Day 11: Galle

Today we traveled to the colonial city of Galle, about an hour south of our hotel in Hikkaduwa. Our guide explained that the city was named after the Portuguese word for chicken, gallu, as when the Portuguese “discovered” Sri Lanka in 1505 it was this place where they heard the crowing of a rooster and thus knew it was a civilized place to land. The Portuguese lost Galle in 1696 to the Dutch, who set up a headquarters for their Dutch East India company and built a fortified city there. The city remains today, and we spent the morning wandering its streets admiring the colonial era buildings and walking along the ramparts soaking in the sea breeze and sweeping view of the Indian Ocean. After watching the famous divers jump 30 meters from the ramparts into the rocky waters below, we quenched our thirst with fresh coconut water from a bicycle-riding street vendor.
Sri Lanka was one of the hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami, with over 100,000 lives lost. Galle was one of the hardest hit cities, and our guide explained that while the walled Dutch fortress survived the onslaught, the city itself was inundated in a matter of minutes, with buses and cars “floating like toys” and entire buildings swept away. 28,000 people were killed in Galle itself, and while normality had returned to the city after 10 years, looking out the bus window I was still haunted by the ghosts of those who perished.

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Day 10: Mangroves of the South

This morning we took the bus up to Balapitiya, a small coastal village on an estuary about 20 minutes north of Hikkaduwa, the last stop on our trip. The estuary is a mangrove ecosystem, so we hired two boats to take us around the mangroves to see the wildlife and the lifestyle of the people living on the island estuaries. We saw many different types of beautiful birds, and although our guide informed us that crocodiles lurked in the water below, we unfortunately did not see any.
We stopped at one island called Cinnamon Island after half an hour. On this island there was only one house where a man lived with his family. As the name suggests, the island is covered in cinnamon trees, and the man demonstrated how cinnamon is extracted from the bark of the tree and dried. He also showed us how to make rope from coconut coir, or the stringy material that comes from the husk. Stripping the cinnamon from the bark is a slow and delicate process, and the students came away with an appreciation of how much effort goes into the production and sale of the spice.
After Cinnamon Island we stopped at a “fish farm”. Although not a true farm, the fish in the enclosures were detritus feeders, and the students enjoyed putting their feet in the enclosures and having a “fish massage” by allowing the fish to nibble the dead skin off their feet. Many of the students were ticklish and howled with laughter.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a moonstone mine. This area is one of a handful in the world where moonstones can be found, and the Sri Lankans extract them from the earth much the same way they did a hundred years ago – digging a shaft, securing it with palm wood, and working by candlelight to make sure no toxic gasses are present. The gravel is taken from the pit using a basket and pulley, and the moonstones are found by panning the aggregate with water in a basket. It is a labor intensive and arduous process, and it made me appreciate how much we take our gemstones and precious metals for granted in the West. (Kyle Helke)

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The cinnamon man.

 

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Day 9: The Kandyan Tea Plantation

The history of Ceylon Tea  

We all know Ceylon is Sri Lanka, and Ceylon Tea is really famous in the world. A tea plant was brought to Ceylon by the British, they got the tea from China first, and then they started to plant tea in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya. At first, they didn’t treat this as a commerical trade.  Futhermore, people started to bring tea plants from India and kept bringing tea to Ceylon.  People found out Ceylon is a really good place to plant tea plants.  James Taylor had a really important influence of the tea plantation. He introduced commercial tea plantation in Ceylon.  In 1866, he went to India, and started to learn the basic skills of planting tea.  When he back to Ceylon, he started the plantation in Kandy where we visited those days. (Qianwen [Caroline] Lu)

The tea cultivation increased dramatically during the 1880’s and by 1888 the tea plantations were more extensive than the coffee’s. The demand of tea increased, therefore coffee stores were rapidly converted into tea factories.
By 1980 sri lankan tea was globally known becoming the official supplier of tea at Moscow summer Olympic games.
Today we had the pleasure to visit a tea plantation in the city of Kandy. At the tea plantation we learnt about the processes that this type of plant has to go through in order to create various types of tea. It is amazing how one plant can make more than 8 types of tea with different flavors and textures. (Natalia Calcaneo)

