Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sri Lanka: The Birthplace of Lipton Tea! In which Sean and Kim explore tea plantations, meet a buddhist monk, touch a carnivorous plant, and practice Zumba moves on the side of a mountain.

I truly hope you are not yet bored with my photo montage of Sri Lanka, for there are still more stories to still and highlights to be had. Today I would like to speak to the highlight of the hill country in Sri Lanka, the tea plantations. After our two idyllic days in Ella (which still remain the favorite part of our trip), it was time to travel to Hatton, home of Horton’s Plains National Park and World’s End viewpoint.

We had originally planned to take the train to Hatton, but were having second thoughts around the breakfast table. I knew that our hotel in Hatton was very remote, so we thought we should do some exploring around the area before checking into our hotel. We spoke with Martin and Karen at our Ella homestay, and they recommended we have a guy drive us around in his tuk tuk for the afternoon. They had a friend named Lanka (yes, that is his name) who commonly takes tourists around for a fee. I spoke with Lanka and negotiated a cost of 4,000 rupees for an afternoon tour across the country. 4,000 rupees = $32. A four hour private tour for $32? Yes, please!

We had originally planned on traveling with Lanka for six or seven hours to visit various waterfalls, but realized our plans were too ambitious. It generally clouds up around 3 or so, which meant that less is more. Instead he recommended “Lipton’s Seat” and the tea plantations, along with a tea factory tour. We were happy to oblige.

Lipton’s Seat, to quote Lonely Planet, is where “The Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning empire.” Yes, that is correct; the tea being grown in Sri Lanka is grown for all the Lipton iced teas you are drinking back home. It was a wild realization that I came to—that all of the rolling hills of tea plantations I was seeing is the tea that is fueling our consumerist, caffeine-driven society. Every time I walked into a restaurant and ordered an iced tea, every time I pulled a “Brisk” off the shelf in a gas station, every time I served tea to customers at Fairtrade Coffeehouse on State Street, someone had to HAND PICK that tea for my personal satisfaction. All that talk about ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t remove the fact that there are still human beings on the other side of the world working ten hour shifts filling burlap sacks with tea leaves so that we can have another tasty beverage. It made me feel somewhat selfish…

…But I digress. Onto the photographs!

Our last morning at the bed and breakfast in Ella. Sean is sitting at the outdoor dining table. It is built with a deliberate overhang off the side of the slope, so that you really feel you are suspended in the trees with the monkeys… *sigh*

Before we left to Sri Lanka, Sean and I were nervous about having indigestion due to the change in diet and the cleanliness of the water. A good friend of mine here in Kuwait told me to eat “the local yogurt”. She claimed that while she was in Sri Lanka she had “buffalo curd”, made from the local water buffalo, in which the natural bacteria that is present in Sri Lankan food helped her remain healthy from any illness. Sean responded with, “There is no way on earth I am eating ‘buffalo curd’, Sharon…” Little did he know that buffalo curd is the MOST DELICIOUS thing on the face of the earth! In the photo above, the earthenware pot is filled with fresh buffalo curd. It tasted like a very thick, creamy yogurt. You top it with the syrup made from the local palm trees and a few slices of banana, and you are in heaven. Needless to say, we were free from any bathroom-related illnesses the entire trip!

Before we left Ella, we had one more hike on our itinerary. Named “Little Adam’s Peak”, you reach the summit by walking through private tea plantations. Along the way, we met a guy who was selling handmade jewelry that his parents create. After close inspection, he informed me that the “beads” were actually seeds from the trees that had been sun dried. A friend of mine also told me that the red beads were also what the Sri Lankans used to use for currency. I made a few purchases before continuing on our trek…

You can see the summit of Little Adam’s Peak in the background…

Sean at the top of Little Adam’s Peak.

On our way down, we saw a bearded dragon!

