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Sri Lanka

Negombo - Pinawalla - Sigiriya - Saturday, 27 January 2018

Journey to the Cultural Triangle.

overcast 30 °C

Hotel - Vil Uyana, Sigiriya - Room No 115

We left Colombo this morning and everyone is excited at what lies ahead. We had about a two and a half hour, stop/start, bumpy ride and I soon realised that I should have taken a motion sickness tablet because this was no smooth modern highway. I put my wrist bands on, blew up my neck pillow to stabilise my head, took a tablet and then sat back and enjoyed the ride and passing scenery. A couple of others on the bus were feeling a bit "iffy" too because of the stop/start lurching through the traffic.

Anyway, we finally arrived at the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala. We hopped off the bus on a busy street and walked down a lane to the entrance of the hotel, up a flight of stairs and then we were met with the most amazing sight. Elephants everywhere having a bath. It was a wonderful sight. We all stood there for ages and ages just watching the antics of these huge but graceful animals.

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We then had a buffet lunch at the hotel which was nice but I didn't eat much as I was still feeling a bit queasy from the jerky bus ride. At the same time as we were at the hotel, there was a Sri Lankan wedding taking place upstairs, and during our lunch, ladies dressed in the most beautiful saris would descend the stairs to watch the elephants bathing. The children were very inquisitive of us and started chatting and we all shared photographs of each other.

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After lunch we headed off for the drive to our hotel, the Vil Uyana which is advertised as Sri Lanka's best eco luxury hotel.

On the way, the bus stopped for a photo opportunity of these poor men chopping the outer shell off coconuts. They get paid 25 cents per coconut. Very hard work.

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We arrived at our beautiful hotel, which is located in the middle of nowhere. That's a funny thing I have noticed about Sri Lanka (but it was also the same in India), you are driving along in the middle of nowhere, turn down a dusty dirt road and all of a sudden the most magnificent building pops up. These hotels are not obvious so if you were travelling on your own, you would have to do a lot of research to find these magnificent establishments. Lucky we have Scenic to do it for us!

The Vil Uyana is a series of huts spread through lagoons. It is stunning. The photos just don't do it justice but I am sure you'll get the idea.

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As soon as we checked in, those of us who were climbing Sigiriya "Lion Rock" met Didier at reception and we were off - adrenlian running high! Vyonne and Darryl from Melbourne, Viv and Bruce from Whyalla and me, accompanied by our guide Didier, who by the way, treks in Nepal!! When we arrived at the base of the rock, my heart sank. It was huge. Dudley purchased our tickets and we walked a very long way to commence the climb. Off we went and we climbed, and climbed, and climbed and climbed and climbed some more. We had little rests along the way. It was quite tough going in some places as the stone steps were worn and uneven and there was no hand rail to hold on to. There were approximately 1200 steps. The weather was overcast which was great for us but we still perspired a lot. Didier said we would sweat a lot and we might like to take a fresh tee shirt to change into when we reached the top. I told Didiyer that women "glow", they don't "sweat"!

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Viv was scared of heights and Bruce has a phobia about wasps as he was badly stung by them when he was a child. There were two sections during the climb when people were asked to be quiet so as not to disturb the wasps. In both of these areas, people were yelling and shouting making a terrible noise. We just couldn't believe it.

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About half way up, all of us except Viv, climbed up a spiral stair case inside a cage to view the frescos on the walls and then climbed back down to the path. This was the scariest part for me as there was nothing between me and the ground a long way away, so I tried to focus on climbing and not look down.

Finally we made the top, "glowing" and puffing but feeling so proud of ourselves.

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It certainly was a magnificent feat and something all of us will never forget. We took 47 minutes to get to the top, which was pretty good as we took our time and had little rests along the way. After the victory photo, we wandered around the top for a while and then started the descent. It was not long until sunset and we certainly wanted to get down before it started to get dark. About two sets of steps from the ground, I fell and grazed my shin. It looks worse than it is, but I got a huge fright. I really don't know what happened. One minute I was descending, next minute I was on the ground. Thank goodness nothing was broken. Didier washed it thoroughly for me and when we got back to reception, they gave me some Betadine to paint on it because in this weather, it is very important to keep it dry.

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Didier took these great photos of the monkeys that crawl all over the rock. Sometimes they were sitting on the rail that we were trying to hold onto to keep our balance.

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Sharon and John were having a drink with Phil when I arrived back from the climb and I only had a short time to freshen up and get ready for dinner. Everyone wanted to hear about the climb and were very sympathetic about my war wound. We had a lovely dinner upstairs and then into bed for a very well earned sleep.

