Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is famous for tea production and ranks third in world exports. This is the crop that this tear-drop shaped island nation depends on for employment, recognition and refreshment. Today we travel to the Rayigam Tea and Rubber Plantation to see how tea is picked, processed and bagged.
Our adventure begins with our travel through the streets of Columbo. Although Saturday morning, the streets are full of local buses, tour minivans, 3-wheel tuk-tuks, cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles. There are a few pedestrians also. There are only a few signal lights and no speed limit. The occasional lane marker means absolutely nothing. The challenge is to see how many vehicles can fit in the same space. The rule of the road is the “biggest vehicle has the right-of-way”. Our minibus driver is a master of weaving through the traffic with an almost constant “beep, beep” of the horn. After an hour, Deb is wishing she had taken a motion sickness tablet. We make such great time that we are forced to stop alongside the highway to wait for the four other tour minibuses (about 25 minutes).
The road up to the tea factory winds through the plantation of tea bushes shaded by towering rubber trees. This tea is considered low grown tea as it is planted on hills 300 feet above sea level. High grown tea grows above 1000 feet. Ironically, our minibus arrives next to last at the factory and we miss out on getting a factory tour explaining the tea process but we wander the factory on our own. We then hurry to the plantation house for a cup of tea and a tea cake served in the garden. According to our bus tour guide, the best Ceylon tea is B.O.P.F (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings); it is a high grown tea and a favorite of the English. Asian tea drinkers prefer low grown tea.
We return to the ship and browse the pier market. Courtney wants to find a t-shirt that says, “I survived Sri Lanka traffic” but she settles for one with palm trees and an orange sun. We also buy a small box of B.O.P.F. tea. In the afternoon, we watch the Balika Niwasa Orphanage Show. The girls dance and sing to traditional Ceylon music. The cruise director presents the orphanage with a $5,000 donation courtesy of Holland America and guests’ fund raising activities.