Monday, November 23, 2015

Ella Enchanted

Dear Dan,

It’s been quite magical and today was wonderfully so! We began our day leisurely, which meant extra sleep and gearing into vacation mode. It also meant that we missed the small window of sunshine this area is accustomed to before the mist swept in and we were head deep in creamy clouds coming down to kiss us into action.

So we began adventuring through a rainy day – it was my perfect weather! We headed for Ravana Falls – all the way admiring valleys that never seemed to end and listening to Ramayan lores and why Ravan is of such importance in our southern neighbors that demonized him. As all humans, he seems complex and complicated all at once.

The falls were beautiful, the wildlife exciting – birds, I wish I could identify teasing my visual senses with fleeting colors; dogs pretty calm when you walk by them, but pull over to take in some valley  views, and they’ll chase and bark you away; monkeys busy in their general monkeyness, including (I’m not monkeying around) crossing the road only at the zebra crossing! We saw vendors with stands of mangoes, corn on the cob (nothing like garam garam butta on a rainy day!), cute bananas, papayas, and Ella’s favorite coconut biscuit – Hawaiian Biscuits!

After chilling by the falls, we headed for the Ravana Caves. After some windy dirt roads where we had some face-offs with cars coming at us head on to reverse and shimmy to give them room to pass, we hid below our magnanimous umbrellas and walked to the caves. Custom demands that we had to visit the Buddhist temple right there before entering the caves or Guwaha as they called it. We walked to the temple gate and then more customs demanded that we only enter barefoot. This we opted out of and decided to walk towards the caves. By the time we got to the entrance of the caves, after which about 700 slippery steep steps awaited us, we just didn’t have Buddha’s blessings – the weather wasn’t cooperating. We decided to drop dreams of our alternative career plan of spelunking and headed for the nearby town of Badulla. On the way we saw many trees and shrubs – hydrangea, African tulip, iron wood, breadfruit, kitul tree (and got a lesson on how they extract treacle and make toddy through many stages), landslides getting cleared, Namunakula (9 Peaks), and of course tons and tons of tea plantations.

It was beyond beautiful!

At Badulla, we explored a little stretch of town and walked into some local shops for some local essentials – biscuits, etc. In a space of 4 blocks, we saw a church, a mosque, a temple, and a Buddhist shrine. We also saw a prison, and many suppositions ensued.

I also saw signs advertising for math and physics tuitions that looked like horror movie scenes. I wasn’t sure which was more horrifying according to them – an education system that demands that children take private tuitions in addition of going to school all day or the implied failure rates of math and physics…

After a most perfect place to have our afternoon tea overlooking a multi-chromatic green valley, we headed down to the railways tracks in our valley to hike to the 9 Arch Bridge. Hike it was. First we got rained on, not torrentially, but a gentle pitter-patter to keep abreast with our footsteps. The walk was gorgeous and the views totally worth the slippery unmarked path. We saw village life in action, tea pickers lazily but productively making their daily wage, and even saw a dog getting “allergy” surgery on a table of a juice stand. Makes me want to avoid juice for a while. Once at the bridge, we were escorted back by an armed “Sri Lankan Police Officer” through the jungles of that hill up a narrow muddy path. At one point, as we treaded with utmost care, because the only thing stopping us from taking a cliff dive was…umm, nothing, this “police officer” tells us that they’re looking for a thief who accosted at knife-point a solo-Russian female hiker just two days before we were risking our dreams and future on this path. I exaggerate, but only slightly so ; ) Anyway, he must’ve sensed our unsure footsteps and surreptitiously exchanged panicked looks, when he attempted to assure us, “Don’t worry, I’m a Sri Lankan Police Officer.” Umm…okay. We believed him and didn’t die! Woohoo! Bua and Phuphaji were such incredible troops and hiked majestically, kept their hearts well-paced, agreed on directions (and when to ask people for them), and we all ended up celebrating with martini and wine stop a beautiful hill while enjoying the last wisps of dusk.

Ending with a traditional Sri Lankan vegetarian meal with vegetables straight from the organic garden of the place we were staying was wonderful! We even ate the jackfruit that was slaughtered (it really felt like it) in the morning for dinner – and it was pretty darn yummy.

You would’ve like it all,

P.S. – Did I tell you we had our own private butler?? He showed up magically (and with frightening promptness) as soon as we even thought of needing him for something.

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