After the luxury of the house on the lake, the next act was always going to be hard to follow, but we managed to find “Samakanda”, an old tea plantation that had been converted to a permaculture garden .
Our lodgings were in a traditional and simple planters bungalow which now offers shelter to foreign visitors, huge spiders and menacing scorpions which lurk in the shower drains. Once again we lucked out by finding accommodation that came complete with a cook who churned out excellent curries three times a day. The food was delicious (with the exception of one low point - breakfast that consisted of plain rice, salty fish curry served with salty fish sambal).
Early mornings would be spent hanging out in our leaf roofed pavilion accompanied by “Scrat”, our noisy local chipmunk/squirrel, sipping hot coffee and watching the unbelievably beautiful birdlife in the valley below. This included scores of iridescent turquoise kingfishers, dark purple sun birds, bright yellow orioles and multitudes of noisy lime green parakeets.
With a few cautious treks into the lush jungle and the surrounding paddy fields we soon learnt how to efficiently remove leeches before they could properly latch on to our ankles. Interesting fact of the day: leeches are “motion activated”, so the first person to walk the path avoids attack but everyone that follows the leader is fair game.
The jungles of Samakanda and the beaches of Galle are separated by a rather harrowing, rough and dusty forty minute drive, so as long we got up early enough we found that we could slowly crawl to the coast in a rickety van and squeeze in a few hours of swimming before the early afternoon rains hit. Once the effectiveness of the sunscreen had started to wear off we would retire to the local bar for cold mojitos and a plate of penne carbonara (to break the endless variations on the Sri Lankan curry theme).
As our stay at Samakanda came to a close, we noticed more and more European faces arriving in town everyday. This signaled the start of the Christmas season, so we found ourselves a driver and headed inland to the cool mountains of Kandy, the old capitol of Sri Lanka.
The ancient city of Kandy is busy, vibrant and incredibly polluted, so we thanked our lucky stars to be staying in a home with a panoramic view, that was perched high above the valley where the air was cooler and cleaner but no less noisy.
One afternoon we paid a visit to the exquisite botanical gardens where we explored the grounds with their breathtaking trees and flowers and delighted in watching Sri Lankan families taking their Sunday afternoon picnics. Lela was asked by one local family to pose with them to have her photo taken, then a few minutes later a Buddhist monk dressed in saffron robes snapped a picture of her as she was walking by (shouldn’t it be the other way around?).
Our other tourist activities included an evening of traditional Kandyan dancing followed by a fire walk (they did they fire walk, not us). We also made a nighttime pilgrimage to “The Temple of Tooth”, a very sacred Buddhist temple which houses the relic of one of the Buddha’s teeth. Other than that our only reason to venture into Kandy was to post some parcels, pick up some essentials and visit The Bake House for pots of tea, tea buns, plum buns or “super” plum buns (basically the same bread product containing greater or lesser amounts of sultanas).
One of the highlights of our stay in Kandy was being invited to a traditional rural village a few miles out of Kandy to visit the parents of our friend Nimal. We were warmly welcomed into their home and after some refreshment of tea and freshly grated coconut meat served with kethul tree honey (imagine Sri Lankan maple syrup!), we took a hike up to a serene and magical village temple, with its exquisite decorations.
Nimal’s father is an astrologer by profession, so following a delicious Sri Lankan lunch, the kids had their fortune told. Maybe we got the birth times wrong as Jule is apparently going to be a journalist (we struggle on a daily basis to get him to write a fifteen minute book report), where as Lela is going to be a successful and popular lawyer……!!
Christmas in Kandy felt like it was a million miles away from England or America. Every now and then we would be reminded of the holiday season by seeing some scraggly fir tree branches or tinsel for sale in the markets or by passing a plastic animatronic Father Christmas singing unrecognizable Christmas carols in a low demonic voice.
We spent much of the time talking about all the wonderful things we miss about Christmas back home, especially our beloved family and friends…and when we really started feeling a bit sorry for ourselves, we just had to look outside at the beauty that surrounded us and count our many blessings!
On Christmas Eve and it has become a Jacobs family tradition to read the famous poem :
“Twas the night before Christmas and wherever you’d go,
You’d hear sounds of dogs barking in the valley below”, (accompanied by the occasional nerve jangling volley of firework explosions).
Not wanting to be left out of the local gunpowder revelries we asked our tuk uk driver to stop at Nihals supermarket so we could stock up on bargain priced firecrackers and rockets. The firecrackers were loud, dangerous and AWESOME! Lela captured and edited the highlights on video below
Happy New Year everyone!