Over breakfast I chat to Rolf, the German next doe, about that German identity thing and how even now he feels some kind of imposed shame and regret that he can’t say Germany is great or good, or even speak its virtues. A long important history, rich in culture, invention and innovation, all sullied by 12 years of hitler. Changing the subject. Siva, the manger tells us about giant vegetables. His best story is the massive freak papaya out of which flew 2 bats when hacked in half. I’m not sure whether to believe this.
At Ella station I’m met by Fran. The train to Haputale is quite full, and I stand by the open door for the sinuous slow climb through jungle and tea plantations up 400 meters to Haputale, which is perched atop a ridge with staggering views, down on the clouds and the undulating toylike landscape beneath. At the station we are touted by the owner of the abc guesthouse, named after his sons first initials. He has 3. The place is on the hillside with a n amazing view from my balcony. The price is good too. The road leading down from abc is being extended with occasional explosive blasts.
The town is certainly less touristy than Ella. In fact I hardly see a white face. There are numerous shacks selling freshly fried snacks, alcohol shops selling a rack by the quart. Many poor faces. A withered hind woman who tugs our sleeves and shoves out a hand. She bugs me so much later on that I have to gesticulate wildly and shout at her to stop following me. Alcohol and betel seem common here. A mango seller gives me his phone number, insists I visit him for dinner. I think it could be a mistake….I chat to a snack firer and take his picture along with two curious cops. I sit on the fence by the railway waiting for Fran and share my snacks with a bedraggled old guy selling destroyed looking found shoes.
We have decided to go to the Benedictine monastery which is housed in a mansion built high in the kills by an English tea planter. The book says its 3 km away. I want to walk, Fran takes a tuk tuk. The walk is much further, more like 3 miles. It winds up along the ridge through the tea plantations and through a nature reserve. I hear wild boar, I think, making a fearful sound of pain and aggression. The monastery is curious if nothing else. I cannot see the view for the clouds. The garden has many fruit trees and the monks, who is font see either. Make jams and chutneys. I buy a wood apple jam and then look at the three rooms we are allowed access to.
Like a junk shop
Battered reel to reel tape recorder, a pair of 1940s era radios! some cracked wash bowls! a large scale and some rusty weights a cluster of tarnished crucifixes. A screw down printing press, an old black hole punch. A martellii desk fan
The sign in the first room reads silence. So much for the sound of the video tape playing. The living room contains fake leather well sat in arm chairs. An aura of sombreness and dullness. Think wooden doors with rounded doorways. A clock stopped at 1.45 am or pm. A severe portrait of an austere ecclesiastical looking from above a wooden gireplace. Dreary sofa covered with a plastic dust sheet.
Fran has set off back ahead of me. I finally find her grimacing at a tea stall by the road. She has naively taken a betel parcel and is chewing it unaware of what it is. She makes a bit of a scene and asks for tea to relieve the bitterness and numbness. Somehow we lose each other on the walk down. I take a slight wrong turn back in Haputale and cheeky cricket playing kids ask me for money.
Sun has now set on my balcony. The road builders have built a fire and the mosque is calling to prayer.