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Day 7: Hiking in the Knuckles range

Today we went to the Knuckles to do some hiking activity. Knuckles mountains include 6112 feet above the Dumbara Valley, also own the various ecology. We saw the mimosa, and other special kinds of plants by mountain guides’ leading (With military backgrounds, cool!) , viewed the beautiful field scenery and sweet-sounding of cow mooing, experienced the hard part of a day- hiking in the jungle, we believed that we’ve got more motivation to challenge new stuffs for everyday in m-term! Someone fell in the jungle, and some are not used to this kind of activity, but finally we all survived! At the end one of the guide taught us a song and the funny dance steps. That was a cute one, everybody enjoyed it. After that we drank the coconut juice at a restaurant, and went back to the bus.

This was the first time that I had hiking in the jungle, it was not easy for me, especially under the strong sunlight. To be honest, I really want to give up in the middle of hiking. However, when I saw the old man, who wear sandals and have kyphosis, walking very fast and lead the road; I think that I should not give up. He really encouraged me, and let me know that I should tried my best to overcome the difficulties. I did make it and learn a lot. (Nissu Wang & Manli Gao)

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Day 8: Elephant Freedom Project

Today, March the 6th we were ready to leave the Hilltop hotel at 8:45 A.M. We took a two hours bus ride to the elephant freedom project. When we got there we were divided in two groups of 10 people each. While one group prepared food for everyone, the other went for a walk with the elephants. The cooking was similar to the one of the previous days. After the food was ready we had lunch. We then hid boxes with fruits and vegetables inside the elephants enclosure for them to find the food. The elephants Wastu and Sunjee had lots of fun searching for the boxes hidden in between bushes and trees.

We then observed the elephants finding the boxes and having fun eating the fruits. After that we fed them some rice wrapped with banana leaves that we had previously prepared. It was time for the second group to go walk with Sunjee and Wastu. We where able to touch the elephants and take pictures with them while we did the trail. After this came the best part. We had to wash the elephants! They laid on the running river while we scraped the dirt off their skin with coconuts! We completed our day with a two hour bus ride back to the hotel to take a shower and have some dinner. (Raul Valle Cabral & Bernardo Sá)

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Day 6: Buddhism and Culture in Kandy

Today was an amazing day! We left the hotel at 9:30 and Kandy looked so pretty! First, we went to a temple. There, we sat in two separate lines and waited for a monk to tell us about Buddhism and meditation. We waited quietly for about 10 minutes. After the monk showed up, the sermon began. He asked us a question at the beginning, “Who am I”. From this question, he gave us a brief idea about Buddhism. There was one significant thought, which is Buddha believes the world is not divided by countries. Instead, the world is in a person’s mind. We also learned that there are five precepts: no killing, stealing, improper sexual activities, lies, or drugs and alcohol. In the end, we did meditation all together. During the meditation, the monk taught and guided us by asking us to repeat the words he said. When we opened our eyes after one minute, we felt different. Finally, each of us got a string as a blessing.

Then we went to a store that sold saris and sarongs. Some of us tried the clothes and they looked gorgeous! Later, we went to buy souvenirs. When it was almost evening, it started raining and we went to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. As other temples, we had to take off our shoes in order to walk into the temple. We brought water blossoms and jasmine and placed them in front of a gate. Because it was the offering time, there were too many people and it was extremely crowed inside. However, there was still a solemn atmosphere. We also saw the Pansiya Panasjathakaya, which is the oldest ever ola leaf book with 1,600 pages written during the kurunagala period. The temple looked colorful with the light in the night.

We not only saw beautiful sights, but also learned about Buddhism today. Today was tiring, but we had lots of fun!

Amy Guo and Selina Qiu

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Learning about Buddhism.

 

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An offering for the temple.

