RSS

Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Traveling in Sri Lanka

20130315-192647.jpg

Negombo, Sri Lanka

I think that most of the pleasure being in this island stems from its people. The people are so nice here in Sri Lanka.  I wrote this piece several days in my trip but I decided to wait till the end and post it, but nothing changed my opinion in the time I spent here.
Everybody beams a smile at you, first shy but when you salute them the smile is all over their faces.  No matter how much English they know they always ask you where you are coming from and try to engage you somehow.  In spite of the obvious relative poverty people look happy and content in a way that you encounter only in Asia, as I could tell.  Even that tourism came to the island a while ago, before the war with the Tamil Tigers, the people of this island were not perverted by it. I am not talking about politicians, whose cause I will never sustain in any country, but the general individual you encounter on the streets. You have the same level of happiness that is displayed in Burma, the place that I considered till now to have the nicest inhabitants. People need money and always want to do something to be paid by the tourists, and sometimes is a little annoying, but they do it gracefully and with no rancor if the deal did not go through even if they went out of their way to help. How a people so close to India, and probably under its economical influence, can be so different? Is the difference in attitude coming from religion, the gaudy Hindu religion of India vs the tranquil Buddhism of the Island?  I really don’t know but I noticed this tranquility in everybody I met and got help from in this trip and I want to gracefully thank them for this.
Most of the people speak English, an inheritance in learning the language maybe from the colonial times. But like in many other isolated places, the language was preserved with original expressions and you see signs that use words that are long out of use, like “footboard” for the train steps, subway for the underground passage, etc. People address you deferentially keeping a pleasant distance and giving you the space to breathe.
When you travel and never know the exact situation of the ground and especially coming from the world of set prices, you may occasionally get annoyed if you feel that the price was higher than is supposed to. And not a few times, you enter the game and start haggling for something that in the end it can be just few cents. I read once a piece of Sebastian Junger that talks exactly about this, based on his own experience and I knew how real and, in hindsight, how stupid it is. Everybody I met here Sri Lanka let me feel that they try to help, make you feel good and make your stay enjoyable. They do expect to be paid, for sure, but they really try hard and you feel that they care.
This world of Sri Lanka is very relaxed and a minimum income is what they are looking for. One told me that if you make lots of money you will do bad things and ruins friendships and yourself. And how real this thing is. Even in Kandy, that is the second largest city, everybody is so courteous and salutes you and even the rare encounters with aggressive touts is not as bad as in many other places in the world. I had an exchange in Kandy only with one street guy, the type of tout that was trying a regular scheme and when I hushed him away he tried to protest but left.

Transportation is great and readily available. Trains are running often enough and tickets can be either reserved, for a higher fee, or bought from the station right before the ride for very low price. A train ride of about 4 hours can cost around $2. And the train rides are gorgeous in a country that is so green. The country is covered by its lush vegetation in spite of the fact that the development encroached into it and the statistics show that only 29% of the country is covered by jungle.
Buses are also an excellent way to move around. Small AC buses, larger long distance shinny ones, or the local dark red rattlers, all move swiftly and they take you anywhere for a extremely low cost. You just have to show up on a road and a bus will be there, no matter where you go in less than 10 minutes. They may be crowded but in any case not Indian style…
Because of this affluence, efficiency and low cost public transportation, travelers move by either train or bus so you make lots of friends. Everybody salute each other and stop for a little chat. Since I traveled in Burma I did not find a place that is so friendly with locals and foreigners alike. It was hard to spend one evening without having a new friend and chatting with him about lots of issues. Of course the travel was the main topic of conversation and, as is usually the case, you get lots of tips and change on the go your schedule based on the info you were able to dig out. So I want to thank to all the new friends I met here for their tips and graceful chats.

