Medagama Village Friends Mountains and Spices
As we reached the end of our trip in Sri Lanka, all we could think is that we did NOT want to go home. We HIGHLY recommend you check out Sri Lanka for yourself! Starting at number 1 and then ending back at number 1, here is where we went!
Getting to the Village
Almost immediately, Julia and I became very close with Ruwan, our driver. His relaxed and gentle yet enthusiastic temperament made our fondness of him grow quickly. We all exchanged stories about our families and homes, and slowly we began to understand each others backgrounds. Ruwan grew up in a more rural part of Kandy called Medagama, and he continually described Medagama as a beautiful mountain side village filled with sloping farms of pepper vines, coffee trees, clove trees and more. To us, it sounded like a veritable paradise.
By this point in the trip, Julia and I had heard Ruwan’s vivid descriptions of Medagama for nearly four days, and he thoroughly peaked our curiosity, so we asked him if he’d be willing to show us his village. Ruwan at first seemed confused about why we wanted to see his village. Although he spoke so fondly about it, he seemed to think it was quite a plain place and certainly not one that two American tourists would want to spend precious time during their holiday seeing. We explained to him however that we like to experience local culture and that, if we wouldn’t be imposing, we’d be grateful to see where he grew up. With a little bit of trepidation mixed with excitement about our deep interest in learning about the local culture, Ruwan agreed to take us to Medagama.
Kandy is at about 400 meters above sea level. Medagama lies about 35km to the east, and it is at about 800 meters above sea level. The drive takes about 1.5 hours, and the road quickly changes from flat and smooth pavement in the city to steep bumpy dirt as you head up the mountain. The ceaseless panoramic views are comprised of shimmering emerald trees and mountains in the distance that softly fade into the baby blue sky.
Medagama Village Friends Mountains and Spices
Medagama Village starts where the dirt road ends, so we started experiencing the village as soon as we got out of the car. In the shade of the trees, it was quite cool, and in the sun patches it was scorching hot. However, the walk was only about 15 minutes. This was convenient for both us and for the people of Medagama.
All along the path, wild pepper vines grew up leguminous Quickstick trees (gliricidia sepium). “Wetahiriya” is the Sinhala word for Quickstick, and it is one of many leguminous nitrogen fixing tree species. One of the key soil nutrients plants need to grow is nitrogen. Nitrogen fixing trees are able to take the atmospheric nitrogen and turn it into organic compounds in the soil, most commonly ammonia (NH3). The nitrogen in the ammonia is a fertilizer for plants. In essence, Quickstick trees take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil, fertilizing the soil. Pretty nifty, huh?
The pepper in the picture is green, indicating it is not ripe, and when the pepper begins to turn red, it is time to pick it. Next, it is necessary to dry it. Most often the sun is used to dry the peppercorns. Throughout the drying process, the red outer shell turns black. This method yields black pepper. To make white pepper, the ripe red outside of the peppercorn is simply removed. Afterwards, small white peppercorns remain. This method yields white pepper.
Meeting Ruwan’s Family
Eventually, we finished marveling at all the pepper vines on the mountain, Medagama is famous for its pepper, and we arrived at Ruwan’s eldest uncle’s house – his lo-ku maa-ma’s house. He lives in the middle of the village. In Sinhala, there is a specific word to describe every familial relation.
Another Sinhala New Year tradition is to paint your house. So, we got to see lo-ku maa-ma’s house just after he painted it with fresh lime green paint.
And of course, they gave us some kevum (New Year cookies) to eat. If you want to know all about kevum, check out our post about our day on a Sri Lankan rice paddy!
Next, Ruwan took us to meet his parents and his brother Pali.
Ruwan and Pali’s parents have been living in Medagama for over 30 years. They have seen their coffee trees, palm trees, cocoa trees and even banana trees grow from saplings into the beautiful fruit bearing giants they are today. They too were eager to welcome us into their home, and they also offered us some more kevum.
A Mountain Village Bursting with Food
Pali gave us a tour of the home, and he showed us where their coffee trees grew. Julia and I were seeing coffee trees for our very first time!
Ruwan’s parents make fresh Kitul honey. Kitul is the tropical equivalent of maple syrup, though the taste is quite different, as it tastes faintly of coconut. They collect the sap from the Toddy Palm tree, then they boil the sap down until it reaches the desired consistency. You can see how the sap is collected here. Kitul honey tastes sweet, and Ruwan’s parents boiled it down over a wood fire, so it had an additional layer of smokiness. It reminded me of my Nanny and Poppa’s homemade maple syrup!
Ruwan’s parent’s property also contained lychee tree, banana trees, coconut trees, jack fruit trees, cocoa trees, clove trees and various other herbs and spices. I was certain I would not starve if I got lost in this mountain village!
A Natural Bath
After we met Ruwan’s family, we took a “natural bath.” Ruwan told us nearly a dozen times about how nice it is to take a natural bath, so I knew I had to try it, and I think Ruwan’s dozen tellings were well justified. After my bath, I felt cool, clean, and refreshed. I think bathing outdoors in that mountain village was uniquely refreshing. It was certainly better than my day-to-day shower.
Slope Farming – Tomatoes and Spices
Ruwan knew we were interested in seeing some local village farming techniques, so he took us to his uncle’s neighbor who is a master farmer. Lo-ku maa-ma’s neighbor was growing about 1,500 tomato plants on his sloped mountain farm. He just finished harvesting the fruit from about 1,500 squash plants.
He too was growing pepper. Lo-ku maa-ma’s neighbor told Ruwan he can sell 1kg (2.2lbs.) of fresh pepper for 1500 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR). To give you a sense of how much money that is, keep in mind that in Sri Lanka you can eat a hearty lunch for 70-100 rupees. To cook the same hearty lunch at home might cost you 10-15 rupees. Pepper is quite valuable.
However, pepper is not nearly as valuable as cloves. I learned that cloves start their lives green, yellow and red colored, and then they change to their characteristic brown color during the drying process. 1kg of undried cloves sells for 2500-3000 LKR. These cash crops make up a significant portion of lo-ku maa-ma’s yearly income.
At the end of the day, Ruwan took us back to lo-ku maa-ma’s house, and by that time, Ruwan’s cousin, Anushika (Anu for short), had arrived home from her job at the bank.
We ate more kevum, and we enjoyed a cup of tea with Anu and her family. When we reached the end of our tea and kevum Anu and her family offered us their extra bedroom for the night. We were both touched by their generosity and hospitality. Julia and I had spent but an afternoon with Anu and her family, and they offered us a place in their home for the night. Julia and I seriously considered their offer, but we worried about where Ruwan would stay, and we were also worried about wasting the accommodation we had already booked. In retrospect, we wished we had stayed the night, but alas we departed.
Night had settled in while we were enjoying our tea, and when we went outside to head back to the car, I feel a slight but pleasant coolness in the air. Under the blazingly bright stars, with the aid of Anu and her flashlight, we all walked back down the dirt path to the place Ruwan had parked his car. Before departing, we all agreed to keep in touch. Julia and I promised that the next time we came back to Sri Lanka, we would indeed stay the night. Anu and her family said when we next visit, we can stay as long as we’d like. She even gave Julia a small glass hippo as a token of our newly formed friendship. We departed Medagama with full hearts and with new friends. For us, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Driving away, we knew we’d eventually come back. And we will. In the mean time, headed to Mirissa Beach to end our trip with some R&R.
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