Day 12-13: Jetwing, Galle & Old World Charm

Dancing under the sun

Galle is a living time capsule. When I started putting my 'must visit hit list' together Galle was at the top from day one. I love history and I love architecture, especially old architecture that defines epochs. Originally founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and expanded upon by the Dutch, Fort Galle was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site in 1988 as the best European built example of a fortified city built in south and south east Asia. It was also noted for its blend of European and Asian architectural styles. That's one of the official reasons for Galle being a must see, usually if UNESCO has inscribed a site you know it's worth a visit, but UNESCO aside, being x-military I have an affinity for old military installations...so a sojourn in Galle was a given.

The ramparts provide a great platform for social interaction

Most historic 'walled cities' can be divided into two, an old quarter and a new quarter. The old quarter usually lies within the walls while the newer more modern counterpart lies on the other side. Galle is no different and as we were staying at the Galle Heritage Villa by Jetwing we were in the heart of the Old Town, and less than a five minute walk from the lighthouse and a ten minute walk to the newly renovated old Dutch Hospital. We have some UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, Old Quebec City and Lunenburg among them, but when you add palm trees, a spicy local cuisine, and daily heat that warms between the toes a certain level of exoticism can't be denied. Walking the ramparts of the beautiful old walled city it's easy to imagine a bygone era where wooden hulled sailing vessels dotted the horizon instead of modern tankers. Leaving the ramparts behind and walking the cobblestoned streets that meander through a cityscape devoid of modern angles and limited to heights not exceeding the highest palm trees Galle offers a real insight into the past.

There is a real sense of opportunity in Galle. Yes, the outer city is the usual hodge podge of rapid growth, but the historical Old Town is a major draw and those that own property there know it. With the end of the civil war in 2009 and a new sense of optimism in the air buildings are being brought back from crumbling vestiges of their Colonial past to 'stops' on a uniquely Sri Lankan cultural walkabout. Cobblestones, single and double stories, fresh paint and local wares are the new focus. The churches are not exempt either as scaffolding indicates a willingness to play along with the regeneration theme. One of the best examples is the Old Dutch Hospital which has been renovated and split into different business enterprises. Want a beer, go to the hospital, need a bite, it offers that too, all on the edge of the ramparts with a beautiful view over the water. White walls, clay roof tiles and wooden beams, European accents to an Asian island in the Indian Ocean.

Grab a beer or a bite at the Old Dutch Hospital

Galle is also a shoppers delight. Some of the stores offered very creative designs, some were simple while others were quite imaginative. Some were cutting edge modern while others dabbled in the past. I explored many, not to buy anything as my space was limited, but just to see what was on offer. It was quite extraordinary what I found and my second afternoon I wandered into a store after filming the lighthouse and met a man that reminded me of Omar Sharif. He was a storekeeper historian with time to spare an inquisitive film guy. He was Muslim, as was the majority of the Old Town's populace, and garnered great delight in sharing Galle's past with me. He pointed to old photos on the wall and told me about different developments through the times, he explained to me what 'Burghers' were, descendants of Portuguese and Dutch ancestry that had perhaps married with locals, and he talked of Sri Lanka today and how the best gems in the world were from his country. He was a real pleasure and I came away with a feeling of quiet contentment. My days had been hurried and stressful but in the half hour I spent in his presence I was put at ease, there was something about his storytelling manner that made me forget my worries.

Shopkeeper and historian, Galle has an interesting past

For my last night in Galle, Prasanna, my contact at Jetwing Hotels, moved me over to the Landesi by Jetwing. Landesi had been my first choice but availability had been a problem. That's what happens when you offer incredible boutique properties with lower room counts. The reason I had wanted to stay at the Landesi was because of its architectural merits. Galle was an old Portuguese/Dutch town with a decidedly European flair and looking at the Jetwing website the Landesi looked to embrace all those attributes. To me it seemed sacrilege to stay at a modern alternative when in a place like Galle, one should maintain historical context, even in accommodation and the Landesi offered that.

