Day 8, 17 July 2012 – Sri Lanka – tuktuk tour

Today we have arranged for a tuktuk to collect us at 09:00 to take us on a tour of the local places of interest. Our driver is a charming man called Chamdi.

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Our first stop is a twenty minute drive outside Galle at a silk factory, where we see silk worms feeding on mulberry leaves. They feed for 19 days before making their cocoon. Each cocoon has a single thread of silk more than one kilometre in length. We saw an old fashioned spinning wheel twisting the threads from three cocoons that had been soaking in water. There was also a lady weaving a brightly coloured scarf. Our tour inevitably leads us to the sales room, but it was not very inspiring and we were not tempted to buy anything. I wish I had bought a piece of Thai silk as it was stunningly beautiful, although I did buy a silk neck cushion from the palace textile museum in Bangkok.

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The next stop is a moonstone mine, where we see the mine shaft and a guy panning for stones – I am not at all sure this is a genuine working mine, although our guide insists it is – much more likely a deep hole dug to impress gullible tourists. We then see stones being cut and polished on old machinery and then a goldsmith making jewellery. The moonstone is only found in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Burma and India.

Inevitbly, we are taken to the showroom. Ella actually wants to buy a sapphire ring and we spend ages here while she ponders what design she prefers, and eventually decides to have a blue sapphire ring made in quite an unusual setting which will be delivered to our guest house the following evening.

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We then move on to a beachside turtle hatchery. Five of the seven species of turtle breed in Sri Lanka and they have greenback and oliveback turtles hatching in this centre. Turtle eggs are illegally collected by locals and are eaten, but also the hatchery will pay for eggs that the fishermen find, which are then re-buried until they hatch.

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They are kept in tanks for four days until they are strong enough to stand a good chance of survival and they are released on the beach. We are allowed to pick up the baby turtles and get a very close look at some adults that they have for various reasons, some are injured and being nursed to health. Turtles can live up to 100 years and the largest species can weigh up to 230 kilos.

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We next visit a spice garden where we are given a tour by an ayuardic practitioner and given information on the health properties of many herbs, spices, and trees and he tells us what spices are mixed together for various health-giving oils and potions. He says there is a seven year apprenticeship before being allowed to practice this type of natural medicine.

The tour progresses to the teaching area, a shaded platform overlooking a beautiful lagoon where we are given the option of a massage by students, free of charge, but with an optional voluntary donation. Two hulking great lads had appeared on the scene and my “student” proceeded to apply cream to my face and massage this area before pouring what seemed like an enormous amount of oil onto my head and giving a very thorough head massage through my very knotty hair that has been blowing about in the back of the tuktuk all morning.

We are then instructed to lie face down on the wooden benches and my vest top is unceremoniously pulled over my head, my bra strap undone and my trouser legs pushed up. A hard shoulder, back and leg massage follows. When finished I reclothe myself with as much dignity as possible (which isn’t much) and I can only imagine how dreadful my hair looks, full of knots and oil, but as there is no mirror I do my best with a hair band and a couple of clips. Then, guess what? We are led to the shop where they sell all the potions we have been told about. It was actually a very interesting visit

En-route to the next stop we see a large iguana crossing the road and a kingfisher perching on a cable over a river.

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Next stop, the Handunugoda tea plantation http://www.virginwhitetea.com/, which is by far the most interesting and informative visit we have made. Our guide is a fabulous elderly chap who explains how the bushes are maintained and the leaves are harvested, points out the other crops on the plantation, mainly rubber trees, and tells us about the various plants we pass as we walk through the plantation.

Peppercorns growing on a vine - they are harvested green and then dried until they turn black

Peppercorns growing on a vine – they are harvested green and then dried until they turn black

A section of bark is removed from the rubber tree and the sap that drips from the scar is collected in a pot - rubber is a major export product from Sri Lanka

A section of bark is removed from the rubber tree and the sap that drips from the scar is collected in a pot – rubber is a major export product from Sri Lanka

We progress through the plantation to the owner’s house, which has a long covered veranda where we are invited to sit at a small table set with tea cups. A lovely little lady brings a pot of tea and some very sweet cake. We drink the tea without milk and to a second cup we add some cinnamon. Then a different brew is brought for us to try.

The cool veranda where we sip tea

The cool veranda where we sip tea

This plantation makes 23 blends of tea and after a tour of the factory where our guide explains all the various processes, we go to the shop/museum where all 23 blends are lined up and we are each given a soup spoon to take a slurp from each cup.

The leaves of the tea plant are slowly air dried during the first stage of the process

The leaves of the tea plant are slowly air dried during the first stage of the process

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The plantation is 44 years old and the owner, Herman Gunaratne, is also an author. Ella buys one of his books and we both buy a pack of tea (lemon grass for me), and we write a glowing testimonial to our guide in the comment book.

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It is now mid afternoon and we are ready to eat so our tuktuk driver takes us to a beachside restaurant where we have a snack and Ella takes the rare opportunity to have a beer (there is no alcohol available in most restaurants).

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On the way back we stop at a roadside shop because I want to buy a pair of long trousers with elasticated bottoms in preparation for our rain forest walk as we have been told that there may be leaches. I shall be wearing elasticated trousers, socks and sensible sandals – it will be a sight to behold and there will definitely be no photographic evidence. I order a pair of loose trousers and Ella orders a sundress in our own choice of fabric that will made for us to collect tomorrow.

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Our driver suggests that we visit the Japanese peace temple on the way back – we can see this across the bay from the Fort.

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Apparently the Japanese Buddhists build a temple in every country, this was built quite recently, after the tsunami. There is another Buddhist shrine close by with many different Buddha statues, that was built single handed by one monk, who is present when we visit, and he blesses us by pouring more oil (sandalwood) onto our heads and tying a good luck bracelet (piece of white string) round our wrists.

The sun is falling towards the ocean as we finish this visit, providing another photo opportunity.

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We finally return to the Fort in the early evening and have another quiet evening meal with no alcohol and manage to find our way back to the guest house without too much difficulty.

About magwood

Trepidatious Traveller - camino blog is about preparing for and walking the Camino de Santiago. Many future pilgrims have found the blog useful and inspiring, and many who have no plans to walk the camino have simply enjoyed the dialogue http://www.magwood.me
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