Once we returned back to our homestay, Lanka picked us up and we began our travel through the tea plantations. You can see Lanka’s tuk tuk in the background of the above photo. The first thing he did was to stop on the side of the road to show us this flower. He explained that this flower is carnivorous, and anybody who has taken Botany 100 could see why. (If you were paying attention in class…) The bug is attracted to the sugary liquid in the bowl of the plant, so they make their way into the opening, which is coated with hairs that point in one direction. Once inside, the bug cannot escape due to the hair that has trapped him in! Yum…

Lanka took us on  a *very* scenic route through the hill country…

A family swimming, bathing, and washing their tuk tuk. There is something unspeakably beautiful about seeing human beings living so closely in communion with nature…

On our trip Lanka stopped near a Buddhist monastery. We saw this little boy outside in his saffron robes. We did not see many Buddhist monks while on our trip, so he was very interesting to us!

The stupa at the monastery. A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics and is used as a place of worship.

Then, Lanka’s tuk tuk began to climb. And I mean switchbacks up, up, and UP. We were climbing us the side of a tea plantation on the side of the mountain. The above photo is on a large Ceylon tea plantation.

Sri Lanka is the third largest producer of tea in the world! They export Ceylon tea (black, green, and white), which you can order in any coffee shop around the world. Try it next time you are at your local cafe. Thomas Lipton, founder of Lipton teas, helped Sri Lankan tea grow to it’s international success in the late 1890’s. Sri Lanka actually used to be named “Ceylon” until 1972, which is why Ceylon tea is called what it is today. Any Ceylon tea you order has come from Sri Lanka.

A very Dr. Seuss-like landscape… The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall make this region ideal for growing tea.

The bags and bags of tea leaves after an afternoon’s picking…

The Dambatenne Tea Factory gives tours for only a few rupees. Lanka was nice enough to wait for us while we took a tour of the factory!

We had a personal tour of the factory (not many tourists make it into these high-altitude regions where tea plantations are abundant and locals make their living). In the above picture you can see the rows and rows of leaves that are being dried by an air-circulation system.

In the above picture you can see that after the tea has been ground and roasted, it is being sorted by quality in these sorting machines. The machines act as a sifter, where the finest, highest quality teas are pulled by magnets into one part, and the lower quality tea falls through.

After the tea factory, we would up in the town of Haputale, where Lanka bid us a fond farewell. As it was 3pm, we contacted our hotel, and they sent a man in a tuk tuk to pick us up. We were very disappointed upon arriving at the hotel property as it was all covered in clouds. This hotel was in the middle of NOWHERE. The tuk tuk ride took forty five minutes, half of which was on dirt roads through a rainforest. I was very nervous, apprehensive, and upset. I had originally thought, due to the information on their website, that the hotel was on the border of the national park. Well, they might have been, but they were on the BOTTOM of the valley, not on the plateau on the TOP of the valley, where the national park was actually located. I shed a few tears on the tuk tuk ride that kept winding down, down, down into the heart of the valley when I realized that we were likely not going to make it to the national park during our stay…

Determined to enjoy myself, however, I pranced through the fog amusing Sean and taking my mind off the cloudy weather.

Little did I know that once the clouds cleared in the morning, we would be perched on the edge of the most beautiful cliff on the entire island…

This is the same view above, where I am surrounded by clouds. In the morning, my spirits lifted at the prospect of getting to explore such a beautiful landscape. While we may not be able to visit the national park, we still were going to be able to climb a few mountains, play in the rainforests, and enjoy the beauty around us.

The pool at our hotel. I know, what was I complaining about?

The next post will be quite the narrative treat. As I said above, any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel (whose English was VERY limited), and got a vague idea of a tentative hike for the next day. Little did we know we would gain—and lose—3,000 feet in elevation, walk through a village that has probably never seen white people before in their lives, completely lose the trail, get bitten by leeches, and have the time of our lives.

Looking forward to sharing the experience with you…

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Sri Lanka: Ella, Part 1

To resume my photo exhibition of all that is beautiful in Sri Lanka, I bring you to my favorite place on the entire island, Ella. Ella is a small town in the hill country, known for it’s idyllic waterfalls, cascading cliffs, peaceful lifestyle, wildlife, and flowers. I had died and gone to heaven.

