Today my family I went out on a boat to visit 3 different snorkel locations. We caught our guide waiting on the beach, ready to motor us on the water and back. The boat was old, painted a flaky white with a sun roof and two red, blue and yellow pontoons floating on either side. We started off driving left and heading southeast towards a different island. The 15 mins travel time ended and we found ourselves looking at rugged island covered in trees, shrubs – simply, a whole lot of green. But there were no buildings on this ‘Eco’ island. My dad told me that there could be a reason why you don’t see anyone living here. For instance, it would be really hard to clear or even make room to build because of its ruggedness. And secondly, there could be no running water that people could use to irrigate crops. On the island of Bali, there was a whole water system that ran by gravity down the mountain that people used to irrigate rice fields and to bathe in. This place was called Crystal Bay. The snorkeling was fantastic. The water was nice and deep with lots of fish, colorful coral, and clear. Oh the water! Blue-greens and purples colored the water in such a way, you’d think you were stuck inside a post card advertising “the best and most beautiful beaches, snorkeling, and diving you have ever seen” at some remote tropical island resort. Our second stop was much like the first and a lot closer than our final destination. Dad found a fist-sized cowrie and showed us all. Mom called it her anniversary present, even though he put the living snail back. Our final snorkel spot was called Mangrove. The Mangrove snorkeling was a coral wonderland. It’s was deep enough so that we weren’t stepping on and killing the coral, but shallow enough that we could see everything with having to dive down and look around. A guide at another boat threw in some bread, and within 30 seconds a vortex of colorful little fish swarmed around and devoured all the food. I was smart enough to get some for myself, so when I held out my hand I could feel and see the fish nibbling my hand. What an experience! We continued looking around and exploring until we were too tired to swim anymore. We hopped back in the boat and started the return journey back to our guest house in Mushroom Bay on Lembongan Island.
Who would have thought…. finding in a house in a rice field in rural Bali that we would be talking about skiing in Obertauern, Austria with our fellow house guest? Turns out that Regina, the German woman who is staying in the studio apartment in the house used to go skiing in Obertauern every winter. Anybody else out there ever HEARD of Obertauern, Austria?
Who would have thought…that the principal of the Green School Bali taught my cousin’s son in Middle School in Arcata, California…AND that he grew up in Sherman Oaks, the zip code/neighborhood next to Studio City, where I grew up. The bus I took every day to Milliken Jr. High went past the High School he attended, Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks. One of my best friends attended NDHS five years before Andy.
When my cousin Phil found out that we were in Bali, he told us via Facebook that we should go visit the Green School Bali. A friend and teacher of Phil’s so Ross is the principal there. For some reason, for days we could not load the school’s website and only learned about what it was through articles on the web and a TED video. Finally, we called the school with our skype phone number and Gigi was able to connect with Andy via email. We signed up for one their regular afternoon scheduled tours on a Friday. Luck would have it, too, that the only day we would be able to visit was their Green Stock Festival Day. The whole afternoon would be music, food and activites with everyone dressing like hippies. Cool!
If we had heard about the Green School Bali six months ago, Jordan and Justin might very well have been attending for the second semester of the school year. Gigi and I may have been attending daily yoga sessions in Ubud while the boys were in class. For sure, the boys would have agreed to attend this school in a hearbeat. You have to check this school’s website out if you are interested in Green curriculum, all bamboo construction, or just something completely out of the ordinary. www.greenschool.org is the web address.
We arrived at the school, and it feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere; actually, it is halfway between Denpassar and Ubud. Our tour leader, Ben, explained that the founders of the school wanted to create a school environment that was not ‘flourescent bulbs inside four walls’ as was the design of all the other private expat schools on Bali. Boy, did they ever break away from that blueprint. The bamboo structures are scattered through a forest, and the school land is bisected by a river. Ben, the tour leader, definitely added to the entertainment of the visit. He has done something like 2000 tours of the school since it opened five years ago. He did not need that cup of coffee he was carrying with him. He was so enthusiastic and at the same time self deprecating.
While Gigi, Regina and I took the tour, the boys were already mixing with the students. Ah, another chance for our boys to peel away from us and play with others their own age! Jordan joined a soccer game on the field and Justin found a group of four boys to hang out with. They knew his name immediately. Many students and their parents got into the groove and were dressed in ’60′s style clothing. There was excellent food served on woven bamboo plates with banana leaf liners. They had a lineup of musicians both young and old playing a steady stream of Beatles, Jimi Hendix, The Doors, and other 60′s bands.
