Just the Three of Us

Stephanie Kienle-Gon­za­lez on an un­for­get­table fam­ily jour­ney to Sri Lanka

Philippine Tatler Traveller - - Contents -

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.

as told to: Cristina Mo­rales pho­tos: chris­tian and stephanie Gon­za­lez

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

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