Self driving car rental is available and, as long as you can drive comfortable on the “wrong” side of the road, the roads are good and the traffic is manageable. I did not see the aggressive attitude that you see on the Indian road, where the smaller traffic partners must fled for their life the approaching larger ones, no matter that even in Sri Lanka sometimes the traffic can be crazy. Like Sri Lankans in general, even the drivers’ attitude is permeated by the relaxed atmosphere of the country or maybe is the Buddhism….
As I understood to rent a car is somewhere around $25/day and the cost of the gas is not a lot because over all the country is small.
Most people rent scooters for about 1000Rs/day with helmets but these are mainly to travel inside the cities not on longer hauls.
The car or tuk-tuk with driver is a different story as I described before. An agency in the airport was advertising $50/day but this proved to be bogus when you start adding and the real cost is probably somewhere a little less than $100/day. For a 4 day tour a friend paid $450 with accommodations included but the price go down dramatically for longer time rentals.
For a long day drive around in the Cultural Triangle I rented a van from a local for 8000Rs that came with driver and the guy who made the arrangement that was fluent in English. See the post about Pollonaruwa for details.
And on the geeky side what bad things can you tell about a country where EVERYWHERE you go you get free wi-fi. Every guesthouse or hotel offers free wi-fi and most of the restaurants. The quality is very good that you can make free international calls with no problem, way better than in the USA….The main result is that you see most of the foreigners on their gizmos connected with friends in the entire world.

Overall I consider Sri Lanka one of the best destination from a traveler perspective. Culturally diverse, with great hikes in the mountains and gorgeous beaches, inexpensive, with great accommodations, safe and good food and CLEAN. It is at a par with any place in SE Asia no matter that is South Asia and so close to India….
Ayobowan!

Advertisements
 
Comments Off on Traveling in Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka

 

Negombo, Sri Lanka

20130313-205755.jpg

Negombo, Sri Lanka

Mirissa was so beautiful and I kept pondering when to leave. But mornings are good for decisions and I woke up at 5:00 am, packed and went for the sunrise to the temple on top of the hill. Again, if you are living on the beach why sleep? The sunrise was OK but not so spectacular and I decided for the last bath in Mirissa at 6:30 am. The Ocean was as warm as somebody would have boiled it over night. For now I’d accumulate heat and I will chill in the Atlantic in the Long Island summer. Around 7:15 am I left and I boarded the first bus to Colombo, a small AC bus (370Rs) that brought me in exactly 4 hours in the city. From there I jumped right away in a beaten red rattler that was going to Negombo (23rs) that took more than 90 minutes for less than 30 km. Now I understood why nobody wants to go to Colombo and in all guide books is mentioned the traffic. The traffic jam is for miles and is combined with the fact that the city sprawled and the traffic is the same for miles before the bus stop. Between the two buses, out of the 5 hours it took to get to Negombo, probably 90 minutes were spent crawling in the city.

In Negombo I took the first tuk-tuk that brought me to Ocean View Guest House, on the Shore Road, and found a hotel near by, Angel’s Inn (3000Rs) and start exploring in the midday heat after a short late breakfast. Unfortunately I cannot tell that I am impressed. The city has a long main street where are tons of restaurant, shops, gems places, resorts, etc. very typical for such a town. The main hotels are very large and the crowd that occupied it is for sure not my cup of tea. For the other travelers, Negombo is just the place that is the closest to the airport and you can spend the night at the beach. I went to the main street for several km and I did some final shopping in Sri Lanka and after a bath in the Ocean, peeking at a traditional wedding on the beach, the sunset and another bath in the Ocean close to dark, I went in town for a dinner of prawns and doing the blog in the same time. For sure Negombo lacks the charm of both Tangalle and Mirissa, being meant to compensate with luxury accommodations and spas, people coming here mainly to be pampered. I arranged for tuk-tuk for tomorrow morning, (800Rs, 25 minutes) to go to the airport and I will do the last shopping in Sri Lanka.

20130313-205815.jpg

Sunset in Negombo. Sri Lanka

 

 
Comments Off on Negombo, Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka

 

Mirissa, Sri Lanka

20130312-150237.jpg

Sunrise in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

The yesterday choice with the accommodation was a mistake. I wanted to stay in Sunbeam Hotel and decided for something with more character, a guesthouse Anasinghe. It definitely had character but the room was small and stuffy and it made it very hard to sleep. Besides they turned off the water in the night!!!! I woke up for the sunrise and walk on the island in the middle of Mirissa, the best spot for sunrise or sunset. The fishermen were moving their boats in sunrise hoping for a good catch. A very picturesque fishermen on the shore was trying to get a good spot to fish.

