Kandy And Dambulla - From Busy Streets To Biodynamics
Last week was full of adventure. We visited an organic dairy farm in Negombo, bathed in the rock pool of a pristine jungle waterfall with turquoise hued water, and swam in a beautiful and famous river. However, due to an unfortunate incident involving a faulty power converter, my laptop computer and a power failure at our hotel in Kandy, that part of our travels in Sri Lanka will be posted at a later date. I hope.
On to this week. We awoke early on Tuesday morning and headed out to Kandy - a historic city in the mountains - where we would be visiting the people who work hard every day to bring us Cha's Organics spices and coconut milk. The drive was mostly uneventful, which is a good thing when travelling on crazy roads with kids. A little motion sickness from our littlest one just before we arrived in Kandy, but luckily I had packed some emergency baby wipes and spare clothes for everyone. Before long we arrived at our hotel with all the travellers in good humour and clean clothes. After the long drive we decided to take it easy for the evening, and the girls fell asleep at a relatively normal time (yay!) after a quick swim in the pool and a quick bite at the restaurant buffet.
The following day was spent in the company of Dr. Sarath Ranaweera and his team at Bio Foods, our Sri Lankan partner that handles the processing, packaging and export of Cha's Oganics products. We left the girls at the hotel with Chanaka's sister Shiromi, who kindly agreed to accompany us on the first leg of our trip to Kandy. Before leaving the hotel in the morning we all got to see a family of monkeys literally hanging out on the hotel balconies and surrounding trees. The girls were thrilled of course. A good start to our day.
At Bio Foods, we were treated to the world's most delicious tea (called Heaven Scent), which is grown as part of a church project in support of women who have been victims of domestic or other types of violence. Then after some morning meetings we were again treated, this time to a delicious rice and curry lunch made with organic ingredients and ending with a dessert of fresh organic buffalo curd topped with pure authentic organic treacle (sort of like plain yogurt with maple syrup, Sri Lankan style).
Back at the Bio Foods office, we discussed some innovative new products that we'll be rolling out over the next year, as well as some updates to our current product line. We're so excited to see our new products become reality, and can't wait to show everyone back home what we've been working on. We guarantee you won't be disappointed.
The next day was to be spent visiting the new spice processing unit in Dambulla. I would make the trip alone this time so that Chanaka could spend some down time with the girls, seeing as he had already visited the new facility in December. I was up early at 6 AM to catch up on some work, grabbed a fresh papaya juice from the restaurant, plugged in my laptop and turned it on. Nasty surprise: last night's power failure must have fried my computer's circuits.
What to do? My hosts from Bio Foods were ready to bring me to visit the new facility, so off we went after a quick stop at the Mac shop where I was told I would have to try my luck in Colombo. As we drove through town, I looked up and saw the giant Buddha statue that sits in timeless meditation, calmly overlooking the busy city of Kandy. I reminded myself again to rise above all this while being careful to stay grounded, to keep calm and not to spiral into a vicious cycle of catastrophizing and beating myself up. Then, quite predictably, I found myself falling into that very cycle.
The road we drove along on our way to Dambulla was a winding one indeed, and the air coming through the AC smelled of diesel and car exhaust. I started to feel noticeably unwell, which didn't help my mood at all. To focus my mind, I tried concentrating only on the present moment and my five senses. Sight: road work. Physical sensation: motion sickness. Hearing: car horns beeping. Taste: bad nervous taste. Smell: ugh. I had to try something else.
Focusing instead on the lush green foliage of the many beautiful trees outside, and telling myself that whatever was to become of my computer everything would turn out OK, I slowly brought myself back into the moment. I continued to stay in the moment, and before long the moment got better. We had left the noisy, crowded areas on the outskirts of Kandy and entered more rural terrain. Coconut trees, banana trees and pepper vines passed by outside the window, along with scattered road side stands and small shops that looked like they had seen better days.
We arrived some time later in Dambulla, home of the famous ancient cave temple, and pulled up to the new spice processing unit. We crossed the sun drying floors where lemongrass, black pepper and nutmeg had been spread out to dry in the hot mid-day sun, then headed towards the main processing unit. In the entrance way I was asked to remove my earrings and shoes, then given a pair of white slippers along with a white coat, new hairnet and paper mask all nicely sealed in plastic wrap.
We entered the first room, where four groups of women patiently sorted some newly arrived black pepper, being careful to remove any twigs, stones or white peppercorns. The next room was the drying room, where herbs and spices were dried after being washed in pure spring water. The warm air was thick with the scent of the ginger that was being dried in the retorter. Fresh green curry leaf was also drying slowly in the warm air of the main dryer, a custom designed feat of brilliant engineering.
After touring the entire facility, we returned to the sun drying floors, where a small group of women were carefully peeling the delicate mace from freshly sundried nutmeg. I couldn't resist asking if I could try peeling one. I did succeed in removing the mace nearly intact, but not nearly as quickly as the more highly skilled women who looked on in amusement.
Next stop: lunch at the Seethavalley Biodynamic gardens and organic training institute, a sister project specialized in biodynamics and select crops (including several varieties of traditional rice). I was told it would be a special lunch, but had no idea what to expect. After touring the beautiful gardens, I was invited to step into a nice clay hut with thatched roof and clay benches along the walls inside. The air was noticeably cooler inside the hut, and the energy calm and earthy. I was handed a coconut shell cup filled with cool water, and a fresh lotus leaf which was to serve as my plate.
A gorgeous lunch of traditional red rice and vegetarian curries was then served to me with coconut shell spoons, from clay pots. All organic and biodynamic of course. Special was not the word, this was simply divine. A moment to savour for sure.
Then, after seeing more of the biodynamic gardens, it was time to head back to the hotel to join Chanaka, the girls and Chanaka's mother who would be babysitting for us the next day.
Next up: a visit with our organic spice growers.