Mirissa: Finding Sri Lanka’s Heart on the Southern Coast

At a Sri Lankan Devil Dance

Sri Lanka has heart. I think if you asked me what I liked most about our time there, it would be that: this earnestness, this particular openness that I can only describe as heart. Very few countries seemed to open themselves up quite so willingly as Sri Lanka did for us. Everywhere we went people were curious, quick with a smile, and genuinely interested in the crazy foreigner and his Malay/Philippino/Cambodian/Thai/Something wife (Canadian?! But you’re not really Canadian?) and their big adventure in the little red Tuk Tuk.

We were peppered with questions at every turn. Police would pull us over just to chat, and then remember to check our papers, almost as an afterthought. With one policeman on each side of our tuk tuk, talking to each of us independently, the questions came in stereo. Where are you going? How long are you staying? How old are you? Same as me! Any children? No!? Finger and head wagging at me now, a big grin, Ah! Bad lover! Why did you come to Sri Lanka?

This last question was never interrogative in a hostile way; it was always asked as though they just couldn’t understand how we found out about this place, how we ended up here and not somewhere else, as though the universe conspired to keep others away from this teardrop island. The question contained a particular note of humility that was refreshing and slightly confusing, since the answer seemed so obvious. We’d say that we were here for the natural beauty, the food, the people, that we’d always wanted to come, and that we were loving it. Cue giant smiles all around, and an overt, almost perplexing gratitude, as though they were on the brink of thanking us for coming (and some actually did). A genuine concern that we were enjoying ourselves was always clear on their faces. You like the food? Are you getting enough to eat?

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A Taste of the Sublime at Templeberg Villa

Templeberg Villa

There’s an old saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. That may be all well and good, but I say that fair is fair and this credo should be extended to all world travelers regardless of gender… especially when they’re traveling in Sri Lanka!

Sri Lanka is a country whose national cuisine I knew embarrassingly little about prior to our arrival; overshadowed by its neighbor to the north, I assumed Sri Lankan food would be some subtle variation on Indian food with a similar flavor profile. Given that Indian food is one of my all-time favorites, I had absolutely no problem with this, and looked forward to eating my weight in creamy curries and samosas during our three weeks in the country.

So you can imagine how intrigued I was when Brent Carey, owner of Templeberg Villa reached out to me boasting about Templeberg’s resident chef, Trixie, who he claimed whipped up some of the finest South Asian cuisine on the island. Intrigue transformed into excitement when Brent asked whether we might like to come and stay at Templeberg for a few days when we were in Galle so we could join Trixie in the kitchen and get a hands-on cooking class where we would learn to prepare some Sri Lankan staples. A cooking class with Trixie would be incentive enough to visit, but when I learned that Templeberg Villa was a small boutique hotel housed in a restored Dutch Colonial merchant house dating back to 1864 that sits in the heart of the Sri Lankan jungle, the decision quickly became a no-brainer!

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Gorgeous Galle in Photos

Galle Lighthouse

As a travel blogger, the hardest part about visiting beautiful and fascinating countries is almost never the travel part. (I say almost, because sometimes you have days like this one…). No, the difficulty always comes in writing about these places. The more beautiful they are, the harder it seems to be to do justice to them with words alone. How to make these destinations come to life, to vibrate with the same intense loveliness as that which we experienced while in situ? As much as I pride myself on my ability to wield words dexterously, every so often we visit a country or city that leaves me speechless and words fail me.

Sri Lanka as a whole is definitely one of those places; perhaps more than any other country we have been to, it will be the hardest one for me to write about because it was so ridiculously gorgeous. Its beauty smacked me in the face every single day we were there and I spent much of our time there utterly content to just stand and soak in as much of its exquisite magnificence as I possibly could, even if I did it dumbfounded and slack-jawed. It’s a country that scrambles the senses and leaves you reeling.

Thinking back on our time in Sri Lanka, I have no words for most of what we witnessed and experienced… Thank goodness for the all-mighty photo essay!

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Living the Local Life in Ambalangoda

Our homestay family in Ambalangoda

In the past few years, something of an obsession has developed amongst travelers (both short-term annual vacationers and less conventional long-term ones) in “living like locals” when abroad. It starts before we even embark on our journey, with carefully pruned packing lists so that we aren’t outed on sight alone as the foreigners that we are by something as superficial as our clothing, and we spend hours researching all the best “off the beaten path” attractions that only the locals frequent so that we can escape our fellow tourists once we arrive.

But I always wonder why so many people would want to live like a local when the option exists for you to go one step further and actually live with locals; I firmly believe that if you want to quickly uncover the heart of a place, there is no better way to do so than to meet its people and, better yet, be invited into their homes. When it comes to authentic local travel, surely there can be nothing better than this: not only do you gain insight into the culture and a new way of life, but you also get the chance to form friendships and new connections, which we’ve swiftly come to see as one of the most powerful and wonderful things about traveling. As luck would have it, in Sri Lanka, homestays are abundant and readily available, so experiencing the warmth and hospitality of the country’s residents couldn’t be easier.

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24 Hours to Ambalangoda

Steph, Tony & King Tuk

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

I can only assume that when Anderson penned those words of wisdom, he hadn’t been traveling around the world for 20+ months.

One of the realities of being a long-term traveler means you rarely travel the fastest or easiest way to your destination, because fast & easy usually don’t come cheap. When every dollar saved can potentially mean another day on the road, you learn to trim the financial fat and only drain money from your perpetually dwindling travel fun for absolute necessities. This means choosing 14-hour bus rides over 30-minute plane rides, settling for a third-class train ticket, and letting the breeze from an open window cool you (or not) rather than splurging for A/C. Maybe your seat mate will be a chicken and your footrest will be a crate of tomatoes. When taking a plane is unavoidable, cost is prioritized above all else, meaning you tend to fly a budget airline with awkward layovers at inhumane hours. Were you on a vacation, you’d happily shell out the extra $150 per ticket for something a little more civilized, but… this isn’t a vacation: this is the reality traveling for months on end. It’s for this reason that most long-term travelers swiftly come to lament actual travel days and focus on the destinations instead; the task of actually getting from one place to another is usually too laborious and exhausting to incite many of us to dwell on or relish the process.

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