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Posted by gaddingabout 04:58 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Colombo - Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Farewell Dinner - then transfer to the airport for the flight home

sunny 30 °C

Had a bit of trouble going to sleep last night because Phil had ABC 666 Canberra on his phone and it was 5.30 am in Canberra on the phone and only midnight here in Sri Lanka. It was very wierd.

It is very hot and humid. We had a lazy morning as we are free to pack until noon whereupon we will be going out for lunch. Breakfast was taken outside, under an umbrella, and it was getting quite warm. Daryl is not well. Tired and gastro so he is in his room sleeping. Yvonne came to breakfast alone. Just as we were finishing breakfast, who should walk through the door but Carole and Vince Shokman, who we travelled with through North West Rajastan in 2013. What a wonderful surprise. We spent a while bringing each other up to date.

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We repacked our bags ready for the long flight home and then hopped on the bus and were taken to lunch at the Barefoot Garden Cafe. We could choose anything on the menu which was good, because most of us chose a light snack, rather than the three course lunches we have been having. It was also outdoors and was quite warm, even though there were plenty of overhead fans. I had a smoked salmon and cream cheese baguette and Phil had a dips and bread plate.

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After we finished lunch, we were sitting at our two tables and the manager mouthed to himself "People, please go". He wanted to use the table for others. He didn't realise I had seen him. When I told Didier, he said I should have said to the Manager, "Yes, we're going!" Rude bugger. We were 16 people who had just had lunch in his establishment.

Didier photo bombing my photo of the ocean!

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We then went to the museum and were given two hours there, but we finished in about an hour. It was really hot in the museum and it would have taken too long to read everything, so we just walked through, looking and pausing to read sometime. It certainly has some nice pieces.

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While we were having a coffee and waiting for everyone to assemble, Phil started talking to a lovely Chinese girl and she was giggling and then her friends arrived and we were having a great chat. We all thought she was about 18, but she was actually 28!

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Back to Tintagel for an hour or so, to do some final packing and get ready for our farewell dinner. We said goodbye to Carole as Vince wasn't back yet and just as we were boarding the bus, Vince arrived back at the hotel with his brother, after visiting the local cemetery, looking for relations graves. We said goodbye to him and headed off.

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We went to the Gallery Bar in Paradise Road for our Farewell Dinner. It was very dimly lit and quite atmospheric but quite humid, even though they had all the overhead ceiling fans going.

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The meal and the wine were very nice but all too soon the time came to change into our travelling home clothes and we headed off in the bus to the airport, dropping Didier, Viv and Bruce at one hotel, Ron and Eddie; and Phyl and Greg at Tintagel.
Dudley came with us to the airport and it took about 45 minutes to get there. We had to pass through security at the front door of the airport, all bags xrayed and twice again when we were inside but we all got through okay. I had to have my carry on checked and it was a piece of costume jewellery that is a big hunk of metal that had them worried. We all had a body pat down and the girl who did me didn't leave any area untouched! Now waiting to board our flight that leaves at 12.40 am.

Our travelling companions from the last two weeks.

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Phyl and Yvonne

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Phil and Elizabeth

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Phyl and Greg

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Viv and Bruce

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Ron and Eddie

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John and Sharon

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Philippa and Terry

Other photos from our Farewell Dinner.

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Posted by gaddingabout 03:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Bentota - Colombo - Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Lunch at the Ministry of Crab and then return to Colombo

sunny 30 °C

Hotel - Paradise Road Tintagel Colombo, 65 Rosmead Place, Colombo - Room No South East Royal Suite

I had the earliest night on tour last night and yet I had trouble getting out of bed this morning. We were down at breakfast early and there weren't many people there. The orange juice was awful - it tasted like watered down cordial. The papaya and black currant weren't much better. The porridge was semilina which was a bit runny, the scrambled eggs were runny so I opted for French toast which was very hard to cut. I couldn't resist a photo of the Doughnut Board.

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We did some shopping in the hotel shop and as a few of us were in reception early, we were taken across the other side to the waiting bus.

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Didier had to make sure we were on time on the road to Colombo today because we have a lunch booking at very famous Ministry of Crab and if you are 10 minutes late, they give away your table. But we had time to do some sight seeing along the way. Then The Ministry of Crab phoned Didier to put our booking back half an hour, so we had even longer to site see along the way.

Colombo was once the capital of Sri Lanka and it is now the Administrative Capital. The new capital is Kotte. Colombo has a population of approximately 2 million - 700,000 live in the city and the rest are in the suburbs. Colombo is now the commercial capital. This is the new Parliament House.

