(continued from Part 1)
As always when travelling and you find a place that you like, it’s kind of hard to leave. There’s always the fear that the next place might not quite live up to your expectations, but, we didn’t travel all that way not to do at least a little exploring…
We hopped in a tuktuk, bid farewell to our lovely home in Hikkaduwa and set along the crazy coastal roads to our next destination, Weligama. I’d heard about the area through a fellow traveller I’d met in Portugal a few years earlier and liked the way she described the chilled out vibe of South Coast Sri Lanka. Thankfully her summary was pretty apt and we immediately felt settled into our new chosen spot – Basecamp
That evening we took our first trip to the clifftop restaurant – a place we’d come to visit many more times over the next week. We scanned the menu but instinctively knew we needed to try ‘mum’s curry’ the special of the day (and as it turned out, every day) and we soon understood why. A huge heaped plate of rice, curry and various accompaniments arrived at our table not too long later and we quickly tucked in using the still-warm poppadoms as spoons and sipping on the local beer. By the end of the evening it was clear that our waiter had no idea how many beers we’d had but when we saw how cheap the bill was, there was no way we could be dishonest and so we quickly put him straight and paid the extra amount. Not that he remembered us for the kindness when we returned again the following night and he again gave us the spiel about his mum’s curry! We didn’t mind though, the laid back atmosphere and great food was what drew us back each time.
One of the reasons I’d chosen Basecamp was for the huge yoga deck above the house and so for our first morning we woke early to join the class. At just 8am, the sun was already beginning to heat us up and so I was a little worried about Jonny as it was effectively his first class. But with the views overlooking the harbour and the lovely teacher Ali, I needn’t have worried, the class was ideal for all levels and served to ramp up our appetites ready for the epic breakfast that awaited us downstairs.
Re-energised, we headed down to the beach to explore, the Basecamp dog seemingly acting as tour guide. We meandered from the quiet southern end of the beach where we were staying all the way along to the more populated north. At just 11:30am the sun was already bearing down on us so we decided to cool off in the sea before picking up some surfboards for 300 rupees (£1.50). We paddled out into the waves, Jonny stepping in as my instructor that day, until we found a decent spot to sit atop our boards and gaze out at the ocean waiting for the next wave to roll in. I’d graduated to a hard board that day but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to pick up a wave. It was fun though, just being out there in the ocean together, Jonny giving me instructions and me actually taking them for once.
After the mornings exertion, we were ready for our next feed and so jumped in a tuk tuk to the next little ‘town’ along, Medigama. We spotted a hut along the way that looked inviting and so pulled over to join the small crowd at Rockvin. As with most places in Asia, serving times can be a little longer than we expect in Europe but all this did was serve to increase our appetites making the food even more delicious when it eventually reached our mouths. We’d planned to head back to Basecamp to join the Yin Yoga class that evening but as we were now already too late, we headed over to the infamous ‘Lazy Left’ surf spot to watch the more seasoned surfers take on the bigger waves and the epic paddle out. By the time we reached home, the sun had left us looking rather sun-kissed and so we slathered on the aftersun before attempting to get a table at Akila – a revered food spot in the area, Our luck was out that evening, although it didn’t seem so as we simply walked next door to our newfound favourite spot, the Tiki Clifftop Bar for another of mum’s curries.
Day two followed much the same pattern although we skipped the morning yoga session this time in favour of catching the earlier waves. We headed down to ‘Lion’s’ hut to rent our surfboards and headed back out into the ocean. By the end of the session my arms were aching like crazy but thankfully we planned to head to the Yin class at Basecamp that evening so I knew I’d be able to give them a good stretch out. We stayed local in Weligama that day, simply drying off in the sun then heading over the road to Hangtime Hostel. It had a nice chilled out vibe, and although I couldn’t speak for the rooms, the rooftop cafe had more of a ‘flashpacker’ vibe than a traditional backpacker hostel. We picked a spot along the open-window side, gazing out at the line-up of surfers opposite just waiting to get their next break.
