Visiting the home of Ceylon tea

Day 3 of our Sri Lankan adventure was supposed to start with with abseiling down a waterfall. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground was that getting to said waterfall was too far out of the way for us to make the rest of the stops on our packed tour.

While Jerry said he could make it work with some alterations to the other stops, we decided to stick with the original plan and skip the abseiling. After all we can (and have) abseil waterfalls in other places.

The world’s 729th highest waterfall!

Our first stop in the morning was Ramboda Falls, Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall. Its height, 109 m, also makes it the 729th highest waterfall in the world. A statistic which I feel oddly unsure about. I’m not sure if I’m impressed, or surprised that it ranks that high.

Either way, there’s no questioning it’s in a beautiful setting. You can also take an elevator down in the neighbouring hotel for a closer look from the base. Typically there is a fee for non-guests, but I guess DS Tours (Jerry’s employer) puts guests there enough that we got to skip that.

The other nice thing about visiting Ramboda Falls was the altitude which brought with it lower temperatures.

A cuppa

If Sri Lanka is known for one thing it’s tea, specifically, to use the old name for Sri Lanka, Ceylon tea.

We stopped at the Damro Labookellie tea factory. Founded 150 years ago, they say they are “perhaps” the second oldest tea plantation in Sri Lanka. Our visit included a quick tour of the facilities followed by a quick lesson on the different types of tea and then a tasting.

A few random things I learned:

  • Tea leaves are harvested once a week all year long
  • The same plant can be used for 60 years
  • It takes 5 kg of leaves to produce 1 kg of tea (7:1 for silver and gold tip teas)
  • Leaves are dried for 14 hours using fans (no heat) then crushed, cut and dried, with some varieties being left to ferment
  • The size of the leaves determines the taste; finer particles means a stronger taste
  • All teas, e.g. black and green, are made from the same leaves. The only exception is golden which comes from a different plant.
  • White tea is made from tiny leaves with no cutting or fermentation
  • Types:
    • Orange (e.g. in orange pekoe) refers to the colour of the tea when brewed and has nothing to do with the fruit (ok, I should have known this one but embarrassingly I’ve avoided orange pekoe for years when given the choice thinking it would have an orange taste to it.)
    • Pekoe means full curly leaves

When it came to the tasting, it turned out I quite liked the BOP (black orange pekoe) so there you go.

Oh and they still had some Christmas decorations up.

Little England

From the tea plantation we made our way to Nuwara Eliya, also known by the nickname Little England, to catch the train to Ella.

With a little time before our train, Jerry took us to a local restaurant for lunch. (“Restaurant” is probably an overstatement but I can’t think of a better description.) It’s always a good sign when you’re the only tourists and you have no idea what, or even how, to order.

As usual, Jerry took care of things and we were soon eating a cheap but delicious lunch of dosa, pumpkin curry with vegetables and white chili sambol. On the side we had some ulunduwada, which are a kind of deep fried dal and rice donut.

Train to Ella

Sadly our Ella would not be waiting at the end of our train ride, but the trip from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is seen as a required stop on a visit to Sri Lanka. Though we booked our trip about 9 months ago, there were still some issues with our tickets. In the end Jerry got some tickets from a scalper (who I noticed was in his phone as “ticket guy”) and we were on our way.

While it was nice to get out of the car and travel by train, the train ride wasn’t the mind blowing trip we thought it might be. Partly this was due to some misty weather and bad luck with seating which limited our views. The other element is that we’d been seeing some pretty spectacular views on our drive to this point.

While we took the train, Jerry continued on with the car to meet us in Ella. We beat him by a few minutes which gave us time to partake in possibly the most Sri Lankan thing we did all trip, watch some cricket. I won’t lie though, still don’t really know what I’m watching. Cricket aside, arriving in Ella it’s immediately obvious that it’s a backpacker town, if for no other reason than the drop in average tourist age.

After another long day we had dinner at Jerry’s favourite restaurant in his favourite town, Chill, before heading to our hotel for some sleep.

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