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This is a monument to all the people killed in this area by the tsunami. All their names are written on these walls. But driving through this area, you would hardly think that such a devastating tsunami had come through here only a few years ago.

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This is the Bandanaranke International Conference Centre. The guard was very happy for us to walk inside the gate and take a photo.

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The Independence Memorial Hall was quite spectacular with murals around the inside of Buddha's life and other important things that have happened in Sri Lanka. It was very cool in there, with a lovely breeze blowing, so we were all happy to stay in there for a while. It is really hot and humid and some of the group are feeling it. One instruction -DON'T SIT ON THE LIONS!

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We drove down a few streets which contained embassies and high commissions. We were thrilled to glimpse the Australian High Commission which is painted a lovely shade of battleship grey.

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Buddhas everywhere and the traffic is getting really bad so we don't have time to wander through the fruit and vege market, instead we start to head back to The Ministry of Crab for lunch. We don't want to lose our booking and this is a MUST EAT place.

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We hop off the bus and walk into a courtyard of an old Dutch hospital from 1681. It is just beautiful and as we learned later from Mark Forbes, it has been restored and a bill has been passed in Parliament that all these old buildings have to be restored - no more pulling down. The lunch was so much fun - messy but fun. We had prawn curry, teriyaki chicken, chilli crab, rice, mixed vegetables and chocolate crumble pudding. All just yum, yum, yum and a lovely iced tea soda. Very refreshing on a hot, humid Colombo day. Even the butter had a crab imprinted on it!

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After lunch, Phil, Greg and Elizabeth went back to the hotel while the rest of us went on a walking tour of the old colonial buildings in Colombo with Mark Forbes. There was a lovely breeze and we all enjoyed hearing about the history of some of these old buildings. And what was even better, we finished with a G&T at the Grand Oriental Hotel. We had a lovely view of the city from the fourth floor where we had our drink. This was the hotel where all the "beautiful people" of another era stayed.

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We arrived at Tintagel, the former home of the old Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He was shot on the front steps here. A few years later, his wife became the first female PM of Sri Lanka and then even later, their daughter became the first female President of Sri Lanka. We are in one Royal Suite and Elizabeth is in the other - because we are Emerald people. We have several rooms and a huge combined balcony at the front of the building. It is really nice.

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Viv and Bruce, Elizabeth, Sharon and John and Didier went to the Shangri la hotel for a Sri Lankan meal while the rest of us went to the Colombo Cricket Club CAFE for dinner. Big mistake. I thought we would be going to the REAL Colombo Cricket Club for a night of cricket nostalgia but no, it was just a cafe with good cricket memoriblia on the walls but nothing like the dining room of the Colombo Cricket Club! We were in the Australian section upstairs and there was a "Shane Warne" corner.

The meal was just awful. A Ceasar salad with limp lettuce; then Phyl had curried prawns that were too spicy to eat and the rest of us had a mixed grill that consisted of dry steak, dry chicken, bacon, sausage, liver, mashed potato and potato chips. It was awful. Then dessert was ice cream with fruit salad. All in all, a terrible evening. There was a huge storm in the middle of it all and when we came downstairs to leave, it was flooded because part of the roof is open. What a night!

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I was glad to get into bed.

Posted by gaddingabout 04:24 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Galle - Bentota - Monday, 5 February 2018

Drive to Bentota and cruise along the Madu River and visit an turtle preservation farm

sunny 30 °C

Hotel - Centara Ceysands, Aluthgama - Mathugama Road, Bentota - Room No 1101

I had crunchy granola for breakfast this morning and it was just superb. Much better than trying to get my eggs cooked perfectly.

Before we left Galle, Sharon and I went for a stroll down the street. The guy was selling papayas.

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We hadn't gone very far when these ladies called us into their school to have a look. It was a Montessori school, badly in need of refurbishment but nevertheless, they showed us through and pointed out the posters in English and how they teach the children to count. It was a holiday so unfortunately there were no children there. But there was a lovely photo on the wall of them in their school uniforms. These families may be poor but they can always seem to find the money to buy school uniforms for their children. The ladies asked us to sign the visitors' book and kept pointing at the donation box, saying how poor they were. Sharon made a small donation but I didn't have any money on me. We hurried out of there just in time to join the others who had started to walk to the bus.

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We were hoping the Dutch Reform Church might open early (it opens at 9am) because our tour guide had spoken about it yesterday and we were curious to see inside, but it was not to be and so we boarded the bus with a couple of interesting stops along the way.