I spent some time and left with a bus to Mirissa’a harbor, about 1 1/2 km away. It is about 15 minutes walk from the bus stop to the harbor.

20130312-150351.jpg

Mirissa’s harbor, Sri Lanka

The harbor (25Rs, yes you have to pay a gate fee) was busy managing the catch of the day, the boats unloading lots of fish on the landing. The fish was hacked by guys with machetes and all the insides were pulled out in a gory scene. Tuna and hammer head sharks and many other fish that I do not know. Besides the fish scenes the harbor is really pretty with old boats painted in various colors and equipped to go out in the ocean for fishing or to bring the tourists for whale and dolphin watching, that is big here in Mirissa.

From Mirissa’s harbor I boarded the first bus and got to Midigama, where I hoped to find the fishermen that fish sitting in a pole secured in the bottom of the ocean.

20130312-153308.jpg

Midigama, Sri Lanka

There are poles like this even in Mirissa but I could not find anybody there. However yesterday When I got in Galle I saw fishermen in Kolchaga or Dalwella. There were no fishermen in Midigama and I had a quick breakfast and moved on but right after, in Ahangama I saw two groups for whom I stopped and took all the necessary pictures. I had to pay both groups somewhere between 50-200Rs because they figured out that they make more money this way than from fishing.The fishing positions are inherited and a pole like this is passed along in the family. Besides the money, one woman who was managing the photo ops asked me for school pens that I gladly gave.

With the fishermen in the bag I got on another bus and went to Unawatuna. that used to be the best known resort on the coast.

20130312-150402.jpg

Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

But the look it has now is completely depressing. The tsunami wiped out 90% of the beach and the 70 meter of beach in the bay was reduced to a sliver of sands right under the houses walls, under which people try to lay their towels or if it permits some lounge chairs. It is obvious that any other storm would wipe all the guesthouses that are now just few feet from the water. Besides you still can see what was left behind by the tsunami almost 10 years after. I did not want to spend too much time, neither on the beach nor on the very commercial street going there and I got a bus getting back in Mirissa around 1:00 pm. I tried to find a room in one of the guesthouses but none were available. If people leave in the afternoon they keep the room till late hours and lock it. In the end, after several failed tries, I gave up and went back to Sunbeam Hotel. The reception guy remembered the yesterday discussion and obliged with the same rate of 2500rs no matter that I was yesterday actually a no show. I went to Anasighe and took my bag and went quickly for a dive in the warm Ocean and some lunch.

20130312-150315

Mirissa beach, Sri Lanka

 

 
Comments Off on Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka

 

Galle, Sri Lanka

20130311-202549.jpg

Galle’s Lighthouse, Sri Lanka

I had a dinner of fish Kothi Roti, a dish where they chop the fish and mix it with some veggies, I guess,, but it makes it very tasty. After I had a long talk with Michael about the end of money and some possible scenarios in the current financial crisis. Not the best topic for Tangalle but for sure very interesting. He was reading again “Black Swan” and he found lots of interesting points Taleb is making there and we talked about it.