I found Andy, and although he was technically on the clock – this was prime schmooze time with parents for a principal – we had a nice talk about the school and the type of parents it attracts. Really, I could have seen our family joining this community for a school semester. It is amazing that after opening only five years ago, they are already up to 270 students.
We were enjoying ourselves so much, and I mean all of us, that we stayed past dark until it was time for the 2nd Annual Student Cabaret Show. We call them Talent Shows at home. We watched two performances, and since this type of event really is for the kids and the parents, we finally dragged ourselves away from the Green School Bali and went home. We had planned a night in Ubud for dinner and watching a Barung dance at the Ubud Royal Palace, but the Green School’s Green Stock Festival had enthralled us and worn us out. We headed straight home. Thank you Green School!
Hands on education day two. Wayan drove us 30 minutes to the town of Celuk. This town specializes in silver smithing with one book quoting that 90% of people are employed in this business. We entered a home compound. The workshop looked like a garage operation with 3 wooden table workstations. The master silversmith greeted us and immediately launched into his scripted tourist presentations. We heard him repeat this three times for other visitors while we were there. Yesterday, the woodworking master had his own, remarkably similar canned preso for all the tourists visiting. Today, it was all about silver, where it is mined (not on Bali), what the purity is, what techniques they use.
We had booked a three hour silvesmithing class for the boys. They stared out learning that silver jewerly is made from a mixture of silver and copper. They then melted the two metals, whose initial form were tiny balls, in a small clay crucible using a blowtorch. The blowtorch used liquid fuel – kerosene? – and a small foot bellows provided the oxygen. There was a definite technique to making this apparatus produce a flame hot enough to melt the metals. Justin went first, and his heavy stomping created too much of an oxygen mix and he kept blowing out the flame. It took a long time for him to melt his his metals. The three silversmiths huddled around him, fiddling with the gas-air mix valved, directing the flame, joking lightly the whole time. Justin’s leg got tired pumping. Eventually, he was able to produce a ball of liquid metal that was poured into an ingot mould and he then had a pinky finger shaped bar of .925% silver weighing 13 grams. Jordan immediately figured out how to correctly pump the foot bellows, and he had his siver-copper mix melted so quickly that the silversmith master invited him to come back one summer and work with them to learn silver smithing.
If Justin was jealous of his brother’s aptitude and this praise, he did not show it. Perhaps he was too occupied with the next stwp of hammering his ingot flat. Te tools for this were a small hammer, thick pliers and a small anvil mounted on a wood block. The boys needed to get the silver ingot flattened enough so that it could pass through the pressing machine, the third step in the process. The boys hammered and hammered, but they made slow progress flattening their ingots. The apprentice who was now helping them heated the metal to soften it. When the ingot was flat enough, they took it over to the press which functioned exactly like those penny pressing machines that then stamp the flattened penny with a logo memorizliing your visit to San Francisco or Yosemite. The metal was passed through several times and the boys’ job was to turn the hand crank. This was about the end of their physical involvement with the process. They had turned little balls of sliver and copper into a thin, flat finger silzed shape.
Next in the process was the jewerly design. The boys wanted to make a necklace pendant modeled after a pendant Jordan bought way back in Gamla Stan in Sweden and had been wearing this whole trip. The size, thickness and shape perfectly matched the raw metail they had to work with. The silve smith used tin snips to cut the silver into the proper sized ovals. We got four of them, one for each member of the family. The final physical part of the boys work was to use metal dye stamps to imprint their initials and testify that the silver was .925% sterling.
The pendant designs were to be made using silver wire that was soldered onto the pendant. The designs had to be simple given our brief time frame. Gigi chose a flower, Jordan three tight swirls, Justin a curly S shape. I chose a stylized manta ray. We watched as the apprentice first made a glue using berries from a bush in the yard mixed with borax to make the glue. While the silversmith was deftly making our designs and sizing them to the pendiants, Jordan and Justin’s attention waned. They had worked hard and were tired and the day was warming up. Justin wandered the driveway looking at the cocks locked in their basket cages, the catfish in the fishpond, the baby chicks running free, and of course the geckos. Jordan was playing chess against the computer on his iPad.
