The biggest difficulty in organizing your own tour in a place so far away is an assurance that your well laid plans will not go awry and thus spoil a much sought after and anticipated trip. The researching and planning is something that Brunyfire relishes in preparing to travel overseas, and planning another trip from island to island – from Bruny Island to Sri Lanka, was no exception.
Having a clear itinerary is important, and once you have that, then the most comfortable way to get around the island (we had planned a 10 day tour) is with your own driver in an air-conditioned car. After much careful searching (again TripAdvisor was invaluable here) we came across Jaga – or Jagath Amarasingha, a Sri Lankan driver and tour guide who runs his own business.Jaga has eleven years of experience in the travel business, and we found him to be an excellent driver, helpful with a good network of contacts, friendly and entertaining – we started our journey together as acquaintances and ended up as friends.
Driving in Sri Lanka is quite an experience for an outsider! The roads are awash with tuk-tuks……… ………sleeping dogs and wandering cattle (who have very little road sense)……..…… motorbikes……….. ……….pedestrians, passing street parades………..………cars, mad cap buses and the occasional elephant.Despite all these, Jaga managed to avoid them all with adroitness and verve, and we soon felt comfortable with his driving.
Despite the fact that we had initiated the direction of our tour, Jaga was able to advise visits to several places that we hadn’t accounted for, and Brunyfire was particularly indebted to he and his friend Priyantha (a Yala National Park safari jeep driver from Tissamaharama) for introducing us to the charming family of curd makers, and the curd pot makers.
But one of the highlights of our trip was meeting Jaga’s family at his home.Jaga’s wife, Gheeta had prepared us a fabulous lunch – she’s a busy full-time mum, with the couple’s youngest son, 2 month old Gagana, their middle son Shaun (who was at school) and eldest son, Liyon. Brunyfire was particularly thrilled to be invited into their kitchen where a delicious curry was being prepared for our lunch. Most of the meals are prepared on a simple woodfired cooker, the main structure of which is terracotta that has been coated in adobe.This structure made sense later in the trip, when Brunyfire was to see, the base terracotta stove. The first occasion was at Helga’s Folly in Kandy in Madame Helga’s private collection……….…………and the second was in the working kitchen of the curd makers’ kitchen in Tissamaharama.With such a simple cooking method, and cooking in clay pots, the meal Gheeta produced was truly Sri Lankan. Jaga also taught us how to eat correctly when in the company of the host and hostess. The secret here is to mix the food with the tips of the fingers of the right hand, pressing it gently to make it all stick together, and then flick the mounded morsel into the mouth with the thumb. It’s a really great way to eat!
Traditionally, one’s plate is mounded high with three spoonfuls of red rice, and then this is surrounded by a series of side dishes from dried fish, to curried chicken, coconut sambol and an array of fresh vegetables from Jaga’s garden. For a special desert, we were treated to buffalo curd and palm treacle.
But it’s Jaga’s garden that is his pride and joy, and more importantly, it is where he sees he and his family’s future. Jaga proudly owns a block of land not far from where he lives with the family and he has a well established vegetable garden as well as a range of fruit trees.He originally built a small wattle and daub (a palm structure reinforced with clay from his land) structure, with palm frond thatching, but the family soon outgrew this. He is in the process of building his family a new home as well as building a guest house which he and Gheeta hope to run in the near future.He is passionate about plants, telling us that often, after he has dropped off his tour clients, he will load up his car for the homeward trip with plants from the local nurseries – he finds it hard to resist passing one without calling in.We were both very excited to learn about Jaga’s dream for his new home, guest house and garden – he feels that in the centre of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, he can offer guests a unique few days of local living and home grown cooking. He has a canal at the bottom of the garden, across from which is a tree loaded with the beautiful basket nests of the weaver bird.It was with this in mind that John started playing around with mud house designs and jetties into the canal where one could sit with a freshly cut coconut and watch the weaver birds go about their creative business.
Such is the stuff of dreams!