“මචං, දෙසැම්බර් 6, 7, 8 free ද? යාල පැත්තේ බහින්න ඉන්නේ. වරෙන්!”
This was Ansala Botheju, a seasoned veteran of Yala and an avid wildlife photographer. He was literally offering me a chance to see a Sloth Bear, the animal that had eluded me on two previous trips to Yala. It was an offer I couldn’t say no to. So, after shifting my calendar a bit, I said yes! Our good friend, Mindula, was supposed to join us. But Mindula being Mindula, said he wasn’t sure of his schedule. (Maybe after we both finish our respective president terms; shall we find a common vacation to camp in the wild?) Instead, we took Gayan වාසනා De Silva with us. Two of Ansala’s “මල්ලිලා” were to join us too.
Over the next few days, Ansala reserved the Jamburagala campsite, and booked a jeep. Then he kept updating the list of things we were supposed to bring. As the day drew closer, he filled us in with the details of what we were going to eat there. Thankfully he remembered my aversion to chicken and had arranged for me to have an omelet instead. (Thanks, Ansala!) Slowly and surely the day drew closer. Gayan threatened to pull out due to family commitments, but we somehow managed to coax him in.
It was the afternoon of the 6th of December 2019. We were to take the highway for most of the ride. So, we agreed to meetup just before the highway entrance at Makumbura. Ansala and his “මල්ලිලා” (Didula and Indeera) made it to the entrance just before me. In true Gayan style, he was late. Somehow, we managed to enter the highway at 6.35 pm. Didula took the wheel. We had an uneventful ride along the highway, with a Bluetooth speaker providing background music to our chat. Didula’s driving was cool, calm and collected. Or so we thought.
After exiting the highway at Matara, we searched for dinner. Be stopped at atleast 4 shops. But all the shops along the beach road were – a bit – expensive. So, we settled for a small wayside boutique where we had Parata. I was a very small place off the beach road, but the food was acceptable. Very acceptable considering the outside appearance of the shop. Maybe the food energized Didula a bit too much, but his driving after dinner wasn’t as calm as his highway driving. Just as we were about to take a bend, Ansala started lecturing him,
“මල්ලි, උඹ highspeed පලයං. හැබැයි ඉරි නම් කපන්නෙපා!”
He never got to finish his line. Didula had already cut a corner, right under the noses of the cops. It was the OIC himself who flagged us down. He had already written half of the ticket even before Ansala and Didula got down to plead their case. We were to wait at the police station until he comes back, to get our charge sheet. So, off to the Gandara Police Station we went, where we waited for about an hour until the officers got back.
Arrival at Thissa
Didula was so badly shaken by this incident, so, Ansala had to take the wheel. Being the true veteran of the south, sped along the road, making sure not to cross any lines. He ensured that we reached Thissa by 11.30 pm. Ansala had planned for us to sleep on the jeeps we were to take the next day, at the jeep owner’s house. However, the mosquito menace was so unbearable, Ansala, Gayan and I slept in the car. We slept soundly, in anticipation of the adventures of the next two days.
Image Courtesy: Ansala Botheju (https://www.instagram.com/wildclicks.by.ansala/) and Sunday Observer (https://images.app.goo.gl/56EvgbB6GxnRrUrj7)
This is part 1 of a 5-part article series. Read part 2 here.