance. I believe it was about 45 km away and took well over an hour to get there. Aside from elephants we had a couple of other animal encounters. On the side of the road we saw a lady walking two large porcupines.
Yes, you heard that correctly. We had to stop, and carefully pet the ugly animals and talk Seth out of adopting one. A little later we were driving across a bridge and saw these trees with huge hanging blooms.
And then they were moving and flapping the occasional wing. There were thousands of very large bats hanging out. Kumar said around 6pm, they darken the sky. Several were flying around and I was amazed at their wingspan.
As we drove into town and got to the main intersection, there was a huge herd of elephants crossing the street heading from the orphanage to the river. I jumped out to take a video. It was amazing to see that many elephants.
There were quite a number of babies as well and two huge bulls in the back of the line. Seth asked how I knew they were bulls and I said look at the second trunk. Huh? Oh, yeah. We then followed them down the path of course lined with tourist shops to the river. What an amazing (I will use this word a lot unfortunately) sight to see about 50 elephants all taking baths and playing in the water.
Some elephants were allowed to come over to the people for a while but when the mahouts saw that we were not tipping them (We had all already paid a good amount for the ticket) they called them away. One baby persisted in coming over and hanging out with the people only to get shooed away.
The biggest bull was chained to a rock but all the rest were free to walk around. The babies were fun to watch as they played with each other most of the time or took full water plunges and "danced".
Honestly, I think Julie and I could have watched them all day. It could only have been better if we were in Africa and they were completely free to come and go, but this was pretty close. Julie and I found a place we could get a pot of real coffee (our place serves Nescafe) just above the river so we took advantage of that while the boys shared hot chocolate.
We also bought some PPP (Pachyderm Poop Paper) post cards. I taught Coen how to bargain and he got a buffalo skin wallet. He does not understand why he has to spend money to buy something to put money in even though he has none after he bought it. That is life. We also found that leather chair Seth wanted and got a pretty good price for it. We are getting dangerously close to needing a new bag. In the end the elephants came out of the river and headed back to the orphanage.
All the shop owners that have windows close their gates as they pass. I can picture lots of broken glass in the past.
Our next stop was just a few km back towards Kandy called the Millennium Elephant Project. This might appear to be a little more artificial than the orphanage, in a way it is better as these elephants really are all saved by this organization. They are previous working elephants or injured elephants. There has been only one birth here and that is the one you see in the river. There are only about half a dozen elephants here but you get to have more one on one interaction. We were able to get in the water and wash the younger elephant with coconut husk “sponges” and it was wonderful to get to be that close.
After that, we did a short little ride around the park, as Coen was too young to remember his elephant riding experience in Thailand. I liked this as we rode bareback instead of there being this huge heavy platform on top.
They do this on purpose to limit the workload of these former beasts of burden.
We stopped and had a lunch by a roadside café and then on to the Royal Botanical Gardens which are the largest gardens in Sri Lanka. By the look of it, we were going to be sharing the park with a million school kids all dressed in their school white uniform.
The girls in Sri Lanka when going to school have to braid pig tails if they have longer than shoulder length hair. So I hate to sound like a dumb American but with the same uniform and all the same hair style, either there are lots of twins and triplets in this country or they are very difficult to tell apart. The park was exceptionally well maintained with small lakes and a river running along the side. There were some very rare trees as well. I enjoyed seeing the largest palm in the world, the Tailpot Palm which has leaves that are used for veranda and umbrellas. It only flowers once after it has reached full height and maturity and the flowers cover the entire top of the tree. After that it dies. I also enjoyed seeing the java fig, a very low tree that has limbs that spread out over 100 feet and more and the groves of giant bamboo. I love seeing the huge tropical trees with large wavy roots and Julie enjoyed the orchid house. There was one couple there that was getting married and they were taking official photos in their full garb which was interesting to see. We left and headed back to 36.
Today's events are almost too difficult to explain. It was truly an amazing day and there is no way I can do it justice. I took about 800 pictures and videos so how do you choose? I think I will let the pictures tell most of the story. Today can be called the day of elephants.