Although we were spent, the silversmith worked diligently on. He made the silver wire designs, soldered the silver wire and shaped and polished the pendant on the buffing wheel. A dip in battery acid produced shining silver finished products. We were all very impressed with our jewerly, which only 3 hours earlier had been just tiny beads of silver and copper. We thanked the two silversmiths and the apprentice for this
chance to see balinese silversmithing first hand.
Bali is famous for its artisans,and the book tourist guides all talk about the ability to take classes in Batik, silver smithing, painting, or woodcarving. We decided to start our journey in the world of balinese artisianship with a visit to a wood carving operation. Wayan drove us to a town that specializes in wood carving. We had not booked a formal class in advance. When we arrived, there were three carvers working in the open compound. We were recieved by the master carver/owner of the establishment and given a brief explanation of wood carving in Bali. We simply asked if the boys could receive some hands on instruction in wood carving, and the answer was a smiling affirmative. Two of the carvers put down the carvings they were working on and went to the wood pile and selected some raw wood blocks for the boys. They did not speak english, but one of the helpers did and acted as translator.
Initially, the boys were just watching the carvers as they used small hatchets to shape the wood block. Justin knew right away that his carver was going for a turtle, but Jordan’s carver was leaving him in suspense as to what he was working on. Eventually, Jordan was clued in that it was to be a half moon shaped mask.
Once the hatchets were put away, it was all chisel and hammer work. This is when the boys got to participate. They chipped and shaved under the watchful eyes of the wood carvers. The wood was passed back and forth between master and novice. The boys finally were given rough, but detailed carvings to take home with them. When they make it home, the boys can sand them smooth and polish them. They were so excited by what they had experienced that they began plotting to turn the ‘lego’ room at home into a wood carving workshop. We will see if this enthusiasm has legs. Whether or not it does, this is the kind of experiential learning we were hoping to find on this trip to Bali.
We are now staying in the tiny village of Pejang Kangin, which is a 20 minute drive east of Ubud. Our host/house manager Wayan picked us up from our hotel in Nusa Dua yesterday and drove us up here. Traffic up through Sanur was terrible, and even when we got out of the gravitational pull of Denpassar, we still ran into slow traffic and some backups. The car ride lasted almost two hours to travel 50 kilometers. Wayan is very gregarious and immediately was asking us about our stay in Bali. When we told him we had been in Seminyak, he called it ‘Baliwood’; Nusa Dua he called ‘Balihawaii’. The place he was taking us to was ‘RealBali’. So here are my impressions of the three faces of Bali we have seen so far: Baliwood, Balihawaii, RealBali.
Baliwood: Seminyak was our first stop in Bali. It is not too far from the airport and is known for its beach, shopping boutiques and nightlife. The drive from the airport was along a two lane road choked with motorcycles and taxis. Shops lined the road. At first in Kuta they were pretty ramshackle, but by the time we got into Seminyak they had become quite modern and stylish. Many of these shops could have been transplanted to our main shopping street Laurel Ave in San Carlos and fit right in. The road itself was a narrow two lanes and the sidewalks also narrow and uneven, the quality of which really contrasted with the colorful and immaculate interiors of these shops.
On our second day, we walked 20 minutes down DoubleSix road to the beach. First impression was YUK! There was a small creek that emptied onto the sand, and it stank. I really could not believe that people were eating in the nicer warungs (small restaurants) right next to this stench. A very trendy restaurant/nightclub called Coco Beach was also right there. On the far side of Coco Beach loomed the concrete skeleton of a new resort hotel, complete with all the accompanying noise pollution of hammers and pounding and whatnot. The beach itself was a dense, dark sand that due to its shallow pitch had a wide intertidal zone. Half the beach disappeared at high tide. Unfortunately, what was left at the high tide mark was washed up trash. Aussies fly up to vacation here? Gigi and I were feeling let down. The boys, however, were excited because they focused solely on the waves, waves that you could boogie board on. We walked westward on the beach, away from Kuta and the stinky creek, and with every 100 meters the beach got visibly cleaner. We stopped after about half a kilometer and settled in for a day at the beach. One good thing about Seminyak beach are the services available. Every day we rented a pair of beach loungers with an umbrella and two boogie boards for $15.00. Small beach warungs are numerous for food and drink. There are lifeguards, which is a good thing because the rip current was strong on this beach. As long as the boys were tethered to their boogie boards, however, they were safe. Our other two days on the beach were spent in front of Ku De Ta beach club. The beach there was quite clean and the taxi ride to get there was only $1.50. We quickly learned that taxi rides here were dirt cheap and taxis were everywhere looking for fares.
