Thursday, 17 April 2014

Hill Country, Sri. Lanka

Hey there! Hope this blog brings you excitement, as we heard that it recently snowed in Saskatoon. From +17 to snow! .. That's really too bad..we would like to send you some sun rays and heat from Sri Lanka, but unfortunately we are in a cool, misty area of the country right now, where our clothes are always damp, and we wear socks to bed! (Now that's saying something!..) however, it is Perfect weather to drink tea, hike and enjoy the lush green hills and valleys.

"Hill country is really unique! It's magical and very don't do it justice, as there is always a light to thick mist in the pictures that dull the colour and detail of the hill country."

Picture yourself standing on top of a gigantic hill, now look around to see all hues of green covering the surrounding hills and valleys. From afar, the hills look like they are wearing green carpet, but up close, you can see thick tea plants covering the hillside. You can see villages that are built into the side of the hills. Roads and train tracks wind along the country and you can hear train horns in the distance. Depending on the time of the day, you can see a cloud of mist that begins to swirl around At the base of the hill, and slowly creeps upward, getting thicker and (almost) Eerie. Local "hill people" can sometimes come out of nowhere but are always happy to see us, as each one waves "hello," and "goodbye!" We hear The occasional "how are you" and "where you from", but otherwise, their smiles are always genuine.

           (Do you see the waterfall?? Among the rice paddies.)

Anyways where were we....

Ah yes.. Sweaty and dusty from our safari. , then we hopped in a hot, non air conditioned van for a two hour drive uphill.

Our first sighting of enormous waterfall.,

We (finally) found ourselves a home stay for the 4 nights we would be in Ella. A sweet old "Sri Lankan momma" as she called herself took us under her wing for the night. However, we soon found her to be...?.. Too much for us.... Always hovering,..telling the same story and speaking very little English. She wanted us up at 6 am to have breakfast and began showing us all of the presents she had bought for her daughter in Colombo (the capital 8 hours away)..we figured out that "momma" was referring to herself in third person (weird) and lived in between her grown daughter and grown son, who she did not get along with. Her third grown child lives in Colombo and had invited momma to come visit her over Sri lanka New Years. Then momma started saying that she would no longer go to Colombo since we had arrived and were staying in her home stay and she wanted to cater to us....

Confused yet? We sure were! Well not wanting "momma" to change her holiday plans because of us, we ran over to the daughters house and sorted out the confusion in English. Ashton and I soon packed our bags and left momma so that she wouldn't feel obligated to stay at home. We moved in with the
daughter who was so lovely and excited to have Canadians stay at her place. In the three nights We stayed, we met other house guests from Germany, Iran, Australia..all very impressed with the lady who ran the homestay. She was a gem!

(This homestay had 6 private rooms.. 3 for tourists, and 2 for the family and one tiny kitchen. The living room and outdoor patio was shared and a good place to chill out.)

Our first day in Ella we were on a mission to conquer the bus system and make our way to a tea factory to go on a tour and learn all about tea. Two clunky bus rides and an uphill,2km, hike later, we were at the factory!!
It was closed!,! FAIL! "Holidays, shmolidays" :(

Well at least the scenery during our walk was pretty spectacular.

After returning to Ella, we regrouped, and spent the afternoon figuring out, and then buying train tickets for the remainder of our Sri Lankan trip. We had been warned to book well in advance, as second and first class would often fill up due to the Sinhalese New Year Holidays. Our remaining choices were pretty simple... A five hour train ride for 0.80 cents squished in third class, with open windows and fans (no ac).. And Most likely standing with stinky armpits in our faces.... OoOrrrr a five hour train ride for $10 a ticket in 'luxury class' with a comfy seat, air conditioning and a meal!
No brainer!!!..

Now that the hard part is done, it's time to hike hike hike.

-Mini Adams Peak.
A leisurely 45 minute walk (each way)with 300 steps nearing the view point. If the walk didn't get your heart racing, the steps definAtly would.
Awesome viewpoint!

At the top we met a couple from Switzerland and a solo gal from France. After a good visit with them we decided to later meet up for supper and drinks. Turns out we had made friends with a facial reconstruction surgeon, a dermatologist, a family doctor and a computer genius. ... Ha.. A little intimidated?,,,ya..but we found common ground when exchanging travel stories! ;)

-Nine Arch Train Bridge
A 2km walk along the train a super cool bridge.Unfortunately we didn't see a train go over the bridge, but the architecture and colour in itself was really nice!

