Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Jayantha, Yala and Bundala Guide Extraordinaire
I know I yammer on about Jayantha on my Sri Lanka trip site www.grinninggeckodesign.com/SriLanka.htm but there's more to write. He is a good man and an excellent wildlife guide, and he needs more business because the tsunami has hit the Sri Lankan tourist industry hard. This is a guy who is recommended in The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, and who has over 22 years of experience, yet the tsunami has made it hard for him (and many other Sri Lankans in the tourist industry) to find clients. We found out about him because Gordon's co-worker had used his services on a recent trip and was very pleased.
We initially hired Jayantha to take us to Bundala and Yala National parks, but we ended up spending three straight days with him. We met his wife and two sons, and his wife cooked us a beautiful Sri Lanka meal, which was an unexpectd bonus having nothing to do with Jayantha's guiding services! I think he just took a liking to us. After we left Tissamaharama, where Jayantha and his family live, we met up again in Ella, where J took us to a wedding reception (or "homecoming", as it was called.) The groom's father, a dear friend of Jayantha, had recently passed away. Jayantha also lost several friends to the tsunami, as did so many other Sri Lankans. The death toll in that country was huge, and they are still rebuilding.
We were appallingly badly dressed for the wedding, as all our clothes were filthy from our safaris and we hadn't had a chance to launder them before the reception. Oops! I had to wear jeans (at least I had a nice shirt on) and Gordon had to wear long shorts (at least he had a shirt with a collar), but no one complained, and Jayantha kept assuring us we looked fine, which we most certainly did not. But he wanted us to be comfortable and enjoy ourselves. I stuck out like a sore thumb, a foreigner in jeans amongst all the beautiful Sri Lanka women in saris. We did at least contribute a gift of money to the bride and groom. The buffet lunch was delectable, and Gordon and Jayantha toasted the couple with glasses of arrack, the palm-syrup liquor of Sri Lanka.
We were genuinely sad to say good-bye to Jayantha after the reception. I hope we can go back to Sri Lanka one day, but who knows? I do so hope our paths cross again. There was just something special about J and his family.
Jayantha's eldest son is a safari guide like his father. He drives a Jeep that his uncle owns, while Jayantha has paid off two-thirds of the cost of his 30-year-old Jeep, formerly a police vehicle. In Sri Lanka, vehicles are valuable and are kept running for a very long time. Sri Lankans just don't have our western "throw it away" culture. We could learn some lessons from their lack of waste! I think Canada produces more garbage than any other country in the world.
Jayantha did not want his eldest son to follow in his career footsteps. (Jayantha's own father was a demon dancer, driving evil spirits from people who were sick.) He would have preferred him to get a good job in the garment industry. And he had no idea how his son learned to drive, as he repeatedly refused to teach him. He was truly befuddled by his son's driving abilities!
We solved the mystery one night when Jayantha's son drove us home from an evening of socializing at a campsite with J and his Italian clients. His son told us that would wait until his Dad was asleep, then get in the Jeep and start driving, stick-shift no less. He learned well.
Jayantha is a quiet and thoughtful man, with a ready smile. You wouldn't guess that his world fell apart when he was a young married man, after his firstborn son drowned in the river behind his house. His in-laws were supposed to be watching the toddler, but something went awry, and when the unsupervised boy slipped into deeper waters, the children he was playing with grew frightened and ran away without telling any adults what was happening. Jayantha was so gutted after his son's death that he left his family and lived alone for two years (God only knows what his wife was suffering through!) But eventually he came home, and he and his wife had two more sons, of whom they are very proud. The younger son is 15 and still in school.
Jayantha showed us a faded picture of himself with his lost son, who would be about 21 now had he survived. In the photo, his brilliant smile showed his pride in his adorable toddler boy, now gone for so long. I am glad he and his wife were able to rebuild their lives.
When we were in Yala, Gordon and Jayantha soon spied a leopard, but for the life of me, I could not see it as it prowled the undergrowth Jayantha then became bound and determined that I should see a leopard that day. His professional pride was at stake! And sure enough, at the end of our safari, he spotted a leopard far off in a tree. He practically dragged me out of the Jeep and onto the hood for a better look, pointing at the leopard until at last I saw it: a beautiful spotted cat, sprawled across a thick tree branch! Thank God we brought binoculars. And then Gordon spied another leopard in the tree. This was extraordinarily lucky, and Jayantha was genuinely happy to have found me a leopard. He did not want me to go home without that sighting.
Gordon asked Jayantha if he had ever travelled outside Sri Lanka, and he said no. G then asked him where he would like to travel if he could. Jayantha replied, "Anywhere!" He spends his days guiding people from countries around the world, and would love to the other side of the coin for a change. For westerners like us, travel is not an impossible dream, but for man still paying off his loan for a 30-year-old Jeep, well, it's not so easy. I left wishing I could fly Jayantha and his family to Canada for a holiday. Wouldn't that be nice? We are so lucky in Canada, yet so many Canadians do not appreciate all that they have.
When we got to Colombo at the end of our trip, we Fedexed our small pair of binoculars to Jayantha in Tissa, as he did not own a pair, and we knew they would be invaluable to him. I hope Fedex did their job! We also bought him a field guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Sri Lanka, to go along with his dog-eared field guide to birds. I want to do more for him, and I will. He helped make our holiday wonderful.
If you want to book him as a guide, his mobile phone # is 0777-073813, and you can also call his mother's house at 0472-237603. We hope to be calling him again ourselves sometime.