Our second day in Kandy, Sri Lanka, involved more than just the elephants (see Emily's post). We hired a tuk-tuk for the whole day, and while our driver, Suresh, spoke little English, he knew a lot of great spots. He showed us trees with branches heavy with bats, thousands of them, looking like seed pods except for the occasional lazy flight to check if anything tasty had happened by.
He showed us a porcupine vendor, selling needles he'd plucked, or the whole (live) animal if you wanted (we didn't). He bought us coconuts and red bananas, the former sourer than in West Africa, the latter sweeter. But that was just the little stuff.
After the elephants, we went to a tea plantation. At the factory, they show you the whole process to make the various teas. (I'd always assumed green and black teas were from different species, but they're both made from the same tea plant, the difference is in the preparation.) Then you get a complimentary cup of tea, which is very good marketing because it tastes so good that you can't help but want to buy some. Which we did. Then Suresh drove up into the plantation itself, acres and acres of tea bushes.
From there, we wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens, but a rainstorm was looming so Suresh brought us first to a gem museum. Sri Lanka has over 140 precious and semi-precious stones found in its mines, and all the mining is done by Sri Lankan companies, no outside interests. After the tour and video, you have the chance to buy them, loose or set in jewelry. Em really liked it; they treat you like an important jewel trader, sitting at a private table with the stones on a viewing tray while you discuss cut and color and clarity...even if you're just buying some cheap aquamarines or opals.
The rain had come and gone by the time we'd had our fill of discussing the finer points of turquoise, so we headed to the Botanical Gardens. Just beautiful. The cactus house was closed, but we saw some great orchids, a vast expanse of grass, an avenue lined with hundreds of palm trees, a tree kind of like a great oak in that branches might dip back to the ground (but very different in that when they did so, they dropped roots and became trees in their own right), and groves of giant bamboo!
We ended the trip by traveling up the mountain to a Buudhist temple with an 88-foot tall statue on top, the second tallest Buddha in the country. They let you take the stairs about halfway up the back of the statue, where you get a stunning view of the valley Kandy is nestled in.
See why we wanted to wait for pictures??
Before saying goodbye to Suresh, we gave him a small cake and a Buddhist talisman for prosperity that we'd bought at the temple, because it was his birthday! And because he was great. If you ever plan a trip to Kandy, we highly recommend him. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell him we said "hi"!