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Egypt

Cairo – Egypt

On the way to Cairo from Marsa Alam, we decided to stop for a few days in Hurghada. Hurghada is a small seaside town which was pretty much a ghost town while we were there. We stayed about 2 minutes walking distance from a nice relaxing beach with chairs and umbrellas, unfortunately there was zero sea life to speak of.

We went to the Marina, which is like the Waterfront that we have in Cape Town, which had loads of restaurants and shops. Unlike the waterfront in Cape Town, this place was deserted and there was only a handful of people walking around. From this town it was easy for us to board a bus to Cairo, whick took us six hours to get to downtown Cairo.

Cairo was the last stop on our Egyptian tour, and we had one full day to explore the town and visit the famous Cairo museum. Cairo is a big dirty, noisy city, with lots of shops and restaurants. We felt like we were in the middle of Cape Town, but we were again the only foreigners walking around town. We spotted some other foreigners in the Museum, but other than that, we stood out among the locals.

The museum was huge, and packed with loads of artifacts from ancient Egypt. Our favourite exhibit was that of Tutenkamen, his coffin, death mask, and jewellery were exquisite, but unfortunately no photography was allowed in the exhibit. We also went to look at the mummy display, which was a little creepy, and again, no photography allowed. The rest of the museum we were allowed to take pictures. We spent quite a few hours at the museum as it was so big, and there was so many artifacts on display.

After 30 days traveling around Egypt we were satisfied that we had seen the best of what was on offer. Next stop, Cape Town!

 

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Egypt

Marsa Alam – The Red Sea

The main reason we wanted to visit Egypt was to snorkel in the Red Sea. Our destination of choice for the snorkeling after much research was the area known as Marsa Alam. We drove 6 hours from Luxor to Marsa Alam to reach our destination of Resta Reef resort. The resort had its own house reef, which was amazing, but unfortunately it was not sheltered from the wind. On a few of the days it was unsafe to snorkel with the large waves crashing onto the reef, so those were snorkeling days lost.

Just next next door was the resort called Coraya bay, which had a sheltered bay for snorkeling that was protected from the elements. We managed to convince them to allow us onto their beach after much performing….we now know that hotels own beaches in Egypt and assuming you can walk along a beach and swim where you want is a mistake.

One of the days that we were not able to snorkel at Resta Reef, we instead went on a snorkel tour, where we were taken out to sea to a pristine reef for snorkeling. We managed to see lots of corals and turtles, but one thing that still eluded us was the Dugong. We were taken to the dugong feeding area, and although they were around, we were unable to see one, which was very dissapointing.

After a few days at Resta reef we were almost going to leave Marsa Alam altogether, but we werent ready to give up the fight to see a dugong. We did some more research and found good reports about dugong sightings at Abu Dabbab bay, so we booked accommodation and left Resta Reef resort.

Abu Dabbab lodge was where we checked into next. The lodge was a 5 minute walk down to the beach, and we were excited to find an awesome reef on both sides of the bay, as well as an abundance of sea life such as turtles, lion fish, sting rays, moray eels, octopus, and too many other reef fish to name. The reef at Abu Dabbab bay was the best reef we have ever seen, corals and fish in huge abundance, and the best part was we did not need to book a tour, and we could enjoy snorkeling all day in the pristine clear water.

After searching since Indonesia for dugongs, we finally got to swim with one in Abu Dabbab bay! The dugong visit to feed on the sea grass, and we were able to swim right next to the dugong many times, he was not phased by our presence and we got to have a magical encounter that we will never forget.

Another amazing experience was the dolphin tour that the guys at Abu Dabbab arranged for us. Our tour began at sunrise, with a 2hour bus journey to the port, followed by an approximately 2.5 hour boat trip in big swells, to Sataya bay, which was a reef 11km off shore, where the biggest pods of spinner dolphins frequent. We managed to swim with the wild dolphins many times as they circled the area, playing with each other, making dolphin sounds, and investigating us. This was another experience we will most certainly never forget.

The reef and sea life in Abu Dabbab bay was so exquisite, that we extended our stay, to have more time with the fishes. The beach was amazing to relax on, with lots of free beach chairs and beach tents with bars etc, but we spent most of our time in the water.

