Sri Lanka is an island nation situated in the Indian Ocean, located near its larger neighbor India at the north and its much-smaller neighbor – the Maldives – at the southwest. Being a tropical destination with close proximity to the equator, Sri Lanka is prone to hot climates – with temperatures averaging (monthly) between 22°C (72°F) and 33°C (92°F) in the lowlands, as well as wet climates via the occasional monsoon rainfall – averaging more than 50 inches (1,270 mm) per year in most parts of the country. More often than not, the hot and wet weather can intersect, and one can wind up still feeling the heat in the middle of a downpour!

The country is also a bustling haven of flora and fauna – with a sizable portion of its land area occupied with forests and grasslands, a dozen of major rivers… and, of course, all forms of life that thrive in all of these environments.

But like all countries caught in the vices of climate change, Sri Lanka is also seeing the adverse effects of these changes hitting hard on the lives of its inhabitants. Not only is the country now caught between harmful droughts from the hot seasons and destructive floods brought on by the wet season’s heavier rainfalls, but roughly 50 percent of its citizens living in low-lying, coastal areas are also in danger of the potentially-imminent sea level rise – a similar dilemma faced by the Maldives and other island nations with such vulnerabilities.

I – and the SPE team, to that extent – have visited Sri Lanka several times, even before the foundation of SPE itself. If not for a reforestation initiative, you can bet that it’s for an environmental cause. This time, however, is a visit on behalf of SPE’s continued operations – mostly on the focus of establishing green nurseries throughout the country. It’s a similar operation that has been at the forefront throughout our visit to Sri Lanka, as well as for our upcoming destinations – Pakistan and the Maldives.

Reminiscent of the journal-like post regarding my trip to Turkey, I will continue that tradition (in a sense) and cover my week throughout a handful of provinces in Sri Lanka.

Before I start, there is something else worth mentioning. This trip was initially supposed to begin much earlier than the timeline you’d be seeing in this log. However, due to the global emergence of the Covid-19 virus’s Omicron variant, Sri Lanka has taken stringent measures to prevent a potential outbreak. And that meant temporarily closing its border until it could be fully prepared. It has opened just recently, and I was able to resume the project.

So, without any further ado, here’s a “journal of sorts” narrating SPE’s visit to Sri Lanka.

DECEMBER 11, 2021 – SATURDAY

Jumping right into the fray, I began my tour by catching up with the parties who are collaborating with us in our current and ongoing projects as well as with future ones. As such, Saturday was mostly about meetings and discussions about carbon credit generation from our upcoming nurseries and planting initiatives.

The meetings comprised of meeting our Carbon validation partners, CCC, and another with the Mayor of the country’s Western Province.

Following talks, we proceeded to the expedition portion of the day, by visiting a landfill site in the province with the Mayor to conduct a survey of the area for prospective recycling operations.

DECEMBER 12, 2021 – SUNDAY

In a follow-up to discussions made with the Estate Management on Saturday to visit some plantations during the days after, Sunday began with the task of preparing for those visits.

To elaborate a bit on the said plantations, I was to visit two separate ones throughout this trip, while also meeting their respective representatives ahead of these meetings. The first was a meeting with the CEO of the Colombo-based Kotagala Plantations, with the topic of arranging a scheduled viewing of a 100-acre land in plantations on Tuesday. The meeting itself, however, was scheduled for Monday.

The next meeting would be with the GM of another plantation, which I will reveal later in this log. However, both visits are poised to set up an opportunity to engage in discussions of establishing a “carbon park” for SPE.

But for most of the day, it was a destination shift from the capital Colombo to the city of Kandy in the Central Province. That meant heading past the Knuckles Mountain Range, which was basically a routine visiting spot at this point since I – along with the SPE crew – had operated in a handful of tree-planting initiatives.

Now… if you’re wondering why this place is called the Knuckles Mountain Range, first of all – no, it’s not a Sonic reference. It was given the name because the peaks of the mountains resembled the knuckles of a clenched fist. Whether the mountain can actually be capable of throwing a good punch… well… let’s leave that to the imagination.

The ride to Kandy took a little over 3 hours, and afterwards, I checked in at the Hotel Topaz, located atop the Anniewatte Mountain.

DECEMBER 13, 2021 – MONDAY

After spending the night in Kandy, I began Monday with the scheduled trip to the aforementioned Knuckles area. While the main purpose of the 2km trek is to visit a 1-hectare-large nursery at the premises, it was also to catch up with the progress at the previous tree-planting sites, as well as to check up on new areas for planting – including a 200-acre area for the 100 million tree-planting initiative. Additionally, we took a look at smaller tree nurseries along the way.

The climate around these parts of the region is often rainy at this time of year. So, it wasn’t that surprising when I was greeted with rainfall throughout the morning, making the trip somewhat of a bumpy ride. But eventually, after the rain died down, I was able to glance outside once the windows became cleared of their fogginess. Fruit vendors carried on with their business on the roadsides, undeterred by the weather.

I wished I had their tenacity; because the rainy season, mixed with the humid environment, stirred up an unsettling force of nature upon my path.

This is just a fancy way of me saying that there were leeches everywhere. I would applaud my shoes for their contribution and noble sacrifice in saving my feet from those bloodsuckers.

Anyway…

I wasn’t alone for the ensuing road trip to Matale, though. Accompanying me was Mr. Gamini Jayatissa, CEO of the local NGO – Grama Abhiwurdhi Foundation For Environmental Conservation (GAFEC) – and the go-to person in heading the operations for this project.

To offer a little background, GAFEC was one of 2 planting projects (the other being Peoples Livlihood) that we contributed to during our trip to the country back in April, when we planted 11,000 trees to celebrate Earth Day 2021. The GAFEC planting project back then was also attended by prominent figures such as Hon. Deputy Minister & Matale District Parliament Member Rohana Dissanayake.

