16 March - To Tissa

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13 March - To Kandy
14 March - Kandy
15 March - To Haputale
16 March - To Tissa
17 March - Yala NP
18 March - To Galle

0900 – en route to Lipton Factory

There was lightning all last night, and this morning at 7:30 there was fog outside our balcony. Grr. Why have these two days, when we’re supposed to get awesome views, been so grey? The views are still beautiful, but not particularly photographable.

Not that we don’t try. And the pictures we get will be good memories. The light is just too flat for really good ones, though. At least the fog lifted. We can see a shiny lake down in the flatlands by Yala.

We’re heading for Dambatenne tea factory, which was originally started by Thomas Lipton. It now belongs to the government, but it’s famous in these parts as “Lipton’s Factory.”

1015 – Dambatenne tea estate

We got in and got the tour of the factory. Better than at Blue Fields – they were actually working. I’ll write about it later.

The clouds are coming up the valley now, rapidly. We’re heading up through the tea fields now, to Lipton’s Seat, but I don’t think we’ll get much of a view. Except of the estate, and tea pickers, and the workers’ houses.

1130

Dad and Chris when up to Lipton’s seat, 1675m above sea level, and apparently got a nice view of the valley but nothing to the south. Mom and I got out and walked around the fields, taking pictures and talking to the workers. The women were picking diligently and chatting to each other. The news of us being from the USA spread among them as we walked up the hill. Most were happy to pose for a picture, though sometimes it was a chore to get them to smile. Men stood at the top of each field with a booklet, surveying their grounds and supervising the women. I wonder at the pay difference here…

They say there are 1000 workers in the fields. We saw maybe 50. And lots of empty fields. With a yield of 15,000 kg of leaves a day they must have tea plants up to wazoo. Like, 1000 acres or something.

1230 – Bandarawela

Dambatenne factory was very businesslike, making Blue Fields look rather touristy in comparison. We were led around by a worker – overseer or low-level manager, I think – and we had to pay. The machines were also actually running.

They use a similar process to Blue Fields, but not quite the same. The withering tables had air piped under them all the time, a mixture of cold air and warm air from the heaters down below. Due to the cold air and frequent fog, the leaves stay there for 18 to 20 hours before being pushed down to the rollers.

Here we got to see the rollers in action, and discovered that they don’t actually crush the leaves – they’re actually too moist still to really be crumbled. But 40 minutes in the rollers twist the leaves up, mashing them rather than breaking them apart.

Then, the leaves get put on a conveyor and run through three or four cutters. This seems to be the main difference between here and Blue Fields. Then it goes through a sorter/sifter. The big pieces are put through the cutters again and re-sifted.

Next, the fermentation process. Again, we got to see this actually in progress. The leaves are piled to an exact depth (about six inches) and left for two hours. This actually changes their color to more of a black-brown instead of green-brown.

This factory uses three different roasting machines. One runs off electricity, oil, and diesel (however that works…). The other two are wood. The diesel one only takes 18 minutes to dry the leaves – I don’t know about the other two.

Then, the same electrostatic machines to separate stems. Stems are packaged for fertilizer. The tea is checked for grade, and dumped into the correct bins. In the next room, barefoot workers dump the tea onto a platform for packaging. One man sealed one-kg bags of tea for the workers.

This factory mostly produces BOPF, but has 7 other types as well. But not golden tips, silver tips, or green tea.

There was a list of their recent best prices at auction. In January, it was down at 280 rupees/kg, but has come up to the high 300s recently. BOPF usually gets their highest price, and mostly sold to Lipton’s. They do have other buyers, though. The only reason this estate is called “Lipton’s” by the tour people is because it was started by Lipton – and I suppose the name makes it sound more interesting.

Two things I forgot to mention. On each conveyor is a powerful magnet. This picks up any stray bits of metal that have made it into the tea. Also, rat traps inhabit most corners of the buildings. I don’t know what they do about bugs, though… extra protein in the tea, perhaps.

1525 – en route south

Our driver Raja took us to Bandarawela along a windy, construction-laden road past hillslides and large holes. We ate lunch there, at a dive of a mall food-court, then caught the bus to Wellawaya Junction.

I suppose there were good views as we went over the escarpment. I suppose someone on the bus even enjoyed the view. As for me, I was unconscious. Dead to the world. I looked up to take a picture of a waterfall, and the few times I was sure it was going to be my last look at the world. The driver seemed intent on running us off a cliff. Either that or he was in one heck of a hurry. He had to stop so often to drop people off, he was making up the time in between.

And the bus we’re on now… the most important feature is definitely the horn. Goodness does the driver love his horn. And the accelerator. We just made an s-curve very nearly on two wheels. Or half however many we have. Just after that there were some people on the side of the road who wanted to get on. He slowed, awooga’d his horn, and sped up again. Sorry, folks. Next time.

I think his fare-taker knew he was insane. Just before we left Wellawaya we stopped. The fare-taker ran across the street to a Buddhist shrine, dropped a coin in a hole, said a short prayer, came back, and off we went.

I haven’t even looked around, except to see what the guy’s honking at or who we’re about to smash into. It’s frequently the same thing. He hates first gear. His speedometer is broken, but it feels like we’re going a million miles per hour. The poor people he actually stops for to let them get on (only women or men who signal emphatically) probably didn’t realize they were taking the bus ride of hell. We at least got seats. I can’t imagine what standing up would have been like.

1730 – Tissa Inn

Well… we made it. An hour to get twice as far as what took an hour and a half. Holy crap. If I hear another bus horn, I’m going to flip. Seriously. Solid ground feels beautiful. I never knew that sitting down for an hour could be so exhausting. I am absolutely dead.

Tissa Inn is quite nice – nicer and bigger than Amarasinghe. Also more expensive. More expensive than Lonely Planet says, too, much to our annoyance. Cold water and only a fan, 1300 rupees. Not that we need hot water. And with so many mozzies around I’d have the fan on even if we paid the 500 more for a/c.

The shower was splendid. Unfortunately, when Chris left his toothbrush at Kandy I also left the shampoo and conditioner. So I… rinsed… my hair. But it’s cooler than if I hadn’t. I also killed about six mosquitoes – prancing around the room, yelling “YES! Amanda four, mozzies nothing!”

I don’t have a mozzie net, see. It would be too close to the fan. A guy brought one to put up, and didn’t believe me when I said it wouldn’t work. “It’s okay,” he said, and reached up. Fwoop – net now on other side of room, fan looking somewhat wobbly. I laughed like a friggin hyena. Poor guy. So no net.

2130 – Tissa Inn

We have arranged the safari of all safaris into Yala National Park (it’s actually called something else but no one remembers what) tomorrow. The standard trips are:

We want more time in the park than four hours, but most animals hide in the middle of the day. So morning and evening would be perfect, but it costs an arm and a leg to get back into the park after we’ve left.

So we’re spending all day in the park. Quite literally, all day. Up at 5:15am (ugh), back here at 7:30pm. A 4.5-hour break in the middle of the day to swim, eat, sleep, etc. Morning and evening safari, with a bit of free time to look for birds in the middle. Yay.

This prevents us going to the bird sanctuary or the other nearby national park, which is known for its birds, but those would be more expensive. Once we’re in a park, we might as well stay a while.

Mom and I drove with the Safari people to get money and hunt down the wild and elusive ice. We plan on taking lots of cold drinks with us – the guest house is making up a bunch of lime juice, in addition to the breakfasts and lunches we’ve ordered. And the driver is supplying an esky, bird book, binocs, and camp mattresses for us.

Now, wake-up call is at 5:15. Ungodly hour. Best get head to pillow, right sharpish.

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