I was absolutely smitten with the idea of visiting a Sri Lankan spice garden. You see I have delicious peppermint and fragrant thyme plants in my own small garden here in Norway and so naturally see myself as something of an expert on all things herbal.
Upon arriving at the spice garden, we stepped out of the car into the sweltering mid-day heat and were greeted with tiny, delicate glass cups containing only a sip or two of the most delicious vanilla, cinnamon, and spice tea. The taste was heavenly. Because I am an enthusiastic tea buyer, I asked eagerly if this was for sale. I was solemnly assured that everything was for sale and I would have a chance to peruse a large quantity of items at the end of the tour. Our guide was a very smooth, urbane man with a level, cool stare and he imparted his knowledge of various spices to us in such unsmiling, dispassionate manner that it was almost alarming causing me to overcompensate by smiling and nodding like I wasn't quite all there and exclaiming with amazement at everything he said. My husband said afterward that this guide had the manner of a mafia boss and he was correct.
He showed us thick, fleshy aloe vera leaves and broke them open so we could smell the sharp scent, pineapples with spiky green leaves shooting up from the ground, clove, sandalwood, pepper and most fascinating due to where we were, curry leaf trees and much more. Everything was very fragrant and had fascinating, unexpected uses. It was a beautiful place.
After we had been shown the gardens, we sat down and a couple of men came to demonstrate the uses of each plant, herb, and spice while our guide issued grim- sounding instructions and stood off to the side with his arms crossed in front of him. After this flurry of description, we received a face and neck massage. We didn't really have much choice about it actually...they didn't ask us if we wanted a massage, we were just suddenly getting one, being manhandled if you will, whether we liked it or not and call me crazy, but I did not. I like being asked before people touch me and rub oils into my skin so pungent, that even with three long showers don't come out...kind of weird, I know. Alas, gentle, yet very insistent forcefulness was the name of the game here and I was a poor player when it came to finding the courage it would take to resist such persistence. I found this entire segment of the tour bewildering that when the time came to look in the shop in which a wealth of very expensive healing and beautifying lotions, creams, and medicines were sold, I was so overwhelmed and slightly flustered and quite honestly, intimidated, by our unflinchingly smooth guide that I bought...of all things...hair removal lotion.
My goodness, of all the things I don't need! Why did I not just buy a little bag of the vanilla spice tea I enjoyed so much? I'll never know for sure, I'm afraid. All I can say is I wasn't myself really when I pulled it off the shelf at random, paid an outrageous price and tried to explain in my most forceful voice to our disapproving guide that no, I really didn't want to spend several hundred dollars more on their remedies, smiled shakily like I'd been through a war and turned to Per and whispered "Let's get out of here!"
So we made our escape through sandy, winding paths with the scent of the spices hanging in the tropical air all around us to the air conditioned car and onto the beautiful city of Kandy...