Of Pradep and the toddy-tappers - Smiling Sri Lanka - CycleBlaze

February 21, 2020

Of Pradep and the toddy-tappers

Pradep - I want to visit Broh-do
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SIGIRIYA - Pradep is 22, as thin as anyone might safely be, with a shyness that appeals. His ambitions are to develop tourism on his land - and to visit Bordeaux.

When I ask if he'd add India to his list of dream destinations, India being a rather shorter journey from Sri Lanka, he laughs apologetically and says "No, just Bordeaux." He doesn't even want to visit China or Africa.

He pronounces it Broh-do and it happens to be our regional capital. It's an attractive city but why he wanted to go there I never did understand. I think he has a friend who lives there.

His girlfriend doesn't want to go, he says. She's 19 and the two have been going out for nine months.  Pradep works in a café with tourist prices that belongs to his family; his girlfriend stays at home with her family.

"She has no work," he says sympathetically. "Sri Lanka has many problems. This is a tourist area. But there was the tsunami and then the tourists came back. Then there were bomb attacks between Christians and Muslims and the tourists didn't return. And now it's the corona virus and people aren't coming any more."

That's a slight exaggeration because we've heard French, English and other languages this afternoon. And we crossed with a cycling group, a straggle of westerners with a Sri Lankan guide, and a bus and a van to follow them.

Climbing to the rock fortress took a long time
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The attraction here is an enormous rock fortress, a national treasure, which Steph was determined to visit. She was the only European in a crowd thickened by this being a national holiday, though to be fair most tourists could have climbed it and then returned before the heat became too much.

When I asked Pradep about the holiday, he seemed to think there was one but couldn't say what it was. When I suggested a Hindu festival, which is what we'd heard, he said he didn't know.

Tourists are not entirely unexpected here
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We got here after 15km of fairly busy main road made tolerable by a marked and respected bike lane, then a smooth, rolling road that threaded through rich green countryside populated by the grand old ladies of palm trees.

To be honest, we'd planned to ride twice as far. But the thickness and slowness of the crowd going up to the rock fortress delayed us too much. We are staying instead with Pradep's brother, Ramon, in a room he lets to the few tourists who wander far enough along an unmade road to find him. That means riding a fair bit further tomorrow but, to be honest, cycling on quiet roads through welcoming villages is a joy.

Interesting, what you meet on Sri Lankan roads
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Up goes the toddy-tapper...
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I'VE been meaning to tell you about the toddy-tappers. We've crossed with a lot of them as they cycled the other way with pots and other paraphernalia hanging from their bikes.

It was only the other day that we learned what they do.

And what they do is shin up trees and tap the juice and bring it back down to turn into an alcoholic drink. That's where English gets the word toddy.

...and the toddy is tapped
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The juice can be drunk as it comes from the tree and, with as much bravery as gratitude, we accepted a glass when it was offered. To be truthful, it tasted horrible. I'm sure it's better once fermented. But we drank enough to be polite, first for the kindness in giving it to us and second because it was only right after the effort that it took to get it.

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