So often when making this show we arrive at a hotel when it’s dark, wake up early in the morning thinking “What a nice location” and immediately leave. Yesterday morning we didn’t actually have to up wheels until late morning, meaning that I walked down to the beach and had a quick swim with WITH A GIANT 150 YEAR OLD SEA TURTLE! In fact I met two of them, and they turn up to say hello to the tourists every morning (although I’m sure part of the reason they arrived today was to say hello to our researcher Kirsty cos it was her birthday). The staff insist that the second turtle is 250 years old, but there seems to be a lot of conflicting reports on the Internet about just how old a sea turtle can get, so now I sadly don’t feel confident enough to say that I’ve met a sea turtle born in 1766. But I hope I have.
Had a very enjoyable bus trip through the now familiar Sri Lankan countryside, which was as lush and green as usual, and populated by the same super chilled out people. I wonder if the fact that the majority of people here are Buddhist has anything to do with it? There’s a roadside shrine in every village, and I’d love to know what it’s like to go to a Buddhist school like the ones we pass with all the well behaved kids in their spotless white uniforms.
We stopped for lunch in a hotel whose restaurant looks out on a rather deplenished reservoir (perhaps evidence of the drought that Sri Lanka has been suffering from recently), and eventually arrived at our hotel on the edge of the Udawalawe National Park. We were all set to go on ELEPHANT SAFARI!
It felt like a great item to be ending the block on, and a lot of the team were very excited about having the chance to see elephants in their natural habitat. I think I did a reasonably good job of keeping my mouth shut about the fact that I wasn’t feeling quite the same buzz, partly because we’d seen some captive ones at a sanctuary a few days back, but mostly because I was very spoilt as a student and got to travel round Southern Africa several times, because one of my best mates moved out there. On one occasion we visited a national park in Zimbabwe where there seemed to be an elephant round every corner, and by the end I’m ashamed to say I felt a bit elephanted out. But of course, these are Asian elephants, the African elephant’s smaller cousin, so I was still curious to see what the guys looked like in the wild.
We got up early today to make it down to an elephant orphanage to see the morning milk feed for the 45 little orphans (a couple of whom had very sweet little trumpeting toddler tantrums once they’d finished their medically approved ration, because they wanted seconds). Once they hit 5 years old they’re released into the park and apparently go on to live a normal life. Filming here was a nice little insurance policy in case the genuine article didn’t show its head later, but we needn’t have worried.
After an hour of driving round observing mostly buffalo, and large balls of elephant poo, our fixer Rajiv spotted 4 male elephants by the edge of the lake, looking pretty epic with the mountains in the background. Michelle and I leapt to our feet on the back of the viewing platform of our 4×4 and started firing off photos on our phones, trying to win today’s main event to see who could take the best elephant photo. After that we had several more encounters, as well as spotting the odd peacock, crocodile and even a kingfisher. Our last few involved mothers with their calves and Michelle got a fantastic shot of one throwing dust into the air with her trunk, which I thought would win her the competition. But in the end Rajiv chose one of mine, of an elephant walking alone along the dusty shore of the reservoir with dead trees sticking up out of the water, as he said he thought it captured the essence of the park.
Our drive back as the sun set over the reserve was the perfect end to a fantastic block of filming. I can’t decide where I’d like to come back to first – Kerala or Sri Lanka. Maybe I’ll have to flip a coin. But I’d be sad if I didn’t see at least one of them at some point in the next few years.