Mas Villas and Nuwaru Eliya, part 10
After we complete the tradition of lighting a candle, the manager puts us in the capable hands of Akima, who will look after us during our stay here. Where do they find these delightful young men? Akima is a gracious, smiling fellow, that Paul and I both feel comfortable with right away. Have you noticed that all of the people who work at the resorts are men? We never encountered a woman working in the resorts or the restaurants.
Akima leads us through the courtyard of this 250-year-old manor house. There are cement fish tanks in the grassy area with plants sprouting out of the middle of them. Between the entrance and our room is a lounge area, an inviting place furnished with couches and overstuffed chairs. Our room is long and narrow but comfortable. The view from our two windows looks out over a rice paddy, and the resort pool. The resident chipmunks use the pool for their personal drinking glass, so this view turns out to be rather fun. The dining veranda is at the far end of the house and affords a stunning view of the reservoir and mountains. Not bad at all!
After a good night’s sleep, we eat breakfast on the veranda and enjoy the refreshing morning air. We exchange pleasantries with the English family that is also staying at Mas Villas. After breakfast, Paul and I explore the grounds around the manor house which is landscaped with beautiful plants and flowers. There is a black eagle flying above the mountains, which pleases me as it is the largest Eagle in Sri Lanka and another check off my bird list.
This morning Akima and another staff member that lives in the village (I’m going to call him Fred), are taking us for a walk through the hamlet of Mas Villas and up to the big tea plantation that sets higher on the mountain. As we meander through the village, people come out of their houses to look at us. Often the kids laugh when we wave and say hello, but the very young children are shy or even scared of us. It seems the villagers mostly see tourists in cars as they are driving by on their way to Nuwara Eliya, so our walking in their village is a novelty.
Akima is not only a nice young man but a very smart fellow. He does an excellent job of giving us information on everything we ask about from trees, crops, village life, etc., and does it all in decent English. Somewhere in our conversation, Akima asks us how many servants we have. When we tell him we don’t have servants, he looks puzzled and asks “who does your cooking”. Paul tells him that I am the cook. I swear his reaction is vaudevillian. Akima stops in his tracks, his eyes widen, his mouth gapes open, and he points at me saying in an incredulous voice, “you do”. I am so taken aback by his disbelief that I prepare our meals, I mumble in an apologetic tone, “Yes I do, but I’m not a very good cook”. I’m not sure he ever really believed us.
When we reach the tea plantation, Akima and Fred, find a large flat rock for us where we are to eat our picnic lunch. They even spread a checkered cloth over the rock surface, now that is a finishing touch! As usual there is too much food, but by now we are used to the excess. We eat our cheese and chicken sandwiches and fruit, surrounded by acres of tea bushes atop our lofty perch, while enjoying the pleasant atmosphere of the plantation.
We begin the journey back to Mas Villas after lunch and find we are still the most interesting thing happening in the village, as curious people still come out of their houses to stare at the foreign visitors. When we reach Fred’s house, he invites us in for refreshments. His wife and mother are there and they are so shy it is endearing. Paul and I are asked into the house where we are seated on a plastic covered couch. Our host then serves us cream soda and store-bought chocolate cookies. I am sure these treats are an extravagance for them to buy and I feel a mixture of honor and guilt for their offering. Akima is also served the refreshments, but as the villagers in St. Johns, the family members stand on one side of the room, watching us as we enjoy the food. I get some comfort in the fact that they will be able to tell their friends that the tourists were guests in their home!
We exit the village by a different route which takes us by the local store, which has a little bit of everything to offer. Food items, brooms, personal care items and simple farming tools. We also have the occasion to watch three men go through the complicated ritual of preparing the betel leaf for chewing. Chewing betel, is in my opinion, a nasty habit that many of the natives participate in, and is akin to chewing tobacco. You can tell a betel user by their brown stained teeth and often in older people the lack of or the rotting of their teeth. We also wander by a woman and two young boys sacking up rice that was threshed early this morning. Too bad we missed the threshing as they used water buffalo to complete this task.We return to Mas Villas at midafternoon, hot and tired. Paul jumps in the pool, I opt for a shower. Paul and Raj decide to go visit a temple at four p.m. but I am not up to accompanying them, so stay in the room and take a nap. When Paul returns from their junket and walks into the room, he is holding a bouquet of flowers and some fried sweet bread. I am thinking, wow, Valentines offerings a day early. Not!! It seems that Raj gave a woman a ride to her house and because of this kindness, Paul and he were invited in for a visit. Paul was served tea while everyone else stood around and watched him of course. Then the brother of the woman, who they took home, gave Paul flowers and the sweet treats. This experience was much more memorable for Paul than the stupa they visited which was undergoing renovation.
Paul and I dine on what has become our staple supper in Sri Lanka of beer, cheese, bread and pringles. After watching a movie selected from the collection the resort offers, (though I can’t remember what we watched), we retire for the night.