Another unforgetabe experience we had at Abu Dabbab bay was an introduction to scuba diving. We went into the water on the beach with our diving gear and swam along the amazing reef. It was a new experience being at the bottom of the sea as opposed to floating on the top with the snorkel, holding your breath to dive down. We absolutely loved the experience and the location was the perfect one to experience this for the first time.

We felt we could have stayed at Abu Dabbab forever, it was everything we were looking for, but it was not cheap, so we had to move on to our next destination on our Egypt journey.

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Egypt

Luxor – Temple town

Luxor has got to be the town in Egypt with the most temples, so we decided to visit a few. We stayed on the East bank of Luxor, so we were near most of the markets and restaurants, as well as within walking distance of temples. The main temple in Luxor is of course the Luxor temple, which is rather beautiful and a great place to watch the sunset. The temple is lit up with lights as soon as it gets dark, and this gives the temple a magical appearance which is pretty awesome.

We visited Karnak temple, which is the largest temple in Egypt, which consisted of a few statues, but a lot of the complex was ancient ruins. We ventured across to the West bank by ferry, and caught a taxi to visit some of the other historical attractions such as the Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu, and Queen Hatshepsut Temple.

At the Valley of the Kings there are many tombs that one can visits, not all are open at the same time, and the ticket entitles you to visit 3 tombs, so we chose Thutmose III, Tausert, and Rameses IV. The tombs were really interesting and beautiful but unfortunately the only down side was that you were not allowed to take any pictures or video at all. The tombs had beautiful paintings and hieroglyphics on the walls, and were otherwise empty as everything else has already been taken to the Cairo museum or stolen by grave robbers.

On one of the days we had in Luxor, we made the long journey to visit two well preserved temples some distance away. We hired a driver to take us to Abydos and Dandara temple, which ended up being a round trip of 8 hours. The trip was much longer than anticipated due to the many police check points, but we had to wait a few times for a police escort in hot spot areas. The police escort generally was a pickup truck with armed men wearing balaclavas and bullet proof vests, driving in front and behind our vehicle.

The Egyptian government cannot afford any more bad publicity with tourist attacks and is really not taking any chances. We enjoyed our time in Luxor, apart from the noisy Souk street which was directly below our accommodation, and the 4:30am mosque wake-up call every morning.

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Egypt

Egypt – Aswan

We traveled from Cairo to Aswan on the Sleeper train that ran through the night to arrive at 9am in Aswan. The Airbnb accommodation we booked was on Elaphantine Island, which is an island in the middle of the Nile river, which we needed to take a ferry to reach. The ferry ride is only 5 minutes long, and there is a ferry every 10minutes. The island is home to the Nubian village, and it is away from the hustle and busle of Aswan.

Aswan was a lot hotter than Cairo, and the temperature peaked at 41 degrees celcius on the day we arrived. It was nice to see water again, as Giza was a dust bowl. Aswan was a lot less dusty and had a lot more trees and greenery.

Aswan was a bit more conservative than Cairo, and almost all the locals were wearing traditional clothes, and on the ferry the men and women were separated with their own sitting areas, so we were not allowed to sit next to each other. We did not know this would be a problem, so the ferry driver had to tell us to please move seats to the appropriate areas.

While in Aswan we visited the Aswan botanical garden, which is on another island in the Nile river. We took a boat from Elaphantine island to the gardens, which were interesting, but very small. Another attraction in the area is Philae temple, which we decided to visit. We were approached by two German travelers who wanted to share a boat with us to save on costs, as a boat is needed to get to the temple, which is also on its own island. The boat that took the four of us was ridiculously small for the job, but we made it anyway.

What was interesting about Philae temple was that it had been relocated about 800 down river to where it stands today. Due to the building of the Aswan High dam, the temple would have been flooded, so it was moved piece by piece to the new location. Apart from the two German travelers we met, we didnt see any other foreigners while we were in Aswan, and we really stood out while walking through the markets.

Again we were bombarded by touts trying to get us to take a felucca ride on the Nile, buy sarongs and souvenirs at every turn. Even the taxi drivers would drive slowly next to us for minutes trying to persuade us not to walk and to use their taxi instead. Because we stood out from the locals, everyone would stop to ask us where we were from, and when we replied ‘South Africa’, they would respond by exclaiming ‘Bafana! Bafana!’

followed by a confused look and the question ‘But you are not black?!’. It actually amazed us by how many Egyptian people did not know where South Africa was, and that we are from the same continent.

