Village tour and Mas Villas part 9
What a great way to start the day here at St. Johns Bungalow by enjoying a beautiful sunrise. We enjoy the pretty sunrise by opening our room door and watching the sky become streaked in an array of color. Later, we walk a few steps out of our room, where we are seated at a table on the terrace. As our waiter serves us the standard breakfast fare, the neighborhood bulls begin to arrive to graze the short lawn grass. A variety of bird songs complete the atmosphere of this serene morning.
The young man who is guiding us around the local village today is waiting with Raj when we walk to where the car is parked. Raj drives the three of us into the village and lets us out at the road that our guide directs him to. There isn’t going to be a lot of conversation with our guide, as he speaks very little English. Oh well, the main idea is to wander through the rural village and the farm land to see things up close and personal.
Our leader is wearing sandals, but that doesn’t stop him from setting a brisk pace. We do stop on occasion to look at a bird, or take a photo. We stride over a bridge where the river is rushing over large rocks beneath us. Looking downstream we can see the water cascading over the edge of the rocks resulting in a lovely waterfall.
We arrive at the village that sits part way up the mountain, with the rice paddies forming geometric patterns below us. As we walk through the village, people smile and acknowledge us, although many are out working in the rice fields. When we come to a yellow house near the edge of the village, our guide indicates that he lives here. His father, wife, toddler son, a neighbor and another woman who may be his grandmother are there to greet us. Our hosts bring out two chairs into the yard for us to sit on, along with a small table covered with a cloth. Moments later we are being served tea in this family’s yard.
It is so kind of our hosts to honor us, but the odd thing about the tea party is that we are the only ones drinking tea. The family just stands around watching us drink tea and that is very uncomfortable, at least for me. So Paul and I sip our tea, smile, and make happy faces at the very cute boy, that this extended family dotes on. I might add that a water buffalo and her calf are tethered a few feet away, and they too are staring at us with curiosity.
When we have finished our tea, we ask the family if we can take a photo of them. The oldest woman takes some cajoling from us to join the group but finally agrees to be part of the photo. After the photo shoot, we again have to convince the elderly woman to look at their family photo on our camera screens. Once she gets her courage up to look at the snapshot, she laughs and must look again. Paul and I got a big kick out of her reaction!
Now that our tea break is over, it is time to climb the mountain that stands behind this cluster of houses. We initially are climbing up stone steps, and we notice that there are a lot of cow patties on the steps. As we are making our way up one flight of steps there is a cow standing at the top of the stairs looking down at us. It appears that the cattle have adapted to using the steps too.
The sun is really heating things up and my legs are starting to protest against the steady climb. I ask the young man leading us how much farther we have to go, using words and gestures. He points and replies “right there”, and so I assume the hike will end in the small clearing up ahead. We arrive at the clearing and keep walking. After another twenty minutes, I ask again if we are near the ending point. I receive the same vague pointing and “right there” answer. Trudging on we finally emerge from the trees and are standing (to close for comfort) on the edge of the mountain. Well now, the view is spectacular plus there are some gorgeous purple wildflowers sprinkled across the ridge, so I am glad we managed to keep walking.
Wait a minute! Our young leader indicates we are to continue hiking until we reach the top of the small peak that stands behind us. No way, I have had it and so has Paul. Our guide appeals to Paul using his limited English, “Sir, just a few meters more”. Next he outlines the route with his hand, drawing a straight line in the air, than an abrupt incline, and another straight line, ending with the phrase “right there”. We laugh and insist we are going no farther, especially since we began hearing that phrase “right there” an hour or so ago. It occurs to me that the “right there” phrase is as vague as the phrase “just now” that is used in Africa when you are trying to pin down an exact time!
The young man sees that we are not going to change our mind, so turns and leads us back down the trail. We have a nice surprise on our return trip, as we take a shortcut through the rice paddies, walking the paths atop the narrow terraces that separate the fields. This turns out to be our favorite part of the tour, and Paul states, “this is how I envisioned Southeast Asia in my mind”.
There are farmers (and I include women in that word) carrying sacks of fertilizer on their heads as they walk the dikes of the rice fields. We stop and watch one man spreading fertilizer by hand as he wades through the water flooded rice paddies. Far across the valley, we watch men driving a team of water buffalo plowing the rice fields on a mountain side. There are people holding rice plants which I assume will be planted as soon as the plowing is finished.
Four hours later, we are delighted to see Raj and the blue car. I admit I am really tired, hungry and thirsty (we ran out of water). Paul and I thank the young man for his time, and hand him the fee for the tour, also giving him extra rupees for a job well done. We climb into the car ready to return to St. Johns. There is an old woman walking down the road after we leave the main village, and Raj asks if it would be alright if we give her a ride. Raj visited with her earlier, and it seems she walks several kilometers, twice a day, to check on her cows. We agree, and the woman gladly accepts Rajs’ offer of a ride. We let the woman off a half mile up the road, where she now must cut through the countryside to reach her cows.
For lunch we have…Chicken curry! I’m not complaining as I have grown to like this meal, esp. after Anura taught us the correct way to consume curry. In fact I am so hungry that I continue to eat, long after Paul has finished. To end our midafternoon lunch our waiter brings out a scrumptious chocolate dessert. I am never to full to eat chocolate!
