On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
C was Ceylon
You might say that he was never in Sri Lanka, but he was in Ceylon. He was never in Kampuchea but was once in the Khmer temples of Cambodia; he never set foot in Myanmar but passed through Burma; never was in Dacca, Bangladesh but spent time in Dacca, East Pakistan. The world changes, even when we don’t want it to.
Ceylon was a former British colony that had many of the reminders of British rule but mostly the Footloose Forester remembers it as a tropical island where there are so many coconut trees that the smell of coconut cooking oil fills the air. It is so pervasive that you could hardly find a place where the sweet scent of coconut was not all around.
Giant bamboo that is considerably smaller than what was measured in Ceylon
Getting to Ceylon was an adventure. One way was by ferry from the Indian port of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu State. You passed through Indian customs in a large shed built on sand, with only sand for a floor. The inspection benches were perched on posts driven into the sand. Beyond customs, you embarked on a small “lighter” that would take you to the steamer waiting in deeper water. The lighter hoisted its sails and you sailed silently for about 20 minutes toward the steamer that served as a ferry boat, but without the capability to board cars and trucks. After about three hours, is seemed, you reached the coast of Ceylon. Conveniently, there was a railroad terminal adjacent to the dock at Talaimannar Pier, the Ceylonese port of entry. Once the ferry was discharged, the train departed for points south. There was no apparent reason to wait for a different departure time, since the port of entry was the last point of land along the train tracks, and everybody in that coastal region could see the ferry coming for miles.
The Footloose Forester took a side trip inland. He took a bus or two to the highland city of Kandy where he was welcomed with the sight of an elephant doing his chores as a forestry worker. The people respect the elephants because they could do things that people could not do, but they had to be trained to work in the woods. Along the way, he stopped in a small village and was given the present of a kilo of Ceylon tea, some of the best in the world. The people were proud of their tea, and were friendly enough to invite him into their homes. Those kinds of memories stick.
At some point he also did some hitch hiking, just because he wanted to add to the memories. He spied a thick stand of bamboo and asked the driver to stop a mile or so before the village he could see nestled in the hills above him. He sensed that it was an opportunity that may not come again, and a chance to inspect a grove of the tallest bamboo “trees” he had ever seen. Did you ever see a grass grow to the height of well over 100 feet tall, and to a diameter of 18 inches? In that place, and on that day, the Footloose Forester did.
His method of checking tree diameter was to reach around a tree and touch his finger tips together. If his fingers just touched, the tree was 18 inches in diameter. He measured height in 16 foot log units, as he had done for years when cruising timber as a practicing forester. Yes, years later it still seemed questionable that his estimate of the tallest bamboo was really 130 feet, but he had lots of experience with hypsometers, clinometers and Abney levels for obtaining heights after which he then checked by eyeball estimates. In practice, however, the process was usually reversed: you start with the instrument readings and then test your personal estimates to establish confidence and develop your skills for those many times when you did not have an instrument. Thus, those numbers of giant bamboo in Ceylon stick in his memory. Only after he was satisfied that he had captured one more precious memory, did he walk the last two miles to the village and later accept a kilo of Ceylonese tea as a gift.