Elephants are just the best. I realise that's a painfully gap yah thing to say (and I've now got the generic elephant necklace to prove my membership of that club), but if you saw them feeding at Uda Walawe's Transit Home you would firmly agree. They gambol towards the milk station, trumpeting loudly and all different sizes and colours, like a glee club of happy elephantine misfits. They fight each other for a good spot in the queue and try to steal extra milk from the bucket, and when they've had their fill they trundle over to get pudding (leaves, and the attached twigs for the lazier members of the herd). Each time they take a bite I swear they're smiling.
After appropriate cooing, Abbie and I and our new friend Bryony moved on to the safari, boarding a jeep driven by our guide Tharanga. In three hours we saw wild buffalo, kingfishers, peacocks, grey langur monkeys, eagles, a painted heron, more elephants (including a 'tusker', which Tharanga claims are rare), crocodiles, mongooses (mongeese?) and a leopard footprint: quite the collection to add to Abbie's iPhoto safari. Obviously, it was a brilliant few hours that I would recommend most highly – and the rollercoaster ride on the jeep is a crucial part of the experience.
The next day Abbie and I caught the bus to Mirissa, a beach town in the south known for its whale watching and parties. It did not disappoint. We passed four and a half blissful days there, spending more than our daily budget on seafood, smoothie bowls and passion fruit mojitos, and staying in a charming hostel called JJ's, run by an Australian. There's not much to say about Mirissa that doesn't sound like a cheesy travel brochure. All the cliches are there: sunkissed beaches, azure waves, palms swaying in the gentle breeze. The full Monty. They all said it would be hard to leave Mirissa, and they were so right.
I'd recommend the whale watching – we went with Raja and the Whales, who are more expensive than some of the tours offered on the beach, but they're brilliant at spotting the whales, and keep a good distance from them so they don't become distressed. They also take great care of the passengers (especially seasick ones like our Abbie), and keep you plied with fresh fruit, tea and biscuits and even a fried egg and toast breakfast.
We caught another bus to our next stop: Galle, the island's main harbour until the late 19th century and the home of its largest fort, built by the Portuguese and renovated by the Dutch. We spent the rest of the day wandering the fort, which feels like a make-believe village in itself: inside its walls are independent restaurants, ice cream vans and little shops edging the cobblestone streets. There is also a man who loosed his 'house monkey' on me and then tried to charge me 600 rupees; be warned. We checked out the lighthouse and its accompanying beach, but, still sore for Mirissa's paradisiacal sands, were underwhelmed. Galle is a picturesque town though, and well worth the visit if you're a history buff.
Next stop: Dambulla.