Chamara, a superb wildlife photographer who loves both the big and the small, immediately furnishes me with some binoculars, and also introduces me to our expert driver, Tharanga from Nimal Safari. Often safaris consist of a driver from the area who doubles as your guide and in some cases a tracker too, but Jetwing is keen to furnish you with a qualified naturalist ranger to help you get the best out of your trip by providing you with a greater knowledge of the area’s archaeology, ancient history and context of the resident wildlife with a wider understanding of how animals at Yala fit into the national context. On safari he goes into the deeper understanding of animal behaviours and amuses us by saying you can smell elephants a long time before you see them as their dung is so smelly when fresh. The comparisons he makes of Yala with other parks and habitats is absolutely fascinating and his knowledge of the nocturnal world, in particular bats, is ground breaking.
With little warning the road turns into a gyroscope, thrusting us this way and that, up and down and lurching forwards then backwards. Fortunately we are in exceptionally capable hands and the driver negotiates these very rough rocky roads with ease and we are in such comfortable seats that lend themselves to the odd fairground bonanza. Then a sudden stop as Tharanga’s looks down studying the ground. I peer over for a closer look to see paw prints that look familiar but much larger than what I’m used to, might we get lucky today? Further on the same thing happens and this time it’s the prints of a sloth bear, which we follow for a while before realising he ducked, or should I say went lazily, into a thicket never to return, sadly not slow enough for us and certainly not up for the frolics Chamara tells us of, when one appeared out of nowhere and tried to mount the bonnet of his jeep and only slid off because he couldn’t get a good grab handle. As a policy Chamara always keeps a distance from the animals so they can carry on their lives at normal, but from time to time animals who do not read signs surprise him and all one can do is sit and wait it out as this is their domain, not ours.
At the end of the safari you can enjoy their rangers’ amazing b/w wildlife photography of Yala in the reception and dining areas of Jetwing Safari Camp over a refreshing jungle juice before heading out for an evening walk which can sometimes if lucky include nesting turtles, and an amazing opportunity to learn about the importance of bats in the night skies.