This is the Galle Cricket Club and Dudley said that Shane Warne had his biggest score here. I'm not sure if he meant wickets or runs, however, I do know that the Shane Warne Foundation donated a lot of money to the restoration of this ground after the tsunami. My husband has clarified Dudley's statement. Shane Warne (Australian spin bowler) took his 500th wicket at that ground.

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We are now in the area where the tsunami hit on Boxing Day (26 December 2004). Fourteen years later (I can't believe it has been that long), there is little evidence of a tsunami. This momument was built by the Japanese after the tsunami.

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After about 45 minutes we arrived at Madu River for our boat cruise. It is very hot and sticky so a cruise on the river might cool us down. This time we have life jackets, and after squeezing into them, we walk down a board walk through the mangroves to the pontoon where our boat is tied up. Dudley says that champagne corks are made from the mangrove roots. I thought they were still made from cork. Will have to check that.

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We boarded the boat which was a feat in inself. Some of us aren't too agile and Ron is totally blind (but he seems to cope much better than the rest of us!) Finally we were all squashed into the boat - three abreast. Perhaps it would have been better to have two boats as I believe that some people in the middle couldn't take any photos at all. After we passed under a couple of bridges, we could have the canopy up which made it a lot cooler.

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We went ashore at a cinnamon farm where we saw another short demonstration of how they make cinnamon sticks. It was good for Viv, Bruce and Terry to see this because they did different activites from us yesterday. The young guy also demonstrated how to weave a palm leaf. He made it look very easy but I'm sure it's not. Most of us bought some cinnamon then hopped back in the boat and cruised back to the pontoon where we had just as much trouble getting out of the boat! It is hot and sticky.

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Back in the bus, heading for Bentota and we stopped at a turtle preservation farm, right on the beach. It is the most idyllic spot.

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The owner of the farm buys the turtle eggs for thirty rupees each and then buries them in the sand and puts a marker stating the date they were buried. When they hatch out, they are placed in a small tank until the next lot hatch out and then the older ones are released into the ocean. They have a 10 per cent success rate, whereas if it all happened naturally, only one per cent survive. We felt an egg and then were allowed to hold the babies. It was pretty special.

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There are a couple of bigger ones in ponds there too. One has a very deformed shell and I got to hold him. Gee, he was very heavy. There was also an albino turtle there too who would not survive in the wild. We all took turns in holding them. We had to pay 500 widgets to enter the farm but Didier said that in his next tour, it will be included. This one was SO heavy and was not very happy about being picked up.

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This photo is entitled "Life's a Beach".

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And this one - "It's a dog's life".

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Back on the bus for the 45 minute drive to our hotel for the night, Centara Ceysands. We had to catch a boat across to the hotel. It appears to be on an island but the ocean is on the other side. Didier did say that check in wasn't until 3 pm, so we went in for a late buffet lunch and at about 2.30 pm, wandered down to reception to see how they were going with the check-ins. Half our group were given a room, but five of us had to wait until 3.05 pm before our rooms were ready. Didier wasn't very happy but there is nothing much you can do, they are ready when they are ready.

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Centara is a huge resort. Our room is just that - a room with a bed and a shower, though we do have a balcony overlooking the river and the town. After the fabulous boutique hotels we have become acustomed to on this trip, I am glad we are only staying one night in this one.

Sharon and John went back on the boat over to the town to have a wander around. They caught the boat when we were still waiting to be allocated our room! We decided to go for a swim. The pool area is HUGE. We found some lie lows and towels and hopped in the pool. It was warm. We then walked through the hedge onto the beach and went for a swim in the Indian Ocean. It was the warmest ocean I have ever swum in. I would have liked to stay in longer, but there was only one other man in there too, I didn't feel very safe and there was no one else on the beach either. So we went back to the pool just as it was starting to rain so we had the pool to ourselves. This seems to be the pattern lately - stinking hot in the morning and then an afternoon shower to cool it down.

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This is the view from our balcony.

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We went down for dinner early so we could check out the hotel shops. There are a couple with quite nice things in them. We checked with John and Sharon if they wanted to sell us any rupees but they had spent most of theirs when then went into town this afternoon. Tomorrow morning I will go back and buy three wooden monkeys dangling off each other. They are quite nice and the only things I have seen worth buying in Sri Lanka.

Didier was amazed that we had been swimming in the ocean. He asked the people at reception about swimming in the ocean and they said not to do it as it is too rough. Gosh! they don't know what rough is. Just try surfing at the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia and you will find out what rough is. The waves were so mild that you hardly felt them touching you.