We found Aswan to be quite a dirty town, full of garbage and random street fires made by people trying to burn their refuse. There were so many old battered cars from the 80s driving around, and lot of half built and broken buildings everywhere.

We really enjoyed the tranquility of staying on Elaphantine island, and looked forward to getting home each day, as there are not cars, or people that harass you, just the beauty of the Nile river flowing by, and the farm animals roaming the narrow paths.

It was in the markets in Aswan that we discovered the local street food pita breads with their various fillings that we could buy for almost nothing. We also discovered that the local cheeses and halva was amazing and really cheap compared to Cape Town. We ended up gorging ourselves on cheeses, halva and other local foods for the time we were in Asan.

On one of the days we decided to do a 6 hour round trip by car to visit Abu Simbel temple, which is close to the border of Sudan. We got a driver to take us on the journey, and had to provide our passports the night before so that he could get security clearance. We were not sure what exactly that was about at first, until we started our drive to the temple. We passed through multiple police check points, where our passports were checked and the driver had to produce identification and licencing, while the car was searched. This was our first taste of the police/military presence in Egypt to combat terrorism.

On the journey to the temple, we stopped at a small rest stop in the middle of the desert, and the owner of the had a baby crocodile that he had rescued that he showed us. That is proof that there are crocodiles in the Nile river, something to consider when you swim in the Nile!

Because we went with our own driver, we arrived about 2 hours after all the tour buses that try to arrive at Abu Simbel at sunrise. This meant that we totally avoided the crowds, and we were the only ones there.

Temple was amazing, and had also been relocated about 1km to higher ground piece by piece over a number of years, in order to avoid the rising water of the Nile from the Aswan High dam.

After 4 days in Aswan, our next destination was Luxor, so we booked a Felucca boat to take us half way there, so that we could experience traveling on the Nile like the ancient Egyptians did. We started at 8am and it sailed zig zagging down the Nile river towards Luxor. As the sun set, we anchored on the banks of the Nile and slept under the stars. It would have been great if the felucca had a bathroom, instead of just using a random bush along the banks of the Nile river. In the morning after breakfast we continue our journey to Luxor. The felucca dropped us at a pickup point, and a car took us the rest of the journey, stopping at two temples (Kom Ombo and Edfu) along the way for us to explore.

It was at these temples that we experienced the worst harassment by touts we have ever experienced. The combination of desperation for money, and not having any concept of personal space, while not wanting to take ‘no’ for an answer was a very uncomfortable experience.

The rest of the drive to Luxor was interesting to see the desert landscape along the Nile river, and we found it funny to see so many grown men riding donkeys for transportation, just like in the bible stories.

 

 

 

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Egypt

Egypt – Giza

We arrived at Cairo International at 2am, and were surprised at how busy the road was at that time of the morning. It was quite a scary drive to our accommodation in Giza, and it was our first introduction to ‘Egyptian road rules’, which is, there are no rules.

Our first impressions was lots of dust covered cars and dirty streets, packs of dogs picking through mounds of trash and garbage left on the street corners. We checked into our accommodation called the Sphinx Guest house, which was supposed to be near the pyramids, but at that time of the morning we were not able to see much in the darkness.

In the morning we went onto the rooftop balcony of the guest house building and found we were directly opposite the Great pyramid and Sphinx. We could not believe our eyes, it was so surreal to see the view from the rooftop of these structures that have been standing there for thousands of years. The view was outstanding as there was no buildings obstructing our view at all, and we were about 200m from the Sphinx itself, directly in front of it, and across the road from the entrance gate to the area. This meant that we had the perfect viewpoint to watch the nightly sound and light show that they have on the Sphinx and pyramids, for free. Another thing we noticed from the balcony was the very busy shit-covered streets below us. The horse carts and camel rides start early every day, so by the afternoon when the complex closes, there is loads of piss and shit everywhere in the streets. It made us very sad to see how hard those poor animals have to work everyday in the desert sun.

