Lochwood: The Journey Begins

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For the Class of students a majority of them were given key tasks to help with guiding our group to a safe, successful conclusion. They thrived even though at times the perceived risks scare factors were considerable. The preparation , learning and adventure begin….

This is a beautiful area now at risk from plans to run a large pipe down the gorge to a hydroelectric generating plant. The Theory of Knowledge TOK component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia estimates range from 12, to 30, years before present! The setting is sublime and with a little imagination it is possible to imagine a very different scene so many years ago.

The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil. The skies opened up on the second group but almost all of our team was able to do the abseil regardless of the weather. We wrapped up the day with reflection and then free time. Series on a tea planter being interviewed by OSC students near Kitulgala.

The original vegetation in this area would have been lowland tropical rainforest.

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This panorama was taken during the IB Orientation. People living in the Kitulgala area are dependent on a variety of livelihoods mainly connected with small-scale home gardens and plantation agriculture. Traditionally the area has been important for rubber and tea plantations and of course the kitul syrup that is tapped from the palm Caryota urens. In recent years tourism has become an important source of income for Kitulgala residents. The road between Nuwara, Eliya via Hatton and Colombo runs through Kitulgala and this is a major artery for tourist traffic.

Other activities such as bird watching, abseiling, canyoning cycling and hiking have developed in the area. All of these are potentially sustainable, low-impact forms of tourism with no significant impact on the landscape. Most of the guides both on land and on the river are from the area and the activities have been a significant economic benefit to the Kitulgala community. The proposed Broadlands dam could potentially jeopardize this fine balance. Jayasinghe, Amal.


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Kannangara, Nirmala. Lockwood, Ian. September Radrigo, Malaka. During the Week Without Walls trip that was highlighted and mapped in the previous post our small group explored the rich links between historical sites and their dry zone ecology in the central and north-eastern part of Sri Lanka. All of these sites have important historical links but, either through design or the passage of time, have fused together with their natural surroundings.

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In its undisturbed examples it is composed of dense thicket of trees, shrubs and lianas adapted to a long season of no rain with a short period of rain during the North-East monsoon. The canopy height is never as high as the evergreen rainforests found in the wet zone but I have been awed by the numerous examples of large dry-zone species that we encountered. Our group had an introduction to this eco-region with a night walk at the Popham Arboreum on our first night.

We encountered a gray slender loris Loris lydekkerianus , several sleeping birds and later a large Indian rock python Python molurus crossing the road. The group walked -not exactly soundlessly- amongst the regenerated forest that is now a living example of what ecological restoration can achieve in the eco-region. I would definitely like to bring another group of ecologists back for a daytime visit and study. In the subsequent days we visited the archeological sites in the Sigiriya-Trinco area.

This is what makes up the series of images in this post. The connection between these authors and Back of Beyond is not a coincidence and many of our site choices on this Week Without Walls were inspired by this publication. New bridge near Thiriyai looking south. Road access to many areas in the north and east has been significantly improved in the years after the Tsunami and end of the conflict. Steps amidst dry evergreen forest at Thiriyai.

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This is a sublime, little visited Buddhist sanctuary with interesting historical links to the Tamil communities that live in the area. Seated Buddha amidst forest and gardens at Medirigiriya. Dammika, Ven. Fernando, Nihal et al. Colombo: Studio Times, Raheem, Ismeeth. Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

The focus of these trips was varied and encompassed a number of curricular goals, outdoor experiences, service opportunities and explorations of our host nation. There were a wide variety of transport methods: buses, vans, a flight north and even bicycles. The outcome of students and teachers electrified by their learning was clear for all to see at the conclusion of the trips and has been evident as we reflect back on the experiences and learning. My idea was to expose the group to sites that blend culture, history and ecology off the beaten tourist track.

We were based in the shadow of the rock fortress at Sigiriya and port town of Trincomalee. Originally we had planned to visit Pigeon Island, but the stirred up seas from the tail end of the North East monsoon made this impossible. My family and I had made two trips in preparation for this study trip see blog posts from April and October and I wanted to was provide a similar, yet climatically different WWW experience to the Sinharaja WWW trip.

Ironically we experienced a good deal of rain in the dry zone, but never enough to negatively affect our plans. Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season…Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla. They are both situated in serene dry zone mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, they have super staff that provide a home-away-from-home atmosphere, the accommodation some in trees or caves is beautifully earthy and there is thankfully only intermittent cellphone connectivity!

In Ritigala we explored the ruins of monastic communities and other evidence of past civilizations. Biodiveristy, both living and dead, seen on our visit.

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A highlight was visiting two archeological sites that both host important Buddhist vadatages relic houses and other significant sacred ruins. Medirigiriya is an impressive site with nearly two thousands years of recorded history. It sits off the main Habarana- Polonnaruwa road and is free of tourists. North of Trincomalee is the ancient Jaffna kingdom port of Thiriyai with a very old and important Buddhist vadatage set on a low hillock amidst mixed evergreen and deciduous dry zone forests. Images from these sites will be highlighted in an album in the next post. The Landsat imagery is much more recent from the week after the trips came back.

We are a relatively small school and usually have cohorts around students from a dozen or more countries.


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For the next 18 months these young women and men will undertake a series of academic, extra-curricular and personal challenges. There are significant peaks and troughs and the exercise culminates in rigorous exams that are assessed alongside thousands of other students worldwide. In addition to six subjects divided between three higher level and three standard levels subjects, they write an extended essay , participate in the Theory of Knowledge class and take part in the Creativity Action and Service CAS program.

For many the goal is university entrance but there are basic skills in being a human being in an increasingly interconnected, sometimes perplexing world that are just as important.

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In order to prepare them for this exceptional learning experience, we conduct an orientation program that emphasizes team building, leadership and experiential education using the outdoors. The program is facilitated by Borderlands Sri Lanka at their Kitulgala base camp. Much of the program involves physical challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley.

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The river, originating on the slopes of Sri Pada, runs through the small town of Kitulgala located about km due east of Colombo. The team at Borderlands has an impeccable safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle plan, act, observe, reflect was emphasized. Abseiling in heavy afternoon rain.