Are you wild enough for Lucia Griggi’s Wild Trails Photo Expeditions? Are you wild enough for Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park? As a traveling photographer since 2000, Lucia Griggi’s decade of travel has taken her from her native Cornwall, England to the Maldives, Hawaii, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, France, Spain, Portugal, Canary Islands, South Africa and back to Cornwall. In all of her travels, Lucia has fallen in love with the wildness of Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park: “It’s both scary and exciting to lie in a big, comfortable bed, in a spacious tent,” Lucia said. “with only thin walls separating you from the jungle outside: Chirps, squawks, growls, roars, the Tarzan calls of peacocks, screech of monkeys, trumpeting of elephants and the most heart-stopping noise of all, the sawing of a Sri Lankan leopard. The leopard’s night call sounds like someone sawing wood.”
By night, humans are safest under cover and not moving around in the bush, but by day, Yala is like a Jurassic Park for photographers wanting to capture leopards, elephants and any number of Sri Lanka’s 5,916 flowering plants, 140 mammals, 458 birds, 267 reptiles, 178 amphibians and 191 freshwater fish – in their natural habitat.
Yala is 387 square miles of protection for herds of elephant, deer, peacocks and the elusive Sri Lankan leopard. Naturally wary, the pressures of human population and deforestation have condensed the leopard population into this small, thick area of tropical rainforest in the southeast corner of the island, between the jungle and the deep blue sea.
Lucia Griggi discovered Yala National Park and the Wild Trails Resort when she photographed leopards in the wild, for a story that was published in National Geographic Traveler. She fell in love with Yala – especially the thrill of hunting leopard with high-powered cameras– and Lucia is now holding wilderness jungle workshops on the creative and technical facets of wildlife photography: “What I remember most from Yala are the night sounds, to lie in bed half-paralyzed with fear and excitement as the jungle party goes off, just outside the tent,” Lucia said. “By day, the trekkers in the park are very experienced and it’s fascinating to see them use their instincts to find a very elusive animal. It’s a lot of fun to go clattering around in jungle jeeps, trying to stay in your seat with one hand whilst holding onto your camera with the other. It’s an adrenaline rush, and the payoff is when you come across Sri Lankan leopards in the light of day: They’re beautiful – strong, lean, dangerous. They’re graceful. They’re sexy, if I can say that. There is a temptation to jump out and try to scratch behind their ears, but I resist that and am satisfied to capture them with my camera.”
Wild Trails guests are accommodated in safari tents – as romantic as Out of Africa or The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber or any jungle story you’ve seen or read - each with three comfortable beds, separated from the jungle by nets and thin walls. Those man-made canopies are themselves covered by the jungle canopy, which combine with sea breezes to provide natural cooling.
The camp is spartan but comfortable. Meals are fresh and healthy, using the best of Sri Lanka’s fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, and sometimes served on tables set in the nearby creek – so you can cool your feet whilst you energize your body: “The best times to see the leopards are early morning and in the evening, when they come out to drink at water holes,” Lucia said. “Leopards are cats after all, so they spend a large part of the day sleeping, hiding from the heat in the shadows. Shooting wildlife takes skill. You have to understand the animals and how they move. They move fast, so you have to be on your game technically and creatively. Because that perfect shot could be gone in a feral wink of the eye.”