Island Hopping

I blame Pavlov and the blasted dogs. The first few notes of “Furry Lees” from the bread van at 5:45am and I’m awake – in fact they only play the well known dee-dee, dee-dee, DEE-dee-deeee bit. (Who needs musical notation?) At least I don’t wake up salivating in anticipation of the van, though maybe that’s to come: my hackles may rise and I’ll be completely barking.

So, my usual early start over, it was off to Madol Duwa with TGS. Koggala Lake – the site of Temple Island, Bird Island, Cinnamon Island, Mangrove Island (Madol Duwa) and half a dozen more is twenty minutes or so south of Galle. Unfortunately, they have missed a trick: with Craggy Island they could have done Father Ted memorial trips as well.

Our party comprised the following: three quarters of the P4-8s, one having been banned for some misdemeanour –  which doesn’t altogether surprise me; the three P2-3s; Nadia, the organiser; Nadeshani and Nilukka, the relevant class teachers; Hajira, the virtually-silent student classroom assistant; and me. That’s a good 5:6 staff to pupil ratio. The boat was small and we filled it, Nadeshani apparently feeling nervous and queasy as we chugged over the still waters in the morning sun.

First came Cinnamon Island where they demonstrate the technique of producing – oh Hell, you don’t need me to tell you as the clue’s in the name. It was actually quite interesting and we watched the scraping away of the bark, the removal of a thin layer of the wood underneath – “phloem” as the now-recovered and science-teaching Nadeshani reminded us – which is then left for a fortnight to dry out of direct sunlight, during which time it turns (spoiler alert!) cinnamon colour. We learned how it can be ground in a mortar and pestle and then sieved to produce the powder. We tasted tea made with the spice but made our excuses and left as the shopping opportunity approached. I was first introduced to the terms “phloem and xylem”, as well as “mortar and pestle”, over fifty years ago and I still have to stop and think which is which out of each pair.

Back on the boat we headed for Temple Island and visited the religious structure thereon. We were warned a) not to talk as the monks were meditating, b) to take our shoes off near the entrance, c) that Nadia and I might not be allowed in – bare shoulders and knees respectively and d) not to take photos. There were two monks watering some plants but nothing else, so we limited our religious observance to item b). I’d have liked to have spent a bit longer on the island, but time was short and the kids wanted to see a sea-plane take off on the lake. It out-waited us and we only heard its engines roar, the take-off being hidden by foliage.

Next was Madol Duwa itself: dire warnings about crocodiles and snakes were issued, but more for dramatic effect I suspect than through any suddenly heightened danger. Nadeshani warned us not to get too close to the water’s edge. There was a path through the island, marked with arrows, and we followed it for the five minutes it took to do a wee circle back to the boat. There were – appropriately – enough mangroves to shake a cinnamon stick at along with lots of jungly stuff. Once again I felt we could have done with longer, but we would have to be back at school in time for the Saudi-bound threesome to collect their recidivist brother and head to Colombo. I think the kids, who are still in the middle of the book, would have got a feel for the environment.

Back on the boat, we returned to the bus and found a spot on Koggala beach to have something to eat. Once again, I avoided the “world’s most expensive dessert” (see https://dougmerrick.wordpress.com/2016/02/13/a-girls-best-friend/) and limited my conspicuous consumption to a pack of peanuts and a “Fantastick” – chocolate ice-lolly thing. We also looked at some tourist-oriented traditional stilt fishermen performing for the crowds of Chinese tourists.

Now for the Martin Wickramsinghe museum, which I visited last year. There was a large party ahead of us at the entrance, but they moved relatively quickly and it was our turn to go in. Nadeshani was deputed to negotiate rates with the officials at the door, but the whole thing became a mess: Was I teacher? Yes. Did I have residence papers? No. Was Nadia a teacher: Yes. Did Nadia have residence papers? Not with her. Time was ticking by – we would only get half an hour in the museum which is worth quite a bit longer. The whole thing came down to whether Nadia & I had to pay LKR200 each (about £1.50 a head) as foreigners or the cheaper local rate, also were all our children under 12? We stood around and – I was about to say “cooled or heels”, but that’s not true – wasted time while this insurmountable problem was dithered over. Eventually I’d had enough and said, “I’ll pay the full amount for Nadia and me – let’s just get in and stop this messing about.” That seemed to speed things up – though in fact poor Nadia coughed up – and we began to get apologies for having to stick to the procedures.

Our visit was short but enjoyable. The kids had been given worksheets by Nadia and, having filled in stuff about cinnamon production, temples etc., were now looking for traditional SL kitchen equipment. Little Azry – the six year old (almost young enough to have got in free) – asked me whether the traditional iron smelting furnace on display, complete with posters about the fluid dynamics of the monsoon winds that would have fanned the flames, would have been used in a kitchen, but lost interest in it when I replied it wouldn’t. We visited Wickramsinghe’s house and looked in the room where he’d been born. Musa declared the sheets needed washing and who am I to disagree. I felt the ludicrous irrelevance of the Honours system as we looked at a display of Elizabeth II awarding Wickramsinghe an MBE and I tried to explain it to an audience of kids and local teachers.

There was a brief time to sit on the grass so the kids could complete their worksheet by drawing the “Ancestral Home”: I don’t think there were any budding architectural technicians in the group. We were back at school bang on 12:30 as promised and the Saudi-bound group leapt into their large car, presumably accompanied by the banned Ibrahim.

For some reason I felt I’d earned a decent meal that didn’t involve rice or curry, so I took a bus into town and went to Fortalezza, the nearest thing to posh eating that’s within my budget. I started with Tomato Bruschetta – a very passable simulacrum of the real thing – and then Mezze, which was / were as good as I remembered from a previous visit. I’m rather ashamed to say that I also had Podi Banoffee Pies and ice cream: I don’t know what Podi means – I suspect it’s Sinhala for miniature. All this washed down with two beers cost me £18 and I reckon it was worth every penny.

After lunch I wandered along to see the Hindu temple. Last year they were building it and they’re still at it. It’s a big temple with at least three “spires”, two of which seem to have been built, the third being under wraps at present. It may be that the incredibly ornate statues accreted to the building are bought wholesale from Temples’R’Us, but they are very impressive. Just along the road is another, older, Hindu temple with all its decoration painted. If the plan is to do the same with the new building, it’ll look amazing.

A brief trip to Keel’s the slightly more “European” supermarket followed, as I was in the area, and I stocked up on Gold Blend and Great Grains Banana Nut Crunch. I also decided to risk a pineapple: if my leg bursts in a thousand blisters and falls off, we’ll know what to blame.

I suppose it’s attributable to my age – or possibly the two beers – that I fell asleep for a couple of hours when I got back to base.

To manage space better, I’ll post some photos on a separate page.

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