Being in the desert, we found the days to be hot, with cloudless blue skies, and the nights rather chilly. We spent a day exploring the pyramid complex, and wondering around the surrounding desert area. Some areas were quite windy, and we saw a few dust tornados. The pyramids attract a lot of tourists from all over the world, and somehow we stood out. Maybe it was the time of year, but there was not a lot of western looking white people around. We felt like celebrities, as people kept on wanting to take selfies with us, and at one point we were almost trampled by a group of locals all wanting to take their photo with us.

We went inside the great pyramid, which was hot and crowded inside, but quite an amazing feeling to be inside such a structure. We explored the pyramids with a fellow traveler from Denmark who is a sound healer, and her Om Chanting inside of the pyramids sounded amazing, but angered the caretakers who she had to pay in order to not get arrested. This was when we started to realise that everything in Egypt is about money, tips, back handed payments etc. It was impossible to walk around the complex in peace due to the constant harassment by touts trying to sell camel rides, horse rides, clothing, souvenirs etc. As soon as one left, another arrived, and they all don’t want to take ‘NO’ for an answer.

We explored the ruins inside the complex and went inside 3 pyramids in total. It was an amazing experience but also very tiring.

At our accommodation we befriended a Swedish man who treated us to an evening of drinks at the famous Menna House 5 Star hotel in Cairo. Many famous people and royalty have stayed at the hotel, and we had a tour of the famous Montgommery Suite. We felt ‘fancy’ for the evening while sipping our overpriced drinks in the piano lounge, and giving the pianist song to play.

It was such a great feeling to wake up to the pyramids every morning, and again to watch the sun setting behind them every night. We explored the complex twice and highly recommend visiting.

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Sri Lanka

Kandy – Sri Lanka

The town of Kandy sounds like a lovely place when you hear the name, but it is far from it. The city is loud, dirty, stinky, and very busy. We escaped from the madness of the city center to accommodation up on the hill above the town. We stayed at Mango House, which was about a 15min walk from the center of town up some really steep hills. Once at the accommodation we were surrounded by forest again, and it was a lot more tranquil. We were the only people staying at the house (There are two rooms for rent), so we had the house to ourselves. It was nice to feel like we were at home again, with kettle, microwave, fridge etc, and the freedom to make your own food.

There is not a lot of attractions in Kandy, the main one being the Botanical gardens and the sacred Temple of the tooth. We were all ‘templed-out’ so did not bother with seeing another temple. However, we took a tuk-tuk to the botanical gardens on one of the days, and spent the day enjoying the tranquility and being in nature, surrounded by huge ancient trees. The gardens are large and have a wide variety of plants. We really enjoyed the many huge trees from all around the world that they have.

We found some really nice restaurants situated close to Kandy Lake, such as Cafe Secret Alley, and The Empire Cafe, which had great food. The Lake itself is nice to look at, but nothing spectacular. We did enjoy watching all the birds coming to roost in the trees around the lake and clocktower at sunset.

Three days was more than enough time for us to spend in Kandy, and we left the city by train. Our train took us to Columbo Fort station, where we then took a bus to the seaside town of Negombo, our last destination in Sri Lanka. We chose Negombo due to its close proximity to the airport.

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Sri Lanka Uncategorized

Habarana – Sri Lanka

We ended our scenic train ride from Ella, at Kandy station, where we then walked to the bus station to catch a bus to take us to Habarana. We were shocked in Kandy at how busy the city was, and how manic the bus terminal was. We arrived in the nick of time, to catch a bus to Habarana, which took 3 hours to get to the town. the bus stops at every bus station, and was packed to capacity. We were grateful to have a seat, even though we were packed like sardines, as the isles were full with people standing. To make things even more uncomfortable, the man sitting next to Francois had a sick child on his lap, who was vomiting into a plastic bag most of the journey. Despite this, we could not get over how cheap the ticket for the bus was….it cost us about R11.50 each for a ticket (That is less than 1l of petrol in Cape Town), for a 94km journey!

 

We arrived at our accommodation in Habarana in the evening, called Habarana Wild Resort. This accommodation and the town itself was a last minute booking, recommended to us by our cooking classmates from the day before. Habarana is centrally located to many attractions, and made a good base to visit them from. The accommodation was recommended as they told us they had seen elephants in the garded while staying there.

