Crocodile Hunters

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Tuesday, 7 December, 2010

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Birthdays are difficult to organise when you’re living the backpacker life – I wanted to arrange something special for Ruby, but the creative brain cells within my skull were apparently on a holiday of their own. The original plan was to store a secret birthday cake between some dirty socks and muddy hiking boots in my bag for a month. So, it was quite the relief when the idea of a national park popped into my head.

While we found the safari great, neither Ruby nor I were the most excited within the jeep – that honour went to our guide. I’m fairly confident that this was his first day on the job, that or he crushed a couple of ecstasy pills into his water. I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm radiate from a man at work.

He stopped the vehicle at the sight of every single animal, and a national park is not a place that is short of them. If this was the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare, we were most definitely the tortoise. He would also turn around and look at Ruby with expectancy each time we pulled over. This compelled her to always take a photo in fear of disappointing him – expect to see 150 pictures of peacocks uploaded onto Facebook in the coming days.

The big highlight from our day on wheels – certainly as far as our guide was concerned, at least – was seeing a bear. Well, I say it was a bear; I thought it was a rock for the first five minutes of our car being static. The distance between us and the animal was so great, in fact, that it could have started singing ‘The Bear Necessities’ and we would have been none the wiser.

Not to mention, the bear in question was a sloth bear. It would have been too lazy to do anything even if it had been sitting between us in the jeep. The guide loved it and claimed that they were rarely sighted – rarely or barely?

We sat in a parked jeep for thirty minutes watching this bear, too. I can only assume our guide was short of petrol and decided he couldn’t risk travelling more than 400 metres per hour.

The safari had left us slightly unfulfilled and we craved more. We decided we could improve the experience by venturing into the jungle unsupervised; brave or stupid? – Time would tell.

We wandered alongside a set of boggy, track marks, which led us to a group of buffaloes and wild boars – but as they are frequent obstacles on most Indian pavements, we still desired something more.

We continued to stray, which eventually brought us to a pretty, big lake. Furthermore, a section of the park that was void of any other people – yep, we were completely alone in the wild. Were we about to live to regret this forever? Would the ninja skills I picked up from cartoons as a kid finally come in handy? Did I merge myself into the wild and now eat bugs with the boars? Find out in the next few paragraphs.

“Let’s be careful, there could be crocodiles in here.” Ruby joked.

Two minutes later, her jest became literal – with an outstretched arm, she pointed northwards and screeched, “Oh my God, there’s a massive crocodile right there!” On a side note, her referring to me as her God did wonders for my ego.

I looked over, and sure enough, there were two crocodiles basking on the bank of the lake thirty metres away.

After a brief discussion, we agreed we needed to complete our mission. That’s right, we headed over to the two reptiles with the teeth sharp enough to take off a human arm in a split second.

The most chilling part about recollecting our story, is remembering just how quickly we decided on our actions – no reasoning, no concern for the consequences. We could have been the meat in crocodile swamp stew quite easily. I guess ‘in the moment’ there is no call for rational thought. Hopefully, I never see a lion ‘in the moment’, I would more than likely try to stroke its belly and blow raspberries in its face.

As we wandered over, one of the scaly guys had already headed out for a swim. So, we were left with just the one crocodile on the bank. We got there, stood a few feet away and were petrified. We remained there for the longest five minutes of our young lives, got our pictures, and then calmly headed back to where we came from.

It was surreal, yet extremely exciting! I wouldn’t frigging do it again, that’s for sure, but still, what an experience! Probably the trip’s highlight so far. I’m not saying you should go and stand that close to a crocodile, because that would be idiotic. I’m just explaining that if you don’t, you’re really missing out!

The moral here is simple: don’t follow rules.

We didn’t make it out of the wild completely unscathed though – karma would later fire a light-hearted, but really disgusting, punishment our way.

As we headed back to the chalets, we were both silently reflecting on the moment of madness that had just occurred. Presumably, Ruby was just admiring my bravery. My head, on the other hand, was overflowing with emphasised adjectives.

At which point, Ruby, who was a few meters behind me, suddenly started shrieking. Had the crocodile followed us all this way? Was I going to need to fight a crocodile now? I was not sure I’d be ready for that!

Thankfully, the problem wasn’t a crocodile – I know this because at first glance, I couldn’t even see what the problem actually was.

“My God, there is a bloody leech stuck to my leg!” She yelled. On a side note, I admired her humorous use of the word ‘bloody’ considering the creature she was referring to – deliberate or not.

She bashed at her leg five or six times, before it eventually fell off. The damage was minimal, but the paranoia increased. We had skin on show, suddenly a leech became ten times scarier than a frigging crocodile.

Sadly, the suckers were not done with us just yet. This time it was my blood that would be considered luscious. Did they go for my leg? No, that would be too simple. I ended up getting assaulted by the action hero leech. This crazy lunatic somehow ended up attached to my chin! My bloody chin!!

How did this even happen? I was hardly rolling around in the grass! I then remembered that Ruby successfully removed her leech by hitting her leg. Right, so the best way to get rid of this little git would be to repeatedly smack myself in the face? Wonderful!

As I did just that, Ruby watched on and laughed hysterically. It eventually came off, but I must have given myself three big slaps before it did so. Still, I won the war, and action leech had one hell of a fall as it lost its grip.

After being attacked, we went back to our room – where Ruby put some longer trousers on to protect her legs. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to pack a balaclava, so I was still in trouble.

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