Hiking in Hill Country

There’s some great day hikes in Ella, Uva Province that Rita and I did a few weeks back.  Ella is at a lower elevation than Nuwara Eliya so it’s still hot during the day, but it cools overnight.

My first morning waking up in Ella, I posted a photo of the early morning view from the balcony of our hotel room on Facebook.  It got a huge reaction of my Nepali friends as the view looked similar to any view of the low foothills of the Himalayas, and for some, compared to the less lush Illam district of Nepal.

Ella, Sri Lanka

Illam, Nepal. Photo credit Aakash Shrestha

Little Adam’s Peak is considered to be a little brother to Adam’s Peak further to the West.  Adam’s Peak is a mountain that is revered by many religions as it is thought to represent the footprint of either Buddha in Buddhism, Shiva in Hinduism, Adam in Islam or St Thomas in Christianity.  A multi-faith holy site if there was ever one!

Adam’s Peak is a a bit of a climb at 2,243 m (7,359 ft) and Rita and I were not up to that, so instead settled for Little Adam’s Peak just outside of Ella.

At 1,141 m (3,743 ft) elevation, it has absolutely stunning views and worth the couple of hours it took us to get to the summit and back along a much un-shaded trail.  Just go before the real heat starts for the day.  It has smashing views of Ella Rock and the twisty-turny road that leads to the flatlands of Yala.  Take a look.

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This photo is of Rita, Sameera and I at the close our of Little Adam’s Peak hike.

We don’t look too puffed! Photo Credit Sameera De Silva

From Little Adam’s Peak, we made our way cross country to Nine Arch Bridge, and ended up in a man’s back yard which provided perfect views of the bridge.

This massive bridge is 100 ft high and was built under British rule, commissioned in 1921 after the end of WW1.  It’s made entirely of solid rocks, bricks and cement without using a single piece of steel. The steel apparently was diverted to the war efforts so the locals just got on with using the materials they had.

A train was not due for some hours so we hiked back out of there rather than wait around in the hot early afternoon sun.  And anyway, late lunch beckoned.

See?  There’s more to Sri Lanka than beaches.

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A lovely update from Child Haven

For those of you who know me for years, you will remember I climbed the littlest of the Himalayan mountains back in Fall 2011 with my friend Peter and his son Connery.  It was thanks to Jangbu and Mingmar of Peak Freaks who got us safely to the summit and home in one piece.  Check out the photos from our summit day here.

As part motivation to ensure I dragged myself to the summit of Island Peak and not give up, I set myself a goal and raised over $12,000 for Child Haven – a Canadian based charity that runs children’s homes in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Tibet as well as a bunch of other meaningful projects.  Not a penny is wasted on that great big black hole called ‘Admin Costs’ at Child Haven.

Me on the Island Peak summit in 2011. And yes I carried that sign with me from base camp.

I was introduced to Child Haven by my friend Katherine Doyle, who has spent many a time caring for the children in the Kathmandu home, as well as being one of the organizers of the very successful annual Child Haven fundraiser that’s been running for years in Vancouver.  I later had the honour to meet Bonniema  (of Fred & Bonnie Cappuccino fame – the couple who founded the charity way back in 1985).  Bonniema shared her wisdom with me on the Dos and Don’ts of working in developing countries and I live by those principles to this day.

As Fred & Bonnie grow in years (but not in energy or zest for life!), their son Robin now shares the responsibility for the charity and ensuring the children’s homes are well run and the money raised is spent wisely and only for the benefit of the children and women the charity supports.

Today Robin posted a rather lovely update that made my heart melt, and with his kind permission, I am sharing it along with some photos, with you.

So from one coffee to another ….. Enjoy!

