Chaaya Village is an interesting place. They say Cinnamon Lodge – which is almost next door – is the fancier of the two, which I can’t comment on – this is the first time I’ve been anywhere in the vicinity of Habarana, let alone the hotels here. Right now, if I look out of the window, it’ll be dark. If I’d looked out of the window earlier, I’d have seen rows of chalets lining a road split in the middle by a tree, set against a backdrop of green and silence.
We’re here as part of the TBCAsia tour – that’s Cinnamon Hotels’ recently-announced Travel Bloggers Conference. TBCAsia is a cool concept: get some of the best travel bloggers in the world in one place (Sri Lanka), drive a lot of attention to Sri Lanka in the process, and perhaps give blogging here a bit of a kick in the pants.
Travel blogging in itself is a pretty interesting industry. Some people may not care about tech, or politics, or what have you, but nobody minds hearing about a cool new place halfway across the world. It’s the appeal of the horizon, I guess. There’s also the fact that it’s expensive to do well, and that expense also applies to other, non-textual platforms. It’s one thing to buy a mic, play a game and do a voice-over-review: it’s much harder to do a video review of a Hotel or a tourist attraction an ocean away.
Unfortunately, a lot of local bloggers – who would have really, really benefited from this – are going to miss out on the conference: tickets are 17K a head and that’s expensive for most people who run a blog here. Nevertheless, it’s a start. Hopefully at some point in the future costs will come down, or live streaming will rear its head, and everyone will be able to profit.
Anyways. Back to the tour, which is the good stuff before the conference. Cinnamon’s essentially hosting 40-odd bloggers from all over the world, taking them on a tour of the Central and Southern Provinces of Sri Lanka. So with me, myself and I is Indi Samarajiva from Yamu, a whole lot of professional, foreign travel bloggers (who I should really introduce myself to) and the team from Cinnamon. Habarana is the first leg of the journey: everybody’s just returned from a safari (read: elephants) and are probably settling down and waiting for dinner.
Getting here was an interesting affair. At around 8 AM, two buses rolled off from Cinnamon Lake, each carrying in them a whole bunch of half-awake people and the standard crabby, politically incorrect uncle-figure tour guide that seems to haunt this sort of thing. Our bus was treated to the history of Sri Lanka, including how one Pope made an unscheduled comfort stop at St Anthony’s Shrine. And how Mrs Bandaranayake went from “straight from the kitchen, pots and pans straight into politics,” as he put it. And epically true witticisms like “Cinnamon Gardens, ladies and gentlemen. During the Dutch period, they grew cinnamon there. Now we call it Colombo 07 and they they grow rich people with BMWs.”
“I think the whole concept of a tour guide is that you have to be slightly demented,” remarked Indi later, once we’d arrived at Chaaya Village and demolished the fruit bowl.
However, that trip WAS quite educational: I learned quite a few things – such as the many uses of the coconut tree (I can’t remember anything, now: consult your local supermarket) and how to brew toddy and arrack (Sri Lanka’s ‘Power Tonic’, as he put it). Never hurts to get an education. If my job as a writer/editor falls through, now I have a backup career.
We also stopped for a while at Saruketha in Kurunegala, a restaurant / pit stop that looks like the height of Sri Lankanization – wattle-and-daub huts, tall bamboo trees arranged artfully to make a closed central space, wooden tables. Saruketha is (apparently – I have this knowledge secondhand) one of the most popular pit stops on journeys like this: their menu – entirely European, not a a single indhi appa in it – indicates their clientele.
Interesting: I must say I’m looking forward to the rest of the tour. There’s word of a discussion on podcasts, and a competition involving flights from Cinnamon Air – let’s see if I can’t walk away with something.