24 September, Sri Lanka – ‘All Over The Place – Asia’
I thought it was a bit strange that the downstairs of our new hotel is all brand new, but the upper floors all look like they’re a few decades old. That’s because when the tsunami hit here over 10 years ago the entire ground floor was submerged in water and everybody down there died. So that was a depressing fact to find out this morning (in fact, between 30,000 and 40,000 people died in the whole of Sri Lanka. Imagine that happening to the UK. We’d still be very traumatised by it, as I’m sure they still are here). Driving around the coast here now you’d never know something like that happened. The place seems thriving, and they do a roaring trade in a big Sri Lankan export – cinnamon.
Our hotel stinks of the stuff (they even perfume the toilets with it), which I guess is because they have a ready supply of it just down the road at one of the many cinnamon plantations. Once we arrived at the one we’d be filming at this morning Michelle and I dressed as elves and spoke to confused looking farmers about trying to track down “the smell of Christmas”. Having got that out of the way we got back into our normal clothes and followed a guy round as he chopped some cinnamon branches off one of the many shrubs around us, releasing a swarm of huge red ants that crawled all over our feet (one of which climbed into my shoe and bit me). While we jumped around screeching he just stood there covered in ants himself laughing. I guess you get used to it after a while!
The next stage of the process was to visit the factory where the branches are taken – a lovely little family business where we were greeted by the father, grandfather and daughter, given tea and snacks in their house next door and then shown how to strip the bark and peel the first layer of wood off to create the cinnamon I put on my porridge most mornings. Couldn’t believe how many metre high bundles of the stuff they had in the main warehouse. When I think how much you pay for a small jar in a supermarket there was millions of pounds worth sitting there in front of us.
We were really melting in the heat and looking forward to the afternoon’s shoot indoors at a mask museum. Unfortunately there was no air conditioning, so it was like filming in a sweat box, to the extent that our soundman, Nat, was actually wringing his T shirt out on the balcony. However, it was interesting learning about how people used to think they could cure ailments by dressing up as the demon that was responsible for the particular one the victim was suffering from and paying them a visit. Must have frightened the life out of small children who were ill. I would have thought that the last thing you want when you’re suffering from malaria is someone barging into your house wearing one of those terrifying things!