The nightlife was something we did not partake in. The Lonely Planet guide said that many of the clubs don’t get going until after midnight. We did see the beachside clubs Coco Beach, Ku De Ta, and Potato Head during daylight hours. We spent a late afternoon post-beach at Potato Head. The boys loved the infinity pool overlooking the beach. Jordan was especially excited that there was a swim up pool bar where he could order a vanilla milkshake and sit on a stool in the pool at the bar and enjoy his drink. We ordered some appetizers and listened to the live DJ mixing tunes we had never heard before and watched the place slowly fill up for sunset viewing.
Overall, we decided that the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak strip of Bali was not worth a return visit. We did not partake in two of the three major attractions – shopping and nightlife – and the beach just did not meet our expectations.
Balihawaii: Nusa Dua was our next sojourn. This area is a planned mega resort complex with hotel chain names like Westin and Grand Hyatt and a large open air shopping mall called Bali Connection. The road into the resort was gated with guards who checked every car coming in. Once inside, there were wide avenues with sidewalks and landscaped greenery. Traffic was minimal. We were staying at the Melia Bali, and like all large resort hotels, it had a grand entry and lobby. The buildings were arranged in a horseshoe around lush tropical gardens, the pool, and open to the beach. The architecture had a balinese flair, the staff were friendly balinese who greeted you with hands in the prayer position. Other than these two things, this hotel could have been in Hawaii. The trees were the same, including the frangipani/plumeria and coconut palms. The restaurants were japanese, italian, asian fusion, and beach burger fare. The hotel guests were predominantly a mixture of Aussies, Japanese and Russians. The beach was completely different from Seminyak, which was most welcome. The sand was coarse and golden, a fringing reef turned the swimming area into a bathtub, and the tidal change left the beach bereft of water for half the day. Surprisingly, we spent time at the beach only for beach volleyball. We never went into the water.
We had booked this hotel hoping to find kids on vacation who our boys could play with. In this hope, we hit pay dirt. Jordan and Justin spent all four days playing in the pool with a posse of boys who’s ages ranged from 5 to 14, Jordan being the oldest of the group. There were two boys from London, a trio of italians, two swedes and a russian in the group. All boys. They played tag, hide and go seek, water polo and pool basketball. Because everyone seemed to be spending a week at the resort, the same group was present until Sunday morning when it was time for them to go back home.
Our time at the Melia Bali was quite comfy. Our room was clean and spacious. The resort was not crowded at all. It may have felt like being in a Hawaiian resort, but it was cheaper than Hawaii. We ate very well at dinner for $75 and had massages for $30/hour. The best of all was the time the boys had playing with other boys. That has been a real rarity on this trip.
Overall a good rating, but we can get the same vibe and environment after only a five hour flight. Bali is some 20 hours flight from San Francisco.
Day 10 in Bali and it was finally time to leave the tourist fueled madness of the south of Bali. We are not so far from the main roads leading into Ubud that are lined with artisan shops, but from our present vantage point, they don’t exist. We are staying just outside the rice paddy village of Pejang Kana. Our house is a tiny island in a sea of rice paddies fenced in by jungle. The view in all 4 directions from the second story windows are verdant, mature rice, a checkerboard of deep greens and yellow-greens, then a belt of 60 foot or more high palm trees and tropical hardwoods, capped with a dome of blue sky and fluffy grey-white clouds that portend afternoon showers. The rice is around 70 days old with grain heads already full. There is a fairly strong breeze blowing, which keeps the air comfortable and our skin dry. The humidity and heat is not bad, which is a good thing as this house has no air con and only two floor fans. Mother Nature is keeping things comfortable. The house is 1000 meters from the paved road. The approach to the house is along a 3 foot wide brick paved path that runs along an irrigation ditch. The house’s front porch is directly on this path, and we regularly greet the farmers walking along the path, some with huge loads of cut weeds balanced on their heads. They are delivering the weeds as fodder to the 20 or so brown cows at the farm located between us and the road. The little town is a 5 minute walk, hidden in the jungle overgrowth just beyond the border of the rice paddies. Everyone says ‘Hi’ to us and ‘Where are you from?’. Some ask, ‘Where are you staying?’. We are the only tourists in this village, the closest hotel, Hotel Ubud, is a few kilometers away.
