Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's Called the Rainforest for a Reason

Last week, I had an excellent three-day visit to the Nilmini Tea Estate, an organic and labor friendly estate next to the Sinharaja Rainforest. In addition to tea, the estate grows spices and has a small paddy field, a vegetable garden, and lots of fruit trees. Needless to say, I ate very well while I was there, and, of course, drank an unbelievable amount of tea. I got a tour of the estate and tea factory from some of the workers who live in the nearby village, and although my tour guides deemed me unfit to walk in some of the more forested areas, it was still enjoyable.

The northeast monsoon is late this year, so although it should be over by now, this is actually one of the rainiest times, and it rained every afternoon that I was at Sinharaja. Within the course of about one hour, the weather would change from hot and sunny to overcast to a light drizzle to rain so loud that carrying out a conversation was a challenge (as if speaking in a foreign language isn’t hard enough). The owner explained to me that every day the rain starts earlier and ends later until eventually it doesn’t stop for about two weeks. Of course, the rain brings with it one of my least favorite animals (see my post from October 26, 2011), and as the owner of the estate asked me within a few hours of my arrival, “What’s a rainforest without leeches?” At least I’m starting to get used to them and am getting much better at flicking them off of my legs.
Nilmini Estate. The blue building in the background is the tea factory and the tea is growing in the shade of the fruit trees.

I’ll be returning to Nilmini in January, once the monsoon is over, for a longer visit and to see some of the surrounding villages with their home gardens and other nearby tea producers. In the meantime, I’m trying to improve my Sinhala and Tamil to better communicate with everyone at the estate, who with a few exceptions speaks almost no English. I’m also still working on finding one or two other sites that I might be able to compare to Sinharaja.

This past weekend, Anna and I went to Horton Plains National Park to go hiking. Our plan was to take the train to Ohiya, find a place to spend the night, walk the 11 km along the road to the park entrance, hike the 9 km loop past World’s End look out and Baker’s Falls in the park, and continue walking down the road to the train station in Pattipola, also about 11 km from the entrance. We got off the train at Ohiya just as it was starting to rain and saw a sign for a guesthouse, so we started walking down the road. We quickly realized that Ohiya is not actually a town but is really just a road with a train station. We ran into a couple walking the other direction who told us they were spending the night at a small guesthouse next to the train station. We continued walking but eventually decided to return to the train station where we learned that Ohiya consists of more than we had originally thought—there is also one house that has a small store, a restaurant, and a few rooms for rent. It was a very enjoyable night with homemade rice and curry and a friendly Sri Lankan family wanting us to stay for the month and teach their children English.

We got an early start the next morning, as we knew we had a lot of walking ahead of us. The one trishaw driver in town wanted to give us a ride to the park entrance, but we chose to walk and were rewarded with some incredible views. 

Our guesthouse with the town trishaw out front

Ohiya train statin

The entire town of Ohiya with the station on the right and the guesthouse/store/restaurant on the left

Some deer in Horton Plains

Baker's Falls

The view along the road connecting Ohiya and Pattipola

Sri Lankan Thanksgiving: curried macaroni and cheese, cucumber and tomato salad, pumpkin (more like squash) pie, and coconut/pumpkin/pear sauce