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Henry meets Ella!

a quick visit to a tea factory then we head over to Ella - a Sri Lankan jewel

Wednesday 20th November 13 (day 81)

Breakfast was ordered at 9.30 so we were up just before. We were given toast, butter & jam, fresh fruit juice and a pot of tea. Also offered was an omelet, but we declined this, enjoying the toast with our newly purchased vegemite instead.

The day looked sunny and blue skied. After last nights rain I'm surprised everything was not washed away. We used the internet over breakfast to catch up on a few things and by 10.30 we checking out and loading the tuk tuk for another days travel. It was pretty cold last night and this morning we needed to be wearing a sleeve also.

Our first stop was a visit to a tea factory. Well we could hardly drive past so many tea plantations without visiting at least one. The one I chose was called Pedro Estate Tea Factory just 3.5 km from town. Although this one was recommended in the lonely bastard it still sounded like a smaller company that would not be swarming with bus loads of tourists, and I was right. We found it fairly easily and there were just a couple of other tourists in tuk tuk's and mini vans, not the great big coaches like the other tea places we had passed yesterday.

A tour of the factory was Rs 200 ($1.65) per person so we did opt to take it. So glad we did as it was very informative. So here is the rundown that we learnt about tea today:
Plucking - Green leaf, which includes a terminal bud and two young leaves, are picked from Camellia sinensis bushes. Picking is done by hand, selectively in 5-7 day intervals and mostly by women.
Withering - is done to remove excess water from the green leaf and allow a slight amount of oxidation. This process also increases the availability of freed caffeine, which naturally improves the taste of tea. The duration of this process is 8-10 hours.
Rolling & Rotervaning - The withered green leaves are then rolled and formed into wrinkled strips, using a rolling machine. This helps the withered leaf to twist around itself. The rolling process also ruptures the leaf, resulting in a natural chemical reaction taking place which enhances the taste of this wonderful brew.
Fermentation - The rolled and twisted 'dhools' as it is known are then spread for fermentation.
Firing - The dhools are then fired to stop further oxidation and fermentation. After being fired the leaves are referred to as 'fired tea' which is black in colour.
Sifting - Fired tea is thereafter graded into many varieties according to its particle size.

Some more interesting facts: 4 kgs of fresh leaves produce 1 kg of dry tea // the tea is picked all year round // the higher the altitude where the tea is grown the better the quality // the small the leaf after sifting the stronger the tea

This particular tea factory produces 2500kg of dry tea every 24 hours - factory processes 24 hours a day. All of the handling of the leaves through the various processes is done by hand, I guess that is why they have over 1200 employees. Pedro is a wholesale tea company, we were told they do not package their product to sell here or export, they in fact wholesale all their tea to Lipton and Dilmah!

After the tour we were served a free cup of tea, and we were able to purchase some tea that they package just for sale in their tasting room. 200 gram for Rs 200 ($1.65) - this is pretty cheap for an unblended good quality tea.

We did not have far to go today only about 60km but due to it being all twisty windy mountain roads and being in a tuk tuk we knew it was going to take a couple of hours or so and it was already midday by the time we left Pedros.

A quick stop at the post office to buy some stamps back in town and we started to head off to Ella.

We drove past mostly vegetable fields for most of the journey, until the tea came into view again. Many, many roadside stalls selling a great assortment of vegetables that we are disappointed about not seeing on any of the menus in the cafes and restaurants we have been looking at.

While passing through the busy town of Welimada, Lyn stopped the tuk tuk, double parking in the main drag while it quickly jumped out and grabbed us a couple of bonda at only Rs10 (9c) each. I'm liking these potato/lentil balls and have come to accept the fact that they are supposed to be eaten cold. I just try not to think about the amount of handling they have had and smiled at the guy as he served them to me in a paper bag made out of newspaper cut to size and the sides glued up together. They tasted pretty good and were a welcomed snack as we drove along.

2 o'clock and the rain came as clockwork. This seems to be the norm now, and it was not too bad only at one stage during a bad downpour did we have to close up the sides of Henry to keep me from drowning in the back. Only problem with the sides down my view disappears completely so have to rely on Lyn to drive and navigate, which worked out ok today.

We arrived in Ella at about 3 and the it was still raining. We parked up and headed across the road to a cafe for a pot of tea and a think about where we were going to stay. Really we just wanted to sit and wait for the rain to easy a little before doing a hotel search. It was not going to be too difficult as Ella has only one short street. It was recommended to us by Rocky (tuk tuk hire guy) and is claimed to have one of the most beautiful views in Sri Lanka. Well the view was going to have to wait until tomorrow as we would see nothing this afternoon in this rain.

After viewing a couple of different hotels we settled on a mid range one that is right on the street level. Going up to a high view hotel is all well and good, but you have to walk up and down the steep drives to go anywhere. This one was just fine, and after me requesting a better price for a 2 night stay they went down from Rs3600 to Rs3000 ($25). Like I said they always discount, you just have to ask.