First, Sean put together an amazing video that he took on his pocket camera. He’s got a small camera that is about the size of a credit card. The quality isn’t the most amazing, but he is able to take video everywhere we go. I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do : )

To continue, let us begin the documentary on my dream village, Ella…

As the train rolls into Ella the tea plantations become more sparse as the jungle becomes wilder and the hills grow hillier.

The Buddha temple in front of the train station. I love how colorful this religion is!

After riding the rails all afternoon, Sean and I went on a hike to stretch our legs. Unfortunately, everywhere in the hill country clouds up around 3pm. Even though our views were cut short, we had fun playing in the fog!

Take note of this photograph for the moment. In the pictures below, we returned to this waterfall the next day. Instead of a wall of swirling mist, you will be pleasantly surprised!

The bed and breakfast we stayed at in Ella was called “Waterfalls Homestay”. It was run by an Australian couple that got tired of their 9-5’s back in Australia, so they moved to Sri Lanka and opened up the most dreamy B&B on the face of the earth.

We spent quite a bit of time with the other people at the B&B, along with the owners Marty and Karen. They had the most beautiful property and open-air patio imaginable. They cooked dinner and breakfast for you, run by their personal Sri Lankan chef Kalam.

Their place only has three rooms, as it is more of a homestay than a B&B. Sean is standing at the door of our room. I wish I had gotten a photo of the inside; it was just as beautiful as the exterior!

In the morning, we awoke to breakfast on the patio across from the waterfall. Monkeys were doing backflips through the trees as I sipped coffee out of a french press. (Did I mention it was $50 a night?)

The first morning of our stay, we had “hoppers” for breakfast. Hoppers are a Sri Lankan favorite, which I had for breakfast and lunch a few times, but not enough! I really loved them; you have a special skillet for them, which is a metal bowl that is held over the stove by a handle. Inside the bowl you pour a coconut-crepe-thing, swirling it around to create your outside. then you lightly fry an egg in the center. Heavenly!

We set back on the hiking trail in the morning, following the railroad tracks we took into Ella the day before.

Due to the hills and heavy rains, there is a lot of terrace farming in Sri Lanka.

Our first hike was to the top of Ella Rock, which you can see as the highest peak in this picture. It was the same hike we naively set out on in the fog the day before. We are so glad we attempted a round two!

At the top of Ella Rock. (Dad, aren’t you proud of my sun protection? 😉 )

At the top of Ella Rock, where we ran into two Canadian female teachers from the American International School in Guangzhou, China. We met up with them later in the village for a few drinks and quality educator conversation!

Can you spy where I am?

Here is the same photo as the above picture that was clouded out by mist. What a difference a clear day makes!

Swimming in the waterfall was a real treat after we hiked all the way up to the top of Ella Rock.

Monkeys were spying on us!

We found two snakes mating on our hike! It was the wildest thing; they would rapidly intertwine with one another in a frantic dance.

They were incredibly large snakes – we made sure to keep our distance!

After making it to the top of Ella Rock, we treated ourselves to a piña colada and cribbage over lunch. (Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I won the game…)

I would like to close this post with one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka: the curry! If you order “curry”, what you get is a large plate of rice with all of the above side bowls. Starting at the very top we have a coconut sambol (the orange mix). In the lower right-hand corner is a dal (lentil) stew. The rest, I honestly have no idea. All I know is that they are the most delectable curried vegetables I have ever tasted.

Next time I will finish our trip in Ella, our tuk tuk adventure, and our mysterious journey to the ends of the earth! (Or should I say… “World’s End”…)

I hope the sun shines in your corner of the world this afternoon. Love and miss you all!

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Sri Lanka: The Train & Nuwara Eliya

Greetings, Friends and Family! I am writing from the comfort of my couch here in Kuwait, with sunburned shoulders, sore feet, and 800 more pictures on my computer than when I left. As much as it is good to be back in my own home, I have to tell you, I would leave it all for a minute to move to Sri Lanka. It was truly my version of paradise.

