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.

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