Again everyone was amazed that we were driving our own tuk tuk. This fact is a great conversation starter. And of course all during the drive today, we received many a smile, wave and cheer from anyone who saw us. At some point during the day we had stopped at a roadside stall and bought a couple of mats to sit on, the stall was tended by mother & daughter (I think - they did not speak much English) but they came over to Henry as we got back in and were all smiles and giggles as we drove off. Also Lyn said some drivers are giving her right of way when they see that see is driving, this is a bonus as it's usually a free for all and the most aggressive driver goes first.

After checkin we sat in the hotels restaurant and had a beer. The waiter came over and asked if we were sisters. Yes we replied. Ah nice he said that sisters can sit and have a beer together, this would not happen with sisters here - not even brothers he said. Which is true, local women are hardly seen doing anything social and I guess drinking in public would be a big no no. Make you appreciate how lucky and what freedom we have.

Lyn was talking to some fellow tuk tuk drivers today as I was doing the hotel search, and she asked them about the lack of people smoking. They told her lots of people smoke, they just don't do it in public. Ah this is great, if they are not smoking out on the streets and everywhere this is why there are no cigarette butts littering the ground like just about every other country in the world.
Good work guys, smoke in private and keep your butts off the streets!

The rain continued to drizzle until after dark. At about 7 it looked like it had stopped so we went for a walk up the little street. We found place that does laundry, it was already closed, but we will come back tomorrow with our dirties and see if they will wash and dry some clothes for us - if the price is right.

We stopped for a drink and a couple of snacks at another restaurant, not really wanting a full meal.


Thursday 21st November 13 (day 82)

We slept late this morning and then hung around in our room until just before midday. We were greeted by the receptionist with a very worried look on his face. He said he had been very concerned about us as we were so late to leave the room. Other tourists were already gone for the day on a hike or checked out, moving on to their next destination. He was worried that something had happened to us as he had been there since 6am and did not see us leave. He said he was about to come to the room to see if we were ok. So panic over, after explaining to him we were just having an extended rest he seemed ok with it.

We walked the short distance up the road and dropped our washing off at a laundry. Even though they charge per item it will worked out pretty cheap for them to wash 12 items for us to Rs670 = $5.50. It's nice to get our clothes machine washed every now and then as hand washing cleans but not like a machine. They would be ready for collection at 5pm today.

Next stop was breakfast, or I should say brunch. The restaurant we visited last night had poached eggs and bacon listed on its breakfast menu so we were going to give it a go. Sure enough we were served us a genuine poached egg and a couple of small strips of streaky bacon. This with toast, butter, jam, tea for Lyn & coffee for me, then finished off with a small fruit platter for the meagre amount of Rs600 = $5 each. Pretty good value for a western style meal.

Yesterday after we had arrived Lyn had checked out a beauty shop that was offering pedicures for Rs200 = $1.65 so today we thought we might treat ourselves. At this price it didn't matter what it was like just the toe nail paint was worth that price.

We had also decided to visit the nearby tea factory and decided to do this first just in case the afternoon rains came again. Uva Halpewaththa Tea Factory was only 8km back the way we came yesterday. The last 2km off the main road was quite a steep climb on the tiny little track but Henry seemed ok with the climb. This place was a lot bigger than Pedro tea factory we visited the other day. We opted to do a tour of the factory again, as it was only Rs200 = $1.65. Although a lot bigger they did not seem to be processing as much as Pedro. We were shown through the factory which worked almost identical to the other one, just had more machines which did not seem to be operating anyway. Only difference here was they had the dried leaves laid out on fermenting tables before they were being fired. The tour finished with the usual tea tasting and then we were pushed towards the section selling the product. We would have been happy to purchase more tea but the prices here were double and triple the other place so we decided against buying anything in the end. I had read that usually it was cheaper to purchase the local stuff in the town rather than in the overpriced showrooms. We thanked our guide and left. We're not really sure if we are supposed to tip these guides or not, but have chosen not to.

On our way back to Ella we made a small detour up a mountain to a guesthouse that was supposed to have a great view of Ella Gap. And wow, what a magnificent view it did have. We sat and had a drink chatting with the dutch guests who were lucky enough to be staying there. When Lyn asked the price of a room we were surprised that it was only Rs650 more that was we were paying in town. We did not see a room, but guessed it must have been ok as the Dutchies were on a package holiday and usually they stay in decent places. Next time.

It was close to 4pm and we were surprised that the afternoon rain had not yet materialised. The sky was dark and cloudy but as yet no rain. Back in town we made another small detour to the train station to check out train times for tomorrow. There is a short 1 hour trip to the next town where the train travels through the tea plantations etc and is supposed to be a nice ride. I found the times and it would involve us having to spend a couple of hours at the town at the other end but this seemed alright. After I spoke to the guy at the hotel he said it would be possible to get a bus back save waiting for the train. We have not yet experienced a public bus ride so that might be fun. The train leaves at 9.23am and reception asked if we would like a 6am wake up call - funny bugger!
We collected our washing and did a quick lap of the main street, this did not take long as the street is just 200m long. I bought some more chilly chips same as yesterday and we ordered a beer at our hotel restaurant.

