Just the Three of Us
Stephanie Kienle-Gonzalez on an unforgettable family journey to Sri Lanka
Every year, my family and I enjoy the Christmas holiday seeing the world. Last December called for a particularly special trip as I was seven months pregnant, and it was the last time we would travel as a family of three—me, my husband Chris and our three-year-old daughter Andrea.
We decided to travel to Sri Lanka, a place I’d always wanted to visit. I’d been wanting to go to India for the longest time, and I’d heard Sri Lanka would be a good introduction to India—an India Lite, so to speak.
It was Christmas Day when we left. After having Christmas lunch with Chris’s family, we flew to Sri Lanka via Singapore, arriving in Colombo late in the evening. My family really enjoys nature and safari; Andrea has been on safari in South Africa and Namibia. We didn’t linger in the capital, only staying one night before flying to Yala National Park, one of the most famous public reserves and wildlife sanctuaries in Sri Lanka.
Travelling with a three-year-old can get quite exhausting, so we tried not to pack too many activities into our daily itinerary. I was also very pregnant, so we had to make sure that we were getting enough rest. We decided to take just one safari ride around the reserve each day, and spend the rest of the day taking it easy at the hotel, lounging around the pool on our private deck.
STRUCK BY BEAUTY
That first drive around the park was simply breath-taking. The landscape looked like scenes out of the Jungle Book, and was ever-changing. There were parts of the park that were very bushy—just flat grasslands with large boulders in the distance—and some parts that were very lush. There were swamps, lagoons and streams that attracted all sorts of animals. Even when we didn’t see any animals, the scenery alone was spectacular.
The drive was around three and a half hours long, and we made our way back as the sun was setting. In the golden hour, we spotted a herd of elephants (Andrea’s favourite animal) in the swamp, surrounded by water lilies, just bathing and enjoying the water. We were also lucky enough to see a leopard, who just popped out from the bushes and started walking down the same dirt road that we were on.
There were a lot of peacocks just wandering around, which is something you don’t see very often. That was our first time seeing peacocks in the wild—you often think of them as very domesticated animals, but here they were in their element in so many corners of the park.
For our second safari ride, we had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to be the first in line at the park, which opens at 6 AM. Waking up early was a good call because, when we got to the gate, we were the third in line and it wasn’t long before there was a line of cars behind us.
Yala National Park is a government-run public reserve, and there isn’t a cap on how many people can enter. That was one downside to the park because I imagine that the noise level could stress out the animals. Besides, the whole point of going on a safari is to feel one with nature, and if you’re
That first drive around the park was simply breath-taking. The landscape looked like scenes out of the Jungle Book, and was ever-changing
travelling quite a distance, you want your experience to feel as exclusive as possible.
It was good that we could coordinate with our ranger and ask him to tailor our trip to our preferences. On our third day, we decided to go to a more remote part of the park to avoid the crowds. Our ranger took us to a beautiful flooded forest, a large body of water with branches stretching out of the water. The dramatic scene was completed by flocks of water birds and some wild boar. The park closes at 6 PM every day, so we could only linger for a couple of hours before we had to head back to the lodge.
On our final morning at Yala National Park, we decided to explore the beach that bordered our safari lodge. The lodge was located at the ocean’s edge, and its beach was considered part of the reserve area. There, wild animals could often be spotted walking along the coastline, so one coul dn’t go to the beach unless accompanied by a ranger.
The Indian Ocean’s waters are wild and treacherous —definitely unsuitable for swimming—but it was a magnificent sight. We did a short walk with our ranger, simply enjoying the view. Then, we returned to the hotel to get ready for the next leg of our trip.
OFF TO GALE
After a four-hour road trip, we arrived in Galle, a city found on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. Galle is a walled city—a lot like Manila’s Intramuros, only bigger. The city also reminded me of Cartagena in Colombia because of its small cobble-stoned streets and ramparts. We spent our first day there just exploring the picturesque city on foot, taking in its history and culture. We walked around the ramparts and the small streets, pausing to admire the wares at jewellery shops and artisan stores.
A former Dutch fort, Galle has wonderful colonial architecture as seen in many hotels and boutiques that were once old homes. We found even the small homes by the street charming and the Dutch
reform church near our hotel quite beautiful. I was fascinated with the buildings—usually a contrast of white walls and dark wood, with ornate posts, nice shutter windows, and plenty of arches.
On our second day in Galle, we left the city early to take a daytrip to Mirissa, which is about a one-anda-half-hour drive away from Galle. There, we went whale-watching. We spent a few hours on the boat and it was fortunate that none of us got seasick. Our waiting soon paid off as we got close to not just one, but two whales—one humpback and one blue whale. It was an amazing sight!
The next morning, we went to visit the Handunugoda Tea Estate, known for being the lowest lying tea plantation. We witnessed the entire teamaking process: from the gardens to how the plants are harvested and what machines they use to process the tea. Because of my pregnancy, I only tasted a few of the teas, and my favourite was the virgin white tea. Chris isn’t much of a tea drinker, but he also liked that one, while Andrea really enjoyed the sweets they served—chocolate and pound cake.
On our way back to the city, we stopped by a restaurant by the coast to have lunch. We enjoyed the nice breeze and watched the stilt fishermen out in the water. The fishermen sitting precariously on their poles in the shallow water, waiting for fish to pass their stilt, made for a beautiful scene.
When we got back to Galle, we just hung out at the hotel because it was New Year’s Eve and we needed to rest to prepare for the night’s festivities. There was a special evening planned out in the hotel, so we made sure that Andrea napped as well. It was her first time to join us for the countdown, and she really enjoyed it because there was a magician, a cultural dance, plus face and body painting. We rang in 2017 with a small fireworks show in front of the hotel—the perfect way to wrap up the year, our holiday and this chapter in our life.
THIS PAGE: Sri Lankan elephants enjoying the water at a swamp
wild encounter CLOCKWISE: A leopard takes a walk on the dusty path; coming out of the bushes; the Sri Lankan leopard was listed as endangered in 2008 OPPOSITE FROM TOP: Before this trip, Andrea had been on safari in Namibia and South Africa; a painted stork in the wetlands
FROM TOP: At the beautiful wild beach of Yala National Park; Andrea enjoys a close encounter with a wild animal OPPOSITE: Taking it easy at the safari lodge with Andrea