Child Haven update – Robin Cappuccino May 18 2017

Bonniema and I arrived at Child Haven’s Home for 203 formerly destitute children in Kathmandu just in time for Buddha’s Birthday. We meet Suraj’s 84-year-old grandfather, Resham, who walked 8 hours and then took a bus from his remote village to get here for the celebration. Resham explains that the body is like a machine, you have to keep using it or it will stop working. His grandson Suraj grew up in the Home and is now a much-liked Supervisor. Suraj’s aunt, Sushila, is a girl’s care-giver. This afternoon, they and many of the children from the Home will join thousands of other celebrants at the huge Buddhist stupa, Boudhanath, a short walk from the Home. They will circle the stupa three times, spinning the prayer wheels along the path as they go.

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Arrangements have been made for a Buddhist lama to come do a Pooja or Blessing at the Home in honor of the occasion. The Home’s Buddhist children and many others gather in the Dining Hall and throw small handfuls of rice as the lama chants blessings punctuated by the chiming of his ceremonial bell and flourishes of his thunderbolt dorje. A tall pole with prayer flags is laid out before him which will later be hoisted from the roof, joining many others in the valley.

Efforts are made to support the religions of all of the children in our Homes. This is especially easy in Nepal where Hindu, Buddhist and Bon religious practices and holidays are all widely embraced. One of the temples in Bhaktapur, where our Home was earlier located, houses statues of both Hindu and Buddhist deities.

Another young man who grew up in the Home with Suraj, Dhruba, has also begun working as a Supervisor for the Home. They both recently graduated from University with degrees in Computer Engineering. Bonniema says if they find a better job she will let them go. In the meantime, their experience in the Home has prepared them well to facilitate the loving upbringing of the children now in their care.

Among the children we spend time with is a 10 year old girl who was brought here from another home that was closed by the Government for unscrupulous practices. Apparently, no one knows where she came from, or who her parents might be. Ads with her picture have been placed in newspapers, but so far no information has been found.

Another 9 year boy was brought to the Home several years ago after a nurse visiting a remote village discovered that he was an orphan with no one there to care for him. Yet another was brought to the Home by his mother after they were abandoned by her second husband. She was at a loss as to how to make a living for herself let alone care for her son.

The bright smiles and ready laughter of these children attest to the remarkable resilience of children surrounded by love, understanding and as the Buddha might say, compassion.

Robin Cappuccino

If you would like to learning about Child Haven, feel free to visit their website www.childhaven.ca.  And if there is a fundraising event happening near you, I would highly recommend going – they are a ton of fun with an array of entertainment and the food is always, I mean always delicious.  And, it’s also for a great cause.

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Oh the cool, the cool

When choosing the Hill Country as part of the trip Rita and I were taking, little dd I know it would include one of the best nights sleep since my arrival to Sri Lanka nearly 9 months ago!  Ahhhh, the cool and tranquility of Hill Country, leaving the stifling heat and humidity of Colombo at this time of year, behind us – bliss!

Early morning shot of the veggie plot showing companion planting of carrots and leeks, at the gorgeous AirBnB we stayed at in Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya (pronounced new-ar-ail-ia) is in the Central Province of Sri Lanka and sits at a 6000 ft elevation, hence the cooler climate.  It’s perfect weather for tea plantations and for growing produce – it’s the market garden for Colombo, supplying much of the fresh fruit and veg to the city.

Tea is cultivated by the contour planting method, where the contours of the land are followed

At the recommendation of my friend and BIZ+ colleague Yohan, we stopped off at Blue Field tea plantation just outside of Nuwara Eliya, to check out how tea is grown.  We were keen to not only visit a factory where the tea is processes, but also spend a little time on the plantation itself, checking out the tea bushes themselves.  We got exactly that.

Blue Field Tea Plantation.  The 4-story building is the factory where the tea is processed

The tea plantation covers the hills behind the processing factory pictured above.  Black and white tea is grown, no green tea here.

The tea is hand-plucked (not picked!) primarily by women.  Sri Lanka is one of the few places where tea plucking is not mechanized, making the tea more pure and therefore of higher quality and more expensive.

