bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back from the tropics

Well, that was quite a break -- I'm back from Sri Lanka and have finally found time for a little blogging. So let's start in the tropics.

I hear a surprising amount about beekeeping in Sri Lanka, but after this second visit to the teardrop below India, I still haven't seen much evidence. But here is some.

While trekking up to Ella Rock in the tea-growing highlands in south central Sri Lanka, we were -- as usual -- graciously picked on by a wannabe guide. Sri Lankans know full well that an hour or two with a foreigner can earn a few dollars that will go a very long way in Sri Lankan rupees.

He was a schoolboy just starting his Christmas holiday (yes even Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic Sri Lankans celebrate Christmas just a little). We didn't need a guide, but he was a little charmer and anyway he'd keep away other would-be guides. To my surprise, he earned his fee.

We asked him if he knew anything of beekeeping and he told us how his father would go even higher up into the mountains to raid wild bee (presumably Apis dorsata) nests. Then he remembered that there was a bee tree nearby on the edge of a tea plantation. So he took us there. Sure enough we could see several crescent-shaped nests hanging from branches. Apparently the bees like a particular type of tree, but I'm afraid I don't recollect its name.

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We photographed the (empty) nests and then, as we left, a woman called out to our guide in Sinhalese. The boy told us to follow him and her as she made her way back to her home. Her husband was also a honey-hunter and he showed us a large jar of mashed up comb and honey. It didn't look too appetising, but they insisted I taste it. It was good. They then fetched a little medicine bottle which they insisted I fill with honey to take away. I think they were delighted when I gave them some rupees -- either that or they were too stunned to react or too disappointed to smile!


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The home of the honey hunter in his plot of vegetables.

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