This is part 1 of a two-part story. This is about my camping experience, but to read about my safari experience watch out for the second part which will be published next week.
It’s 5.45am and as I sit and brush my teeth on the porch of my tent, hazy morning sunlight streaks across the campsite and brings my surroundings to life. In the trees above me I can hear the rustling of monkeys and birds singing to the dawn, but it is the relative lack of sound that I appreciate; No cars, no heckling from persistent tuk tuk drivers, no people shouting at each other in the market places, no angry barking of street dogs, just the bubbling of the nearby river, and the soothing sounds of nature all around me.
When I’ve finished brushing my teeth the on-site manager and my guide for the weekend, Sajith, waves me over for an al fresco breakfast on the sandy banks of the river running through the campsite. As I approach him he tells me excitedly “there was a leopard in the camp last night!” as he points out the tracks of large paws that criss cross around the trees just meters from my tent.
We’re in Yala National Park, home to the highest density of leopards in the world, one of the main reasons that Yala attracts so many visitors each year. Despite the high population of leopards living in Yala, they are still notoriously hard to spot – being pretty much nocturnal – and many people go away disappointed. To maximize my chances of seeing one, I’m camping in the park for two nights as part of a sponsored trip organised by Leopard Safaris.
My previous camping experiences up until now have only been from family holidays, setting up a tent somewhere in the English countryside, and usually ending up having that tent flooded by rain, but Leopard Safaris was nothing like that. For a start I had my own sit down toilet, outdoor shower, and a king-sized bed – comforts that I would never have imagined to be possible on a camping trip. The campsite itself was in a beautiful location, shaded by trees filled with wildlife. They had even set up a hammock perfect for lazing in with one of the wildlife books in their library, and the river was lovely way to cool off with a refreshing dip in the afternoon. I suppose this experience was something that might more appropriately be termed as ‘glamping’. What’s more impressive about the campsite is that none of the structures are permanent. Everything can be packed and unpacked when needed, meaning that no part of the park is damaged or altered. The electricity used on the site was also all solar powered, so there was no need for generators, making me feel better as I was much more keen to see leopard footprints than carbon ones left on the site.
For me though, the best part of the actual camping experience was the food. Meals at the Leopard Safari camp were a full wine and dine experience. In the evenings we sat under the stars to eat barbequed meats and jumbo prawns, in the mornings and afternoons a table packed full of delicious Sri Lankan dishes was set up overlooking the river. The service was amazing, and they were quick to adapt the menu to suit the tastes of the guests, even cooking separate dishes for everyone at one point! When I have a chance I even creeped round to the back of the site to check out the kitchen and was amazed by how much stuff they had in there. It was a really good set up, and certainly better than any kitchen I’ve ever had!
There was also plenty of wildlife to get up close and personal with in the camp. The leopard re-emerged at night, and we caught a glimpse of it off in the distance. I also caught the flash of a crocodile’s eyes in the river at night, illuminated by my torch, and there were plenty of frogs, birds, giant squirrels, and monkeys around. At one point during the evening when chatting to the manager Sajith, he stopped me mid-conversation and said “that noise! That was a frog being eaten by a snake!” I looked at him, dumbstruck. I hadn’t even heard a noise at all, how on earth could he be sure? I was slightly dubious, but then he whipped out a torch and headed towards the bushes, calling me over just minutes later to show me what he had found. To my utter surprise I found a tiny little frog being gorged on by an even smaller snake. I asked Sajith how on earth he knew that it was there, and he simply smiled and told me that when you spend enough time in the bush you learn these things.
So the real question is: did I see any leopards? Well the answer is yes! I saw a whopping 12 leopards during my time in Yala! Sadly it was too much to write about all in one post, so check back to the blog in about a week to read about my safari experience and see my pictures of the leopards and amazing amount of other wildlife that I saw in the park.
Have you ever done a safari camping or ‘glamping’ trip? How was it? How did your experience compare to your previous expectations of camping?
This trip was sponsored by Leopard Safaris, who run camping experiences in both Yala and Wilpattu National Parks, Sri Lanka. If you would like to find out more please visit their website.