April 17th to 18th, 2014
We arrived at the half-moon bay off the coast of Galle, Sri Lanka, welcomed by colorful local fishing boats - which is a tradition in this port. Galle was to be a tender port which is always problematic on a cruise as you have to contend with the vagaries of wind and waves. At a tender port, they lower a life boat which shuttles you to the dock. Since the bay was huge and shallow, the ride would be about 45 minutes. Galle was not to be. The captain sent out a test boat and the waves were over six feet. This meant it would be too dangerous for the passengers to get from the ship to the boat and we would all be at risk for some sea-sickness. So, the anchor was pulled and we sailed off for an extra day in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is only five years past a bloody civil war and has only recently welcomed tourists. It has a pretty good infrastructure, and, in marked contrast to other countries, the litter and pollution is minimal. Sri Lanka is also a good spot for eco-tourism with a huge range of flora and fauna, including wild elephants and tigers. The country attracts birders, as well, as it is on the Asia migratory route.
In Columbo, we docked very close to the town. The port is used mostly for shipping, and there is a stark, almost futuristic, beauty to the stacked containers.
During our first afternoon we hired a cab to see a bit of the capital and go shopping. We have had little opportunity to explore the markets. In fact, we had little opportunity to change money. It was fortunate that most places either accept dollars or credit cards - although we started to run short on dollars as the trip progressed. We had the cab drop us near the port so we could walk around - not the best move as the road was wide and wild - very difficult to get across until a toothless, vaguely crazy looking guy attached himself to us as our guide, stopping traffic, and shuttling us to various street vendors. It was well worth the $5 just to get safely across the street.
We spent the next full day at a tea plantation in Ingiyria which is in the mountains outside of Columbo. This was a two hour drive but we were fortunate to have the most interesting guide so that the ride was not dreary at all. There were 11 of us on a small bus...I doubt that a big bus could have made it. Driving in Sri Lanka is an adventure...tuk tuks, motorbikes with three to the seat (including infants - no helmets of course), busses, cars, all vying to be first. A road with two very narrow lanes becomes a three or four lane road when necessary to avoid head-on collisions. It was best just not to look.
Our guide was was an amateur naturalist, so we saw new birds for our life lists and we kept stopping (in the middle of traffic) for good photo ops on the roadside.
I now know more than I ever thought I would know about tea. The East India Company played a big role historically in this area. My family is from Salem, Ma., and Salem was a big player in the Far East trade. Our family home once belonged to the captain of a ship owned by the East India Company. It was very interesting to see the length of their reach.
We arrived at the tea plantation and were welcomed with garlands of fresh tea leaves. Tea is best grown at high elevations and it is a very labor intensive process as only the bud and top two new leaves of the bush are picked.
We toured the processing plant, where the leaves were dried, fermented, graded, and packaged. A fascinating process.
Finally, tea was served on the grounds of the 19th century bungalow that belonged to the plantation manager.
The sticky index in Sri Lanka was moderate....being in the mountains with a breeze was not bad - or we were getting used to the heat and humidity! Although, walking around Columbo brought us right up to a 10 - on a scale of 1-10!