Dinner was ordered from the attached roti house. I had a rolled roti filled with chicken and vegetables, easy on the chicken heavy on potatoes, but it was nice. Lyn had kotthu roti = roti chopped up and mixed with vegetables stir fried on a hot plate - also good.

Ah yes we did return to the beauty shop for our Rs200 pedicure, but it turned out that Lyn had viewed the price list without her glasses on and the price was Rs2000 ($16.50) not Rs200 ($1.65). It did seem awfully cheap, so pedicures will have to wait until we get back to Bangkok.
I did however get a quote from a barber who was willing to cut off our hair for the low price of Rs300 ($2.50) but alas we did not get the required 100 comments on my Facebook entry.

Didn't end up raining at all today.


Friday 22nd November 13 (day 83)

We were up and out somewhat earlier today than yesterday. Breakfast of tea and toast at our hotel as we had to be at the train station for the 9.23am train.

Deciding it was safer to leave the tuk tuk parked at the hotel, rather than drive it up and leave it at the train station for half the day, meant we had to walk to the station. Luckily it was only a 10 minute walk. Funny how quickly we get out of shape. After riding the bikes for a few weeks we were in pretty good condition, but now after a few weeks of hire car and tuk tuk as transport all that good fitness has disappeared already.

The train we were wanting to catch was the train that goes on to Kandy but we are only travelling 2 stops - just as a sightseeing trip. There were a few other people also at the station, some with luggage that were obviously going all the way to Kandy, and some with just day pack who were probably doing the same trip as us.

The guy in the ticket office, in his pristine white uniform, sold us 2nd class tickets to Haputale for Rs50 (40c) each. The journey is about 1 hour. Lyn was advised never to travel anything but 1st class in India as the trains were so bad, I was hoping that the trains here were a little better, even though only a one hour journey I did not really want to be standing in the middle of a 1000 people and 14 herds of assorted animals. I should not have worried as the train was almost as clean as the station masters uniform and there were definitely no animals aboard, only a couple of dirty scabby looking backpackers that could have done with a hose down.

Although not air-conditioned, only 1st class is air conned, with the window open it was very pleasant. This train did not have 1st class and even 3rd class which was half the price of 2nd looked comfortable enough. Only difference I could see was 3rd class had bench seats where 2nd had individual seats. And it was no where near full, I think only a handful of tourists were already aboard when it rolled into our station.

The track snaked through the jungle, tea plantations and vegetable patches. Stopping at a few smaller stations before the bigger city of Bandarawela and then our destination Haputale which is perched at the southern end of the hill country. It lies along a ridge with the land falling away steeply on both sides. We were accosted by a barrage of tuk tuk drivers at the train station wanting to take us to a nearby tea factory. But to tell the truth we had already been to 2 tea factories and that was enough. They could not understand that we had just come to see the town and then go back. After walking the town I kind of understand their thinking. LOL there was not much there but we managed to support the local economy by purchasing a few items in a couple of shops.

Next step was to find a bus back to Ella, most everyone on the street was helpful and directed us in the general direction advising we needed to catch bus 99 to the Ella junction and then get another bus into town. Only after a 5 minute wait did bus 99 come along and we were seated directly under the speaker which was screaming out very loud Sri Lankan music, ticket price Ra 48 = 39c. Lucky for us the bus trip was just under an hour and it was interesting to experience a ride in these vehicles that had been tooting us loudly and passing us so dangerously when we were in the tuk tuk. Bus ride did not seem half as scary from the inside as they look from the outside.

The bus conductor instructed us to get off when we reached the junction and then we waited another 15 minutes for the bus that took us the 3.5 km back into Ella Rs13 = 10c. It had been a nice mornings excursion!

Most tourists who come to Ella come to do hiking around the area, not us we relax and do an easy train, bus excursion. Told you our fitness has deserted us!

Time for a cuppa, we sat in a cafe and watched the world go by on the main street of Ella. Come 2pm as clockwork the rain started and it poured on and off for the rest of the day until dark. In one of the clear patches we did a quick lap of the town and ended back at our hotel where it was beer o'clock. Here we sat for another period of time watching the comings and goings from this end of town. We had dinner (mental note do not order western food in an Asian country and expect to get western food). The waiter at our hotels cafe said he like us being her and sitting for long periods of time in the cafe as it attracted other westerns into the restaurant. Which is true, we also tend to levitate to food places where westerns are sitting eating and are still alive. Anyway, the waiter shouted us a pot of tea as a thank you for his restaurant being full the last 3 nights. Glad to help!

It's a shame that the food has not been much of an enjoyment for me here as this is one of the things about travelling that I enjoy the most - the food. But having already known that I don't like curry which is the staple here I did not expect much. I have found a few things that I do like and the rest am suffering the Sri Lankan version of western food.


Posted by Cindy Bruin 01:48 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged pedro ella Comments (0)

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