Later, back at your bungalow, you’ll apply your newly refined palate to make multiple selections from a tea menu throughout the day. Ring your butler for traditional “bed tea” on rising, perhaps another with breakfast after a morning constitutional, and further choices at high tea on the veranda, accompanying tiered platters of sweet scones with clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, and Scotch salmon on toast points. Tea is also incorporated into some of the dishes served at lunches and nightly four-course dinners.
By the time we departed this enchanting, educational oasis, I knew I’d be saying “Cheerio!” to Lipton forever.
Another day, another radical change of environments, and another wish that vacations could be extended indefinitely. Descending from the tea trails on our bus ride to the island’s southwest coast, we skirted the edges of Sri Lanka’s famed wildlife preserves. On a return trip—along with the Dambulla Temple Caves and the citadel ruins on Sigiriya Rock, both a few hours north of Kandy, I would make sure my itinerary included Udawalawe National Park or one of the island’s two other major elephant reserves, where thousands of pachyderms roam wild and can be easily observed in ways that are safe and fully protected for both visitors and the animals themselves (beware of tourist attraction “elephant orphanages” where the animals are captive and often poorly treated).
The Indian Ocean beckoned though, and we made our way to Cape Weligama, a 12-acre seaside promontory dotted with palm trees four stories high and breathtaking rocky coastline views. It’s a resort evocative of contemporary Hawaii, utterly surprising after the inland environments of Kandy and the tea region.
At an indoor-outdoor dining pavilion by the ocean, we noted a particularly eclectic array of visitors: extended Middle-Eastern families of a dozen or more celebrating special occasions, European lesbian couples on holiday, Indian, and Sri Lankan honeymooners.
Snorkeling, swimming, and boating are available on site, and local excursions include the nearby fortress city of Galle, where Sri Lanka’s heritage as a major trading port can be seen in a fascinating mix of Dutch and Portuguese architectural styles.
Before our final drive to the Colombo Airport for departure, we pulled off to the side of the road alongside Weligama Bay. A rickety wooden restaurant offered cold beers and catch-of-the-day lunches, but we were here to see the catching itself.
Following WWII, Sri Lanka experienced serious food shortages and off-shore fishing areas reached by boat, had become overfished. Men from poor coastal villages improvised a new technique, tying vertical crossbars to tall wooden poles which they would carry several meters from shore and plant into coral reefs. These so called “stilts” stand in clusters of a half dozen or so; gnarled, skinny crucifixes buffeted by whitecaps.
At dawn and dusk, the men would climb these poles, balance them- selves on the crossbars and perch there for hours at a time, casting lines in the water in the hopes of catching a meal’s worth of small herring or mackerel.
These days, hopes are higher in Sri Lanka. Poverty rates and un- employment have dropped nearly 50% in the past ten years, and the average income has markedly increased since the end of the civil war.
The stilt fishermen are still here though, ironic icons of the changing Sri Lankan economy.
Once a symbol of struggle and hand-to-mouth living, the men on the poles no longer focus on catching fish. Today, as Sri Lanka deservedly attracts more travelers, the stilt climbers reel in tips from the tourists who snap their pictures.
sri lanka resources
(It is recommended to take most meals at hotels or restaurants selected by a professional guide or experienced travel agent.)
Cape Weligama Resort. Abimanagama Rd. Weligama. Tel: 94-412-253-000. Seaside luxury on a cliff above the Indian Ocean. From $378. www.resplendentceylon.com/capeweligama
Ceylon Tea Trails Resort. Dunkeld Estate, Hatton. Tel: 94-517-388-400. Relais & Chateaux luxury on the grounds of a working tea plantation. From $550, all-inclusive for two. www.resplendentceylon.com/teatrails
Cinnamon Grand Colombo, 77 Galle Rd. Tel: 94-112-437-437 Five star urban garden setting. Amenities and services akin to any major western hotel. From $139. www.cinnamongrand.com.
Theva Residency. 11/B5/10-1, 6th Lane Hantana, Kandy. Tel: 94–738-829-699. Ultra-modern hillside accommodations with artistic décor and spectacular views. From $127. www.theva.lk
Uga Residence, 20 Park St. Colombo. Tel: 94-115-673-000. Eleven suites surround a small pool in a Victorian townhouse in a posh residential area. From $130. www.ugaescapes.com/residence
TOUR AND TRAVEL PLANNING
Aitken Spence Travels. Tel: 94-112-308-308. Expert local travel agency that provides full booking, guide, and driver services. www.aitkenspencetravels.com
Sri Lanka: Wonder of Asia. is the Official national tourism website. www.srilanka.travel
Equal Ground is the National LGBT advocacy group with extensive links. www.equal-ground.org
Time Out: Sri Lanka, provides a regularly updated calendar of cultural events. www.timeout.com/srilanka