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Published: April 5th 2014
We had breakfast at 8.30 with fresh pineapple and a cup of tea.
Our means of transportation for the day was a pickup truck, and we rode in the back like the locals, wind in our hair, sun on our face. We had no doubt our families back home would disapprove if they knew, but it felt incredibly liberating. And as long as the pickup doesn’t crash, it really isn’t a safety issue…
We started out with a trek through a national forest that hosted a certain species of Gibbon monkeys, snakes, spiders, and wild boar. I was excited for some close encounters with half a zoo, though Rikke was not at all okay with the prospect of running into snakes.
After an hour of walking with careful and as inaudible steps as possible on a small pathway that only a select few of the guides knew – we had an eco-tourism guide that took us out on his “own” path, which was barely even a trail – I had to accept that the interesting wildlife had no intention of an encounter with me.
However, we managed to spot the resting holes made in the ground by
boars, listen to noisy crickets, watch butterflies in a large range of colors flutter past us, and we took some pictures of the funny-looking and colorful spiders that we seemed to run into every ten minute.
When we made it to the “picnic spot” in a clearing of the forest where all the local tourist busses park and unload the guests, and the loud Bangla music and many conversations drowned out the crickets, I had given up hope. Funny how nature tricks you. There, in the trees above us (and a group of 50 loud Bangladeshis), was a family of three gibbons. They didn’t seem intimidated by us taking pictures, talking and watching them intently from the ground just below, and they swung around the nearest trees long enough for us to want to move on. Perfect!
Incredibly, we, as always, drew more attention for being white, and the Bangladeshis would rather take pictures of us than the rare gibbons; we therefore had to sit through a ten-minute photo session after leaving the monkeys. I ended up with a toddler on my lap, a father next to me, and a self-appointed photographer that said “here madam, look here.”
As long as that is all it takes to leave a good impression on the locals, I will happily flash a smile and hold a baby.
We then drove to a tea garden, though the “garden” was a massive estate of over ten acres. The road was surrounded by small hills with narrow trails meandering through the many tea shrubs. As if placed randomly, there were tall trees that shaded parts of the tea shrubs. The guide explained that the tea dies if it is exposed to the sunshine all day, so “shade trees” are planted to provide cover for the bushes at different times of the day, depending on the sun’s location on the sky. I liked the idea of a tree functioning as a parasol for the tiny but important shrubs that are too delicate to sit in the sun all day – like a child without sunscreen.
As we climbed to the top of one hill, all we could see was long winding rows of tea shrubs that followed the waves of the hills and disappeared into the horizon. The hills were green and lush. But the tea leaves were not as soft as they
looked and the sun was unforgiving –not even the “shade trees” provided much cover if you were a tea plucker that moved around all day. I remarked to Rikke that I really hope the tea pluckers have time to chat and gossip with each other during their 8-hour workday, even if they have to pluck at least 24 kilos (at 2 taka a kilo) to keep the job. Otherwise, I couldn’t imagine how they get through the day.
At least we were met by smiling faces and excited kids yelling “bye” instead of “hi” and waving wildly at us when we drove through the tea pluckers’ villages. So the community seemed to be a strong one, and the people were nice.
We also saw the pineapple gardens, at which point I decided I would rather be a tea plucker if I had to choose. Pineapples are apparently a fruit that grows on a plant – yes, I thought they grew on trees – and the plant is most hostile. There are thorns, spikes more like it, on the sides of the leaves which surround the center of the “flower”. In the middle of this thorny flower is the
pineapple. I sincerely hope the pluckers wear long pants, a sleeved shirt, and gloves. Those thorns will show you who the boss is.
We also went to a most beautiful lake. The guide said it was an artificial lake that had at some point become “real”. I’m not sure how that works, but it did look like it had always been there, one with the surroundings. What made it beautiful, besides the hills and greenery surrounding it, were the many lotus flowers that floated on the water surface. We simply sat and enjoyed the view from one of the hills, the peace and quiet, and not too far in the distance were taller hills than we had seen so far. India, the guide said. It seemed like no more than a stone’s throw away.
We ended the day on a high note with a famous cup of tea; the only tea with seven distinct layers, each a different taste. It took forever before we got the tea but I spent the wait petting two stray dogs and getting my animal fix. One dog was a big male, the daddy to the puppy that I also petted. Nothing more
gratifying than slowly earning his trust until finally he surrendered completely and lay on the ground while I scratched his belly. The stray dogs down here are far from aggressive.
The tea was worth the wait. It had a soft taste, slightly sweet, and it looked really cool with the seven layers sloshing back and forth as you drank. Unfortunately, it was a small glass, not the 450 ml mugs I’m used to, so it was empty within two minutes.
When we got back to our rooms, three of us had to surrender to an evening nap. It’s funny how new impressions can wear down on your body. We then went out for dinner. It cost less than 25 DKK per person for dinner, dessert and beverages. Now that’s a price range even interns can overcome. And the food and ice cream were delicious.
All in all, a great day full of new impressions and experiences.
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