The 'Butlers' at the Landesi

Staffed by only three employees, at least that I could see, the Landesi is a very different approach to accommodation than I am used to. I was attracted by its architectural underpinnings so was surprised by the level of service. It's not set up in the usual fashion of staff with different functions, instead, as there were only three rooms, the staff functioned as 'butlers.' I had a hard time getting my head around that fact. Want anything, just ask, and it will happen. The three young men, dressed in similar attire, were as friendly as I'd come to expect from Sri Lankans. I had a couple of interesting natters with them and their pride of employment was evident, they loved working with Jetwing. But it was their sense of national pride that really struck me. I've already mentioned the civil war, one cannot ignore that two and a half decade long piece of history. But it was over now and the country was moving forward and here at the Landesi was further proof. One of the staff was there to learn the ropes, he was a Tamil from up north and was slated to go work in a new Jetwing hotel opening in the most northern town of Jaffna. During the conversation it was made clear to me that it wasn't only possible for Tamil and Sinhalese to work together, but they could do so quite happily. People were moving on in a collective positive light.

I must confess part of my time in Galle was spent simply wandering the grounds of the Landesi, which means 'of Dutch origin.' I can easily lose hours and sometimes days when I happen upon creations of immense beauty and craftsmanship. What I didn't know about the Landesi was that it wasn't built during the Dutch era as I'd believed, instead it was only three years old, and built as a homage to the past. This fact surprised me as quite often many of the old techniques and crafts have been lost to lack of practice, so to find a place that had been built to the highest standards evidenced in the Landesi proved to me that those craftsmen were still practicing their passions, that excited me very much. In my mind a style becomes classic when that fine balance of design and function merge so that one does not usurp the other. They create a space that flows and feels right without aggrandizement. Every piece of wood compliments the one next to it, every hinge provides beautiful transitions from one material to the next. Even the chains carrying water from the eavestroughs to ceramic planters below do so in long vertical lines that compliment the horizontal lines of the veranda and roof line. I marveled at the thoughtful design that went into the Landesi. And the service was exemplary!

One of Galle's museums

Rain on cobblestones...could be a movie set

Galle did not disappoint. If one has the good fortune to venture to Sri Lanka they should definitely visit the town. Sunshine and palm trees are nice, very nice, but add a cultural timepiece that helps tell a story and the destination fills in many of the blanks from an 'origins' perspective...plus, one can't dismiss those beautiful sunsets!

Sunset and surf from the ramparts

Day 11: Dilmah - The Rilhena Estate & the Road to Galle

Day 11: Dilmah - The Rilhena Estate & the Road to Galle

My last day with Dilmah turned out to be much more relaxing than the previous six. I had seen black tea at the Dunkeld Estate, green tea at the Park Estate, witnessed their conservation project at the Elephant Transit Home, and many of their Small Entrepreneur Programs during the last couple of days. Today there was only one stop on the itinerary, and that was the Rilhena Tea Estate.

Day 10: Dilmah - MJF (Part 3)

Day 10: Dilmah - MJF (Part 3)

I arose early the next morning to catch the fisherman launching their boats and mending their nets. It was a glorious day, glorious, and after a hearty breakfast we set off to visit more of Dilmah's initiatives. First up was the Gemi Aruna Agro Production Society where the society's president, a man by the name of Samantha Rajapaksha, met us to show us around.

Day 9: Dilmah - MJF (Part 2)

Day 9: Dilmah - MJF (Part 2)

The Subhagya School for Differently Abled Children is another Dilmah initiative. The core thinking behind the program is to help differently abled children lead a normal life. There have been long standing stigmas attached to many of those deemed different in many societies, but thankfully today there are those that work to reverse those stigmas. Those that believe we should all be treated as equals, regardless of physical or mental differences.

Day 9: Dilmah - MJF (Part 1)

Day 9: Dilmah - MJF (Part 1)

If yesterday had been a glimpse into Dilmah’s commitment to Wildlife Conservation today was all about a different kind of commitment, one to the less fortunate. Through their MJF Charitable Foundation, named after Dilmah's founding father, Merrill J. Fernando,  they have created a program to kick-start creative people with a desire to take their businesses to the next level, or create new ones. The program is called SEP, or Small Entrepreneur Program. Our driver took us to meet Shantha Devapriya, the project officer and ‘man on the ground’ who was going to show us around over the next couple of days.

