Wednesday, December 4, 2013

really gorgeous and also really weird

After a breakfast of the very best egg hoppers ever, we hit the road for Hatton, up in the center of the country in the tea hills. I didn't think the trip could be as carsick-inducing as the trip along the southern coast. Boy was I wrong. After we left the expressway to Colombo, it was nothing but short and tight little hairpin curves the rest of the way -- a couple of hours. But also now going up as well as fast and slow. Very carsick, no fun. Being a driver here takes nerves of steel (well, being a passenger here takes nerves of steel too) because the roads are not very wide and there are big trucks and huge buses and tuk-tuks and cars and people on bicycles and people on foot. On hairpin curves. So the car gets behind a tuk-tuk and decides to pass . . . CAN'T SEE!! CAN'T SEE!! . . . but we pass anyway. And oncoming is a bus or a truck, or a couple of tuk-tuks, but do we stop? No. We do not. We keep going, they keep coming, and at the last minute we jerk back into our lane right in front of the vehicle we were passing, and the walkers barely look up and the bicyclists just keep cycling. We often do a three-across and sometimes a four-across, taking up the shoulders on both sides. Nerves of steel, a gut of steel, and me in the backseat, carsick. It was a very long trip.

As always, the driver calls our hotel to get directions, only today our very good driver just stopped on the busy road and parked to make the call. I kept thinking oncoming traffic! Traffic behind, they won't see us until they hit us! and yet no one hit us, and we rounded the roundabout and turned onto what was surely the wrong road. Right? Surely this isn't right, it's a broken down alley, behind some industrial building. Wait, call again -- no, ask those people walking. We turned down another broken road and that was it. Our guesthouse. It didn't look like a place people would stay, it was very bizarre. Sanjay was waiting for us and escorted us upstairs to the big living area, where he handed me a big cellophane-wrapped bouquet of flowers, the kind you get at any western grocery store (what am I supposed to do with them?! I don't have a vase....). We got our welcome drink, watermelon juice, and hot towels for our hands and faces, followed by a tour of the guesthouse. The three bedrooms upstairs are saved for Emirates (people from the UAE), and the lone bedroom downstairs was for us. The whole place just has an empty feeling but also a very strange, where the hell are we kind of feeling, too. There are orange and black bad paintings of stylized African women on the walls, odd chandelier-type light fixtures, and uncomfortable out-of-place furniture throughout. But Sanjay is very nice, very very nice, eager to help us whether we like it or not. We wanted to walk into town and that made him a nervous wreck. He wanted to send someone with us, and Marc had to press hard, push back, and insist that we were going to walk into town by ourselves. We were locked in and he had to let us out; as we were leaving, Sanjay said something about coming to town and we couldn't quite make sense of it. As we got into town, Marc said he had a feeling Sanjay was going to be there to stalk us -- and sure enough, there he was. He had a van and a driver and he came running across the street to hurry us into the van so the driver could drive us around.

I finally just whispered to Marc that we had to surrender, we had to just let Sanjay have his way. And the driver was a nice guy, very friendly and with good English. He drove us to the main section of Hatton and let us just walk around as long as we wanted. That was fun -- we felt more unusual there than anywhere else, people were staring at us more than in the other places we've been. We didn't see any other tourists of any kind as we walked around, and it was very interesting.

Chivas chicken, surely not with whiskey

funky bus coming through town

so colorful

fast food, Sri Lankan style

selling lots of leaves and stuff

Marc in Hatton

New Vegetable Center and
Adworld Video Vision??

oh yeah! Christmas trees everywhere. Which is pretty weird for a predominately
Buddhist country. There are Muslims and Hindus too, but that's mostly it.
Our driver then took us through the tea hills -- giant incredibly beautiful tea estates -- to show us a well-known waterfall. The pictures just do not do the place justice, and I knew they wouldn't when we were taking them. We stopped and plucked a leaf off a tea bush and they're thick and tough, like any leaf on a bush. They reminded me of grape vines in some way, tough old long-established plants. The driver said that they'd been farming those tea plants for more than 100 years; every few years they prune the plants down to nubs and in a year to 18 months they're back at full bloom. Women do the picking, and men do the heavier work -- pruning and fertilizing. The hills are terraced with beautiful rows of emerald green plants, and the whole area is just stunning -- high peaks with clouds on top, deep valleys, waterfalls popping up everywhere, rivers running down in the bottom of the valleys, just absolutely beautiful. Some huge trees had brilliant red-orange flowers on the ends of the branches, amazing color. There were trees that looked like Dr. Seuss trees, with little bloops up the whole long trunk. But mainly it was just green and lush and amazing.


unbelievably green

right before we walked down to see the waterfall
(and then we had to walk back up, of course)

such a beautiful world


a valley

just one of the waterfalls
It was unbelievably beautiful. When we were down in one of the valleys we noticed that it had started misting; our driver said that every afternoon the clouds on top of the mountains come down into the valley for the evening -- in the morning we won't even be able to see the valley until the sun gets up and the mists start climbing back to the top of the mountain. Really gorgeous.

We stopped at a tea castle to buy some tea and toured the little tea museum. IT WAS STRANGE. All the lights were off, we thought maybe the place was closed, but it was just empty and so they kept the lights off. There was the manager and three or four women employees, and they turned on the lights and walked us around. When we left, I assume they turned the lights off until another potential customer came by.

Back at our very strange hotel, we got ready for dinner. Sanjay had asked us what we wanted and we'd said chicken and wild boar (local specialties). We are the only guests in the place, and when it was time to eat we left our room with some trepidation. We walked up the stairs into the dining room - one huge, long table, formally set - and took our seats. Sanjay and the two old men who cooked the dinner brought it out: stewed boar (in little chunks), chicken curry, dahl, some kind of potato, chapatis, and puri. The food was just amazing, and we were so glad because the experience of eating it was so strange and bizarre. Whenever we were alone, Marc and I looked at each other with wide eyes, whispered isn't this weird??, and tried to eat. Sanjay would come and hover, and boss the old men around. When a dish was getting empty -- just a third left -- they'd whisk it away on a little tray with a doily and eventually bring it back full again. Usually, if we'd just been allowed to finish what was in the dish that's all we'd have wanted. Once they took the food away and didn't bring it back, and we wanted it. The hovering was so weird, and in the big empty place, with the strange art and the weird decor, Marc kept saying he was having a hard time understanding the food because none of the rest of the experience was Sri Lankan, at all. One or the other of the old men would be lurking in a corner, watching us. It was peculiar and weird. After breakfast in the morning and one last renegade walk, we're heading on to Kandy.

See what I mean? Really gorgeous and really weird.

No comments:

Post a Comment