On the way out from Kandy we stopped at a furniture manufacturing facility that also had a retail store and silk store attached. The crew was hard at work making intricately carved pieces such as doors and coffee tables, all by hand of course. They showed us all the kinds of wood grown in Sri Lanka, many we had not heard of. One particularly fascinating one was used to make natural dyes. When its shavings were added to water it turned orange, which was the natural color of the wood. But when they added iron shavings it turned red, lime juice turned it black, and baking soda turned it yellow. What a handy tool for making all the colors you need to decorate a temple or a mask.
When it came to the retail furniture shop, well I could have bought every piece that had there. I was almost sorry that we had stopped in High Point NC last August to finish our furniture shopping list. By the time these pieces would be shipped to the US, they would not be inexpensive but the creativity and craftsmanship was outstanding. The silk store was just as nice, but less tempting. I’m guessing we’ll see more once we get to India.
The trip out of town was up, up, up on twisting winding roads. The elevation changed enough to make our ears pop as we drove up into the clouds and the landscape changed dramatically. Although we saw the locals wearing puffy jackets and ear muffs, it felt blessedly cool to us. The locals call this cool rainy area Little England.
Although coffee grew in Sri Lanka naturally, a disease wiped out all the plants and once the British arrived tea was the drink of choice. Terracing all the steep hillsides and planting the tea must have been a huge task. And picking the tea still is. This is women’s work. The ladies lug cloth bags behind them that are attached to the top of their heads, leaving their hands free for picking. The plants are kept waist high so at least they don’t have to bend over all day like other crop workers. An untended tea plant can grow ten feet high. The women pick the first four leaves at the top of each twig. After three weeks they pass through the same area again. They have a quota to pick every day and can earn more if they pick more, but generally they earn less than $5/day, just enough to feed themselves. Their clothes looked like rags fixed together by safety pins.
The tea processing buildings looked like the British just left yesterday. Old noisy machinery partially dried the leaves, shook them into smaller pieces, separated the stems from the leaves, and heated them for about twenty minutes. The noise was deafening. The workers wore no ear plugs. It appeared that the tea could move from the field to your tea cup in about a day. Tea plants live about 35 years. There’s lots of easy money to be made here as long as the workers are so poorly paid. All the plantations had names that called back to the original Scottish and English investors that developed the market here.
We stopped for lunch at the base of a number of waterfalls. An idyllic spot.
The plan was to drive to the next town and take a train the rest of the way to Bandarawela and the hotel. The drive off the main highway to the train station was so bad due to construction, that we transferred to a smaller van. And when we got to the station the train was an hour late. This meant that half of the scenic ride through the mountains was in the dark. What we did see was many hillsides terraced for farming intermingled by thick forests. And it was fun to watch the friendly locals taking the train with us. We had scrambled to get seats and I ended up in a special one reserved for pregnant women. Too bad there were no special seats for old, white ladies!