In Search of a Sloth Bear – The Mud Bath


Did you know that there was 4G internet in the dead of the wilderness? Did you also know that you just had to roll over once to go from 4G internet to having no internet connection at all? That’s what we found out when we arrived at our campsite. Well… after we cleaned it up and made it habitable. We also noticed that there were signs of elephant and leopard activity just meters from the campsite, which made us just a wee bit ‘excited’ about sleeping in so close to them.

we met these cute little creatures on the way

The rain cleared up slightly. So, we decided to walk up the rock just in front of the site. It was a wonderful photo op. Unfortunately, since Ansala owned only a ‘දඩ lens’, we had to stand about a kilometer away while he snapped away at us. Ultimately, we ended up using our trusty selfie cams on our phones while we lay in the sun. (Yes, it only rains when we try to see animals.) It started raining again, so we got back into the hut, had lunch, and slept it out until the rain cleared.

Finally, at about 2.30 pm, we set off on the very muddy road. We didn’t get very far. We were stuck in the mud. The right-side wheels were half-submerged in the mud and spinning on the spot. The traction on the left side was definitely not enough to get us out.

Attempt 1:

We got down and tried pushing the jeep out. Our driver slammed on the accelerator as all 6 of us (including the guide) pushed. Ansala and Gayan were the two unfortunate ones to stay on the muddy side of things. End result: they got bathed head to toe in mud, but the jeep did not even budge.

Attempt 2:

Since I was the ‘lightest’ one who could drive a manual vehicle, I hopped into the driver’s seat while our bulky driver also joined in the pushing effort. Needless to say, I literally got licensed to bathe Gayya and Ansala in mud again. Even though I enjoyed balancing the clutch and stomping on the accelerator, one again the jeep did not budge.

Attempt 3:

All this while we were calling other jeeps in the park, and we were slowly realizing that we were very much alone in Jamburagala. Finally, one jeep agreed to turn around and fetch us, but they had no rope. We had about 15 minutes to magically make a rope appear. Fortunately, someone remembered that there were lots of nylon clotheslines at the campsite.

Ansala, Gayan, and I took up the challenge of walking on the roads of Yala to fetch those ropes. Illegal? Probably yes! Risky? Definitely yes! While walking, Ansala gave us a guide to surviving an animal attack in the wild. It went like this:

“මචං අලියෙක් ආවොත් zigzag දුවපං. කොටියෙක් ආවොත් නැවතිලා උගෙ ඇස් දිහා බලපං.”

“එතකොට මචං වලහෙක් ආවොත්?”

“වලහෙක් අවොත් පුතෝ… බුදු සරණයි!”

Thankfully we didn’t encounter any animal. We got to the site and ripped off any and all nylon clotheslines we could find and walked back to the Jeep just as the rescue jeep arrived. Then we made on thing rope out of the clotheslines, tied the jeeps together, pushed from behind while the other jeep pulled, and somehow got that devil out of the mud.

We were obviously too late to join the other jeeps in the main sighting pack, and our driver was very intent on letting off some steam. So, we went splashing in the water. We literally splashed into every possible waterway we could find. After what felt like a boat ride in a lake, we managed to rejoin the main group of jeeps, just as we got a call about a sloth bear sighting.

All the jeeps raced towards the spot. Which was a capital mistake. We scared him out. Good old sloththy hid. No one except for the first few jeeps even caught a glimpse of the sloth bear that evening. Hunting around for Mr. Sloththy made everyone go late. It was a mad scramble for the one-day jeeps to make it out of the park before the curfew. Even we were supposed to make it back to the campsite at that time.

We finally got back and opened up the Botheju Restaurant (I would definitely eat from it again and give it a 5-star rating on Google Maps too). Chef Ansala was kind enough to make an omelet for me as I was the only person who didn’t eat chicken in the group.

The Botheju Restaurant

Ultimately, we ate, played a round of cards, and fell asleep in the wild. Animal signs did not scare us from sleeping on the porch of the campsite instead of inside the hut. We were tired, so we wouldn’t even know if an elephant or a leopard walked right up to us. We slept peacefully.

Photo Credits:

This is part 3 of a series of blogs about our search for a Sloth Bear at Yala. Read part 4 here, or start at the beginning by reading part 1 here

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