The house itself is quite comfortable. We have the two story, two bedroom part of the house. We have a patio with a small water lily pond. One large pink flower bud was waiting to greet us. On our first morning it had opened fully and we could not keep our eyes off of it as we ate a breakfast of cut fruit and black rice pudding with coconut milk and brown sugar sauce. We have a cook available to us, and she has already proven that the glowing write ups on the Air BnB site were justified. The kitchen is a small shack in the front yard. There is also another studio apartment in the building which is currently occupied by a german woman from….Gottingen! Another small world story. Gottingen University in Germany is where I studied my junior year abroad in college. Gigi is the one who is finding so much in common with this lady, however, and they are already enjoying long conversations together.
During our first full day in the RealBali, we really waded into it. Our host Wayan (means son #1 or #5 in Bali – this Wayan was #5) took us on an hour walk through the rice paddies to his family’s compound. We walked only on dirt paths along irrigation ditches or on paddy dikes, passing farmers working the fields or being passed by men on motorbikes. We had some fun with coconuts and a bamboo carrying stick, the boys testing the weight of 5 coconuts balanced on their shoulders. Wayan’s family compound was immaculate. There were 4 cocks in wicker baskets at the entry, which were destined for bloodletting at the temple. Each family member had their own small house with mosaic pathways linking them all together. Parents and Auntie also lived here. He showed us the family shrine inside the compound walls. We ate another delicious, multi-course meal cooked by his wife Putri. Afterwards, we were driven home on mopeds. Jordan and Justin rode with Putri. Three people on a moped, no helmets. Now that is RealBali!
This day was also a religious festival at the local temple. If I understood correctly it was the celebration of the temple’s founding (very uncertain here, we are finding lots of temple celebrations during our travels in Bali), which happens every 210 days. The temple would have a gamelan orchestra playing in the evening. Putri and her daughter came by at 6:30 PM with Sarongs for all and blouses for the women and head dresses for the men. Jordan, Justin and I have white shirts with us, which is a temple attire must. Bring a white shirt if you come to Bali! We got dressed and off to Balinese temple we went. The gamelan orchestra was enchanting, the deep vibrations are really felt inside your body. We watched this festive atmosphere camouflaged as locals, but not fooling anyone, but no one really minded us. Outside the temple walls a few warungs were selling food, there was a stand for buying toy junk stuff, and a man had a bouquet of helium balloons. It is odd to see a red Angry Bird floating by in the midst of such ancient, non-western tradition. Jordan actually entered the temple with Putri for prayer, and came out with grains of rice stuck to his forehead. As we said goodnight to Putri, she offered us some of the blessed food that she was bringing home from the temple. The next morning, Jordan and Justin said the blessed apple tasted especially good. And the day was good, too, the siblings did not once quibble. Our family needs more blessed apples.
For me, RealBali wins the Best of the Three Faces award.
When booking our Bali accommodations, Gigi really struggled on making a decision where to stay. Now that we are near the end of our year abroad, we are beginning to run on financial fumes, so to speak. We won’t find ourselves standing on a street corner in Xian begging for yuan for bus fare to Beijing, but we do need to to watch our budget. Now, Bali can be done very inexpensively, or also quite luxuriously. We have been able to stay out of hotels for pretty much our entire trip, but what we were finding in Seminyak were ‘villas’ that looked pretty luxurious and on the outside range of our budget. Gigi zeroed in on Nest Villas and after a few days of not finding anything in the ‘budget’ category that gave us the warm fuzzies, we booked it. Wow, good choice! We can beg for yuan later if need be.
The villa provided pick up at the airport. We drove through motorcycle and taxi choked streets. The villas were located way down a narrow, one lane alley that was only partially paved and looked quite shabby. However, appearances changes radically once we entered our villa. Everything here seems to be hidden behind high walls, so we could not evaluate what we were getting until we walked through the heavy wooden door.