Day 8: Dilmah - Elephants and Buffalo Curd!

Day 8: Dilmah - Elephants and Buffalo Curd!

I have a soft spot for elephants, especially baby elephants. There's something about the way they move and look you in the eye. There seems to be a given trust from the onset. How many animals, especially of an elephants size, tender that. Not many. Our first stop of the day was at the Elephant Transit Home, or ETH. The ETH is a place where orphaned elephants from around Sri Lanka are brought to live until they are roughly four or five years old, an appropriate age to be released back to the wild.

Day 7: Dilmah - The Park Estate - Green Tea and on to Udawalawe

Day 7: Dilmah - The Park Estate - Green Tea and on to Udawalawe

I was up early to grab some local footage, after all we were in Nuwara Elya, the heart of Sri Lankan tea country. Of course I shot the grounds at the Grand Hotel, their beauty couldn't be ignored, but I also wandered down the road to the round-a-bout where tuk tuks jockeyed for position and a beautiful Stupa caught the early morning sun. It was going to be a beautiful day.

Day 4-5: Introduction to the Dilmah School of Tea - Colombo

Day 4-5: Introduction to the Dilmah School of Tea - Colombo

So my education on tea was about to begin, and what better place than the Dilmah 'School of Tea' to start the ball rolling? For my tea documentary I was very fortunate that Dilmah Tea, a powerhouse in Sri Lankan tea, were receptive to my idea and had arranged a spot for me at their ‘School of Tea.’ I was very excited to be a part of this Dilmah experience as the Fernando family, the owners of Dilmah,  have a very interesting story.

Day 1-3: Touchdown - Negombo & the Jetwing Sea

Day 1-3: Touchdown - Negombo & the Jetwing Sea

I arrived tired but excited in Negombo after 36 hours of flight hopping. Customs and immigration was a breeze and a driver at the airport took me to the Jetwing Sea at Negombo Beach for 1,500 Rupees, around 15$ Canadian. Arriving at 5:30am I was a little punch drunk but too excited to go to bed, instead I wandered the beautiful hotel property to get my bearings and couldn’t resist a swim before breakfast.

Jetwing Hotel Group

Jetwing Hotel Group

Well folks, Sri Lanka is almost a reality. I've been hard at drumming up support for my trip and it looks like things are paying off. Through a connection in Jakarta, Indonesia, of all places, thank you Thayalan Bartlett (Barty), I've been put into contact with the Jetwing Group and they've very kindly offered their assistance during my stay in Sri Lanka. What I love about the Jetwing Group is they're not a 'one trick pony.' They don't 'just' offer stunning seaside luxury resorts, they cover the whole spectrum by offering Eco-Hotels, villas and even old world beauties from a bygone era. In short they have the island covered with options to fit every taste.

Sri Lanka: Galaboda Tea Factory

The preparations for my trip to Sri Lanka are coming along nicely. It was my intention to spend time at three tea estates on the island during my visit. One each at the 'Low,' 'Mid,' and 'High' countries. It is with great pleasure that I can announce the first tea estate to offer their assistance, and that would be Galaboda Organic Tea Factory. Galaboda, or Tsara Green Teas, is a family run affair spanning three generations over 75 years. I look forward to spending time with them and learning all about what goes into a good 'cuppa.' Below is a beautiful short video of what they do at Galaboda.

Tsara Green Teas

Thank you Nalin.

A lovely introduction to Tsara Green Teas

Sri Lanka Here I Come!!!

Well folks, I've decided to carry the momentum from the Bolivia trip through to Sri Lanka. With the B&B busy from May through September I needed to pull the trigger sooner rather than later so so here I am. Tea on Two Wheels will be a one hour documentary and an adventure travel motorcycle book by the same name. It will take in the whole island and I'll be using tea as a backdrop, or through-line.