  Yes it's a normal thing to walk on the train tracks here. We got a little map of the area with instructions of how to get to all the places we wanted to go. The first step for most locations was to walk along the railway line. At first we were a little intimidated to go walking along train tracks because at home we are taught to stay away from trains which is a no brainer. Seeing these signs at first too didn't help either, especially when there were police and railway guards everywhere. So we asked them, "how do we get to the 9 arch bridge?" They just smile and point down the track, "just walk that way sir, about 2kms along the track" haha we had a laugh at that. Walking along the track is no different than walking along the sidewalk. There is locals heading to their villages waving and saying hello to all the tourists that are also walking along the track. There are even restaurants along the way and the only way to get to them would be to walk along the tracks.

We followed a guide who was guiding a French couple around the area through a "short cut" back to our homestay. Instead of just walking along the railway tracks where we were spending most of our time looking at our feet making sure we were stepping on something solid, we got to walk past some homes and through some beautiful tea plantations. Chelsey collected a total of 6 baby leeches in between her toes.
Never again will she wear sandals on a hike.... Ew!

We were very fortunate to be invited to have New Year lunch with the lady we were staying with. (I previously explained that April 14th is Shingalese New Year. (As big as our Christmas).. The entire country followed a rigid itinerary of how to celebrate the. Day. At 9:45 firecrackers erupted; at 10:25 families all start up their stove/fire. Everyone makes the same dish of coconut milk rice and caramelized onion along with a variety of sweets and breads. At 11:05 families exchange a traditional sequence of hugs, sharing of rice, exchanging of money, well wishes and prayer. At 11:09 we all sit down and enjoy a meal together. Oh and everyone is to wear brand new clothing...
We were lucky because the lady allowed us to help. I found myself cutting up onions and gossiping with her in the kitchen while the Iran boys mixed the rice and Ashton helped set the table.

 Super special event to be part of!

With a full belly (of sweets) we geared up and began our next hike
This hike a little more.. Okay.. A lot more strenuous.

-Ella rock
A 4 hour round trip hike!! The last part nearing the top was super intense. We couldn't even talk to each other we were so out of breath.
Once at the top, we were speechless. Now we can say we've hiked to the top of the world. It was incredible. We were fortunate to have some great views up there because the fog and mist can show up in minutes hiding everything in view.

Side bar: can someone send me a pair of sunglasses? I am down three pairs in three months!.. My golden goddess shades are probably on a turtle in the gili islands... My aviators suffered a loss, one ofthe lens popped out... And now.. My cheap dark shades are MIA.. Probably being sold in the Sri Lanka Food City... Or a side vendor :(

After Ella we trained to Hapatupe where we are now. If this blog doesn't make sense it's cuz we were up at 4:45 am to hike "Lipton's seat".
At 5 am Ashton found a tuk tuk to drive us an hour uphill to the viewpoint. It is the spot where Sir Lipton would enjoy a cup of tea while watching over all of his tea workers and plantations. He would bring guests up to this spectacular 360degree view...

(Tea pickers heading off to work at 7am. First day back after a five day holiday. About 5% of the Sri Lankan population work in the tea industry. Wages for pickers remain very low..about $3 US per day. Workers are expected to pick 15-20 kg per day.) 

We then leisurely walked down 7km through the tea plants and villages. Coming out at a tea factory. We joined a German couple and were giving a guided tour of the factory.
(No pictures were allowed).
We learned the general process..
Each worker brings in about 18kilos of leaves to be weighed. (Workers are paid by the weight)
The leaves are then put into troughs to be dried.
After dried, they are put through machines that roll, grind and cut 6 times.
Then they are completely dried until the small pieces turn brown.
They are sifted and the small particles are bagged up and exported.
The final result resembled instant coffee grinds.
Lipton company buys a majority of the tea grinds and then puts them into their tea bags which are what were used to.

Here in Sri Lanka, they don't use bags, they just scoop a pile of black fine grinds into the boiling water, add sugar and voila!

After some bananas and a visit to the local bakery, we took a train 8 km out of town, only to walk back along the tracks and enjoy the views.

Today we are catching a five hour train to Kandy!

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