Our missing fellow travelers caught up with us at breakfast after a grueling trip here, which began when their Air India flight from NYC was cancelled. When they finally did get to India, they endured a ten hour layover before flying on to Sir Lanka. After all that they have been through they are a remarkably alert and cheerful group. The conversation about countries visited and future trips planned began almost immediately.
Because they had missed the Colombo tour yesterday, the guide made time for us to stop at the fish market in Negombo, which we had already visited. This is such a fascinating place we were happy to go again. Because third world tropical countries tend to give a less than fastidious impression, it took this second visit for us to observe how careful the fishermen were with their product. There was little ice available, but anything that isn’t sold within a few hours is salted down and dried, which is how most Sri Lankans expect to eat their fish any way. Fish entrails and detritus were not to be seen for long and the huge collections of plastic garbage bags that litter the countryside in Mexico were nowhere to be seen.
Then we headed off into the countryside to visit the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. The drive through the lush, jungly countryside was very interesting, especially when we stopped to watch a rice farmer working fertilizer into his muddy field with the help of two cows pulling a wooden board. The farmers get two crops a year from their fields and this seems to be the beginning of a planting cycle. After the field is prepared the men hurl the seeds around and after they sprout, the women begin the back breaking work of transplanting and thinning. Our guide said that he never wastes a grain of rice, knowing how much hard work goes into raising the crop.
The stop at the wayside coconut husking facility was equally interesting and back breaking. The laborers work all day long jamming the coconut onto a stake and breaking the tough outer shell away. For this work they earn $15/day. To impress the tourists one of the climbed a tree with bare feet. The workers were very friendly and beamed at us, showing their rotten looking red teeth, dyed from chewing betel nuts all day. They feel that they get extra energy from the betel chewing, but our guide said that all they really get is cancer. It was obvious that he felt great warmth for these simple, hard working country folk.
Elephants used to be found all over Sri Lanka, but as it always the case, when they encounter man, they lose. Not all Asian elephants have tusks, but if they do that is a contributor to their early demise. Their voracious appetites also bring them into conflict with farmers. The orphanage takes care of elephants whose parents have been killed. It started with six, but today has about sixty. Two of the elephants there had been injured from land mines left over from the thirty year war with the Tamil Tigers. (More on that later.) One was blind and the other had lost a foot. We followed the elephants from their river fun back up the hill to the orphanage where they eat and hang out. Along the parade path tourist shops sold jewelry, leather goods and T-shirts which are common tourist geegaws, but they also sold paper made from recycled elephant dung. Much of the fiber that the elephants consume passes through them digested just enough to make the paper manufacture an easy process, I guess.
The viewing experience was quite touristy, but the entrance fees charged cover the salaries of many workers who literally wait on the elephants hand and foot. They are led down to the river twice a day for lengthy drinking sessions, and each time a few are singled out for a luxurious scrub. Back at the orphanage they are brought their favorite things to eat. The elephants cannot be released back into the wild when they are grown since they are too used to being near humans and carry our smell. It was found that the wild elephants would react to the smell and kill them, so today an orphan lives out a long and healthy life at the orphanage. The mature ones mated and have recreated sociable herds much like the wild elephants also enjoy. A fairly good solution to an apparently unsolvable problem of man vs animal.
A few more hours of bumpy, winding roads brought us to our next hotel which is built on the grounds of a mago plantation. It was almost dark when we arrived, so more on that tomorrow.