Sri Lanka: Mangroves, Elephants, Sea Turtles…oh my!

I’m not sure if this begins in November 2019 or if it begins in the fall of 2017. Let’s go all the way back to the 2017, but I promise to keep it short.

We arrived to Washington D.C. in the fall of 2017 so that my husband could attend an international military school. I had friends in the area, and we were only going to be there a year, so I wasn’t necessarily planning to make a lot of new friends while living there at that time. I know it sounds weird, but sadly, after you move enough times with the military, you start correlating time-frames and friendship-creation. Little did I know that I would join the international spouses group, and I would make friends from all over the world; I still keep in touch with many of them to this day. One of the beautiful ladies that I met was from Sri Lanka, and she did a presentation about her fascinating country. I didn’t know at the time that I would be moving to Asia, but I knew that someday, I would visit her country. In the summer 2018, we moved to Asia, and in the fall of 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to join a travel group that would spend a few days in Sri Lanka, and then we would go to the Maldives in January 2020. My dreams of visiting Sri Lanka would come true!

Top and Left: pictures from her presentation. Bottom right: my beautiful Sri Lankan friend at the bottom left.

I didn’t look at an itinerary. I didn’t look at the price. I didn’t even look at who would be joining me on this trip. When the trip was offered, I immediately, and blindly, signed up for it. I had traveled with this type of group before so I had some idea that I would be able to afford it, and I had some idea that it would be a good group, but I had NO IDEA that it would be the trip of a lifetime.

Getting to Sri Lanka wasn’t easy. First, we were traveling from a little island so there are no direct flights, and second, even though we are in Asia, Sri Lanka is still very far from Okinawa (3,400 miles). We left Okinawa in the late evening, arrived in Bangkok at midnight, and had a 9 hour layover. Then, we arrived to Colombo at about 11am the next day. Upon arrival, we were immediately taken straight to the hotel so we could check in and EAT. The food at the hotel was delicious; the views were incredible, and we knew we in for a special treat. We had just traveled for over 16 hours, and the next 2 1/2 days would be jam-packed with ADVENTURE and FUN!!!

Hotel Views Upon Our Arrival

Our first adventure would be a boat ride through the mangroves. I happen to be obsessed with mangroves. I love that these trees thrive in salt water. I love that they are an ecosystem that provides safety and a breeding-ground to thousands of different species. I love that they look like they are standing on stilts. I love that you can take a little boat through a mangrove forest to see the birthplace of so many creatures that will someday thrive in the ocean. Needless-to-say, when you start a trip with a boat-ride through mangroves, I am a very happy girl.

Left: Mangroves grow in swampy, brackish water. Top right: just a short trip out of the mangroves is clear, blue ocean water. Bottom right: me as happy as I could be cruising through the mangroves.

We proceeded to stop at a couple of little islands to see how the people on the islands live and to see the lush beauty of Sri Lanka. Dinner would round out the evening, and after long travels and our boat-ride, a comfy bed was definitely a treat.

We woke up the next day and began our journey to our next adventure – Yala National Park. On the way to Yala, we made a stop and met stilt-fisherman; we also tried to fish from the stilts. Getting up on the stilts was much easier than I thought it would be, but fishing on the stilts was not easy. None of us caught fish, so we loaded up on our bus and proceeded to the national park.

Just a pit-stop to try some stilt fishing.

I wish I was capable of articulating how amazing this adventure was. The group separated and got into several, open-air jeeps; each jeep went a different way through the park. Being on the jeeps was it’s own adventure because we mostly stayed on dirt roads, but the roads were pot-hole ridden, muddy, and rough-riding. We uncomfortably bumped up and down on our seats and raced around this national park looking for the wildlife. See, that’s the thing…we weren’t at a zoo. Any wildlife we would see would be in the wild. This is unspoiled, natural land, and we would be lucky to see anything at all. Boy did we get lucky! We saw elephants!!! Yes, ELEPHANTS!!! They were these big, slow, beautiful creatures who rambled about, looking for food, swaying their trunks, looking handsome and massive. I swear that they actually smiled when they found food that was appealing. We were able to get close to them and able to witness their size (elephants weigh from 3-7 TONS). They were enormous; yet, we still felt safe. We also saw various birds, monkeys, and we even saw a crocodile. I grew up reading about these kinds of animals, and I saw them at zoos. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the opportunity to see them in the wild. When I consider Mother Nature, I am in awe of her beauty, and I, quite frankly, I still can’t believe that I was THAT close to an elephant in the wild.

Yala National Park

We stayed the night at the Big Game Camp Yala – the closest place to stay at the park, and all I REALLY remember is that the next morning, my meditation was unlike any meditation experience I have ever experienced. I don’t know if it was because I had slept in an over-sized tent, or if it was because I surrounded by the sounds of the nature in its purest form, or if it was because I was sincerely at peace. I was in a far off land, off the beaten path, surrounded by people who wanted to share an adventure, and we had seen Mother Nature untouched and flawless. All I know is that we only stayed there one night, and as much as I wanted to stay longer, I knew that it was time to explore something else. I left there in such deep gratitude that I had been given this amazing opportunity. Once again, I never dreamed that I could have such a special experience. It was time to leave the park, but we had more adventuring to do!

Just a few of the ladies from the trip. This was my jeep-crew. We may have squealed, laughed, complained about the bumpy ride, but we also knew that this was special.

We had backroads to ride down and turtles to see. I don’t know where to start with the turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservation Project was a small set up on the side of the road. It was run by a gentleman who had been running it for decades. He was obsessed with the preservation of sea-turtles, and he allowed us another experience of a lifetime. We saw baby turtles that had just hatched. We saw a unique albino turtle, and we saw turtles being nursed back to health. Once again, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get the opportunity to be THIS close to so many special sea turtles. He was patient with us, and he explained his process of protecting them and preparing them for the wild. He was a gentle soul, and I could have stayed there for days just to admire the turtles. Once again, we had places to go, so staying there for days was not an option.

Top – albino turtle in water. Bottom left: sweet little baby sea turtle. Bottom right: he came up for a picture.

After sleeping in a tent after hours on a bumpy jeep, and after several hours on a bus traveling across the country, it was nice to get back to our swanky hotel to get some rest because our Sri Lanka adventure had come to an end. I wanted to stay there longer; we had been gifted with only a glimpse into this unique and exquisite country. The time spent there was enough to remind me of how lucky I am, and it was enough time to show me that I need to go back. I knew in 2017 that this would be a place I needed to visit, and it did not disappoint. I don’t know the future of travel, but I DO KNOW that I need to go back. I also know that sometimes it’s ok to just jump in without checking the itinerary, the cost, or the travel companions. There are few times in life when you are given unbelievable opportunities. When given the opportunity, don’t talk yourself out of it.

Poolside Rooftop Views (hotel 3rd night in Sri Lanka). It was the perfect place for gratitude, journaling, and meditation.

Published by mondaymorningwithmona

I am a Texan, runner, military spouse, reader, a giver and a good friend.

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