In the morning I woke up for sunrise but the clouds were over the horizon and the sun came up from behind them. No fisherman was pulling the nest on the entire beach so I walked a little on sunrise, took some beautiful shots and went for breakfast in the Villa. The coffee these guys make is extremely strong and very good and they make an entire pot for you. Around 9:00 am seeing that Michael did not show up I left him a note and got a tuk-tuk to the bus stop and boarded a bus to Mathara (60Rs). It takes about 1 hour or such to Mathara where you have to change the bus to get to Mirissa (23Rs) for another 30 minutes. I got around 11:30 am to Mirissa, on a busy street and I entered the Beach Spa resort, or something like this, that has nice room but lacking character. So I decided to find something more personal and I found a guesthouse where I left my bag and I started to collect the info: only one bus direct to Negambo, 5 hours, fishermen on stilts, the harbor, etc. With all the info in the bag I left and caught a bus to Galle, (50Rs, 45 minutes) and bumped into the Italians from Bologna with whom I took the tour in Tissa, In Galle I went straight to visit the fort. The entire coast was for long time in the control of the European maritime powers. First the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and finally the Brits controlled the area. However, finally only the Brits were able to unify the country under their rule, all the other limited themselves to more or less the coastal region, the hill area being ruled by the Sinhalese kings from Kandy. In Galle the Dutch scraped everything built by the Portuguese and built a fort with bastions and ramparts to be able to be defended. They did a pretty good job and it withstand the time and recently the tsunami that affected otherwise the city. However, the Dutch fort is way more than just a fortress. The main offices of the city of Galle, pronounced Gool, are there including the the Magistrate and District Courts, that are side by side with the original buildings from the 17th century and many nice hotels and restaurants. Galle is the fourth largest city of Sri Lanka and the inside fort is full of French restaurants, Italian Gelaterias and everywhere is advertised Lavazza Coffee. And when you go up North in the Cultural Triangle you are happy for Rice and Curry….Besides the entire fort is dotted with stores selling souvenirs, in general nothing remarkable just regular cheap and non representative stuff but I found a gallery, Sihuvarli(?) with remarkable paintings on wood that is worth a visit. You can have a very pleasant stroll on the ramparts and surround the fort but I did not have enough time for the entire walk and I preferred to wander the small streets and alleys that may bring always surprises when you turn a corner. The old churches are all there, Reformatted, Dutch reformatted, Anglican and the Catholic Mission where I spoke with one of the nun who wants to bring everybody together and stop the in-fight. Now the war with the Tamil ended but I understood there are some conflicts with the Muslims. At one point I was called from the street by the teachers from Montessori to show me the art work of the children, looking so similar with what is done in the US at Montessori schools, and I donated some money and a set of my kids’ pens that I carry with me to spread around. The city is full of tourists and it looks very different of that I saw till now in Sri Lanka, the patrons being mainly the tour bus people, older Europeans, many Dutch or Brits, coming to see the old colonies. And they impose on the feel the city permeates, the old charm being replaced by a touristy atmosphere. I walked all streets, ate from the Gelateria and went for the bus that would bring me back to Mirissa. I intended to get to see the fishermen on stilts but it was about 6;30 Pm when I got to the bus and probably I would not have been able to see anything.

20130311-202620.jpg

Mirissa beach by night, Sri Lanka

The bus brought me back to Mirissa in about 45 minutes and I went to the hotel and change, make some calls and find a place to eat. I was famished, staying in the heat all day only with some peanuts and ice cream. So now I am having dinner of tuna on the beach in Mirissa surrounded by candle lights….Mirissa feels mirific.

 
Comments Off on Galle, Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka

 

Tangalle, Sri Lanka

20130310-175322.jpg

Fishermen, Tangalle, Sri Lanka

If you stay in Tangalle where else you can stay than on beach location. So I woke up around 5:45 am planning to walk to the fisherman’s boats but the they were right in front of the villa pulling the nets out of the ocean in sunrise. The process is long and arduous. First the boat is driven full throttle to the beach and is pushed by 6-8 people up on the beach. Latter all these people and many others come and  help to bring the nest out of the water the occasional foreigners who are taking pictures being invited also to join the party. The nets are pulled from both sides by 4-5 people on each side. But when it came out is not much inside.
After the show was over I walked to the other two places were the fishermen come, where there were lots of boats and people, a very interesting photographic scene. Boats were coming from the ocean and the process was repeated in pushing the boat on the ground but no more nets were pulled out. Further, at the end of the beach is the harbor where the big boats are anchored and where is also the fish market. The hassle and bustle of the market was typical with lots of fish on the scales, trucks ready to load, all sorts of deals being made. I asked a guy who had lots of tuna and he said that the price is 300Rs per kg and one fish goes for 3-4 kilos. I was dehydrated and I had to drink some water and I walked from there directly to the villa where I had the classical Sri Lankan breakfast, omelet, bread, butter, jam, juice and coffee and I drank almost a bottle of water feeling much better after that. Michael, from Germany, whom I met last night and stays here 3 months was on the dining patio and we had a chat about TV and finance, him being the host of a main financial advising German website and used to work many years as anchor for financial news in Germany and CNBC. When my tuk-tuk arrived I said good bye and leave for a previously discussed tour to rock temple at Mulkirigala, “the Big Buddha” at Wekurukannala Vihara and Ho-o-Maniya Blowhole (2500Rs).