Balinese style houses are open plan. The interior looked like a covered patio with a pool circumvented by a wooden deck. 8 foot walls gave us our privacy. The covered ‘patio’ was the house. We had a full kitchen with and island, a heavy wooden dining table that could seat 10, and couch and coffee table area with a flat screen TV. To Justin’s delight, we even had an L-shaped Koi pond that separated the dining table from a planter with 4 palm trees. We had a fern wall. The two bedrooms were separated and both had sliding glass doors, curtains for privacy, and very effective air conditioning. The master ensuite bathroom was open air. With all this open air living (except for the bedrooms, which we only used for sleeping) we were at the mercy of the environment. This really was not a problem. Although just a bit cooler than Singapore, the humidity was much less. We did not feel the need for air con or fans. We only had rain at night after 9 PM. In the evenings, we did have some mosquitoes buzzing around, but only a few. Most nights we had a slight breeze that kept them away. Justin, our sweet blooded boy, only got a few bites during the stay.
What really made us appreciate this villa was the level of service and extras provided. In addition to airport pickup and transfer to our next hotel in Nusa Dua, we got these things: 2 cell phones with prepaid SIM card, beach bags with beach towels, daily laundry service, welcome tea, large fruit bowl, hot breakfast, and our own personal cook. Awen, the villa manager, checked in with us daily to see how we were doing and acted as our personal trip planner. She gave us daily suggestions on beaches, restaurants, attractions and prices. She was extremely pleasant and even baked us finger sized French cakes one day. Siti, our personal cook, was fantastic. She arrived at 8:30 every morning with a smile to cook us a hot breakfast, and instructions to us were that she was at our service for the next 8 hours. We had her cook one extra meal each day- that was always plentiful and delicious. She even did the shopping for our groceries, we just gave her the money for the ingredients. One day, we had one hour in-house massages and facials at a rate of $15 a treatment. We are being pampered! What a great way to start our three weeks here. Loving Bali!
We are now in Bali. We will spend 5 days in at Nest Vilas in Seminyak, then go to Nusa Dua to stay 5 days at the Melia Bali beach resort hotel, then go stay 6 nights in at the Swallow Guesthouse villa in Tampak Siring outside of Ubud. We have 4 final nights open and we will decide where to stay once we get a better feel for Bali.
As we drove by Weligama beach from Tissa to Unawatuna, we saw dozens of large boats with outrigger pontoons beached high and dry. Along the road were also dozens of wooden huts with fish laid out on wooden tables under shade awnings. No electricity and thus no refrigeration. This fish was fresh and the fisherman needed to sell them. I imagine the older, more odiferous fish would simply end up in curries, their slightly rotten nature masked by the abundant Sri Lankan spices. The fish we ate while we were here was simply fresh and delicious.
On Saturday, Pearl found out that our house manager’s father was a fisherman. The fisherman here fish at night and put out on the high tide. Pearl asked if the man would take us out on his boat to do a little fishing. No problem! All can be done for a nominal price.This activity was not on our ‘To Do’ list this trip, but I know that Justin and I are always up for the chance to try our hand at fishing. It was settled that We would wake up at 5:30 AM on our last day in Sri Lanka
and go out ocean fishing. It would be just Bernie, me and the kids. Pearl and Gigi’s sense of adventure does not extend to cramped fishing boats bobbing out on the Indian Ocean. Their loss, or maybe I will leave such judgement to my readers.
We were up and out and tuk-tukking our way to a beach just outside the Galle fort walls. At the beach, there were already fishermen selling their catch from the roadside stands. We looked around and saw tuna (one was 56 Kg and at least 10 inches in diameter, the others all way puny in comparison), a small dorado, rockfish, sardines, and a few other types I could not name. The sea looked to provide a good bounty. One fisherman commented, ‘When the sun comes up, you can’t catch fish.’ We hoped he was wrong.
Our fishing vessel was not one of the boats on the beach, they were high and dry until the next high tide. Our boat came around the point and pulled into the cove. It was maybe 4 meters in length and was fiberglass and powered with a 15 hp outboard engine. We waded knee deep into the water, put on life vests and jumped into the open boat. This was an unexpected bonus, I wonder how hard it was for them to find 6 life vests. The kids sat on a fishing net in the bottom of the boat, Bernie and I leaned against the sides. Off we went with the Galle fort on our right. Ahead of us was open ocean, all the way to Antarctica. We began to encounter some gentle rollers, but the captain turned to the left and got closer to the shore and the rolling of the sea lessened. I am always worried about getting seasick, but I was OK. Justin and Izzy both got a little green, but everyone made it back to shore with stomach contents intact.