Imagine… rolling hills, mountains, rainforests, beaches, monkeys, birds, lizards, music, dancing, (beer), smiling faces, women in skirts and men in tank tops, coconuts, trails to the peaks of mountains, waterfall swimming holes, and color, COLOR, COLOR! So much color, everywhere you look. That is the thing I miss most, living here in Kuwait, is the color. Sure, there are green palm trees planted along the blue Arabian Gulf, but that’s not the same as unrestrained, natural, vibrant color as far as the eye can see. Even the clothing and self-adornment in Sri Lanka is beautifully colorful. And this is just one reason why I took 800 pictures in one week…

Sean had an excellent time as well. We were both a little apprehensive, never having traveled this far East before, let alone to a country that is so geographically diverse. We hoped we would be able to navigate the trains, understand the direction we wanted to go, and communicate well enough to get there. Let alone Sean’s phobia of spicy food… Regardless to say, everything worked out absolutely perfectly.

The only thing I would change would be to return to Sri Lanka with more TIME. Eight days is not enough time to see such a diverse island. There is no way we could see all of the temples, beaches, and mountains the island has to offer in only eight days. Therefore we chose only one small portion of area to visit, “The Hill Country”. It takes hours upon hours to travel around Sri Lanka (imagine 3 hours to go 50 miles), so we used the train line to get around within a small area, so that we would maximize our time and get a true picture of what the hill country is truly like. I had heard too many horror stories of people trying to book a “whole island tour” in one week, and being driven to death, spending six hours in a car each day. Dear Reader, if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, remember that less is more! We chose less of the country to see, and enjoyed ourselves so much more because of it.

Alas, I talk to much. With so much mention of all the photos I have, it would only be rude not to share.

In Colombo, on our first day, boarding the train. We landed at 5am and took the 10am train into the hill country. While waiting for the train, we explored Colombo a bit, and quickly decided we wanted OUT of the hectic city life! The train ticket (a 5 hour train ride) cost only $8 per person to ride in first class! We only brought backpacking packs along, which made it incredibly easy to travel wherever (and however) we liked.

The view from the train before it left the station.

As we left Colombo, it was relatively flat land for the first hour and a half. I spent a lot of time snapping pictures of the greenery.

There is a whole system that revolves around the train; while most people use the train for transportation, others use the train tracks as a quick way to walk from here to there. I endlessly saw people carrying baskets of banana leaves on their heads, men walking with their tools for the day, and schoolchildren walking along the tracks on the way home from school. People sell their wares on the side of the tracks when the train stops, and others may their wages by maintaining the tracks. It is an amazing culture to witness! We even followed the train tracks for one of the hikes that we took 🙂

A Buddhist temple from the view of the train. Buddhism is the main religion on the island, with Hinduism, Muslim, and Christianity following.

We had been awake for 36 hours at this point. The advantage of buying a first class ticket? Reclining seats!

Train station. The car closest to us on the other train is the first class “observation cabin”. You can tell by the large windows on the end of the car. First class simply means that you are guaranteed a seat, and that there is about half as many people in that cabin as there would be in a second-class car, and even fewer than the crowded, standing-room-only third-class car.

As we traveled farther inland we approached the hill country. Sri Lanka is second only to India in Ceylon (black) tea production. When you are sipping down that iced tea at your local Starbucks, or buying Lipton black tea at the grocery store, you may very well be drinking Sri Lankan tea! Lipton is the largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea. In the above photo you are able to see a tea plantation. The climate and the rolling hills make for a perfect environment for growing tea.

Tea plantations arose in Sri Lanka under British rule (yes, they drive on the left side of the road here, just like England). Tea became popular once the coffee plantations failed due to a bad growing season. Once the tea plantations began they have proven a great success to this day.