20130310-175337.jpg

Mulkirigala, Sri Lanka

The rock temple at Mulkirigala is named Weherahena temple (200Rs). The huge rock with occasional caves, similar but smaller than the one in Sigiriya, was converted centuries ago in a temple.It has four platforms. On the first three platforms are located the caves that, similar with the ones in Dambulla, are painted inside. What makes this temple very weird is that the painting dates from the 19th century, a time when Sri Lanka was under strong European influence and all the paintings are done in Baroque style. You see Lord Buddha dressed in European attire and the scenes represented are typical for European church painting. And if this was not enough, on one painting, or probably on more paintings, is represented an 18th century baroque Madonna and Christ adoring Lord Buddha. The adoration is represented in each and every scene, a thing that you don’t normally see in Buddhist representations. In each chapel is a large Buddha statue in resting position, not in paranirvana because the eyes are wide open. Interestingly I did not see one reclining Buddha in paranirvanna in Sri Lanka, all are resting positions. However one cave has remarkable paintings of punishments for sinners. In total there are about 5 painted caves.

20130310-175359

Wekurukannala Vihara, Sri Lanka

Wekurukannala Vihara is relatively closer to Tangalle and it hosts the largest Buddha in Sri Lanka, a 50 meter technicolor tiled structure (Rs200). It was built in 1960 and behind it is a 8 story construction painted naively inside with scenes from Buddha’s life. You can walk up and get straight into Buddha’s head and maybe get enlightened. On the grounds is an old temple in not a very good shape that has a chapel dedicated to Hindu deities. But what strikes the most, beside the gigantesque structure, is the newer temple. It was built around 120 years ago and it is super gaudily decorated temple with plaster figures from Hindu and Buddhism, more appropriate with what you expect in a temple in India. Buddha sits in meditation and is guarded by Hindu Gods that had already slayed some gruesome characters. The entire main chapel is surrounded by Buddha statues that have in front a man or an animal that prays to the Lord in a scene of adoration typical of European ecclesiastical art. The main chapel has a large Samadhi Buddha, faced by two huge standing Buddhas and one in resting position. If you look closer you will find also a corner niche where is Madonna and Christ in the manger. That’s the globalization of the religions during the colonial times. I spent maybe a little too much time in awe about the 19th century kitsch and driver who was hungry, these guys MUST eat lunch around 1:00pm, came to pick me up and quickly drove me to the Blow Hole (Rs200), a narrow formation in the shore’s rocks where water from the ocean surf can blow up up to 23 meters water columns in summer, but now it showed some limited action. We drove fast to Tangalle and after a short chat with Michael I went for a swim, a walk on the beach, the blog and finally dinner.

 
Comments Off on Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka

 

