CAMPING IN UDA WALAWE. SERENDIPITY
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). Camping in Uda Walawe. Serendipity. January 2004. Page 12.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne discovers the pleasures of semi-luxury camping
Had I imagined it? It was around 5.00 am and I sat up inside a spacious tent. Besides me, my wife and two daughters were fast asleep, obviously very comfortable with the sleeping arrangements inside the tent. I listened, craning my ears for the melancholy jungle call which had seeped into my subconsciousness. I hoped it would be the call of the Ulama which ornithologists believe to be the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl or Forest Eagle Owl. A melancholy wail rang though the forest again. Haunting and mournful. But not spine tingling as I had been told of the cries of the Devil Bird. Whatever it was, it was worth sound recording. I undid the zips and let myself out of the tent and sat in the open space.
I was using a mini disc recorder with a specialist microphone manufactured by Klas Stranberg of Telinga. The mike is so sensitive, I found it picking up the snores from a neighboring tent. We were at the Pilimaddara Camp Site in Uda Walawe National Park. I had arrived with my family to experience first hand the concept of semi-luxury camping, a product in which Anuruddha Bandara of the Eco Team has played a leading role developing for Sri Lanka. From the age of 13, I had camped and trekked around the country and subsequently I had camped and trekked in various countries overseas. My camping had been rather functional in nature, whilst trekking in the Andes or Himalayas for example. Whilst I was used to withstanding the rigours of camping, I knew that to offer it a as a commercial product took an altogether different level of organisation. In Africa, on commercial camping safaris, I had observed how a support team arrives before hand, to set up. I needed to understand the scale of Anuruddha’s operation before we could offer it to our clients.
I was not disappointed. A small army of seven people had arrived and set up several large tents to accommodate people. My family of four could sleep in one, comfortably, without being cramped or in discomfort. There was ample padding on the ground to ensure comfort. Anuruddha’s team had even left two torches in each tent for use by visitors. The attention to detail and the visitor orientation impressed me. A large tent housed a kitchen and another large tent was the dining area.
On arrival, we had been shown the toilets and the shower tent. Water was piped through a large water tank which had been brought in by the team. The toilets and shower arrangement were satisfactory given that it had all been set up before our arrival and had to be removed with the departure of the guests.
The torch provided was coming in useful as I sat in the open, and checked the LCD on my mini disc recorder. A campfire smouldered in the middle, with firewood which had been brought in. It’s purpose was to keep animals away. Lamps burning kerosene were spread at intervals, demarcating the camp site, to enhance security and looked picturesque at night.
The mystery bird called again and again, with long intervals separating them. Subsequently I learnt from the camp staff that it was a Grey-headed Fish Eagle who was responsible. Around 5.30 am, the camp chef stirred and began making preparations for an early breakfast for a couple of guests who were planning a morning game drive. Breakfast was a typical Sri Lankan meal, simple but tasty. Dinner had been a lavish affair, with soup, a main course and breakfast followed by tea or coffee. Everything has to be brought and everything has to be taken out. I was pleased to see a well thought out and well managed camping product on offer. Camping is not for everyone. There will be some who will always have grounds for complaint. It will be too hot or too cold in the campsite or they will expect toilets to five star hotel standards. But for those willing to experience something different, it can be wonderful and re-juvenating experience. As the sun crept over the horizon and the bird life burst into song, a warm cup of tea, arrived with a smiling camp hand.
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