Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sri Lanka: Poo Paper

Okay, I admit it. At one point during our trip to the orphanage, as we walked around an elephant pie, we wondered aloud how they dealt with all the poo. And then, on our way to the river, we found out ... they make it into paper. Here's how it works.
 Of course, this is where it all starts. :)
 And this is where it gets transformed. Let's take a look ...
First, the poo is washed and dried. And no, I have no idea how that works and they didn't demonstrate that part, thank goodness. Our guide did say that because elephants eat primarily leaves and tree bark, once the rest of the gunk is washed out, you're left with fibers perfect for paper making as you can see here piled on the table.
This fibrous poo is then mixed with water and maybe some chemicals? and left to ferment for a few days. It looks gross, but didn't really smell at all - we certainly were expecting it to.
It's then dried and colored with dyes to make different colored paper. This particular shop makes a different color each day.
This contraption grinds the fibers and mixes them with water to create a watery oatmeal like consistency. Again, no smell, but it looked disgusting.
Then this paste or whatever you want to call it is put in a tank to sit and settle. The mesh frame you can kind of see in the photo creates the shape of the paper. When the paste has settled enough, they can lift it out of the tank and then they set it out in the sun to dry.
This frame has fully dried and the photo below shows a close up of the raw paper that comes off the frame.
The final step (no photo, sorry) is a press that looks like the old time laundry rollers. It's used to press and smooth out the raw paper. And then it's all made into touristy paper products that contribute to the town's economy.

Pretty cool and who would have thought that you could make use out of elephant poo?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sri Lanka: The Elephant Orphanage - Part II

In Part I, we left our elephant herd as they made their way to the river to bathe. It was about a 1/4 - 1/2 mile walk through the city and across one of the streets to the river bank where you could watch the elephants (yes, the elephants cross the street and walk past a bunch of shops while the herders stop traffic and keep people away) There are two nicer hotels conveniently serving lunch on terraces overlooking the river so we settled in, ordered some curry, and enjoyed the view. It was even more fantastic due to the occasional downpours. (Remember we live in a sand box so any sight of rain makes us pretty happy these days.)

 To the right of where we were sitting was 90% of the group and all the cute little babies.
 We watched these two frolic for a while as the others looked on. Very cute - they were rolling around in the water and playing with each other.
To the left of us only two very large and old elephants were bathing in the deep pool. They could completely submerge themselves here. Our guide told us (and we witnessed) that these two got to bathe first in the deep pool, seemingly out of respect, but it's possible the herders set the whole thing up as it happened before we arrived. They bathed for 30-40 minutes alone here and then moved off to the bank and the rest of the herd moved in.
Here's the rest of the herd now taking their turn at the deeper pools to the left of where we were sitting. It was funny to see a whole elephant submerge itself. 
One curious member made a break for it and headed to the other side of the river. The herders here seem to be getting him/her to come back to the rest ...
But it was actually a fake out and he/she continued to try to escape. :) They eventually got everyone together again.

It was a beautiful day - not too hot and with a nice breeze. Definitely one of the more interesting lunches we've had.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sri Lanka: The Elephant Orphanage - Part I

Our next stop was the highlight of the trip - the Elephant Orphanage. Elephants are considered sacred by Sri Lankans and are a protected animal. The orphanage cares for injured elephants - sometimes by land mines left over from some of the wars, sometimes from falling into wells and sometimes for illnesses or abandonment.

We were told that elephants form closed groups or tribes and are not open to new membership so once an elephant is taken to the orphanage, that's where he or she stays as they can't be introduced back into and existing elephant group. Our guide did say that they start to form new tribes within the orphanage and build family units as well so occasionally a whole group from the orphanage can be released back into the wild together, but that's pretty rare.

Our first stop was the feeding station.
 These two little cuties were apparently rescued after falling into a well. They are now good buddies and hang out together in the same cage but still separate from the others until they get more acclimated to the place.
 They eat the leaves of the trees and as you can see below also the bark.

 And of course, milk (they are both still less than 1 year old). You could pay a fee to feed the elephants yourself, but all the tickets were sold when we arrived. Our guide tried to get something organized under the table, but "the bosses" were watching so he couldn't make it happen.
 Across the road a bit, there was another station to feed the large (and I mean huge) elephants some fruits. Here's Brian getting up close and personal.
Here Brian is feeding him one banana at a time. When the caretakers did it, they gave the elephants an entire bunch of bananas at once and they threw the whole lot in their mouths. The downside of this adventure is that Brian was now covered in elephant spit so we went off to the hand washing station  that was set up nearby specifically for this purpose.

Next we headed a little further in to the reserve to watch the elephants hanging out. It's a large area for them to roam full of trees, rocks and hills - pretty nice set up. Occasionally, we would see one tied up to a post and were told that these are the elephants that had either recently arrived so weren't ready for company yet or had proven too aggressive to be let free to roam on their own.

 Twice a day, the elephants are taken down to the river to bathe. This was to be the next part of the adventure. As they get ready to lead them to the river, a whistle blows and the elephants start gathering for the 1/4 mile or so walk to the river.
 Elephants on parade!
This guy seems to have decided to take a little picnic lunch along with him.