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

20130309-155117.jpg

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Wake up time 4:30 am, Departure time 5:00 am. I packed and left the luggage in the office of the Travelers Home, the guesthouse where I stayed in a charming cabana surrounded by palm trees. The jeep was waiting and boarded it together with two Italians from Bologna and drove in the dark about half hour till we got to the Yala park’s entrance. The park fee of about 3500Rs was included in the 5900Rs I paid for the tour, in a jeep with two other people. Probably if you are 6 in the jeep is cheaper. We waited to enter the park about 15 minutes and when we got in flashes of lighting where on the horizon. Luckily the rain went some other way and the weather was perfect till we left the park, around noon, when rain pelted us till we got back in Tissa. The animals were awake waiting for tourists….First we saw an elephant swimming, Pumba wild boars crossing the road, stork and ibises, etc. The drive is intense and the jeeps are chasing locations where they hear from other drivers, or from cell phone calls, that there are animals. But you may just bump into animals by simply cruising, The highlight for the spotters, employees of the park that may come with you in the jeep, is to see a leopard, We did not have a spotter but our driver was a pretty good one anyhow. There are about 250 leopards in the park but they are very elusive and is very hard to spot them. At one time we waited for a while because in a tree we saw monkeys who were having a commotion , an indication that the leopard was close but after a longer wait we gave up. We drove around going to all the lakes from Block 1 and we saw a bear, jackals, water buffalos swimming and sitting in the mud, lots of occasional elephants very close, one of them doing a mud bath, lots of birds of various colors big and small, peacocks, etc. At one moment it happen a commotion because the word was passed that a leopard was spotted in a tree. All the jeeps rushed there driving at full speed on the unpaved and very bumpy road and when we got at the right place we found a jeep line like at the gas stations during Sandy. We waited for a while and we got our position to spot the leopard who was sleeping on a branch in a tree, oblivious of the human commotion he created. If he were able to sell ticket for the show of his existence he would have been a rich leopard. But the interesting part was when we left the spot and we realized that the jeep line was really huge, maybe 30 cars or more being in line to spot the animal. So probably because of the leopard show the park was emptied and we almost bumped  in a elephant family of 5 who were roaming and eating happily on the road with no spectators. So we assisted them for a while till other jeeps joined us for the show and we left toward Tissa on the way out bumping in jackals and large lizards hidden in the trees, spotted deers and bocks and many others. When we got off the park the rain that was threatening us in the morning materialized and we had to close the jeep on the way back not to be drenched. All of us considered the safari being of an excellent quality including Mario, the Italian from Bologna who was also in Kruger National Park in South Africa. We all loved what animals we saw, the diversity and richness, but mainly we loved the park being so green and full of life. The drive itself, bumpy and intense,  is a pleasure and added to the value of the trip. It is definitively a do-not-miss destination in Sri Lanka. In Habarana they told me that there are no elephants in Yala; we saw more than what we needed so don’t believe the touts ever.  We got to Travelers House, paid for the night and got a recommendation for Starfish Beach House in Tangalle the next place where I was going. They have this way of doing business, they recommend each other, guesthouses of the same level of comfort, and they even call to let them know that you come. But meanwhile I had to go in Tissa, or Tissamaharama as is officially called, to change some money. The banks were closed on Saturday but obviously I easily found somebody to change in a store and I was able also to get, as I was advised from Ella, a battery to bring to life my watch that decided to stop at one moment. I returned to the hotel and said goodbye to my nice host praising the Yala trip, send some emails from the always-anywhere free wi-fi, a far cry from the “first world countries” where you have to pay for wi-fi through your nose and got soon in a bus to Tangalle (1 1/2 hours, 120Rs) on the Southern cost of the island. The driver was driving like a maniac, like all do, but the traffic is more manageable than in India and we got in close to 2 hours in Tangalle. …Tuk-tuk (150Rs) to the Star Fish beach Hotel who knew that I come but they did not have rooms and they pointed me to the neighbor, a German, Walter who came here 30 years ago and never left again. He had a bungalow available around 5:00 pm in Villa Abaliya (2500Rs) so I left my luggage and asked them for a coffee that it work as my day brunch at 3:30 pm waiting for evening for the only meal of the day. Again! It is no time when you travel and food is optional…I left for a walk and it looked like everybody in the village wanted to have a chat because I was approached by many, one telling me about his pleasure to have foreigners come, another showing me his decoration from military and his wounds fighting the Tamil Tigers and offering me a very good fruit, medicine fruit, that he prepared with palm honey and it was delicious. I found out where the fishermen are coming at sunrise and and somebody said that they will meet me tomorrow morning there. Quite a hectic life here in Tangalle! I took a late evening bath in the warm Indian ocean replacing the shower that I could not have after Yala. When I told Walter that people are so nice, he told me that some just act nice… I am sure he knows better but still I did not have bad interactions this trip. Finally I returned to Star Fish and had the promised fish BBQ they were talking about all day and a well deserved beer on the beach writing my blog.

