|Down the Ella Gap|
Our journey had broken neatly into three parts, first the 'Cultural Triangle' in the north central part of the island, then the Highlands in the south centre and now the southern plain. We had avoided the far north and east of the island partly because this is the majority Tamil area where the aftermath of the civil war is most keenly felt - though it is now safe to visit - but mostly because of the weather. Sri Lanka is a small island (4 times the size of Wales, or a bit smaller than Scotland if you prefer) but has two distinct climate zones - in January monsoon rains still fall on the northeast while in the south and west it is the dry season.
Further along, an elephant had strayed onto the neck of land between the park fence and a lake. Cars, and buses were stopping and young men were approaching visitors with the cry 'mango, elephant lunch!'
Beyond the park we turned north, pausing for petrol at the small town of Godakawela and using the ATM in the garage forecourt. From here we took a minor road which climbed steadily back into the foothills of the highlands.
Spotting some clove trees Ravi stopped. I prefer to use dried cloves in moderation, the flavour can overwhelm and not always pleasantly. Fresh from the tree, though, green cloves have a powerful sweetness and chilli-like heat with none of the unhappy overtones of dried cloves - pure delight.
|Hey, look, there's cloves on this tree!|
Further on and higher up it started to rain. Having made generalisations about Sri Lanka’s climate, I must now note some exceptions. Parts of the island are surprisingly arid, while a small area in the south west sees rain all year round. We were heading for Sinharaja, 82km² of virgin rainforest, saved from logging by its inaccessibility and now a forest park and UNESCO world heritage site.
We passed the rest of the afternoon chatting with Ravi and making some notes before all the residents reassembled in the dining hall in the evening. The birders covered their tables with books and laptops as photos were downloaded, additions made to lists and discussions held about what they had and had not seen.
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Photo by Munish Jauhar, sourced from Wikipedia
This one was photographed in northern India - ours had only a small patch of darker colouring on its head
Ravi drove us the short distance to the park where we paid the entrance fee (more modest than some we have encountered recently) and engaged the services of a local guide. Intending to walk out for an hour along the main path and then return the same way, the guide was not for navigational purposes but we hoped a park ranger would be able to spot and identify birds and animals we would miss on our own. Sinharaja means ‘Lion Kingdom’ though there are, of course, no lions and the probability of seeing any of the 15 resident leopards was vanishingly small there was still the potential to see much of interest.
|Green Garden lizard (female) Sinharaja Rainforest|
We followed the track as it rose through the trees, crossing many lively little streams bubblingly full of fresh rainwater.
|Here is a picture of some fungi - they are less ugly than leeches|
|Green pit viper, Sinharaja|
We walked along the ridge for another fifteen minutes into a cleared area but saw nothing more of interest except an army of ants rebuilding their nest after yesterday's downpour. 'They do that every day,' said Tundu. 'Wouldn't it be easier to move?' Lynne asked.
Lynne and I lingered to look at it as he moved on, then I looked down and saw a large red patch on my sock. At the centre of it was one of those tiny little leeches, now grown to the size of a pencil stub and obviously intent on growing further, and at my expense.
|Leech attack - the aftermath|
I cannot believe I have just posted a picture of a bloody sock - this blog used to have standards, you know
We had just caught up with Ravi and Tundu when Lynne spotted the Sri Lankan blue magpie. Rare and endemic to this rain forest it is the 'poster bird' for the park and, of course, the lodge we were staying at was named after it. With a raucous cry it flew from the tree behind us, right beside us and settled in a tree just ahead. It could not have behaved better if it had set out to show itself off.
The Sri Lankan Blue Magpie
(Photo by Thimindu, taken Sinharaja, 2010, sourced from Wikipedia)
|Lynne says 'goodbye' to Tundu and his impressive leech socks|
Part 8: The Horton Plains, Nuwara Eliya and a Cup of Tea
Part 9: Through Bandarawela and on to Ella
Part 10: Ella, Little Adam's Peak and the Demodara Bridge
Part 11: The Sinharaja Rainforest
Part 12: Kataragama and the Yala National Park
Part 13: Through Hambantota to Mirissa
Part 14: Galle, Fish and a Fort
Part 15: Colombo, National Day and a Full Moon