A cake was waiting for us on our flight from a friend of Dan (foreground). behind is Michelle and then Gill. John was sat across the aisle.
Here we are at Dubai airport 2am local time and our spirits very high. The plane leaves 2.30am and we arrive in Colombo 8.30am to be met by our host Nadira. The adventure begins...
Our first hosts are Colombo Reconnections. Recently formed in 2002 by ex GSE team members who had experienced similar exchanges and not only knew the challenges we faced but also the anticipation we felt at the beginning of our trip. President Buddhima took very good care of us and suggested a short nap followed by a relaxing social at Colombo Rowing Club
.....and Lion Beer and fellowship shared by exchanging banners with President Buddhima
The following day the lion was replaced by the tea. We met for the first time the GSE team from India and proceeded to Akbar Tea Packaging. Labour intensive but then keeping many people in work. First the tea packaging then the warehouse which smelt of strawberry tea.
Have you ever noticed how complicated a tea bag is . This machine feeds in flat paper from the roll folds it fills it with the tea seperates the bags and staples string and tags and then finally boxes them up!!
Lunch at the Singalese Sports Club where Sri lanka often play test matches
The afternoon then spent visiting the Tea Auctions of Sri Lanka. Our host Dinal often is the auctioneer and the following day would be doing a three hour stint as the firms catelogue is sold. Bidding was intense especially for the well known producers.
A visit to Gangaramaya Temple included a museum of artifacts of a Chinese Buddha. But the three elements were also there :- the tree, the stupa and the temple itself
Then came the tea tasting back at Asia Siyaka. The differences were astounding.
Day 3 We leave our hosts and are transferred to Colombo East where myself anf John stayed with President Mahilan. Rtn. Peter was our host for the day to the Zoological gardens which showed encouraging progress with the building of a new elephant enclosure. We caught them just taking a bath.
The afternoon was a visit to the very significantKelaniya Great Temple of Sanctity. The Oldest Royal Buddist Monastry in Sri Lanka patronized by Sinhalese kings over 2500 years ago.here is the reclining Buddha image
Our first presentation to the clubs at the prestigious Cinnamon Grand Hotel went quite smoothly and was enthusiastically received by both Rotarians and partners.
We travel approximately 3 hours south east out of Colombo to the Gem Capital of Sri Lanka Ratnapura visiting first the amazing gem mines. Small apertured vertical shafts shored with timber approx. 75 feet deep. Men climb down and dig the rock and mud which is brought to the surface to be sifted through, power washed and put into pools to be panned using a system not unlike a well.
Banners were exchanged over lunch with IPP Ashad from Rotary Club of Ratnapura and friendship shared.
Next came the retail side of the operation and a trip to the Gemological Museum which of course is the retail outlet!! It was very difficult to understand just what was going on price wise as some items were in $ and others in LK rupees. And the proverbial "discount" came into play which turned out to be disproportionate to the final transaction.
It was a long drive back but had been a fantastic experience and picked up by our hosts Michelle and myself were taken to a club called Otters (Otter Aquatic Club); a sports club where I tucked into a mixed grill... most satisfying! This was nicely washed down with that other stuff in large bottles mentioned earlier.
Day 5 Our first vocational Day
One of the main objectives of GSE is the oppotunity to exchange vocations. To visit work places and compare notes and understand how others operate. Our first stop was Hatton National Bank; a bank set up in the tea hill country specifically for the tea plantations. We will be seeing the original first bank later in the trip. HNB was impressive and the CEO, Theagarajah is a member of Colombo East Club and hosted Gill. But first he took us to the top of the building for a birds eye view of Colombo. Then a personal tour around the museum showing the bank's humble beginnings. A further tour of the card services where the use of SMS to combat fraud was outlined. It is now the second largest bank in Sri Lanka. Having joked earlier about getting free samples!! We were astounded when the CEO gave each of us a commenerative 1000 LKrupee note to commenerate "The Ushering of Peace and Prosperity to Sri Lanka".
Our second vocational visit was to Hemas Private Hospital; an excellent facility where we had access to all ares much to the suprise of Gill and Dan. Conversations with staff and questions answered; emphasised the value of such an exchange.
The tour included visits to the A&E, Physiotherapy and Cardiology departments, along with a brief viewing of the scanning equipment used. The A&E department was small with just three beds, though it was well staffed as can be seen in the photograph below. Rooms ranged from standard (4 bedded dorm) to 'luxury rooms.' This Hospital gave the team a brief insight into some of the developing health systems now in place in Sri Lanka.
Later that evening the team's planned dinner with District Governer Suri was postponed. The team and their hosts were entertained at the home of Colombo East's President which proved to be an enjoyable evening as it allowed everybody to come together.
This was our first official “Rest Day” and at the social gathering the previous night some of the hosts volunteered to take us to the Swimming Club, a private Club , and using their membership have a complete day of rest and relaxation. The pictures speak louder than words.
This was followed in the evening with a farewell BBQ at Thea’s house (Gill’s host) where we sampled the Sri Lankan speciality of egg hoppers, cooked as very thin crispy pancakes in a small deep pan.