Location Mirissa, Sri Lanka
I took a couple of xanax that night to offset the redbulls I drank and before long I was getting texts at 3 am. I was late. I scrambled to get my shit together and threw it in the van and off we went. We drove for a couple hours and at about 5 we stopped for a breakfast of Roti, which was fucking delicious. The Sri Lankan food is nothing short of food for the gods. We ate quickly and cracked on.
It was about 630 when we arrived at the gate to Yala National Park. We traded drivers from a van to a modified land rover, paid the park fee, I covered Asela and his other two friends. Suddenly I was back on safari, racing down dirt roads and searching with eagle eyes for giant animals.
We saw buffalo at first, not too exciting, then a fox or two, the a single bachelor elephant. We got caught in a wildlife traffic jam where it was rumored there were 3 leopards. The jam was so bad that we waited for at least 45 mintues and I was growing frustrated. Few things are so anxiety inducing than knowing that youre within a few meters or your goal and the only thing prohibiting you are jeep loads of punters in your way.
The sun was a bit higher in the sky by this point and the Sri Lankan air was heating up, beating down on us and my skin started to feel a little toasty. We came across a giant peacock performing its mating ritual, fanny its enormous purple tail trying to attract a mate. The female peacocks were all running for cover regardless of the grandeur of its display. We continued down the dusty and sometimes muddy and covered with water roads. All the warning I had read up to that point pretty much said that my chances of seeing a leopard were close to nil during the rainy season when the animals had so many options for watering holes. All the same I was enjoying myself, barreling through the natual habitat of these animals, oh how I love a safari. The thrill of it doesn’t wear off, even after hours of zero sitings. I was calm, my eyes were watching the brush, trees and horizons hoping, even for just a small movement that might have indicated a large cat.
Behind me, Aselas friend exclaimed something in Sinhalese that made us all look. About 2 football pitches away there were two cats, nearly unrecognizable to the naked eye. I drew my canon to my eye and even with my 200mm lens I was able to grab two shots. What a fucking thrill, here were these two nocturnal animals walking through an open field in the early hours of the morning, sun fully shining. Snap! Snap! and poof they had evaporated into the bruch so far away. My heart had just started to race with the excitement when our driver spun the tires on our rig and started blasting past the other jeeps kicking up a dust storm so thick I imagine it would have been difficult to follow.
He drove like he was an F1 driver on these bumpy, somethimes washboard dirt roads, nearly flying off and into the ditch a couple times as we got sideways splashing water every which way including all over all of us as he raced to get to where he assumed the leopards would be coming out of the brush. We were the first to arrive and after seeing us hit lightspeed the other jeeps followed suit and soon there were about 11 or 12 vehicles waiting for the same thing we were hoping for. They all past us assuming they would have a better view point.
Ten minutes long minutes past, my finger steady over the gopro power button, the same on my canon. When again, just as I was losing hope, behind us, not in front like all the other punters had assumed, the two gorgeous, glorious spotted cats crossed the road behind us slowly like we didn’t even exisit. Again the only reason we even knew was because Aselas friend called it out one more time. The man had the eyes of an Eagle, when everyone was looking one way, he had eyes in the back of his head.
I managed to get a good close up shot and brief video as the rover bounced through potholes in an attempt to get closer.
look closely and you'll see the second on the far right.
Leopards, in all their glory and me buzzing with the wonder of it all. Incredible. The shot I ended up getting was one of those that just fills you with pride for your ability to capture time forever, the feeling the fact that you existed at all.