Sri Lanka: Hambantota

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, which is a misspelling, mispronunciation, or transliteration of Sri Lanka introduced by the English, is an island south and east a little of the southern tip of India. In 1972, the name was changed from Ceylon to the Free, Sovereign, and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka, and in 1978, to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. (You could never run for president of the United States as a Democratic Socialist Republican.) The Persians called the island Sarandīb, from which we get the word serendipity, which probably suggests something about what was going on when they found it. One explanation of the name is that Hindu mythology called the island Lanka, meaning Island. Another explanation from another source says Lanka means Island of the Lions, of which there no longer are any. Sri is an honorific meaning wonderful or resplendent; it pops up frequently.

If you are ever asked on a quiz show, the capital of Sri Lanka is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, a suburb of Colombo, the largest city, which thinks it’s the capital. But first, we are in Hambantota on the southern tip of the island to take a jeep safari through Yala National Park. The jeeps turned out to be Toyota pickups that had been equipped with six very comfortable seats in the back. They needed to be comfortable, with seat belts, because the ‘roads’ were almost unpassable. And dusty.

The first hurdle, however, was climbing into the back of a pickup. The first step was at least three feet; challenging for most of us; approaching impossible for Doré. When asked if they had some sort of step stool, they produced some sort of plastic container that was maybe three inches high, cutting the step down to two feet and nine inches. She made it.

There were so many birds of so many varieties, we stopped taking pictures or trying to keep track. The same with water buffalo, spotted deer, and monkeys. The big attractions that we did not see were sloth bears (other jeeps saw one) and leopards (no one found them.) but we did see ‘evidence’ that they had passed this way recently and a rock that one stood on last week.

We did see elephants. They are a little smaller than African elephants. They also live in matriarchal herds, with adults males living alone except on the rare occasions that their presence is actually needed. Bulls are somewhat larger and have sharp ridges down the back; the cows have flatter backs. This is a young bull, at a bit of a distance:

DSCN0066 (1)This is a cow and calf, which doesn’t show at all. The photo was taken directly into the setting sun and they were in the brush so I’m a little surprised we can see anything at all. This one was taken with a wide angle lense (I didn’t have time to think) so she is as close as she looks, no more than twenty feet.

DSCN0076 (1)The photo at the top was intended to give a sense of the landscape but doesn’t begin to cover it.

An exciting day.

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