Our tour of Sri Lanka with World Expeditions, Day 11: Today we got to see a very special part of Sri Lanka – the Madu Mangroves. Mangroves are trees that grow in the mud along shallow salt water coasts, they’re common in tropical areas and the ones we traveled through are on the Madu Ganga in Balapitiya.
The Madu Ganga was declared a wetland in 2003 and is still the second largest in Sri Lanka. It’s 32 islands are home to 215 families, 303 species of plants and 248 species of animals. The significance and ecological importance of this place’s beautiful biodiversity make it a stop I would recommend for any trip to Sri Lanka.
Our little boats navigated through a tangle of mangroves that opened out into large lake spaces. We passed a small shrine placed by boatmen and made our way to one of the islands.
When we got onto the island we met a woman who produces cinnamon, one of my favourite spices. Making cinnamon is far from simple and is a fascinating process.
The first thing to understand is that often the “cinnamon” we see in shops or taste in commercially produced dishes in western countries is not actually ‘cinnamon’ but ‘cassia’, a stronger, cheaper plant that offers the same sort of flavours. Cassia is actually delicious and is probably better for use in ‘harsher’ dishes, for example if you’re going to stew something for a long time the cassia would keep offering its flavours whereas the gentler cinnamon would break down. Cinnamon should be used as a seasoning more than an active spice.
Sri Lanka is the world’s #1 producer of true cinnamon and no cassia is grown here. 80-90% of the world’s cinnamon is grown in this country which works out to about 7,000 tonnes.
When a cinnamon tree reaches about 2 years old the farmers cut it back to a stump and cover it with soil. By the next year new shoots have sprouted through the soil and the tree grows back anew. The bark that is stripped from the trunk of the 2 year old tree is left to dry in the sun and naturally curls into quills once dry. It’s then stuffed into larger ‘sticks’ and that’s the product we find in shops and call ‘cinnamon’. You can tell the difference between cinnamon and cassia because when you look at the end of a stick cassia is one solid strip of bark curled in at the edges whereas cinnamon is lots of flaked pieces of bark.
Our journey continued and we saw enormous monitor lizards in the water and the trees – not a bad life I think!
The whole gang has become interested in the food Sri Lankans refer to as “short eats”. We stopped off and tried beautiful varieties of fish cutlets, manu paan, mutton rolls, seeni sambal paan, egg rolls and lots more.
Our visit to the Kosgona Turtle Hatchery was one of the highlights of the entire trip for me so far. The hatchery is part of the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project which has been going on since 1988. The people who own the land and began the project collect turtle eggs, often buying them from local fishermen, and hatch them in nesting grounds created and maintained for the sole purpose of helping these little eggs to become baby turtles. Only a few hatchlings from every batch make it to adulthood so every turtle is precious and the work this project and its volunteers are doing is amazing. It’s also completely funded by donations.
The little hatchlings are kept for 3 days at the nesting grounds until their bellybuttons heal up as it makes them less vulnerable to the predators waiting in the shallow water on the way to the ocean for a tasty little turtle morsel to swim past. Armed with a bit of a fighting chance the babies are eventually released at night.
Everyone in the group loved the experience, it was a real treat.
We arrived in Colombo to find a huge banner welcoming us! It was a bitter sweet moment as it brought the reality that this trip is coming to an end into view. But there was plenty more to come and we all assembled at the bar of the Colombo Hilton. A lovely dance group met us there and escorted our excited crew to a special dining area. The meal that followed was incredible, the Hilton’s chefs, waiters and restaurant did a fantastic job.
We finished the night with gifts for everyone and a few drinks.
The next day was only a half and involved a bit of retail therapy followed by brunch and then sad farewells.
We have become a little family, a group of adventurers and explorers brought together by some eye-opening and possibly life-changing experiences on this trip and it is very hard to part ways.
I know that I will keep the memories of this group, our journey and the magic of Sri Lanka with me and I am sure the others feel the same.
It has been a wonderful trip, Jeremy was a downright legend and I finish this adventure excited for the next.
My next trip with World Expeditions has already been scheduled for this year! You can join me from October 21st to the 1st of November 2013 to experience the majesty of my Sri Lanka – CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
And on a last note a great little diddy by Dorothy Gilmour.
An Ode to Peter’s First Group!
There once was a Peter Kuruvita
Who cooked with great gusto and vita,
Accompanied by Jeremy a man of great energy
They took 16 foodies to the country they love called Sri Lanka.
They travelled as “wisitors”
Without too much pause
And “wisited” many temples and kitchens of course.
They ate their way round the island
With curry and sambal and hopper,
They walked and they climbed Sigiriya,
Till they felt they would all come a cropper!
But onwards till spent they struggled till bent
Whilst Peter blogged all their adventures!
Statistics and history were offered on a mike
Jeremy’s knowledge they respected and liked;
Monkeys and spice, vegetables and rice
Curry and cardamom and coconut oil,
The group persevered with laughter and toil.
Early mornings proved a trial
For those who felt vile,
Diana, Diane along with dear Anne
Joined by Neil and Mary and Con,
With Stacey and Boyd, the young crew
Along with Tammy, Miriam and Dinoo
Completed by Nancy, Lindy and Christian
And who was the chap they must not forget
Ian – the gourmand – Dorothy’s pet!
Heartfelt thanks to Jeremy and Peter
Their knowledge and humour was a feature
Of a tour to never forget
Of eating till kilos did collect
But Jeremy did say on the very first day
To forget the kilos and size
Which our GP’s will clearly despise,
And eat till they are spent and holiday with intent!
And this was achieved – no surprise!
Green tea and jaggery
Nescafé like ………!!!!!!!!!!
They ate and will sorely lament!
So then thank you one and all
For Colombo, Kandy and Galle
It has been a wonderful event
With our money so very well spent!
Hip hip and hooray on this our last day
We return to our homes no delay;
New friendships will prove to be great
May “Boodda” take care of our weight!!!!
By Dorothy Gilmour. 2013