It was raining again, too wet to walk on the beach, and we’d already swum in the hotel pool three or four times that morning. As we sat in our room, watching the raindrops race down the window, there came a gentle tap-tap on our door.
“If it’s the room boys, tell them we don’t need anything done,” said Kate, munching on another hard-boiled egg she’d saved from the World’s End trip, and glugging ginger beer.
“If it’s the room boys, I’m not sure we want them in at all.” We’d just heard a horror story from someone else staying at the hotel. He’d returned from breakfast to find two room boys going through his wallet. This had shaken our confidence in the hotel’s trustworthiness, and though we might have different room boys, I didn’t want to take the risk.
As I opened the door, it wasn’t the room boys however, but Sujan smiling in his usual mischievous way.
“A few of us are going to Cinnamon Island,” he said. “We wondered if you wanted to come?”
Of course, we jumped at the chance. I like cinnamon on the top of my cappuccinos. Kate adds the spice to her homemade muesli. And after locking all our valuables in the safe, we set off after Sujan.
Mr D was waiting with the bus. He drove us west along the coast, past Sri Lanka’s longest building (an incredible three kilometres) then turned right towards the military base. The birthplace of the Sri Lankan writer, Martin Wickramasinghe, lay somewhere in the vicinity, as well as the lake within which Cinnamon Island was situated.
At a little dock, we put on life-jackets, then stepped into the boat. The outboard motor wouldn’t start though and for several minutes we waited as the boatman persistently pulled the starting cord. Eventually the engine burst into a steady chug-chug, and he steered us out towards the green slopes of the island.
“This is quite an adventure, isn’t it,” said Linda. “A bit like one of those Enid Blyton stories?”
“Never liked them,” said Tom, another member of the group. “All they ever did was eat hard-boiled eggs and drink ginger beer.”
The lake was a mangrove lagoon connected to both fresh water and the sea. In 2004, when the tsunami struck, the lagoon was largely protected by the surrounding trees. Although we didn’t spot any crocodiles, we did see two eagles perched on a tree branch, probably watching over a nest.
At the island, we climbed a steep path up to the little house in the middle. Three families lived here, all helping out with the cinnamon production.
An older man stripped a cinnamon branch of its outer bark. Then after hammering the remaining wood, he used a special knife to shave off the inner bark inside. This is why cinnamon is expensive. Its production is highly labour intensive. He passed the cuttings around, and dabbed everyone’s hand with potent cinnamon oil.
Then a lady demonstrated how the cuttings were pounded into cinnamon powder. She hefted on a huge wooden pestle into an even larger mortar, and let each of us try as well. They supply cinnamon to the local markets as well as selling to tourists like us. Then taking us inside the house to the kitchen, she boiled water with an extracted kettle element and made us cups of cinnamon tea.
There are several different species of cinnamon tree. Cinnamon in Sri Lanka is derived from the Cinnamomum Verum tree, which is considered to be true cinnamon. All the cinnamon in our supermarkets however comes from the related species Cinnamomum Cassia, which isn’t Sri Lankan but is grown in Indonesia and China.
Plenty of strong tastes to savour as we thanked the people and boarded the boat to return. The Secret Seven, in all their adventures, never went to a spice island. And the Famous Five might have picnicked on Kirrin Island, but there’s no mention of them sprinkling cinnamon on their hard-boiled eggs.