Raj has the car waiting for us at 8:30 this morning, ready to transport us to Nuwara Eliya. We drive the most crooked roads we have been on yet and it includes some back to back hairpin curves. We are traveling through what is referred to as the hill country and we drive through mile after mile of manicured tea fields. No one is picking tea today as the country is celebrating the Poya (a Buddhist) holiday. In fact, most people are enjoying a day off from work. This means that the traffic is heavy as the natives are also heading to Nuwara Eliya and cooler weather.
In addition to the lush tea fields, this is also vegetable growing country, and the people cultivate every available piece of dirt they can find. As we near the city of Nuwara Eliya we begin to see farmers that have their fresh grown vegetables on display along the edge of the busy highway. We find their choice of where to set up shop amazing considering the narrow, curvy, and busy road. Raj pulls over on the very narrow shoulder so Paul and I can take some photos. Paul and I tread carefully as we walk along the highways edge snapping photos here and there of the artistic display of vegetables. I love the way the vendors arrange their wares in neat stacks with complimentary colors sitting next to one another. This curbside vegetable market was worth the drive in itself!
We pull into Nuwara Eliya, and join the bustling traffic. Raj thinks we need to see the Grand Hotel so this is where we go first. The Hotel is pretty grand and its landscaping with sculptured bushes is first-rate. We scout the interior of the famous hotel, to have a look at where the ultra-wealthy spend their nights on vacation. Nice but too stuffy for us.
We return to the car and ask Raj to drive us to the main part of town. Raj finds a parking place a few blocks from downtown so we walk the crowded sidewalks to reach the business district. I’m not sure what we were expecting of Nuwara Eliya but there isn’t much to see. We wander around doing some window shopping and people watching. We are surprised to see the headline of a paper being sold at a newspaper stand, upset about the US meddling in Sri Lankan affairs. Well, we must buy this newspaper so we can read the article tonight! We go to the supermarket and buy some Happy Cow cheese for supper. Yep, we buy this at home too.
We walk back to the car and are ready to return to Mas Villas. There are children along the highway, offering bouquets of flowers for sale to motorists for the Poya holiday. The little rascals scare me to death as they will step into the road, extending the flowers they hold at arm’s length, towards oncoming cars. One ragamuffin girl does this exact thing to us as we approach a hairpin curve. Am I seeing double, because when we make it around the curve she is standing along the road waiting for us. I exclaim to Raj, “is that the same little girl” and he replies “Yes, and she will meet us around the next curve too”. Sure enough, as we come around the corner here is the flower girl slipping and sliding down the side of the berm. I still feel so guilty that we didn’t stop and buy that determined girl’s wilting, bouquet of flowers after she put so much effort in trying to run us down. Darn it!
Raj takes us to another tea factory for lunch but they are not serving food yet. So that is why he told us we were to early when we returned to the car! Raj says we can tour the tea factory while we are waiting for the restaurant to open. We tell Raj that we don’t need to do another tea factory tour. When we come back from using the restroom, Raj is standing with a woman, and he informs us she will take us on the tea factory tour. O.K., I really am not feeling that well today and this frankly ticks me off. I sit down at a table and tell Raj I am not going on the tour. Paul doesn’t want to go either so the young woman leaves probably not understanding what the heck is going on.
After lunch, Paul has spaghetti and I have tomato soup, we proceed back to Mas Villas. After raiding our supply of medicine we brought for a product to help my ailment, (Paul quips that we could set up our own drug store along the road), I fall into bed for an afternoon nap. When I wake, I am feeling much better, so we walk up to the village just for the exercise. The shops are all closed, and there are very few people around, so they must all be celebrating the Poya holiday.
We visit with the English family, which I have dubbed the Von Trapp family. There is Mom, Dad, three boys the oldest is probably 11, the youngest, Walter, is two, Cecil is 6, while the girl might be 9 or 10. There is also a nanny and a young woman who is the kids’ home school teacher.
The daughter seems to spend a good deal of time searching for her shoes. Walter spends much of his time running around the perimeter of the courtyard racing against one of his older siblings. At breakfast this morning, I plucked a sock from the back of my chair and gave it to the waiter. He shakes his head, lamenting that the children leave stuff laying everywhere. Despite the trail of discarded clothing and shoes the whole family is delightful, polite and happy. They are here for five weeks and the adults immerse the children into the culture and history of Sri Lanka by touring and taking part in events. Tomorrow they will travel to Kandy, donned in the traditional white costumes of the natives, to take part in the celebration of Poya. Wow, what a cool way to learn!
This evening we eat our Happy Cow cheese and crackers with our Lion Lager beer and then pack what we don’t need in our luggage. Tomorrow we will leave this lovely place as it is time to return home. Where did the time go??
Next installment, our last day in Sri Lanka