Did I mention it was raining? Well it was and showed no signs of letting up. As we huddled under the tarp, making some feeble attempts at sopping up the tents, one of the more astute members of the group noted the river. Where there had previously been a somewhat small rapid shooting frothy white through the rocks, there was now what looked like the Limpopo in full blast. Brown water with vestiges of white foam shot through the rocks with frightening energy as the water swirled up the tree trunks that had previously stood high and dry. The sand bank on the opposite bank, which, with its rock face backing had seemed such an ideal camp site was now washed away.
Given the impending prospect of being washed into the Senanayake Samudra, kitchen table and all, we discussed our options, namely:
a) get the hell out of there and go crash at the park office
b) batten down and stay, hope the rain stops and the river doesn’t rise any further.
One would think that given the situation option a) would have been the natural choice. But, being the adventurers that we are, it was quite a lengthy debate we had on what to do. Eventually sense prevailed (not due to any contribution from me, I was quite down for hanging around to see what happened) and we decided to break camp and move out. While setting camp had been relatively simple, breaking camp was anything but.
By this time we were all miserable and soaked to the bone and tired from the hike. Untying ropes, folding tents with sand sticking everywhere and carrying heavy boxes up to the cabs almost incapacitated us...but we plugged on. Once again the tracker showed his true worth by not helping in the least bit. We decided not to tip him after our trip and to instead charge him for our meals due to his helpful demeanor. Gehan made him carry our ablution water bottles though, as an elegant final touch.
Packing the cabs was just the beginning as heading back out to the office we discovered that the piddling little streams we had splashed across in our mighty four wheel drives had now turned into reasonably significant bodies of water. The water was a murky brown amongst the jungle trees and there was no telling what the depth of the water and mud was. Thus we were treated to the sight of grown men holding each others hands and fording the river to check the depth. Unfortunately I had packed away my camera at the bottom of my gear bag to keep it dry so couldn’t record these images for posterity.
For the most part, the streams were pretty shallow and devoid of mud so didn’t provide much impediment to the cabs on four wheel. There was one moment where we all had our hearts in our mouth, where turning a corner it appeared the entire road had become a river, with a couple of trees fallen across it. Thankfully this turned out to be an optical illusion as the road actually swiveled off at right angles to our initial turn and was in quite good condition. We chugged across the last stream and breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn’t been marooned.
Fording through the jungle (note these images were taken the next morning as we were leaving the park)
On our way to the office we took a break to check out a collection of smooth, round, black rocks that were all that was left of an ancient road that apparently had stretched from Ruhuna to Pollonaruwa back in the times of the kings. The road would have been quite wide, enough for two modern vehicles to pass and it was amazing that it still remained in some shape or form (unfortunately no pictures again). We pondered for a bit if even back in those days anybody took a 10% commission for building such roads and then, mildly depressed by the reminder of the situation in the country, we headed back to the relative safety of the Department office to, after an eternity of being damp, enjoy the unbelievable luxury of some dry clothes.
It seemed like our Gal Oya camping adventure had ended but we made the best of it by enjoying the idyllic location of the department office. One of the best parts of a trip out of Colombo is of course the company, so we cracked a couple of bottles of wine and sat around telling tall tales of jungle trips of the past as well as some more earthy and inappropriate stories. Further entertained by a scorpion dropping by to say hello, we drank until we were dry and retired to the rather precarious tree house for the night, noting that we should probably check the weather report before coming to Gal Oya next.
The precarious tree house; Unwelcome visitor