 

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Temple of the Tooth Relic

 

Day 5: Sigiriya & Matale Spice Gardens

Today we woke up early to pack our bags and head to Kandy, which is a town two hours from Dambulla. We stopped at Sirigiya, which is the eighth wonder of the world. Sirigiya is a rock named after it’s lion shape. It was the location of a palace for one of the kings of Sri Lanka who built his house on top of this massive rock to seek protection from his brother who was trying to kill him to get revenge for killing their father. It was 1,200 stairs to the top, but worth every step. The view was lush green trees and tall mountains against a bright blue sky. After we got down, our legs were shaking and we were ready to head to lunch. On the road to Kandy we stopped for lunch and across the street was a spice garden where we saw vanilla beans, pineapples, turmeric, cinnamon, among other things being grown. We were guided by a local doctor who told us how these were used as natural remedies. After grabbing our spices we headed back to our hotel and relaxed.

Karen Klee and Denise Garcia

Day 4: Habarana Village and Wild Elephants

Today is an extraordinary day! In the beginning, “Happy Birthday” to one of our team leaders, Ms. Hart! In the morning, we visited the Hiriwadunna Village. Inside the village here lies a beautiful lake and we took a catamaran ride. We observed different kinds of birds such as cormorants and insects like dragonflies and butterflies. We also found many blooming blue water nymph, which are the national flowers of Sri Lanka. All these created a kaleidoscope of colors. Then we went to the farm nearby. We tried bullock-carts ride there——extremely bumpy, but very interesting. In a typical cottage, we had simple peasant lunch  , including curry long beans and fried little fish that were very delicious. Here came the main event of the day in the afternoon: safari in Ritigala National Reserve! We were decided into three groups and stood on the roadster jeeps, crossing the jungle to see the wild Asian Elephants. It was really cool to observe these huge guys in such a short distance! We held our breath, kept the voice down in order not to scare them, and watched them use their flexible noses to eat plants. The guide told us that an adult Asian Elephant eats over 200 kilogram food per day. How amazing! What we saw in the jungle was not only elephants, but also peacocks, eagles and “the tree of rock”, which is a tree growing climbing along the rock. When we left Ritigala, everyone said he or she spent a fantastic time there. All in all, it is a very impressive day. (Dehe [Mark] Liu).

Today was a busy day. We experienced a lot from today’s tour. However, the walking part was the one that gave me the deepest impact because I learned a lot from it. The walk wasn’t long but the guide introduced a lot of animals and plants to us. There was one thing that I found most interesting: the butterfly. The guide told us the difference between a poisonous butterfly and a non-poisonous one. Poisonous butterflies are slower than usual butterflies because they don’t have to worry about predators. I found this was very interesting because I love animals and it is a good example that animals only learn the skills that are necessary to their survival. (Bohan [Oscar] Zhao)

Today is amazing! Many surprises came out. In the morning when I got on the bus, the first stuff came in my eyes is “Happy B’s day Kristine!” witch is wrote on the window. Oh today is Ms.hart’s birthday!! I didn’t even know at that time..Sorry and happy birthday Ms.hart!!! First we went to the Hiriwadunna. We sat on the boat and crossed the lake in the center of the village. The boatman picked lotus flowers and give it to the girls. Some of them made garlands. It was so pretty. At last the boatmen had a rowing race. Our boat lost because it had the most people. After that we rode the bullock cart and went hiking. Those were not bad either. I was happy about this day. (Weiqin Zhang)
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Day 3: Almsgiving in Dambulla

Today was a very important day for us and for the local people, because today we gave Alms to monks. Because it was Sunday, we all had to wear white clothing to the temple because it is the Buddhist tradition. In the morning,  everyone helped the local people cook, and after we brought the food to the temple, we listened to monks talk about Buddhist philosophy, and we took pictures with local school children. They are not like us, because every Sunday, they have to go to the temple and study for 3-4 hours. After the monks ate the food we cooked, we came back home and ate our lunch. Maybe because we cooked it, it was really delicious!  Some of us even tried to eat with our hands like Sri Lankans. Our guide also told us about wedding customs here. In the afternoon we went back to the hotel for a rest. We then had a delicious dinner all together. (Xiaoqi [Maple] Sun & Yuting [Katerina] Ding)

 

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Preparing lunch for the monks.

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Heating the fire.

 

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A blessing of good merit for our next lives from the monks.

 

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Homemade lunch – the best!