Surviving Sri Lanka part 5- Nuwara Eliya
My older brother once said that after working in Mongolia I would never feel cold again and I am beginning to think that he might be right. Nuwara Eliya is located in the central mountains of Sri Lanka and at over a mile in elevation it is one of the colder areas of the country. Grasshopper made sure to remind everyone that it would be cold during our two night stay there. I will admit that the city probably is a bit chilly for Sri Lankans and many other people from Southeast Asia. That being said, however, 60F is a warm summer day compared to what I was experiencing in Mongolia, which was averaging -50F while I was in Sri Lanka.
We had the pleasure of staying at the Jet Wing Saint Andrews for our first night in Nuwara Eliya, which was also Christmas Eve. Again, if you ever gett stuck on choosing a hotel in Sri Lanka, you can never go wrong with a Jet Wing hotel. This particular Jet Wing hotel dates back to 1875 when it was originally a golf course. The golf course was then later expanded into a hotel during the early 1900’s and it joined up with Jet Wing in 1986. The only real highlight here is that during the buffet dinner, I am pretty sure that I saw one of my students.
Finally, a nice leisurely ride through without any hills. Well, there were a few inclines as we took a short 12km ride through the city to a tea plantation, but nothing like what I had a few days earlier. The hardest part of the ride was dodging traffic in a few places, but nothing all that serious or difficult.
The tea plantation itself was nice, but I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside of the processing facility and the facility itself wasn’t running, since the workers had the previous day off. Not for Christmas mind you, but some other unnamed Sri Lankan Holiday that occurs at the same time as Christmas. I wouldn’t say that the tour was bad, but it wasn’t particularly good either. My reason for this is that I was expecting a tour about Sri Lankan Tea, and tea production. What I got, however, was more a look into the life of the people that live and work on the tea plantation. While not inherently bad, it wasn’t really what I wanted. I wasn’t all that interested in the guide’s life. I also was not impressed by the guide’s lack of knowledge, but that might be a bit too harsh, as the questions you would get from a science teacher might be a bit more technical than the average tourist. I mean how many people would ask what type of microorganism the plantation is using to ferment the tea, or about the risk of dust explosions in the sorting and packaging area? At least it wasn’t as bad as asking if there were any genetic diseases that ran in the Japanese royal family, like hemophilia does in the royal families of Europe, or what mental disorder the last Korean princess had after the Japanese took over Japan.
When picking tea, only the top few leaves (terminal buds) are plucked from the bush two to four times a year in India, but that is probably similar in Sri Lanka, from the information I was able to gather. I was also able to discover that it is possible to harvest tea mechanically, but it seems like this process isn’t necessarily widespread or known of in Sri Lanka. The guide was aghast when I asked if the plantation was considering it. The use of more machinery would lower cost, but the ultimate fate of the former pickers is something to consider.
After picking, the real process of making tea begins with the drying of the leaves, followed by physically breaking down the leaf, or maceration. This is done to allow the process of “fermentation” to begin. However, while tea producers might call it fermentation it is actually oxidation where chlorophyll is broken down and tannins are released. This is what produces the dark coloration of tea. This is also how various types of tea are produced, based on the degree of oxidation the leaves have.
Green- no oxidation
Oolong- 8%-80% oxidized
Black- 100% oxidation
Pu’erh- is actually fermented
Following oxidation, the tea is heated or fixed to stop the oxidation process. The next step is heating the leaves to continue the drying process. The process is completed with rolling, then drying, and finally aging the tea. Any additional flavors would be added during the aging process.
I can’t really argue with the sign or the idea that tea is good for you. I’m not really a fan though, but the prices were tough to beat so I got some for some friends. I will say that one of the tea drinkers that I gave the tea to swears by it and thinks it is fantastic.
Restaurant service in Sri Lanka
Another short ride took our merry little band back to the city and another hotel for a second night in Nuwara Eliya. While not as good as the Jet Wing Saint Andrews, it was still top notch. The only complaint would be the one family that let their kids run around late into the night and the slow service at one of the in-house restaurants. I found the service in many restaurants to be difficult at times, but I can’t really place the reason. I do think this comes from cultural differences and language barriers. Even though a restaurant might appear to have multiple servers, don’t count on many of these individuals being your actual server. There are people to help you sit down, people to pour water, people to rearrange your silverware, and you might think as I did that you can order stuff from them. Yeah, about that, their answer to your query will be yes, but don’t count on anything actually being done. The collective consensus of our group was that they either A didn’t understand us, or B can’t do what it is we asked, and have been trained to just say yes to everything.
You can take one of two choices here, just wait until you actually order food and it arrives, or raise a stink by asking every person that walks by until you actually get your food or drink. We usually chose to wait, but once it hit 45 minutes we started to get a little antsy and a bit more demanding. Perhaps the most confusing experience was in my hotel in Columbo where it seemed someone was always taking a fork, adding a fork, or otherwise moving something around me on the table. To be honest, it was getting a bit creepy, as all I wanted to do was eat and a server was always moving something. One of the other travelers in our merry band thinks this is due to the culture being task oriented and not service oriented, which means the workers are more focused on doing a particular job, rather than taking care of customers. Just to be clear, this is by no means a knock on Sri Lanka, just an observation.