Our spring visit to Sri Lanka was unusually late in the year. We received a very warm welcome from our friends. After an unbearably hot weekend in Colombo, it was a special treat to drive up to the hill country in the company of Roy and Mefuza.
We visited the newly opened Pinnawala Zoo and stopped at each and every roadside fruit stall along the way. Traveling during a different season meant different fruit and we even found some we did not know yet. Since we had visited Kandy several times before, we skipped the city itself and enjoyed the botanical gardens and the surrounding hills.
A very special experience was a visit with Roy’s brother, who is the CEO of the Victoria Golf and Country Resort. We could hardly believe what we saw: the most perfect golf course. (We have to admit that we have not seen many before.) It is in a breathtaking setting in the hills of Kandy. On one side, we looked over the Victoria Dam and Lake and on the other side a view of another river. Each of the luxurious villas has their own pool, as well as a scenic view of the dam, lake or river. The owners are from all over the world. By Sri Lankan laws foreigners cannot own more than 49% of a property, so the Golf Club Company did not sell the land but instead, gave it for an 82 year lease. Nobody was able to tell us the reason for this odd 82 years, when it would normally be 99.
Two dozen gardeners take care of the course. (The owners of the houses have their own live-in gardeners, of course!) Almost the same number of hunters spend the night on the course to ensure tjat boars do not dig up the golf greens.
In case one of the owners gets bored of the beauty and calmness of the remote paradise, there is a landing pad for helicopters and a gate for water planeson Victoria Lake………….
Quite a contrast was our talk with a tea plucker the next day. The ladies had taken cover under a small hut at the side of the road during a short afternoon rain. We had wondered a couple of times, how much these ladies might earn and so, Roy just stopped the vehicle and asked.
One of the ladies came forward and eagerly answered all of our questions. They could pluck 10 to 15 kilos a day and would earn “up to” 400 Rupees, approximately $2.80. No work because of illness or rain, meant no income.
We suggested that we would give every lady a day’s salary. As soon this was translated the number of ladies doubled instantly, with more and more heads popping up behind the big tea bags.
A special highlight was the train ride from Kandy to Haputale. Kandy is 500 meters above sea level and at the highest point, the railroad reaches 1900 meters. Roy had arranged tickets for us in the observation car and then, drove the vehicle with his wife to Haputale. The five hour ride with the slowly moving train through the green hill country gave us views beyond description. Sometimes the tracks were hair-raisingly close to deep creeks or through tunnels hardly bigger than the train.
It was wonderfully cool in Haputale and as always, it was a lot of fun for us to see the locals in thick winter clothing………..at 18 degrees celsius plus! We arrived after dark and were looking forward to seeing the view from our hotel room the next day. Our expectations were more than met.
From Haputale, we drove down to the southeast coast to Udawalawe and back into the heat.
We left at five a.m. in our Jeep Safari for the Udawalawe National Park. This had nothing to do with avoiding the heat, but because of the huge elephant population in the park. The elephants are used to visitors and can be observed very closely. Too close for my taste, considering the size of the animals!
The area is famous for curd, a water-buffalo yogurt which is served with palm honey. It is sold everywhere along the road side. Despite the fact that we were in a hurry the next morning, we took the time to enjoy the feast.
School holidays were starting and we had to be in Hambantota before noon to see the kindergarten children.