An unrelenting rainfall accompanied us in a 2km trip between my ride and the destination. Fortunately, it wasn’t that severe enough to completely hamper our progress, but it pays to be extra careful to avoid catching a cold. As we reached our target area, we had to wait a bit longer than usual to shelter ourselves from the weather.

During our stay, I observed the stark contrast between the lush green vegetation in areas that had already been designated for planting… and the near-barren appearance of the newly designated areas. I saw that plants had already begun sprouting; only time and consideration will help them grow and turn their surroundings into an evergreen beauty.

Next up was the trip to Maturatha – a tough journey with plenty of bends in the road and the cloudy weather to add a somber atmosphere. But it wasn’t without a good payoff, as I would be heading to the Maturata Plantations bungalow for the next day’s schedule.

DECEMBER 14, 2021 – TUESDAY

Maturata Plantations Limited (MPL) is renowned for being one of the largest tea-producing companies in the country, with a history of over 150 years. To this day, it has a total of 19 estates that encompass over 23,000 hectares of land and employs over 21,000 personnel.

Besides, if there’s anything that can help develop a healthy and optimistic get-together to exchange discussions and ideas, what better catalyst to add to the mix than tea?

Compared to the day prior, the weather was somewhat pleasant, though the specter of an imminent rainfall loomed over the sky. As for my schedule, I kicked the day off with a meeting with the company’s Chief Operating Officer Mr. Subash Abeywickrama at the plantation’s bungalow, where we discussed the prospect of carbon credits.

After the meeting, we headed for the plantations. Similar to Monday’s journey, the day was mostly spent on driving and making stops at the various planting locations that were already teeming with botanic life, and those that have the potential of becoming such spots.

From one prominent plantation to another, I then set the course to the aforementioned Kotagala Plantations in Colombo. So far, up to this point, SPE was successfully able to acquire 2 nurseries, and this next visit is hopefully the lead-up of getting the 3rd one.

DECEMBER 15, 2021 – WEDNESDAY

Another rainy day; though not as bad as Monday’s weather, it was persistent throughout. As usual, we started the day indoors for a meeting with the representatives of Kotagala Plantations, particularly the scheduled meeting with its CEO Mahen Madugalle.

First, a little familiarization:

Like its counterpart in Maturata, Kotagala Plantations – which is founded in 1992 – is also a major tea producer and distributor, operating as a subsidiary under Lankem Plantation Holdings Ltd. Despite having a history of almost a mere 30 years, it had achieved a lot throughout its tenure, allocating to this day about 2,451 hectares for harvesting the bulk of its tea from the Western Dambulla district.

By the time we got off and resumed our trek on foot, it started to rain cats and dogs. It was also windy – not strong enough to fold an umbrella inside out, but still strong nonetheless. However, the good news from this arduous trip made this trip a breeze. In addition to visits to the plantations and nurseries, I found the place that would potentially be the foundation of SPE’s Carbon Park – with an area of more than 200 acres. Seeing it, I was more than certain that the 100 million tree planting project that was set for Sri Lanka had already been set in stone.

I was almost reaching the end of the scheduled tour of the country. Having seen the progress of the trees planted about 8 months ago elicited a wonderful feeling of personal growth and advancement within me. I do have to credit the weather for offering the occasional optimal conditions of helping these plants grow, though I was also genuinely worried that the worsening conditions of climate change would make these conditions excessive, unbearable, and even destructive. Hence, it’s reasonable to be concerned about how much longer we can rely on the weather for helping us in reforestation when it can be on the precipice of destroying all of it mercilessly. Well… that was what ran through my mind when I saw the plants bracing through the rain and wind as they resumed their slow but steady growth.

DECEMBER 16, 2021 – THURSDAY (END)

Despite my push through days of weather conditions to keep up with my schedule, I’ve hit a severe snag. I feel ill. I guess I had it coming; after treading through the trifecta of hot, humid, and rainy days, plus being at the mercy of mosquitoes and leeches (and whatever crawlies nature unleashed on me), along with the fluctuation of moving from low-altitude and high-altitude locations, I was bound to wear out in some way.

The good news was that I’ve already visited the vital areas that made up this trip, and the illness started right after I concluded my trip in Sri Lanka and returned to Pakistan to resume my SPE agenda. I will note that I have taken all necessary precautions and got myself tested before the trip. It was just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill fever that can be remedied with medicine and rest.

To sum up my accomplishment in my Sri Lanka trip, we have acquired 4 nurseries. The first was in the Knuckles Mountain Range in Matale, where I was accompanied by members of GAFEC to observe the location, along with previous planting sites. The second was acquired during my travel with personnel from Mathurata Plantations, while the last two were acquired while accompanied by personnel from the Kotagala Plantations. My experiences of the trip encompassed the before-and-after views of the allocated areas for planting during my previous visit, as well as the discovery of new locations to do the same.

I was also happy to know the parties that accompanied me helped in making this progress fruitful – by diligently carrying out the planting project while also inviting the local community to take interest in the cause.

And with that, the Sri Lanka log concludes here. I wish I had taken a couple more time and several more words to elucidate everything I had experienced during the trip; but the truth is, the bulk of my journey is traveling from one place to another to focus on the tasks each location presented me with. Even though the point of this trip isn’t for sightseeing, I will at least emphasize that the landscapes – both natural and urban – flourished in splendor for harnessing their respective essences of untouched tranquility and bustling energy.

Anyway, I guess that’s it for now. I’ve arrived in Pakistan, and the first and only task I have for this moment is to recover. As soon as I’ve gotten revitalized, it’s time to commence the next log.

Until then, see you next time!

SPE Travel Log: Sri Lanka [Nursery Formation]

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