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Elephants in Habarana’s Eco-Park

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The two well-known national parks near Habarana are Kaudulla and Minneriya. So we were more than a little skeptical while listening to this guy pitch the Hurulu Eco-Park: a little-known reserve that didn’t even appear in our guidebook. “Don’t worry!” he cried, “All the elephants are in Eco-Park!” Sure they are, buddy. But what were we going to do, claim that we knew better?

“I just know that this is a rip-off, Jürgen. We’re not going to see any elephants.”

Panik Elephants

Wrong! That guy knew what he was talking about. We saw so many elephants, I wasn’t even able to count them all. At around fifty, I gave up… and then another herd sauntered into view. It was amazing. These were gorgeous, wild and occasionally angry elephants; nothing like the friendly, damaged characters we’d met at Pinnawela.

For the first 45 minutes of our tour through the Eco-Park, I had felt my worst fears coming true. We had only seen an eagle, and a green beater bird (rare, according to our driver, who I wasn’t yet inclined to trust). But just as I was getting depressed, Jürgen spotted something big and gray in the woods. Our driver backed up, and there: a young male elephant eating a lonely meal of leaves.

Soon after that, tipped off by another jeep, we drove into the brush and interrupted the dinner of an entire family. Four large elephants, a couple adolescents and two very young babies. Although visibly annoyed by our presence, they continued their meal. Our driver felt we were too close, and turned the jeep around “in case they attack”. This happens a lot, as we would later witness.

The best part of the day came towards the end, when we arrived at a field where an incredible number of elephants were grazing. A few other jeeps were there, too, but the park wasn’t anywhere near as over-crowded as we’ve heard Yala can get. We parked and watched the elephants eat and play for almost an hour, keeping a respectful distance. Another jeep got too close, provoking an ill-tempered youngster to charge. Exciting, and to be honest, I was kind of rooting for the elephant. It wasn’t our jeep (or lives). But they sped away unscathed.

We had a great time at the Eco-Park and paid a lot less than what we would have coughed up at Yala or other National Reserves. Make sure to consider it as an option if you’re looking for something to do around Habarana.

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April 12, 2012 at 3:55 am Comments (2)

A Death-Defying Journey to Habarana

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During our stay in Polonnaruwa, the owner of our guesthouse had arranged a trip to the Eco-Park of Habarana. We’d heard good things from other travelers, and were anxiously awaiting our afternoon hour of departure. But we ought to have been looking forward to the trip with apprehension, instead of excitement.

Jungle Road Sri Lanka

Here’s a little tip. If someone organizes a driver for you, and a pot-bellied guy pulls up in a brand new, bright yellow jeep, ask for his name. If it’s something like “Manjou”, don’t get into the jeep. If you do, and if you manage to survive the day, you will regret not heeding us!

Strike 1! Manjou drove like a bat out of hell. A brand new Hot Wheels, unwrapped on Christmas morning by a hyperactive child, is treated with more care and dignity than Manjou handles his shiny toy. More than once, I was sure we’d crash. He swerved outrageously in and out of traffic, sending us flying off our seats (no seatbelts, in the back of the jeep). A couple times, he almost lost control.

Strike 2! Manjou wasn’t the most conversational of chaps. He didn’t say a word to us during the whole drive, and then he started to fall asleep while careening down the highway. I caught him nodding off three times. It was like, if there were ten consecutive seconds where he didn’t get the giddy rush of passing someone, it bored him. Nap time. And, believe it or not, this wasn’t his worst offense!

Strike 3! He didn’t even have a valid license! We got pulled over by the cops, a couple kilometers away from Habarana. Manjou sleepily got out of the jeep and had a long conversation with them, which got more and more heated while we watched from the back window. When it was over, one of the cops opened the door of the jeep, and said “Danger”, then walked away. “Danger WHAT!” I yelled after him. He returned. “This man has no license. You are in danger if you ride with him”.

You don’t say!

Confusingly, they let him continue driving and we made it to Habarana in one piece. There, we switched into another jeep for the tour through the Eco-Park, with a different, much better driver. Our enthusiasm for the park had eroded somewhat. Regardless of what we’d see, it would almost certainly not live up to the excitement of the ride there.

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April 11, 2012 at 4:53 am Comment (1)
Elephants in Habarana's Eco-Park The two well-known national parks near Habarana are Kaudulla and Minneriya. So we were more than a little skeptical while listening to this guy pitch the Hurulu Eco-Park: a little-known reserve that didn't even appear in our guidebook. "Don't worry!" he cried, "All the elephants are in Eco-Park!" Sure they are, buddy. But what were we going to do, claim that we knew better?
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