We followed the herd and I'll tell you about the river in Part II.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sri Lanka: The Spice Garden Adventure

We arranged a day of sightseeing with our driver and while on route to the Elephant orphanage, he asked if we wanted to visit a spice garden. Judging from the name, I pictured a beautiful garden with some educational facts on herbs and spices and then most likely a store selling everything at tourist prices. I was right but also got a whole lot more.

These spice gardens are run by the government so each has a number and are set up in a similar fashion. We visited Spice Garden #3. We were greeted by one of the salespeople and ushered into the 'garden'. The garden was about the size of a high school cafeteria with samples of all the different plants and trees used to make the products sold in the store. Here are a few of the things we saw:
 You can just see the clump of green peppercorns. We found out that green, red, black and white peppercorns all come from the same tree. Green at this stage, red as they ripen, black when they are fully ripened, and white when you remove the outer black covering of the fully ripened peppercorn.
 Very hot pepper. We called them pimant in Africa, not sure what they are called here. Our sales guy was talking so fast and with quite an accent so it was hard to catch everything.

 Cacao that gets made into cocoa powder and then chocolate.
 Cardamom which is used as a spice, but also as ingredients for a number of the medicinal and beauty items he talked about later.
This might have been vanilla beans, but could also just be a pretty flower. :)

After the tour, we were taken to one of the many little huts on the property for a demonstration of all the medicines and ointments and elixirs they had to sell. He must have shown us 50 different items in the span of 15 minutes. It was a little like being in the expo center of the WI State Fair and I can imagine his ancestors were snake oil salesmen.

It was kind of amusing at first until he insisted on us trying everything. We had oils smeared on our hands, a facial massage of some kind of cream, coconut oil massaged into our hair, tea to drink and something akin to Red Bull offered on a spoon. Brian even had a small patch of the hair on his arm removed to demonstrate a product! What's so funny in hindsight is that we didn't really feel like we had the option to refuse any of it - it happened so fast and he was so confident, we just went along with everything. Finally, toward the end we started saying no. This is after I realized I was going to spend the rest of the day with coconut oil greasy hair and smelly lotion all over my face.

The tour ended in the shop (of course) where we could buy all the miracle cures that had just been demonstrated. While a few were intriguing, the prices seemed high and we were starting to get annoyed with our pushy sales guy. So we browsed a bit (with him on our tail the whole time) and then walked out. We ended up tipping him for his time because we felt a little guilty for not buying anything (we were there for at least 45 minutes) and then made our way back to the car.

Definitely an adventure.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Now that's dedication

I have to pause in our vacation musings to share today's amazing story. The Emiratis in the development program I run have to lead a business based project during their last three months prior to their graduation. One of the assessments of this phase is a presentation they need to do for their supervisor, the leadership team in their department and their mentor. These presentations are from 20-40 minutes long and are stressful. We spend a lot of time preparing and rehearsing and the participants work really hard to showcase their work.

One of today's grads is pregnant .... very pregnant ... due in just a few days pregnant so the joke all week has been that baby needs to wait until Mommy's done delivering her presentation.

Her presentation was scheduled for 10:30 so around 10:00 I went up to the classroom to make sure she had everything ready. She wasn't there so I asked a couple of her colleagues where she was. Her friend said, "she's coming."

"I hope so, her presentation is in less than 30 minutes. Why so late?"
"She's having some pain and thinks the baby might be coming."

oh ...

"But she's planning to come?"
"Yeah, no problem. She's coming now."

Sure enough, a few minutes later she arrived and got things set up for her presentation. I asked how she was and she said okay and I joked that baby needs to stay put until after the presentation.

She delivered .... (no, the story isn't THAT good) ... an excellent presentation. Really her best run through ever. After the applause and congratulations she calmly packed up her belongings and said, "I'm going to go over to the hospital now. I'm pretty sure the baby is coming."

Not quite believing this, I laughed, wished her well and asked her to keep us all posted. This was around 11:15am.

It's now 9:15pm and she just sent me a text saying she delivered a baby girl.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Getting to Sri Lanka

Yep, another 3 day holiday weekend in Abu Dhabi, which means the Stolls were off on another adventure - this time to Sri Lanka. For those geographically challenged as we were, Sri Lanka is a large island off the southeast coast of India and about a 4.5 hour flight from Abu Dhabi. It is heavily influenced by Indian culture and the majority of the population (70%) are Buddhist, however, our Sri Lankan driver was quick to point out that while much is influenced by other culture, the Sri Lankans always improve on it and make it better. We got a good dose of Sri Lankan pride, which was not only interesting, but really great to see. More on that as I share our adventures.

This time, we had confirmed business class seats so no worries about getting bumped off the flight (whew!) The only downside was that the flight leaves Abu Dhabi at 9:30pm and arrives in Colombo, Sri Lanka at 3:30am - not ideal travel times. Another interesting bit: Sri Lanka timezone was 1.5 hours ahead. I didn't know time zones differed by 30 minute increments.

We had arranged a transport service for the 2.5 hour drive from the airport to our hotel and slept as much as we could on the plane and then in the car.

Our first impressions were ... GREEN. It was monsoon season so very wet and very green - perfect as things are just starting to heat up here in Abu Dhabi for the summer. We arrived at our hotel around 6am and were greeted with the following view from the hotel bar area.

Not too shabby for a long weekend getaway.

We had made arrangements with our driver to come back at 10:30 for a day tour of the area. That gave us almost 4 hours to catch a little sleep, a shower, and some breakfast so that's exactly what we did.