My husband and I relocated to the United Arab Emirates in the spring. There are a ton of great things about living here, but a key perk of living in the Middle East is that it’s a central hub for travel to Europe, Africa, and Asia.
In August, there is a three-day holiday, and Sri Lanka seemed an optimal choice as it’s only a four-hour flight. Our original itinerary included an elephant safari as well as some beach time on Sri Lanka’s East coast; however, through a series of unfortunate events, the airport we needed to transfer to suddenly closed which meant we needed a new itinerary. My husband decided to cancel, and I opted to fly solo and find alternative accommodations near Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
I found this great retreat online called, Earthlinks, surrounded by jungle but close to the west coast beaches which are famous for surfing and partying. I booked myself for four days and called the online ticketing agent we’d used to cancel my husband’s flight. But the agency we used, Tripsta, refused to refund us. I called; I emailed; I escalated; I called again. I was calm at first. And then there was yelling. They would not budge. (Side note, they’ve since closed, so I suppose there was not much to lose by refusing our refund). With no way to refund the ticket, we chose to take it as a sign, and Steve decided to come after all. There was just one complication.
The retreat I booked myself at is a vegan, yoga, surfing and meditation retreat. For anyone who knows me, this is my jam. But now Steve would be staying with me. Steve is Irish-Canadian which is code for meat-loving sports fanatic. There is almost no Zen in his DNA. But the retreat owners prepared a perfect agenda to accommodate us both: For me, double yoga, no surfing. And for him, double surfing, no yoga. Plus, they assured us Steve could fulfill his carnivorous needs at any of the nearby surf towns, but breakfast and lunch would remain vegan.
We flew overnight from Dubai and arrived at 6:30 am. We had hired a driving service so slept on and off for the hour and a half drive to the retreat. After some wrong turns and back roads, I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake as we seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere. Where was the beach? Where was the resort? Where was civilization?
Finally, we pulled up to a large metal gate, and our hosts Jack and Sandra greeted us. We went to our room, freshened up, and were treated to fresh fruits, hot coffee, and a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of dahl and roti. I could tell Steve was uneasy as the accommodations had no air-conditioning, no TV, and WiFi was limited to the front of the main house. I’m a pretty seasoned retreat-goer and am perfectly content disconnecting. But I knew it would take some time for Steve to warm up to not having his typical distractions.
Our hosts had scheduled sightseeing excursions for the first day. Our tuk-tuk driver picked us up and took us on a river safari. Steve and I are avid boaters, so it was a real treat to enjoy the lush, tropical landscapes. On the way back, we stopped for fresh king coconut juice at the boat operator’s home. We visited a turtle hatchery and mask museum later that day, but a highlight for me was visiting the tsunami museum. You may recall that on December 26, 2004, a massive tsunami with waves up to 30 meters high killed just over 225,000 people across 14 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, India, among others. They say that in the hours leading up to the tsunami, animals fled for higher ground. As the water receded (an early sign), many people, curious, ventured out into the water. It took about 45 minutes from when the water receded for the first waves to hit. I will never forget this one particular photo at the museum. In it, you can see a group of tourists who had walked out into the ocean. In the distance, you can see the first, and largest wave coming, and at the moment the picture is captured, the group have realized what is happening and are running back to shore. The looks on their faces will haunt me forever. 35,000 people perished in Sri Lanka, and although people have started over, re-built, and re-established themselves, there is a certain lingering fear despite the state-of-the-art tsunami warning systems that were implemented.
After the museum, we headed back to the retreat for a late lunch and to freshen up. We headed to Refresh, a local seafood restaurant later that evening. The food was terrific, but the showstopper was the huge selection of just caught oysters.
For our second day, after waking up to fresh coconut, pineapple, banana smoothies and hot coffee, we started our respective yoga and surfing programs. Steve headed off to Turtle Beach for his first surfing session, and I met Perci downstairs for my first 90-minute yoga class. Perci is a local Sri Lankan fellow who teaches in the Sivananda and Hatha styles. Although I had some struggles understanding him, over our time together, I came to know the lilt of his instructions and the rhythm of the poses. The classes are conducted outside, so after 90 minutes I was a steaming mess. After a refreshing shower and a hot breakfast with the hosts, I was good to go. I joined Steve at Turtle Beach and enjoyed the ocean views and some sun before heading back for my 2nd yoga class. In the West, teachers don’t tend to do a lot of adjustments, and unless you’re doing hot or Bikrim style yoga, the studios are often not warm enough to open the body. But in the East, you are adjusted, pushed and pulled into the poses. The heat and humidity of the outdoors also means your body becomes more flexible.