Back at Basecamp that evening, the view was even more relaxing as we sat in the long-held yin postures and sneaked a peak at the stunning view of the harbour below. It’s hard to turn your gaze inward with a view like that! We had a reservation at Akila that night and couldn’t wait to sample the infamous massaman curry and prawns we’d been hearing so much about. We arrived early and so grabbed a couple of passion fruit mojitos from Tiki before heading over to be seated. It seemed they had no recollection of our reservation from the night before but luckily it wasn’t too long before we got a seat. Hours later, bellies rumbling away and patience wearing a little thin, our food (or at least a version of our order) finally arrived. It was delicious of course but we knew where we’d be heading back to the following evening.
Now one week into our trip, it was becoming pretty clear that neither of us was in any rush to leave the beach and head inland. We had two nights in Udawalawe booked and two in Ella but considering the fact that we could visit the national park in a day trip, it seemed wasteful to use up four nights of our final week when really we had everything we wanted on our doorstep in Weligama. We toyed with the idea of moving on to Mirissa, still wanting to explore more of the country but after much deliberation we decided to stay put in what now felt like our home at Basecamp. A friend was also travelling in Sri Lanka at the same time and after seeing photos of Mirissa on his instagram, I reached out to confirm if it was worth the move. Apparently it wasn’t quite as idyllic as the travel guide made out and so we decided to take a day trip to check out the scene for ourselves. My friend was right, although pleasant enough Mirissa was a little more touristy and overcrowded than Weligama and so we slept soundly in the knowledge we’d made the right decision.
There was still a voice in the back of my mind saying “you’re not really travelling if you only stay in one place” but another, louder voice was saying to me that in fact travelling is a state of mind. When you let go of thoughts of home, routine, the to-do list and what you should do, focusing instead on what you want in that moment, that to me is what signifies travelling, or rather, freedom. Travelling is an escape from the mundanity of real life where we often try to control and plan out every moment. When I’m travelling, I become a more laid-back, carefree version of myself when I’m free of the ‘should do’ and instead have the time to immerse myself in a place. I love nothing more than sitting idly in a cafe for hours watching how the locals truly live and interact, or on a bus to the next destination passing through small villages where the children are walking along the dusty roads in their pristine white uniforms and wondering what occupies their daydreams whilst sat in a hot classroom. One thing I particularly loved about Sri Lanka was seeing families unite at the end of the day, heading to the beach to cool off after a hard day at work. Maybe a spot of cricket on the beach, or simply watching the fishermen heading out for their next catch, much as we would enjoy watching these things too.
And despite making Basecamp our home for the remaining week, we did still explore much of what we’d travelled to Sri Lanka to see. We woke painfully early one morning to take a very long bus ride to Udawalawe National Park – known for it’s herds of elephants which I was dying to see. The long and bumpy journey was made completely worthwhile as soon as we entered the park and spotted the magnificent creatures just a metre or so away from our truck.
We took a day off in between to catch up on sleep and to ensure we had time to dedicate to what had made us stay in Weligama – the sun and the surf. But the next day, we rose early once more, this time heading down the coast again to Mirissa to take a boat trip out to see the blue whales. Another epic day trip awaited as we ventured further out into the ocean. Various other boat tours were heading out at the same time and it soon became apparent that some of them were aggressively seeking out the whales. As soon as a sighting took place, a horde of boats would power full speed towards them. Thankfully our driver was much more respectful and so we broke from the group seeking out our own sightings and enjoying them all the more in the knowledge that we weren’t endangering the whales.
Another day we simply headed further south to unwind at an even more relaxing beach. One of our favourites was Talalla Beach, pictured below.
The trip cemented not only our love of Sri Lanka, but our relationship itself. After 18 days together in this stunning country, it became clear that we didn’t want that closeness to end. Jonny stayed at my house for another week after the trip until he eventually had to head home for some clean clothes. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and that certainly seemed to be the case as just a couple of days later Jonny returned and suggested that we move in together. I tried to hide my excitement by pretending to consider his proposal but inside my heart was singing. We moved in together just a couple of months later and are now happily settled in our flat in London. The travel bug is well and truly still alive though and we plan to check out some other distant shores this Christmas, heading West this time so that I can introduce Jonny to Costa Rica.