On Wednesday, the group was fortunate to go on a field trip through the Udawattakele Forest Reserve with Professor Nishantha “Nishi” Rajakaruna from California Polytechnic State University. Prof. Rajakaruna went to school nearby and has had a lifelong connection to the forest, as indicated by the local turtle population he helped rehabilitate as a young child. He is a passionate teacher and well respected botanist whose enthusiasm for the biodiversity of Sri Lanka was infectious as we made our way through the forest.
Professor Rajakaruna pointed out a number of endemic plants only found in the lush highlands of the island nation, but also species that had been introduced from other subtropical regions in South America, Africa, and Australia. We saw native jak fruit trees whose popular fruits have attained worldwide popularity and become a recent staple in the Hotchkiss dining hall.
We also ran into a pack of monkeys who seemed to take as much interest in us as we did in them!
On our way back from the forest reserve, we stopped at a roadside vendor to learn more about local fruits and try some samples. Professor Rajakaruna pointed out the spiky rambutan native to Malaysia, which was certainly a hit among the group. Many of us then tried durian for the first time, but with its strong, rotten egg-like odor and gooey texture, it did not receive the same reception!
We then arrived at our third day of batik art class in which our works had been dyed an initial color — in this case, yellow and blue. Students then worked to wax over the areas they hoped to retain as yellow and blue before the teachers would dye the cloths a different, complementary color the next day.
The group then left to visit a children’s orphanage in the city of Kandy. We took a tour around the facilities, learned about children’s welfare in Sri Lanka, and spent time playing with the children. It was a heart wrenching experience, but we were at least glad to offer some toys, provide a donation, and most memorably, bring smiles to some faces during our short visit.