20130309-222853.jpg

Tangalle, Sri Lanka

 
Comments Off on Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 9, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka

 

Ella, Sri Lanka

20130308-202056.jpg

Rawana Ella, Sri Lanka

I was waking up around 5 am when I start hearing the rain coming down on the roof. The weather is unstable in March, ready in a way for the hot season and the monsoon. And in the hill country, where the tea plantation are located, is raining even in the dry season. I did all my transfers but I noticed that the Internet did not work. At 8:30 the host placed the breakfast on the table and told me that a tuk-tuk driver will come to pick me up at 9:00 am for a trip to the tea factory. I had my breakfast of papaya, bananas and pine apple but meanwhile I started to work on the blogs and post them and everything got delayed till about 9:30 am when I left to visit the tea factory that is located at about 8 km. The tour was excellent, about one hour of explanation and technology of this old trade. The machinery that separated the good leaves from the bad ones is the same technology used 160 years ago, obviously improved with current control systems. The process is relative clear, the tea being laid on some plates and dried, further separated about 4 times, the tender tea leaves from the one that are coarse, dried in hot air, sieved based on size and filtered electronically again with new type of machines creating about 4 types of different first quality tea. The bad tea that was separated in the first step will be used as second quality tea. He explained extensively in engineering terms the difference between the green and the black tea and in the end we all tasted four teas, that differed in lightness, flavor and color. The best quality tea is made only in the dry season months. This was considered first quality, but not a special “vintage” because the weather was damp. Also, the bigger the tea is, the lighter it will be.
At the end I bought a small pack to bring it home and I left back to the guesthouse. We looked on the way to find the women who were picking leaves but they either left or we found some that were packing to go home because of the rain. At the guesthouse the friendly Swiss with whom I had a beer yesterday were on the patio admiring the rain. We chat a little bit about the tea factory and they made up their mind to go in a visit, no matter that they have been before in Nuwera but it turned out to be just a 10 minutes fast tour with almost no information. But meanwhile we decided to go together by bus to the waterfall, 6km away from Ella. And it was worth it! We got some rain coats from the guesthouse and left to the bus station. The bus (25Rs) is running almost every 10 minutes and dropped us in front of a majestic waterfall. Rawana Ella is impressive coming down from the top of the mountain and continuing under the road in a wild river. We hanged out there for a while playing with the monkeys who were coming to us signing like humans from their hand to give them some food and eventually took the bus back. In Ella we wished each other to have a good trip and they went to the tea factory and I went home to pick up my luggage. The owner gave me a free ride to the bus stop where his sister, who found me yesterday, was waiting for me and called the contact in Tissa telling him that I will board the 2:40 pm bus, (2 1/2 hours, 112Rs). In the bus stop I was joined by a French living in Moscow and his Russian girlfriend and we started to chat when some school kids who were around came to us and asked if we have to give them some school pens. Last time when I was in India many kids asked me for pens and I did not have any and this time I decided to bring some. I gathered an immensity of pens and pencils that were all over the house from my kids and I put them in a plastic bag that may weigh about 2 pounds. So I started to pull out pens and give it to them. They were thrilled and started to come in droves till, after I thought that everybody got at least one, I closed my bag. Meanwhile the bus showed up and we boarded and during the ride I had a mesmerizing discussion about Russia with the Frenchman, one of the most interesting and fulfilling conversation that I had till now in this trip. The bus was going to Matara. I got off at the Tissa junction and I was taken over by some touts who wanted to hijack me to their businesses with the classical touting rap that I know so well. But finally my contact came and brought me to his hotel, Travelers Home, a set of beautiful chalets surrounded by palm trees and I got a beautiful room with a terrace from where you can watch the time go by. After some phone calls home, in which I found out that it is a snow storm in New York and there are already 5 inches of snow and the schools were delayed, I went to eat in town, at Roots, a one street affair with gas stations and some banks. Meanwhile I spoke with the owner for the tomorrow safari and I already paid about 5900Rs, a not so bad price for a 6 hours tour of the park, considering that about 3500Rs is just the park fee. I have to go to sleep to make sure that I wake up at 5:00 am before all the animals….

 
Comments Off on Ella, Sri Lanka

Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Blog, Sri Lanka