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)