On arrival at our accommodation, we had dinner in the garden, and while we were eating, an elephant walked into the garden and started eating the leaves on the trees about 25m away from us. It is not every day that you get to see a wild elephant so close to you, while eating your dinner. After having some leaves, the elephant passed through the property, going silently into the jungle.

On one of the days we took a bus to the town of Polonnaruva, which was about an hour away. This time we were the ones standing most of the journey as the bus was again filled to capacity. When we reached the town of Polonnaruva, we rented some bicycles and went exploring the ancient city that the town is famous for. The ancient city reminded us very much of Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia. One of the main differences we found annoying when compared to Angkor wat, is that in almost every temple complex in Polonnaruva we had to remove our shoes and hats. This becomes extremely annoying, especially in the 30+ degree heat of the day.

 

We cycled to many different ruins and temples and spent the entire day at the complex, which was home to many monkeys. Once we were finished and wanted to catch the bus home, we found the street closed off to protesters, who were blocking the road where the bus stops. It was worrying to suddenly be stranded in a strange town, where not many people speak English, and there didn’t seem to be any way of leaving, all this while it was getting dark. Eventually after a couple of hours, the road opened again, and we were able to catch the first bus out of town, back to Habarana.

One of the days we decided to visit the nearby Kaudulla National park, which is home to hundreds of elephants. The jeep that took us on the safari had a removable roof-top, so we were able to stand in the back, and get a 360 degree view of everything. We enjoyed the safari very much as it was great to see elephants free in the wild, they looked so happy in their family groups, and we were able to see literally hundreds of them gathering in the evening.

On the last day of our stay in Habarana, we did a LOT of hiking and walking. We went to the town of Dambulla where we visited the rock temple and the Golden temple.

 We also visited the town of Sigiriya, where we climbed up both Pidurangula and the famous Lion rock. There were a lot of ruins and grounds around the Lion rock, and we also visited the museum on the premises. The view from the top of both Pidurangula and Lion rock was pretty awesome, but Lion rock was better, because of it having the ancient ruins on the top of the rock.

At lion rock there was a few large wasp nests, and many warning signs about getting stung and what to do, this made us quite nervous. We asked the ‘wasp guy’, an actual person whose job it is to assist people who have been attacked by wasps, how often it happens, and he said ‘quite frequently’. Luckily there were no attacks on the day we were there, although we did see many large wasps flying around.

After our fun filled stay in Habarana, we took another 3 hour bus journey back to the town of Kandy, where this time we would stay a few days.

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Sri Lanka

Ella – tea town in the mountains

Our accommodation in Ella was called Green Village guest house, and was situated on a hill with a great view of the mountains and Ella Rock.

The guest house was surrounded by forest, and was isolated from the main town, so was very peaceful. The surrounding forest was full of local birds, giant squirrels, some deer, and even lots of fireflies at night.

For some reason there was a few power-outages while we were at this accommodation, while this was annoying, it was awesome to see the stars and fireflies more clearly without any light pollution.

Ella has numerous attractions for visitors to the town, and we made sure to visit most of them. First we decided to walk along the railway tracks from Ella station to the Nine Arches bridge. This is an old bridge, beautifully constructed with nine arches. The walk along the tracks takes about 40min, and has some great scenery along the way. The walk also takes you through one of the many tunnels along the way, and it was fun to see the bats and birds nesting inside the tunnel.

 

One of the days we took the train from Ella station, over the Nine Arches bridge, to the next station, called Demodara Station. At this station we got off and watched the train go around the hill on the ‘Demodara loop’, to return on a track below us, and go through a tunnel under the station. We then walked back towards Ella along the tracks again.

Another one of the attractions in Ella, is a hike up Little Adam’s peak. This was a lovely hike through tea plantations to get to the top of the lookout point, where you have an amazing view of the town, and Ella Rock. The hike was pretty easy, and had some stunning views. We also passed a ‘snake charmer’ along the way who had two cobra snakes that he controlled with his flute.

We visited the Dunhinda waterfall, which is supposed to be one of the nicest waterfalls in Sri Lanka. We had to hike to the falls, which again took us through some amazing forest, and lots of monkeys along the way. Even though it was the ‘dry season’ the area, there was still a lot of water, compared to the Rawana Ella waterfall, which was pretty dry, when we drove past it on our way into Ella.