We had dinner in the cafe where we had lunch. There was much the same food there but I always call those places "feeding time at the zoo" but I was pleasantly surprised. The people were well dressed and it wasn't a "free for all". Most of them are Europeans, I think.

Early night tonight. Off to Colombo tomorrow. Our trip is almost over. It has gone so fast.

Posted by gaddingabout 07:52 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Galle - Sunday, 4 February 2018

Visit a Cinnamon Plantation

sunny 30 °C

Hotel - Fort Bazaar, 26 Church Street, Galle Fort - Room no 17

We have a 10.30 am start today so we have had a very relaxed morning and breakfast. We still can't get the whites of our eggs cooked so that they are not runny, and the yellow remaining runny at the same time, but we're working on it. Failing that, muesli seems the safest option! Another thing I keep forgetting to mention in my blog is the toast. It is brown bread, which is great, but it is almost impossible to cut, or ever tear. I ended up eating my egg on toast in my hands this morning! "Use a bit of pressure", says Phil. Well I notice when he tried to do it, it was just the same, he couldn 't cut it either.

We had a 45 minute drive to the cinnamon farm and a lot of the drive was past the coast. We stopped to photograph the fishermen who sit on top of poles to do their fishing. Not much happening there. One fisherman held up a tiny, tiny fish that should have been thrown back. It was too small. The water was clear and clean but not very deep. I don't know what they were expecting to catch.

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It is really hot and humid today. When we arrived at the cinnamon farm, we had to walk up a very steep driveway. We were all huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top and we were met with some cold towels infused with cinnamon. Phil and John Tyler heard that cinnamon improves your libido. I'm not sure why John had his on his head!

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Dudley said that these flowers are supposed to be very good for people with blood cancer (leukemia) but I'm not sure what you do with them to treat it.

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The owner of the cinnamon farm greeted us very warmly and after a very nice cinnamon drink, we walked down the path to a hut located within the cinnamon plantation.

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There is quite a process to making cinnamon. In fact, there are four steps and it is all done by hand - no machines. First step is to cut some branches from the cinnamon tree. They never cut the main stem. Then, with a little scraper, they scrape the outer bark off the branch. Then they bang it gently with a heavy brass pole. This releases the bark and so, with a small knife they can cut away the next layer in strips. Then, with all the left over bits, they fill the bark and extend it until it measures four feet and they keep repeating the packing process and then they dry it for about six weeks. Absolutely fascinating. The very best cinnamon in the world comes from Sri Lanka.

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We walked to a covered outdoor area where we had lunch. A fresh salad, pumpkin soup, chicken and vegetables and of course, cinnamon ice cream. The chicken was bit dry and tough but otherwise it was a very pleasent and informative morning.

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We walked back to the bus and passed some lovely flowers on the way.

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Viv and Bruce did a curry cooking class this morning and Terry went on a bike ride for 11 kms.

We had about an hour back in our hotel to freshen up ready for our walking tour of the fort. It is really hot and humid and we are all feeling it after being up in the cool mountains for a couple of days. This Dutch Reform Church is the oldest church in Galle. Galle has a really nice feel to it. It is a beachside town and there are quite a few tourists here. We walked up to the light house and then wandered along lots of the back streets to see how the locals live.

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We came across these two brides having photos taken. They were beautiful. They wear red dresses in Sri Lanka. The groom must have been so hot in his velvet trousers.

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At the end of our walk, our guide took us into a cafe for some iced tea and coffee. It was most welcome and we were all very hot and there was absolutely no breeze. The cafe (with limited accommodation upstairs) is owned by an Australian couple from Melbourne. The wife's name is Lyn. It was a very nice place, with someone playing the piano on the next floor up and that music wafted down to our level. The iced coffee was very unusual, as was the iced tea, but they were both very refreshing.

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We have about an hour and a half before we meet for dinner and because it is Independence Day in Sri Lanka, no alcohol is served anywhere today! How weird. Independence Day celebrations anywhere else in the world, alcohol would flow. So Yvonne and Daryl came into our room for a G&T and then Sharon and John arrived for one too.

We walked around the corner for dinner at the Fortaleza Restaurant. It is quite rustic but very atmospheric. We all had a meze plate, raw tuna and samosas for starters and then we had fujitas (vegetarian, chicken or prawns). It was very nice to have something different. I enjoyed my meal very much and finished it off with lime tarts. The other dessert was a brownie.

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We all strolled back to our hotel. The night is very warm and there is absolutely no sea breeze. Now to pack as we are going to Bentota tomorrow.

Posted by gaddingabout 09:10 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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