Paying the parking “attendant” in Sri Lanka is one of those things that one has to write off to not causing a stir most days. At more upscale places, the attendant will be wearing some semblance of a uniform. Most of the time, though, it’s a pretty gritty looking person that may or may not have just purchased their receipt book at the office supply store in the hopes of making a buck. We paid the guy with the grubby receipt book and waved off the guy trying to hustle us into a “tour” and we were off. We entered the gates of the elephant orphanage and found the ticket booth. This is another part where things get entertaining. In Sri Lanka (and India, and other countries in the region, I’m told), there is a price for residents and a price for tourists. Sometimes there are even different prices for different tourists. Can you imagine going to see the Statue of Liberty and seeing a sign that says, “US Residents, 25 cents. Non residents, $25.” That’s exactly what happens at almost every tourist destination we visit here. The hilarious part is when we tell whoever is working that we are, in fact, Sri Lankan residents. They inevitably raise an eyebrow and mutter something that I’m pretty sure translates to, “Crazy white people don’t know what resident means.” Once we convinced them that we do, in fact, live in Colombo and showed them the resident visa stamp on our passports, we were in for pennies, literally. If we hadn’t had the visa, it would have cost us around $17 a person. Since we’re residents, it cost us less than a dollar for the adults and 20 cents for Amelia Earhart and Gertrude Bell. Arthur Dent was free either way, which is always good since he generally sleeps through everything, unless he’s busy eating, that is.
After our obligatory stop at the restroom, we were off to see the elephants. We knew that bathing time was almost over so we didn’t need to trek down to the river. We headed back over to the area where we saw a huge “tusker” as the locals call elephants. About the time we got near, we were rushed inside an area fenced in by large log fencing. We weren’t sure why until it happened: We saw dozens of elephants walking up the path we had just been standing on! Amazing. We took pictures. We oohed and aah-ed. Suddenly I had a thought. I let the camera swing freely around my neck as I grabbed the International Man of Intrigue by the shirt and hissed, “Oh, my Lord. We are insane. We are the worst. Parents. EVER. How strong do you think this fence is?!” He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. It’s a look he gets once a day, at least, and probably with due cause. I whispered, “What did we have for lunch? Peanut butter. What is an elephant’s favorite food in all the cartoons? PEANUTS! We’re going to cause a stampede! I knew I should have eaten the tuna!” There is never a dull moment in this family. Luckily, not an elephant even glanced in our direction, so I cautiously resumed taking pictures, convinced a tusker was going to reach over and snatch the peanut butter packets out of the International Man of Intrigue’s cargo pocket, or worse, snatch cute, little, rosy cheeked, peanut butter cracker crumb coated Arthur Dent right out of the Ergo Baby carrier on my husband’s back.
Eventually, all the elephants made it to the pasture over the rise, and the people who had walked from watching them bathe at the river made it back, too. At that point, all the tourists just sort of stood where the path ended and took pictures of the elephants in the pasture. Some were posing to have their pictures taken with the big elephant under the awning who was busy eating his lunch, which looked to be peanut free, by the way. We cautiously wandered over, still feeling like this was a bad idea no matter what one had just eaten. The elephant handlers, or mahouts, were offering to bring elephants over from the herd for tourists to pet them and take photos. One of the mahouts was insistent that he would bring a baby elephant over for the Little Explorers to pet. The International Man of Intrigue politely refused and he and I exchanged that knowing glance that married couples have when one spouse can tell what the other is thinking. In this case it was, “We had peanut butter for lunch and now you want to rip a baby elephant away from its mother and bring it over to us? We saw Dumbo. We’re not stupid.” We continued to watch in amazement. Yes, we were amazed by the elephants, but we were also amazed that people could just walk wherever they wanted to. This seemed like Bad Idea Jeans. Really Bad Idea Jeans. I kept looking around. Shouldn’t there at least be a sign saying something like “__Days Since Our Last Fatal Elephant Stampede”?
Eventually, we were ready to head back to the car, but not before another mahout tried to convince the International Man of Intrigue to have his picture taken petting the huge old elephant under the awning. When he refused, the mahout said, “Don’t worry, he’s blind.” Um, yeaaaaah, that makes it seem sooo much safer. Let’s all go poke the blind elephant, shall we? My Lord, were we the only people who realized just how bad an idea this whole place was? Does no one here ever catch a few seconds of “When Animals Attack” while flipping channels? Brand new, just born baby elephants are bigger than big strong guys, people. Yes, elephants are beautiful, and nature is amazing, but she is also mean, people. Luckily, since no one seemed to have thought of this besides us, I figured that upped our survival chances at least a thousand percent if the poop started to hit the fan.
Hot and ready for safety and a break, we stopped and got sodas at the snack stand. The four sodas we got cost us 600 rupees, while our entrance to the park had cost us 250 rupees. After cooling off and rehydrating a bit, I suggested we go across the street to where they make paper out of elephant poop. Sounds gross, but Amelia Earhart loves arts and crafts and I figured she’d be fascinated. All of our kids love to say the word “poop”, so I figured they’d be excited to use a bathroom word outside of the bathroom. She was. They were. We even got a tour of how they make the paper. Tuskers eat mostly fibrous leaves, so when their dung is boiled, clean fibers that look like what is found in handmade paper is all that is left, and it’s used to make (stink free) paper.
After that, it was time to load everyone back in the car, remind the parking “attendant” that we had already paid for parking once, and head to the Botanical Gardens outside of our final destination for the night, Kandy. Kandy was the last native kingdom in Sri Lanka and held out against colonization until 1815. It’s also home to The Temple of the Tooth, a Buddhist shrine that holds the sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth.
True to Intrigue form, it started pouring down rain and we missed out on the gardens. Truer to Intrigue form, we