We were fishing for rockfish, and really to my surprise we did not get skunked. Our first fishing spot was quiet, and after only 20 minutes the captain weighed anchor and found a new spot 10 minutes cruise further along the shore. Here, we caught fish. Jordan was the first. He caught a small grouper with brown skin and white spots. He actually did not know he had a fish for a while, it was so small. The captain and Bernie both caught similar sized, but very different looking fish. We were fishing with lines from large spools, no rods. The hooks seemed a bit small for deep sea fishing, and probably were gauging by what happened. Bernie, Jordan and I all had the experience of our line getting extremely taught, mine almost felt like I had hooked a rock or heavy seaweed. However, I was able to hand reel in quite a bit of line before it became slack. My leader line had broken. The fish on Bernie and Jordan’s line simply shook the hook. Our non-english speaking crew (captain plus his nephew as crew) did not react at all to the fact that we had lost 3 fish that might have been a decent size. Oh well, we had landed 3 fish, no matter how small, and had the experience of spending a few hours with local fishermen. The sun was rising in the sky and getting hot by 9 AM, so we all pulled up our lines and headed back to shore.
We got back to the mansion and packed our bags. We loaded up the van, and Indra took us through the old portuguese/dutch/english fort of Galle. This is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was hot, so we did not explore much. We did see an old-time snake charmer sitting on the roadside with the classic, bulbous flute and a baby monkey on a leash. Two covered baskets and a burlap sack sat in front of him. We stayed in the van and had Indra get out and give him some money for a show. Out came the python from the burlap sack. Our boys have held pythons multiple times, so this was not so exciting. The excitement came when the tops came off the basket revealing two cobras. He agitated them both so that they rose up and opened their hoods. He used the basket tops to make them sway back and forth. I had heard that these snakes are defanged so there is no danger for the snake charmer. This must be true, as I saw one snake bite his hand as he was reaching to shake the snake’s basket. After 5 minutes, we had seen enough of the show.
Next stop was an open air market in a small plaza overarched by giant trees. Here, Gigi and I found yet another Small World encounter. A man with a french accent was manning a book stand that had a book on tea culture that Gigi really wanted to purchase. When we told him our story and that we lived near St. Tropez, he said he had lived in Ramatouelle and sold T-shirts in the St. Tropez marche years ago. We had been to Ramatuelle several times because our only local french friends lived in that town. There is quite a lot of distance between Ramatuelle and Galle, but there you have it. Paths crossing.
When we were in the highlands we visited the Glenloch tea factory for buffet curry lunch and a plantation tour. This was quite the tourist stop, but as it was our first day in country and a visit to a tea factory was a top To Do thing, we were quite happy to have ticked this activity off our list. All good, we learned about tea, the scenery was beautiful, and we drank and bought tea.
Today, we spent time with Herman at his lowland tea plantation near Galle. This was visit was totally different from our first tea plantation visit. First of all, the draw was that this tea plantation sold white tea harvested untouched by picker’s hands. The picker’s used gold plated scissors and snipped the white tips into bowls. This mimics the story from ancient China that virgins similarly harvested tea so that the emperor’s lips were the only thing human that touched the tea. That story, along with the highest recorded antioxidant percentage – 10.11% – of a natural beverage has made this tea exclusive, much sought after, and quite stratospherically expensive. We had to visit this plantation as it was only about a 30 minute drive from our mansion.
Now, what made this afternoon truly special was that Herman himself took us on a tour of his plantation. The landscape was a mixture of tea plants, peppercorn trees, rubber trees, cinnamon trees, coconut trees, and flowers such as hibiscus. This was no mono culture plantation; the variety of flora created a delightful beauty.
The tour was a short walk up to the veranda of his house where we sat down to drink tea and eat cake and talked tea, Sri Lanka, cinnamon, A Brief History of Tea in Sri Lanka, authoring books, his sons, and such. This man is 69 years old, well spoken and quite witty. He was in no hurry with us, and we felt quite welcome as guests, and not some tourists to rush through to the gift shop.
When we got back to the tour, Herman took us to the factory. Most of the machinery was original from 1860 and had been made in England and Belfast. This was a working museum of machinery. As we finally made it into the gift shop, they had 25 different teas out for tasting. Gigi and Pearl were quite taken with Herman, and they bookended him on a couch and kept chatting with him. No wonder Herman kept saying how much he loved his job, he was a naturally gregarious and generous person, a great ambassador for Sri Lankan tea.