I’m exploring Sri Lanka by bicycle with a great group of people, visiting Buddhist temples and ancient ruins while cycling through remote rural areas that few people ever see. One of the highlights so far has been Wasgamuwa National Park. Wasgamuwa is home to a large population of Sri Lankan elephants (which means you have to visit on a jeep safari since the elephants might trample cyclists).
The park protects an important ecosystem providing habitat for many mammals including sloth bears, leopards, deer, wild buffalo and more than 100 bird species.
The safari started off very well. The weather was perfect. We spotted lots of deer bounding through the grass and peacocks strutting their stuff. We even caught sight of a large crocodile sunning himself and one of the regal elephants that the park is so famous for.
Sri Lankan roads are pretty rough in general but particularly so in Wasgamuwa. Our jeep rumbled over big bumps and sloshed through mud without too much trouble. As daylight started to fade we turned around to return to the park entrance. Our driver stopped at a particularly large mud bog and told everyone to hold tight. He gunned it, crashing and careening into the deep gunk. The jeep suddenly halted – in the middle of the quagmire. We were stuck.
The driver came up with an ingenious solution. He barefooted into the jungle and clambered up a tree. There he found a long vine that he hacked down with his machete. He looped one end of the vine through the jeep’s hitch and tied it off with strips of fabric that he tore from his shirt. Luckily, we had a second jeep to do the pulling. With the vine now tied to both jeeps, our driver inched the free jeep back until the vine became taught. It vibrated under the strain. For a moment it looked as though we just might get our stuck jeep out. Then — BAM! — every bit of shirt fabric tore loose.
As good an idea as it seemed, jungle vines just weren’t pulling a heavy vehicle out of the mud. We tried pushing, we tried pulling, we tried slipping in the mud. In the end, we had no choice but to leave the stuck jeep where it was. We piled everyone into the single remaining jeep – all 15 of us!
By this point it was getting dark. Not only that, the weather was changing rapidly. The wind picked up and the air crackled with that buzzing sensation just before a big storm hits.
No sooner were we all crammed inside (with the exception of the two local guys hanging off the back), the skies opened up full force. Heavy rain crashed down, splattering onto the jeep and splashing mud everywhere. Our driver raced through the jungle, bumping and bouncing and throwing us side to side. It was completely dark at this point but he drove without any lights – the headlights were burnt out! Amazingly, we made it out amid incredible flashes of lightning and massive booms of thunder. That’s one memorable jeep safari!
Thanks to fellow cyclist Vladimir for the wildlife closeups and jeep action shot in this post.