Photo credit: Ceylon Tea Board

After plucking, the tea is dried for 12 hours, then rolled to improve the quality of the tea, after which it is fermented with the use of a hot furnace .  Point of Interest:  the Blue Field furnace was manufactured in Belfast at the turn of the last century believe it or not!

The leaves are further fired to protect the copper brown coloration, graded, weighed and then packed and shipped.

Drying the tea

As you can see it was a gorgeous blue-sky day at a balmy 28C when we visited Blue Field.  Such a peaceful, restful place.  Although the factory was in full swing, it was quite the relaxed atmosphere with many smiling (mostly) ladies.  Always makes me happy to see happy workers.

I particularly enjoyed understanding the tea processing process – yeah I know … more feeding of my geeky process tendencies.   And although an avid coffee drinker, I really enjoyed the cuppa afterwards!

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Latest news from SIRC

Drs Peter and Claire were recently at SIRC and prepared a great update for their blog, which I am sharing with you now.

They were in Nepal to help in Dr Raju’s return to SIRC, now that he is a qualified PM&R!  The blog post also gives an update on Dr Prakash and his neurosurgery work, and his plans for Fellowship.

Photo credit SpiNepal


Exciting times ahead for these Doctors!

Congrats to Peter and Claire, and their many supporters of SpiNepal for the tremendous support they have provided to these two talented Doctors.

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Historic election underway in Nepal

Local elections are underway in Nepal today, the first in over 20 years and the first under the new 2015 Constitution.  A momentous day for Nepal!!

Not everyone was happy with the new Constitution however.  The Madhesi community felt the new Constitution left them politically side-lined and threatened to boycott the elections unless changes were made to the Constitution.  The Government has promised to make these changes  in the next month or so, and this has forced the elections to be split into two phases.  Unsure how the results of Phase 1 will not influence the outcomes of Phase 2, but there you have it.

Voter turnout is looking good thus far with no disturbances reported.  According to the Kathmandu Post, there was on average a 50% turnout across all polling stations as at Noon today.  Polls close at 7pm.  Kavre, the district where I live when I am in Nepal, has a 70% turnout!

Photo credit Kathmandu Post

I’m not surprised voter turnout has been strong given over 9 million Nepalis will be voting for the first time in their lives!

Total registered voters total a little over 14 million and there is an even enough split between males and females.  Interesting to note there are 143 registered as a third gender.

Photo credit Nepali Times

Postscript:  Further comments from Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks (SpiNepal) who are in Nepal and ‘on the ground’ as it were with more detailed observations of the election:

Hi Kate – nice note about the elections. We just came out from our Mardi Himal/Ghandruk trek and saw many voters walking, often many hours, to Ghandruk. While there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm to vote, bear in mind that the 1.2 million plus Nepalese living and working abroad and contributing actively to the GDP have no vote. There are many long term ‘Nepalese’ residents who cannot get citizenship to vote and many Nepalese-born people who must own land and prove birth to get citizenship documented and vote. There are no absentee or advance votes in this fledgling democracy – those working away from home in or out of the country cannot vote. As we understand it, one must vote in one’s home-registered place even if it takes 20 hours by bus. Perhaps increasing computerization will remedy this in the future.
It is ironic that we are just picking up the results of the BC election – our advance votes may make a difference!
P and C

Peter also reminded me that there are 858 candidates in total running in Kathmandu.  I found a photo of the ballot sheet – its huge!! What’s the betting there will be lots of spoiled votes?!

Photo credit: Kathmandu Post

The biggest issue that the people in Kathmandu are concerned about is the level of pollution in the city.  The quality of air and water pollution in the city is very high, in fact Kathmandu is the 7th most polluted city in the world.  I kid you not.

Photo credit Nepali Times

As a result of these elections, it’s expected local decision-making will improve the conditions of villages and towns, where decisions will no longer be dictated by Kathmandu.

Essentially, each town and village council will be self-governing with powers of law-making, taxation and licensing.  It’s supposed to facilitate quicker decision-making where things can happen quicker.  To my mind, this will all depend on what kind of human being gets voted in!

