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A TASTE OF CEYLON TEA

On the road from Colombo, Sri Lanka

sunny 90 °F

We're back near the equator again. Our coats are way in the back of our closet. It was 90 degrees today. After docking in Colombo, we took a short tour of this capital city and saw it emerging brilliantly from its troubled past. Twenty-six years of civil war ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2006. That conflict killed 100,000 people; the Asian tsunami of 2004 killed 35,000. We see great change since we were last here (in 2013 and 2016); buildings are rising on the horizon, and Colombo has one of those tall towers (this one for communication) that are a trademark of booming cities in the Far East. Everyone seems to know whose is taller than whose. The nice thing in this city is that the new construction is surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds. The distinguished colonial buildings are being renovated, and highways under construction are already lined with ironwood trees.

Seven of us and our guide took a van to the Rayigam Tea Plantation, about a two hour trip from Colombo. The van had a driver (on the right) and an assistant driver (on the left). The assistant climbed over his seat from time to time and distributed water to us; he helped us exit the van - and in the north, he jumped from the van to put a coin in the "till box" to beseech the Buddha for safe travel for us all.

The plantation was lovely. Tea bushes fill the hills and valleys and are interspersed with acacias that provide some shade for them. Tea is picked all year; every new shoot is plucked off so that the plants are only allowed to grow 3-4 feet high. The pickers are absolutely tiny women. The tallest was no more than 4' 6". They have been brought from South India because Sri Lankan women don't like to do this work. The women (not young) pick about 40 pounds of leaves a day and toss them over their heads into large bags strapped to their backs. One was talking on her cell phone as she plucked. The tea is emptied into strapped sacks,, carted up three floors to a "withering room" where hot air is blown through it for eighteen hours; then it is pushed through holes to the second floor where it is rolled and then fermented. On the first floor, it is dried, sorted by color and grade, then processed and packed. Tea is the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy, and huge amounts of tea are shipped from here. We had a little tea tasting, slurping it from a spoon and then spitting it into a spittoon. We prefer cups.

We stopped to see rubber trees yielding latex on our way to the former plantation owner's house and lovely garden where the tea service was remarkably improved and amazing flowers and fruit hang like cannon balls from the trees. Hope discovered a plantation chair with wings on which to rest one's feet.

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Posted by HopeEakins 05:12 Archived in Sri Lanka

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