This man on the left side of the photo was my favorite thing about riding the trains; delicious Sri Lankan snacks sold for pennies! Whenever the train would stop, he would hop off and walk along the windows selling fried lentil patties and donut-like fritters. They were delicious! On the ride side of the photo you can see Sri Lankans in their everyday clothes; the man in a polo shirt and the woman in a colorful, flowing dress.  (Kinda like what I like to wear! I’m telling you, it’s my dream home.)

Bougainvillaea tree in the foreground, tea plantation in the background. The small houses in the right-hand corner are only a sneak peak at the poverty we saw around the tea plantations.

Many of you may recall that Sri Lanka had a long period of instability, and the group that made headlines was known as the “Tamil Tigers”. Long story short, there is no more instability or unrest in Sri Lanka. There are two main ethnic groups: the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Tamils were originally brought to Sri Lanka from Southern India for work. The fighting arose between the two groups when the Sinhalese government wanted to make Sinhalese the official language, angering the Tamils. The Tamil people wanted representation in the government as well as an official language that wouldn’t set one group above the other, and thus the fighting began. The conflict ended in 2009 in favor of the Sinhalese.

The reason I am sharing this information is because many of the workers on the tea plantations are Tamil. I will notify you when I believe a photograph has a group of Tamil people versus Sinhalese. To me, it was difficult to tell the differences, but it is very insulting to them if you were to confuse one with the other.

On a brighter note, outside of our first lodging for the night, Sean ran across two boys playing. They came up to us FIRST, asking how we were and where we were from. Everyone in the entire country was so incredibly friendly!

The first place we stayed was called “Mount View Cottage” and was in Nuwara Eliya. We got off at the Nanu Oya train station and got a ride to the town of Nuwara Eliya, only 15 minutes away. The hotel was complete heaven! Hotel is actually inaccurate; it was more of a homestay. You are staying in one of three rooms in a Sri Lankan couples’ home. The food was excellent; the above picture is me in the dining room. The balcony overlooks their garden where they gather all of their vegetables for the meals! We would return in a heartbeat.

As we left MountView Cottage, we had to take one last photograph of the place. If you look hard enough, you can see our host waving goodbye 🙂

Ah, the most interesting mode of transportation, the “tuk tuk”. A tuk tuk is a three-wheeled vehicle that is very popular in Sri Lanka. They are cheaper than taxis, and definitely less safe, but all the more fun and entertaining! There is only room for the driver in the front, and two people in the back. (However I had seen at least seven people crammed into one tuk tuk at least a few times during our trip!) We normally hired a tuk tuk when we wanted to travel a short distance – they are very cheap and actually quite a bit of fun! I like to think of it as a cross between a lawnmower and a go-kart…

As we were leaving MountView Cottage, we came across a school for children with special needs. They were holding band practice, marching down the street! I loved how every student had a role to play in the marching band, and that the community was taking pride in their children of ALL abilities, showcasing their talents with pride. (I told you, it’s my dream home!)

In the park, this sign speaks for itself. (Note the three languages on the sign: Sinhalese, Tamil, and English.)

We explored a beautiful botanical garden in Nuwara Eliya. Sean, of course, bee-lined it for the monkey bars 🙂

A woman who was maintaining the park offered to pose under the bougainvilleas. I love how her dress matches the flowers! (I told you, my dream home!)

In order to get back to the train station, we took a bus from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya. It cost something like fifty cents! I loved how the buss driver decorated his bus. (Also note: The steering wheel is on the right side!)

From Nuwara Eliya, we got on the train to travel to Ella. For this leg of the journey, however, we didn’t get seats in first class. (Note the “2” on the side of the train, which indicates second class.) Instead of sit inside the stuffy cabin with our backpacks on our knees, we chose seats with a more scenic view…

We loved hanging out the side of the train watching the mountains and rainforests roll by. That was probably my favorite leg of our entire journey through all of Sri Lanka! (Don’t worry, I held on tightly whenever we rounded a bend 😉 )

I can’t wait to share more photos with you, but enough is enough for tonight. Stay tuned for our second adventure in Sri Lanka: Ella, Little Adam’s Peak, Waterfalls, Monkeys, and Buffalo Curd! (Yum!)

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