We went to visit the Dowa temple, which is an ancient rock temple, with a huge carving of Buddha in the rock on the outside.

One of the places we had dinner at while in Ella was Matey Hut, which had the most amazing curry, for really cheap. We saw that they offered cooking classes for 2000 Rupees per person, which was around R180 each. We decided to do the class the next day, which was lots of fun. We learned how to make seven different dishes (Mango curry, Dahl curry, Pumpkin curry, Eggplant curry, Coconut sambal salad, bean curry, and potato curry). There was only one other couple doing the class, so afterwards the four of us had a feast, when we ate all the dishes. It was really interesting to make everything from scratch, including coconut milk from fresh coconuts.

We enjoyed our stay in Ella, being higher above sea level it was much cooler than Arugam bay, and was much more greener and scenic. We left Ella excited for our train ride to the town of Kandy. The train ride is well known as the most scenic train ride in Sri Lanka. It took seven hours to make the journey, passing through the rolling hills covered in tea plantations and jungle forests with waterfalls.

The train ride is long, but the view is worth it!

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Sri Lanka

Arugum bay – Surfer town

Arugum bay is a 3 hour drive from Tissamaharama, which we made by taxi. The route goes right past the Yala National park, and we saw elephants crossing the road twice on the journey. One of the elephants was standing directly in the middle of the road, and all the cars had to go around him, which was quite exciting.

Our main reason for visiting Arugam bay was to see some of our South African friends who were staying there. Arugum bay is a seaside surfers paradise, with plenty of surfing spots along the beach boasting great waves. There is a lot more western restaurants, hotels, spas, and bars in Arugam bay than the other towns we visited.

On one of the days we visited Elephant rock by tuk-tuk. Elephant rock is another beach frequented by surfers, which has a large lagoon that can flow into the sea. We learned that the day before we arrived, a British tourist was taken by a crocodile in that very lagoon. So there was lots of warnings to stay away from the lagoon, and only swim in the sea.

We spent a few days sharing a house with our friends which was great fun, but found that there is not a lot else to do in Arugam bay besides surf. The town did not have many attractions or activities to interest us. We enjoyed our brief stay, and then moved on to our next destination, which was Ella.

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Sri Lanka

Tissamaharama – Sri Lanka

When we arrived at our accommodation in Tissamaharama we thought we were in the middle of nowhere again. There was so much vegetation and trees around, that we thought we were far from the center of town. It turns out that we were not, and that the town is just super green and full of trees and farmland. Luckly for us, our accommodation called La Safari Inn, had free bicycles for guests to use. It was only a 5 minute ride through the country roads to get to the town center.

We really enjoy riding bikes, and it was super fun to cycle around the area on the many dirt roads through the farms and houses to see the local temples and wildlife. The accommodation we were staying at had a huge garden with loads of different trees, all packed with a variety of birds such as: black hooded oriole, green parakeets, wood peckers, cuckoo birds, babblers, peacocks, sunbirds and king fishers. We enjoyed sitting on our balcony listening to the bird songs and spotting them in the trees. Every evening just after 6pm, as the sun was setting, there would be a massive cloud of giant fruit bats that would fly over. This cloud would last for about 20 minutes as the bats would be on their way to find dinner for the night.

The main reason we came to Tissamaharama was to visit the Yala national park, which was close by. We did an early monring safari that started with us being fetched at 4:30am. We drove through the park looking for wildlife, and managed to spot Elephants, buffalo, deer, wild pigs, and various birds, such as peacocks, eagles, and bee eaters. Even though we enjoyed the experience, we were a little dissapointed as we were hoping there would be more wildlife. We only spotted three elephants in the park, and coming from Africa where we have seen hundreds of Elephants, we expected more…maybe we have been spoiled.

We had our closest encounter with an elephant when we were outside the park, on the drive home from the safari. An elephant had wondered into the road, stopping traffic as he just stood there not moving. All the cars had to slowly creep around the elephant, and some people gave it fruit through their car window as they drove by.

After 3 nights in Tissamaharama, we booked our transport to the town of Arugam bay, where we would be staying with some friends from South Africa.