Results for Phase 1 should be available by next weekend … stay tuned for the results.

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Nothing like it in my life!

It’s been festival after festival of late in Sri Lanka, and here I thought Nepal had the most.  Vesak is under way currently and oh my goodness, is it ever a beautiful festival.

One of the many thoranas (electrically-lit pandals) we saw tonight

What is Vesak you ask?  It happens on the May full moon and celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha in one bumper festival.  It’s known as Vesak here in Sri Lanka, and as Jayanti in Nepal.

Vesak is celebrated across Asia and besides paying homage to Buddha by decorating the city with an array of light displays and lanterns called kuudu, devotees are also required to bring happiness to others by wishing one another well and offering dansalas (free food) to passersby.  You could eat your dinner with the volume of free food if you were so inclined!  It’s a time of joy, of being with family and here in Sri Lanka, it is celebrated not just by the Buddhists, but by most Sri Lankans, irrespective of their religious leanings.

I am told the celebrations in Colombo draw people from all over Sri Lanka, arriving by truckload after hours on the road.  It’s true, I saw many trucks loaded with people coming into the city earlier today.

It’s a pretty big deal here.  India’s Prime Minister Modi will be Guest of Honour at tomorrow’s opening ceremony and none other than The Right Honourable Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal will be the Guest of Honour at the closing ceremonies in Kandy on Sunday.

I’m fortunate that most of the festivities are right on my doorstep.  Fellow volunteer Joe and I headed out for a few hours tonight and we were like kids in a sweet shop, in awe with all the lighted displays.  We wandered around for a couple of hours and took a ton of photos.  I usually trim the number of photos for blog posts, but this time, they are so impressive I will show you most of them in this slideshow.


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It is now a little after 1am and there does not seem to be any let up with the celebrations, it’s like rush-hour outside my balcony that unfortunately faces the street.  There will be more celebrations again tomorrow ….

Happy Vesak everyone!


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Getting around in Sri Lanka

I have been living and working in SE Asia for quite some time now, so I get used to what is considered unusual back home.  With Rita’s recent visit, I was reminded how the modes of transport here in Sri Lanka can put the fear of God in some, and in particular Rita who loves her car and making her own way around!

First up is a quick video of travelling on a Government-run bus between Mirissa and Galle in the south of Sri Lanka.  Bus was more empty than is the norm, but the flashing lights and blaring music entertained us.  Unlike Nepali buses, there is no chance of chickens or goats on Sri Lankan buses.

We caught the train back to Colombo from Weligama.  Second-class travel only was available which means we got the opportunity to get our own seat (not guaranteed) and the air-conditioning was by virtue of an open window, complete with exhaust from the train’s diesel engine filling the carriage periodically.  We were lucky our station was the 2nd stop, so we did indeed get a seat.  Anyone paying for second-class with stops beyond Weligama, did not get a seat.

Rita feeling lucky in her seat. Later the aisles were completely jammed with travelers.  Sorry for the fuzz, the train was fiercely jolting!

These two seats need to be vacated if a member of the clergy climbs on board. No discrimination, it applies to the clergy of any religious group!

And then there is the three-wheeler, the cheap and quick mode of transport that whizzes thousands of people from A to B throughout every urban community across Sri Lanka.

The three-wheelers drive in between trucks and cars, and squeeze themselves along sidewalks (if they exist).  Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

We also traveled by air-conditioned car with Sameera, who managed to avoid any tips or crashes in the over 20 hours of driving over the course of a few days.  No photo of the car but this is Sameera with Rita and I at the side of the road, introducing Rita to the health benefits of king coconut water – delish!

Sameera (l) before we said farewell to him in Mirissa

And this little puppy’s mode of transport is his owner’s bicycle.  No, I did not take this picture, it has an animal in it after all – photo credit for this one goes to Rita!

Cute puppy at Peacock Villas, Mirissa

A big regret we have is not having a photo of us with the jeep in Yala National Park, darnnit.

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