On Toddy, Turtles and Treacle

I would be remiss if I did not post a follow-up to my last entry. Believe it or not, what had originally brought us to Aluthgama was not its Bavarian resorts. No, it was the turtles. Along the coast are multiple turtle hatcheries, which were all wiped out in the Tsunami, along with everything else. But, they have rebuilt and are each doing fine conservation work.

We ended up visiting just one, the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project, and had a chance to meet, pet and hold turtles of varying ages. A few breeding turtles reside here permanently, and their offspring are raised until they are about palm-size, then released into the sea. Having never interacted with a sea turtle, this expedition more than made up for the pale speedo/beer-gut superstars we were subjected to along the beach. As it turns out, sea turtles like to have their shells rubbed and scratched. This came as a surprise to me as I started to pet them as I do any animal. I half expected them to recoil and swim to the other end of the tank, but each one I petted scooted itself under my fingers and did a jig, a sort of appreciative rumba. Hell, for all I know I was initiating some sort of mating ritual; but let me anthropomorphise and feel a connection here.

Along the road down to the sanctuary we stopped to witness toddy harvesters. These are the men who, seemingly vertigo-free, climb high into the coconut palms to tap their fruits. The trees are strung together so that once up there they can move from tree to tree without climbing down. The coconut fruit is scored, and over the course of a couple of weeks its juices harvested. From this tree they harvest (besides coconuts) palm treacle and toddy. Treacle is a sweet syrup, often misnamed honey here, that serves to sweeten foods, much like maple syrup. We have had it with buffalo curd, a typical dessert on the island. The curd is a room-temperature yogurt sold in clay pots, and has a tart, vaguely sheepy flavor that is rounded out by the sweet treacle. Yum.

Toddy is the watery coconut fruit extract that is imbibed for its alcohol. The fresh juice ferments quickly, and can be consumed the same day it is gathered. The rest goes to the distillery to make arrack, the island’s local liquor. Having seen toddy consumed on one of my favorite travel shows, I naturally wanted to try it.* Rather awkwardly, the locals indulged me and prepared a pitcher of the stuff, filtering out debris and bees who’d met a drunken death in the toddy pots. It tasted, well, coconutty, with a light, low alcohol buzz — the same I get from a bottle of kombucha. Sort of what you’d expect slightly fermented coconut flower juice to taste, I guess.

Arrack, on the other hand, is a different story. Later that evening we tried both light and dark versions, which mercifully tasted much more like vodka and brandy than the everclear it smelled like. A very clean liquor, which, come to think of it, we should be drinking more of. Nurse!?

We’ve since moved on through the charming hill country town of Ella, and then Dalhousie where we summited Sri Pada (aka Adam’s Peak). We have had spotty internet in the past week, and so are delayed in blogging (akb is beyond frustrated.) So, more on waking up at 2 AM to climb a giant mountain to watch the sun rise from 2700 feet soon.


* No, this did not result in a repeat of the Man vs Wild-inspired fallen-coconut-induced bout of vomiting in Hawaii, thank you very much.

One Response to “On Toddy, Turtles and Treacle”

  1. Week Three (aka Slaying the Inner-Wimp, Mostly) « Verbalizing Says:

    […] to wander this way.  Iggy has written much more describing our time along the coast in Colombo and southward.   I plan on writing more about the Hill Country in the Week Four digest (coming […]

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