Posts Tagged With: World’s End

Sri Lanka: The Long Walk

Sea

I’m not jealous of the pond
that’s sleeping so quietly
in the middle of the forest.
I’m the sea,
I’m not afraid of the storm.
The sea’s dream is always
turbulence.
If I don’t have waves and storms,
I won’t be the sea anymore.
I’ll be the pond—
and stinking.
– Shafee’e Kadkani (Translated by Ali Maza-heri)

Having encountered this poem today in a compilation of Arabic poetry, it seemed natural to include in my post on a particular adventure Sean and I had in Sri Lanka.

I hope you don’t mind the extent to which I am posting on Sri Lanka, but it such a place of beauty and wonder that I cannot help but dwell on and extend the delight of the senses as we bring our final month in Kuwait to a close. Don’t get me wrong, I am stocking up on some great local photographs for a few concluding Kuwait blog posts, but I just can’t move on from Sri Lanka quite yet!

After leaving Ella, the place where dreams go to live forever, we moved on to Horton’s Plains National Park. Horton’s Plains is known for having a steep escarpment that drops thousands of feet onto a valley floor below. A straight drop—no guard rails, no slope, no nothing. Just a few weeks before we visited Sri Lanka, a German tourist actually tripped on the viewing platform and tumbled off the Plains into the valley below. (If he was lucky, he went to Ella in the afterlife…) Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to visit a National Park in Sri Lanka, so I booked a hotel titled “World’s End Lodge”.  Remember the valley floor where the tourist tumbled hundreds of feet down? That’s where the lodge was. As I said in my last post…

“…any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel…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.”

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I narrate that hike.

We set out early in the morning, on a small path that was not well-trodden. Brushing spiderwebs out of our faces and dew drops off our cheeks, we began to climb upward through the rainforest. The path was not part of any national park, and the man at the hotel said, “It’s very long…” We soldiered on. In the above picture, you can see our hotel as we began to climb the mountain.

Already you can see a fantastic view that we were treated to only twenty minutes into our hike. Here is where the storm began brewing…

While Sean stood near a puddle to take a picture of me, all of a sudden he broke into a writhing spasm, screaming and jerking his arms and legs. I had no idea what to do, and upon looking down at his foot, I realized he was trying to peel off his sock while he shoe was still on. As he pulled the sock away from his skin, I saw a long, wiggling leech stuck onto his skin! When he managed to pull the leech off his skin, he began to bleed. Growing up in Wisconsin, we were used to leeches that thrive in lakes and ponds, not crawling along the ground in wet areas and jump onto any passer by. When the leech was thrown on the ground, it rose up on it’s hind legs and began moving TOWARDS Sean again!

After the leech fiasco, we managed to take a few lovely photographs. As you can see, Horton’s Plains rises in the background behind us. Where we are standing was a “viewpoint” the man at the hotel recommended us to trek to. Here, he said the path ended, and we would begin, in his words, “hiking up mountainside”.

He was not kidding about the “up mountainside” part. When we began to climb, we managed to eke out a lightly trodden path, simply of tamped down leaves through the rainforest. As we climbed, we heard a coughing ahead of us. We eventually gained on a man hiking along the same trail we were traveling on. He was a Sri Lankan man in his… I would estimate… sixties? He was older, and he was all skin and bones. And he was barefoot. And he was carrying a thirty pound bag on his head. He managed to hike at the same pace as us all the way up the mountain, and you can see him in the background of the above photo. We all took a break together, shared crackers and bananas with one another, and appreciated each others’ company. Through the language barrier, we managed to enjoy a fleeting moment of community and understanding. A moment that no National Park could charge admission for.

Another view as we climbed up the mountain. Horton’s Plains was growing closer…

At last, we came to a plateau, with an isolated tea plantation nestled between the hills. Where else to go but into the village?

As we approached the village, children came out to visit us, shouting, “Hi!”, “Hello!” and asking for school pens.

As we walked along the road, we saw beautiful terraced farming.

The path began to wind down to the valley floor again. We were as high as we were going to get on our hike. Our next stop? Bambarakanda falls, the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka! When the guy at our hotel told us we could make a loop, he said we could find a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) at Bambarakanda falls. He said it was a long hike, but as long as we continued to say “Bambarakanda?”, we would be pointed in the right direction by any local. Try saying it, I dare you! It rolls off the tongue rather nicely, “Bam-ba-ra-kanda” (For you linguists out there, all of the “a”s are long, and roll the ‘r’.)

By noon, we had been hiking for four and a half hours. We set out at 7:30am to avoid the afternoon showers. We reached a conundrum when the road we were following ended in a cow pasture. After asking a few local picking tea, “Bambarakanda?”, we were pointed down a slope, through another forest, and through another tea plantation. If you’ve ever seen or read Lord Of The Rings, we were living it. It as at this point that I truly became afraid. We had no idea where Bambarakanda was, and even if we got lost, how would we get out? Sure, we could ask someone with a car to drive us to the nearest town, but these villages (like in the above photo) had only one community car, which was used as a storage shed rather than a mode of transportation. I swore we were doomed.

As doomed as we may have been, finding a tree growing out of a rock made up for my despair. In hindsight, I wish we had spent an hour or two relaxing under the tree and soaking up it’s beauty. Instead, I was fearing that our five hours of walking, thunder clouds rolling in, and complete lack of any trail would turn our paradise vacation into a battle between us and the elements for survival.

But I digress. Honestly, I am sure that if we were in any trouble at all, any one of the local villages would help us immediately. The people we met on our journey were the nicest, friendliest people you could imagine. We were never in any danger. The only danger we truly had were leeches and the likelihood of some nasty post-hike blisters.

After forty switchbacks, we popped out in front of Bambarakanda! Sure enough, there it was, Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall.

As you can see in the above two pictures, the clouds rolled in just as we neared the end of our hike. We didn’t dare venture to the base of the falls—we made it indoors just as we were hit by a torrential rain.

What I find the most awesome about our hike was that we were two or three thousand feet higher in elevation a few hours ago, where the source of the falls began. We saw the mountainside villages, the children playing in the fields, and the valley floor below. Once we left the highlands, all those huts and smiles back up there seemed like a daydream.

If our day couldn’t possibly get any better, I was determined to continue walking until we found a place to sit, eat, and gather our wits about us before finding a tuk tuk. Sure enough, after another forty-five minutes of trekking, we find, “Bambarakanda Lover’s Cafe”. It was the upstairs of someone’s home, which looked to me like a den that highschoolers would put together back in America for weekend poetry readings.

We ordered a big bowl of fried rice, the only thing on the lack-of-a-menu, and rested our aching limbs which it rained cats and dogs outside. We saw the mother of the man who took our order enter her kitchen to prepare our meal, and we were truly amazed by our adventure. You could not put an entry fee on the experience we had. You could not capture it in a single photograph or postcard. It was real, true Sri Lanka. I don’t know if I would do it all over again if I had the chance (we figured it out and we ended up walking twelve miles), but I do know that for the rest of my life I will look back on these photos with a smile.

…I hope I can say the same for Sean 🙂

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Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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…

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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