This afternoon, Paul and I lounge on the porch where we watch mongoose, birds, including a sunlit jungle fowl that runs across the yard, and we enjoy the scenic landscape. We are entertained by the playful interaction among a bull and one of the dogs (flea infested of course) that hang around St. Johns. The dog barks and jumps at the bull, which makes a half-hearted butt at his harasser. The black and white dog continues to bark and lunge at the old bull, until finally he has had enough. The bull charges the dog, who easily evades the attacking bull. When the bull ends his charge, he kicks up his heels proving that he wasn’t really serious about getting the dog anyway. The mock battle between bovine and canine make us laugh. I guess we are easily entertained.
Paul and I are treated to another beautiful sunrise this morning. It will be the last sunrise we watch at St. Johns since we are leaving this peaceful place after breakfast. We load our luggage and ourselves into the car, and thank the manager and the staff of one, for making our stay at St. Johns a pleasant one. Raj turns the car in the direction of Kandy and we drive up the steep mountain road. Once we make it to the top and start down the mountain, we suddenly find ourselves in tea country.
The women picking tea leaves here, have big cloth sacks hanging down their backs. The sacks are affixed to the women by a headband and they must reach over their shoulders to place the tea leaves into the long sacks. We stop to take photos at one field where many women are spread through the field plucking tea leaves. Although the women agree to let us take their pictures, one of them asks for money after we snap our photos. Paul hands over a 20 rupee note to her, and she seems to be satisfied with the few cents it is worth. Since we have taken lots of photos of Sri Lankans already and this is the first person to ask for money, I guess we can’t complain.
When we approach the city of Kandy, Raj thinks we should take a tour of a tea factory. We agree and he finds a tea factory along the highway. A sharp-looking fellow agrees to take us through the factory and our tour begins. Before we enter the working factory, we must remove our shoes, why I don’t know. Anyway, the man explains the many steps of processing tea, from drying to rolling to separating stem from leaves to sacking the leaves. It is an intensive process and certainly gives one more respect for all the manual and technical work that goes into producing a cup of tea.
After exiting the factory, we are ushered to the showroom, where a woman pours us a cup of tea. Raj is already seated at a table, reading a newspaper and drinking tea. The shop staff then asks if we care to purchase some tea, but since we don’t see anything but actual tea leaves, we say no thanks. As we are leaving, Raj asks why we didn’t buy tea. We explain that we only use tea bags and they don’t sell them. Raj insists they do and suggests we go back to purchase some. Hmm, well we agree, but about choke when we see the price affixed to a small box of teabags. The shop owner has single boxes and double boxes which he has laid out for us to look over. When I pick up one of the double boxes I see that it is the same price as the single box. We immediately hand it over to the salesman. He writes the ticket up and hands it to the woman who served us tea. Paul hands her the amount of rupees we owe but she keeps asking for more money. When Paul questions her as to why she needs more money, she glances at the ticket and gets a funny look on her face. The woman tells us that it is o.k. and we leave. Looks like someone messed up and put the wrong sticker on the double tea boxes! Tourist trap!!
We go through this same ritual at a spice garden. The tour of the garden was quite interesting as we learn from our guide about a variety of plant life such as vanilla, cloves and jasmine. At the end of the tour, our guide tries to get us to mark the items that are listed on an order sheet, which we would like to purchase. I point out that there are no prices listed next to the products. By the way, the products are all miracle cures for every malady you can imagine. He continues to encourage us to x our selections but we refuse to do so without knowing the prices. The man finally leads us into the store where the physical products are on display. The bottles are priced in the thousands of rupees. The cheapest product I looked at was 6,000 rupees which is around 50 bucks. We’re out of here. Tourist trap!!
Raj drives us through Kandy and finds a place to park near the Temple of the Tooth. Kandy is clogged with traffic, human and vehicles, plus it is smoggy. It just so happens that Raj has parked near a barbershop, and Paul has been talking about the need of a haircut. Raj goes in to inquire about the cost and comes out shaking his head. It seems that they want the unseemly sum of 600 rupees for doing a haircut! That is less than 5 dollars but Raj is appalled at the cost. He insists we will find a better price in a village on our way to Mas Villas.
Paul and I manage to cross two busy streets to the Temple of the Tooth. We are not going inside the temple since this is a religious holiday and the place is packed with people. We are happy to walk the perimeter of the site and admire the grandeur of this famous temple from here. The temple houses a tooth from Buddha, so people go there to worship this sacred relic of Buddha. There is also a beautiful lake next to the temple that we stroll along for a while. We make it back to Raj and the car, ready to get out of the big city.
True to his word, Raj finds a barbershop in one of the many villages we pass through on our way to Mas Villas. Raj goes in to ask the cost of a haircut and returns with the news that a haircut is 200 rupees. We all walk into the salon, where the barber is ready to go to work on Paul. I am here to document Paul’s haircut with photos and it seems Raj is there to give the young barber directions on how to cut Paul’s hair. It really is hilarious and I’m sure the barber is glad to see us exit his shop. Paul throws in a 100 rupee tip which means the haircut cost $2.40! It’s a pretty good haircut too.
As we pull into Mas Villas, there are three staff members waiting to greet us. There is always someone waiting for us on the steps of these resorts. How do they know when we are arriving? Anyway we get the usual heartfelt welcome, but here Paul and I are asked to participate in a tradition of each lighting a candle before we enter the building. Wow, this place is really beautiful and the landscape around it is gorgeous.
Next installment, Mas Villas and Nuwara Eliya