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Monday, 30 January 2017

The symphony of Yala


Last night I dreamt that I was pursued by a tiger. While I consider tigers beautiful, I also consider them almost invincible in case of an encounter. But the fact is that, in my opinion, no animal would attack a human on purpose.
I have always believed in and loved animals, probably more than I love and trust humans. When an animal cares for you, there is a special way in which you know that you are someone important in their life.
Whenever I travel, I am excited to see animals. But in their natural environment, in the wild. I am not thrilled to ride any animals that are not usually used to that end, like elephants – which undergo a long and painful training crush –. I am also not the person to look away when noticing cruelty against animals – I used to fight a lot with former neighbours during my teenage and late teenage years over stray dogs (quite common in Romania) needing shelter especially during our coldest of winters. And I am glad when the desperate cries and situations of the animals do not go unnoticed, when there are institutions protecting them – it is the case of donkeys in Cyprus and Bonaire. They also provided assistance when I needed help and action taken in the case of the donkeys of Petra, often beaten to the blood.
This time around, I was in Sri Lanka, in need of a happy ending after the sour-tasting experience in Pinnawala, which turned out to be more of a money-making prison than a happy orphanage for the unwanted elephants of the island.
There were several national parks suggested, but Marcel and I chose Yala, in the end, as we read that it would be a very diverse morning. We agreed on the time of the day considering the heat and the light, so we were awake and ready by 4:45am when our driver came to pick us up from Tissa.
The ride to the park entrance was bumpy, but safe, with only the two of us in the back and the wind hurling – and I was already telling myself ‘Well, this guy surely knows how to drive!’. He paid the fees and got the tickets and there were already a lot of jeeps waiting. We finally got in, the sun rose and my eyes got tired relentlessly focusing on the desertish colour all around. ‘These animals surely like camouflaging a lot; it’s going to be a challenge!’ was another thought.
Trails became narrower and our ride quite vertical at times while we followed the ‘guidelines’ of the rough earth, result of the too-many months of drought.
‘We will try and focus on the leopards and the bears first’ said our guide. It was 6:30am, time for some kitty-catish welcome to the park. ‘A leopard has been spotted! Let’s go.’
Our feline just sat on top of a rock, playing, stretching, performing the (probably) morning ritual wash and not minding the tens of cameras.
We then left, came across India’s national bird – the peacock; I didn’t know that they flew – and Sri Lanka’s national bird – the junglefowl, one after the other. Hyenas were lazily sleeping on the ground, monkeys were jumping playfully from one branch to another, buffaloes were spoiling themselves by the water. Sometimes ‘accompanied’ by crocodiles. At other times, by cheerful parrots. Kingfishers and bee-eaters were known to us from India and, remembering Marcel’s wishful thinking, we realised that we needed to come all the way to Sri Lanka to get the up-close encounter with a hornbill he’d been envisioning.
The eyes of our guide were fantastic. Soon, our eyes got used to the bush, too, and started seeing as if in another dimension.
‘You are very lucky: there’s a black bear over there.’ Usually close to brown bears, which are larger and quite dangerous, I allowed myself the perk to simply sit and watch. We were the only jeep in that spot – for a couple of minutes or so. He seemed not to mind us and acted very courageously; he walked and walked and walked and reached the vehicle. ‘What is he doing? Is he going to climb on it?’ Well, no, he simply went round it and continued to strut, leaving me in awe.
A few metres farther, there was another surprise: a playful mongoose – one of my favourite animals since childhood and Kipling’s stories that my Mom would read to me. Thrilled. It’s how I felt.
It was breakfast time. We stopped by the beach, whose name remains unknown to me, but boy… it was beautiful! Perfect waves. Soft sand. Tranquillity. I sometimes picture myself on the map, realising how far I actually am from home and my senses are bewildered. I picture people that stood in the same spot, their stories race through my mind, some have even lost their lives here. Yet nature endured. Life endured.
We get back, see some more water buffaloes drinking and pelicans floating on a small lake, but realise that we didn’t see any elephants. We turn. And there he is, eating. Calm, collected, 5 metres away. Bliss. Simply bliss. He starts walking and prepares to cross. I understand that we cannot linger: ‘it’s elephant territory’. We’ve seen them all. And, as we head to the exit, I see another one, in the distance, heading straight to our car. I am proud of myself, of finally being able to spot the animals on my own. He changes direction and walks parallel to us for a while. Enough to fill our hearts with joy.
The exit is there, in front of us. An iguana sneaks out ahead of us and we notice macaques drinking from puddles outside of the park. Wilderness doesn’t end when people want it to end, although they recklessly build and industrialise areas that are rightfully animal territory.
A morning not to be forgotten, one of the most beautiful of my life! And when animals give off such good energy and make you feel happy, they should be protected and treated like miracles. Every single day.  

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