Steve returned quite happy from his day conquering the waves and we enjoyed a late lunch of vegan Pad Thai. As our hosts had anticipated that we might both be sore and stiff, we headed off to the town of Galle for massages at the Ceylon Spa. My only regret from our time at the spa was not buying enough of their fantastic products. If you ever get there, be sure to pick up some of their herbal teas, body oils, or bath products. Galle is a great town, so we stayed after for some drinks and appetizers at Taphouse by R&R in the Dutch Hospital region. The calamari and margaritas were a perfect way to end the day.
When I awoke the third day, I thought I might die. Every part of my body ached. Steve headed off to Galle Fort for more advanced surfing, and I gingerly made my way downstairs. After some hot coffee and a pep talk by the hosts (the 2nd day of yoga is always the hardest!), I met ‘No Mercy Perci,’ my affectionate nickname for the duration of our stay. During the practice, Perci calls out the poses and stands near you observing, and when he sees you struggling, he asks ‘May I help you?’. I quickly learned that when I replied ‘I’m alright’ (code for no), he heard ‘Alright.’ In any case, my body protested through every adjustment, but it was well worth it. The key, of course, is to learn to relax and breathe through the pain. Easier said than done, but over the three days, I really did learn the truth to this timeless lesson.
After breakfast, I met Steve in Galle, and we explored the city. Galle Fort is a coastal town originally built in the late 1500s by the Portuguese and then again by the Dutch in the mid-1600s onwards. A very popular tourist area, there are tons of great shops, hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants to check out. We enjoyed a longer day sightseeing as I had scheduled Perci for a candlelit yoga class later that night. After a late lunch at Sugar Bistro, we headed back to Turtle beach for a dip and to rest. At 7 pm, I was treated to a truly magical yoga session with flickering lights, fireflies, and the sounds of the jungle surrounding us. Afterwards, there was a power outage, so I stayed behind to meditate. There is a Buddhist temple nearby, so the sound of their chanting was my mantra.
Our fourth and final day was restful. By then Steve’s body has bruised and battered from all the surfing, so he opted out of hitting the waves. I, however, made it through my morning session with Perci. Afterwards, we spent the day relaxing at the beach, a bit of shopping, and some great conversation with our hosts. We both had some aha moments as Jack and Sandra shared their story with us. Originally from Poland, they had spent several years living in Dubai where they fell in love with Sri Lanka during a vacation. After deciding to abandon the daily grind, they wound up back in Sri Lanka with their few possessions. They rented a house and started running a small Airbnb style retreat which they quickly outgrew. Having recently moved to their current location, a Colonial Villa surrounded by jungle but near the Indian Ocean, they are profitable and are currently doing a renovation and expansion, including opening an oceanside vegan cafe. The big lesson learned is that you don’t need heaps of money to create the life of your dreams. You also don’t need a ton of planning. Sometimes things just work out effortlessly like they did for Jack and Sandra.
Though I was sad to leave, I did feel recharged, which ultimately, was the whole purpose of the trip. I’m not sure who wrote this, but I discovered this quote (or it discovered me?) while I was at the retreat:
“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine. How you treat yourself is how you are inviting the world to treat you.”
I encourage you all to take time out to travel, to discover the world, and to discover new aspects of yourself. If you’ve got a hankering to check out Sri Lanka, I recommend you check out Earthlinks for a little bit of paradise.
Things that make Earthlinks unique:
- Sandra is a trained chef. I cannot express what a difference this makes in terms of the quality of food. Everything was perfectly prepared and truly, utterly delicious. As part of most packages, vegan cooking classes are also included.
- Moody, the resident canine rescue will make your day. He’s named after Hank Moody, the main character of Californication. A bit of a womanizer, Moody has survived a bout of cancer as well as life on the streets before his fateful rescue.
- The best of both worlds: Earthlinks has both jungle and ocean. Up the hill, you’re surrounded by jungle. Though not always quiet, there is something magical about the jungle. Down the hill, you’ve got the ocean. Regardless of your preference, the Eearthlinks team will make sure you’ve got the perfect itinerary.
- Sustainable living: In addition to the fantastic vegan meals you’ll enjoy, Earthlinks lives in harmony with nature.