Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Things I Know About Elephants

elephant close upAfter a week of talking about Sri Lanka and elephants, it’s unsurprising that this weeks “things I know” is about elephants.

  • Elephants are the largest land mammal
  • Elephants are highly intelligent and social creatures
  • Elephants mourn death and celebrate birth
  • The African elephant is bigger than the Asian Elephant and has much bigger ears
  • Big ears do not mean good hearing. The ears are used as a cooling system as well as to signal or warn when angry or alarmed

  • Their eyes are small and their eyesight isn’t that good either
  • The trunk is amazing and can be used for a range of things from tearing down trees to picking berries. Trunks are touched and twisted together in greeting and affection
  • They can swim for long distances
  • They have the largest brains of all the animals
  • Elephants spend up to 16 hours each day eating
  • They are herbivores, eating leaves, fruit, grass and even bark and twigs
  • Eating a lot means a lot of poo
  • I bought many souvenirs made of recycled elephant poo
souvenirs made from elephant poo paper

A selection of things made from elephant crap

Linking up with “Things I Know” with Singular Insanity




Colombo, Sri Lanka

colombo, sri lanka, main street

Main Street Colombo

After spending a day with elephants, riding them and looking upon their cuteness, we were exhausted and had dinner out – which we never do because the kids are just hard work and make things a bit less than enjoyable, but this place had a playground and it wasn’t McDonalds and we had wine and we felt all holiday-ish and it was great. I love Sri Lanka.

Then a quick swim back at the hotel and then falling into an exhaustion coma. What a day! But our whirlwind holiday wasn’t over yet. We had Colombo to visit before getting on a plane back to stinky Chennai.

We woke to rain. It had been a very long time since we had seen rain. It was fantastic and certainly didn’t dampen our holiday mood.

We were driven around Colombo seeing the sights and stopping at McDonalds to taste the local cuisine because we are such foodies.

Colombo, being the capital, has a denser population than Negombo and this is where you can start to see some of the poverty. Our tour guide, Jerom says that Sri Lanka has “75% poor people”. But he also said that the population of Sri Lanka is about 2-3 Million – it’s actually about 21 Million, so who knows.

The city is still much cleaner than Chennai. The footpaths are clear, the air is fresh (the rain helps) and even the rickshaws are shiny. Some of the auto rickshaws we saw were pimped out with huge sound systems and lights. There was even a rickshaw come ice-cream truck complete with music.

Pink Rickshaw, Sri Lanka

Pink Rickshaw

ice cream truck auto rickshaw

Auto Ice-Cream Rickshaw

But mostly they were just colourful and bright and clean and shiny.

Millar wanted to take this guy home with us.

Millar had some more close up animal encounters to add to his list including a snake that he got annoyed with so just took it off his neck and threw it on the ground – he didn’t like it “slivering all around him” and we took some photos of other things like temples and giant Buddhas and parliament buildings and monuments….

Then Jerom took us to a Gem “museum”, which was about when the holiday feeling wore off.

It was just a shop, but they took us out the back, into an office and sat us down to watch a video. The video was going to tell us all about gem mining in Sri Lanka, which I’m sure is fascinating but the sound quality on the 20 year old tape was shit and the tiny tv did it no favours. We walked out without even looking at the gems. Jerom gets kickbacks from these places. It’s the same in India and I’m sure in many places all around the world. But we are really tired of it. Don’t call it a museum when it’s not. Remember my carpet emporium story? And the marble in Agra? This is not our first time at the rodeo.

We declined the offer to see the fabric emporium and asked to just go to the airport.

We had plenty of time at the airport for the kids to play in the playground and Millar said that was his favourite part of Sri Lanka (kids!) While the kids played, I had plenty of time to spend all our money in the souvenir shop. Hurrah.


Hindu Temple Sri Lanka

Hindu Temple

Overall, I absolutely loved Sri Lanka. I would love to stay there longer. Much longer. If we were offered time in Sri Lanka instead of Chennai, I wouldn’t even hesitate. There is so much more to see than we could see in one weekend. One day we will go back. Hopefully.


Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

After the elephant riding, we went to the Pinnawala Elephant orphanage close by.

The orphanage is home to over 80 elephants. Most have been rescued from injury or abuse or taken in when orphaned. Some elephants have been born at the orphanage as part of the obviously successful breeding programme.

Millar got to feed a bottle to a baby elephant and we walked around the park watching the elephants covered in mud walk towards their bath.

There’s something special about baby elephants. I guess that’s true about baby anythings actually, but the baby elephants are super cute.

If you are really into elephants you can volunteer at the orphanage for some real hands on experience.

We booked our tour with PL Tours and were pretty happy with our guide, Jerom so we booked him again for a Colombo city tour the next day which I will tell you about tomorrow.

But what you really want to see are more photos of the elephants… Here they are.

Feeding baby elephant a bottle at pinnawala elephant orphanage sri lanka

Millar feeds a baby elephant her bottle.


elephants at the pinnawala elephant orphanage sri lanka

Love. Big love.


baby elephant pinnawala elephant orphanage



mother and baby elephant pinnawala elephant orphanage

Look how little he is! Nawwwww

Elephant Riding in Sri Lanka

Elephant riding in Sri LankaI never knew elephants were bristly with wire brush hair covering their head and back. I knew they were wrinkly. That’s a thing one knows about elephants without ever touching one. Big, grey and wrinkly. But the bristly hair was a surprise as I mounted the giant creature, my thigh span barely large enough to straddle it. I reach for Xanthe and she is passed to me. I sit her in front of me and negotiate the holding on of the rope and the child at the same time, having to lean forward to do so. It’s an awfully long way to fall, and then there’s the trampling to consider.

Xanthe enjoyed seeing the elephants, as indicated with squeals of delight and panting and pointing. She enjoyed watching her dad and brother get on and ride off on one before us. But when it came to actually riding one, the squeals of delight were replaced with sobs of get me off. Now. I dont know if it was the height, the wobbling or her mother clinging on to her tightly with one hand while leaning forward to grab the rope, possibly squishing her into the brisitly elephant hair. We rode down to the river, holding on for dear life as the angle down the bank threatened to throw me over the head of the elephant and into the water. The elephant sprayed water in the air and over us. As enjoyable as it all was, I had had enough and Xanthe was over it.

I was happy with the length of time. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and ten minutes is ok. We had paid for a 30 minute ride, that being the shortest time available. It was only AUD$18 per elephant. Bargain.  Hubs and Millar continued on while myself and Xanthe,  now crying and trying to scramble up me as I still held on with one hand, headed back to safe ground. Xanthe, again on terra firma, was happy to watch the elephants do their thing as we waited for Millar and hubs to finish their ride.

When they returned we fed the elephants a bag of bananas each and stroked their trunks and said goodbye.

It was an absolute privilege to ride these huge beasts of awesomeness and I am thrilled that my children got to experience it also.

I cannot be completely sure that those elephants are treated well. I don’t know what a happy elephant looks like. I know these elephants were trained to do certain things on command for my enjoyment. I know they had chains on their neck. I know the keepers had long sticks with sharp ends, and I can say that they were just there on the very unlikely chance that one of the elephants got out of control… but that may be naive. We rode these elephants with a sheet of thick padding between us and the animal. I think that’s a kinder way to do it than those platforms other elephants are burdened with for people to ride upon. Maybe.

So I am torn between enjoying the experience, thinking it a once in a lifetime privilege and wondering if I contributed to the ongoing abuse and exploitation of these intelligent mammals.