In February 2016 I visited Sri Lanka for 4 weeks or so with my Mother. It was a high point in a period of roughly four months in which I travelled, read novels and soaked up the sun. I had little motivation for each day other than simply not thinking too hard. I handed in my PhD in late November 2015 and needed that chunk of time to drift and let my brain and body recuperate. I see it as an enormously fortunate occurrence that 2 of the 4 weeks we spent in Sri Lanka were anchored at Villa de Zoysa on the south-western coast. There are two layers to this providence: the first being in situ because the Villa was charming; the gracious home of a colonial plantation owner set amongst tropical vistas, near a historic railway line and 3 minutes walk from the beach. They specialise in yoga retreats and we had a fantastic teacher, who led creative and soul nourishing classes twice daily. This was followed by outstanding local and fresh cuisine, lovingly prepared and set out for us on a 30 seater jack fruit tree wooden dinning table. What was especially good for me was there was no pressure on us as ‘yoga retreat guests’ to follow any rigid regime. Other than turning up on time for the yoga and food (and fresh coconuts), your time is your own at Villa de Zoysa.
The second layer of fortune arises from keeping in contact with Villa de Zoysa owner. Over the 18 months since I was there I have invested a lot in my yoga teaching skills and yoga related pursuits. Devinda appears to have kept a watchful eye over this and recently asked me if I would teach yoga there from 19 - 30 January 2018. This is a huge honour and source of great excitement for me. Funnily enough, upon leaving Villa de Zoysa, I made a quiet and determined intention to return as a yoga teacher within 2 years.
About a week into our stay at the Villa, I wrote an email to family and close friends and I would like to share this now. A snapshot of paradise:
I am writing to you from the living room in Villa de Zoysa. It's a grand old home with white walls, pillars, high ceilings and intricate Dutch wooden shutters. There are weathered antique furniture pieces lazily scattered about. It has a tired, sighing grandeur. There are two resident dogs who always occupy the best couches and views. Occasionally, they join us for classes in the yoga shala which is situated at the end of the front lawn overlooking a lovely natural pool. The grounds are not enormous but are filled with coconut palms, cashew trees and frangipanis. The light is almost always hazed in soft shades of mauve and rose. It is oppressively humid. Sweating is a constant feature throughout the day and night, like an extension of my breath cycle.
From where I sit (being devoured by mosquitoes who clearly are not in the least deterred by citronella) I can see the villa's central courtyard. It has lovingly been covered with small terracotta pebbles surrounding a frangipani tree with gnarled roots. The trunk of the tree curves up towards the light. There, in the high reaches, it produces a few prized violently pink blossoms. There is a small Buddha statue at the foot of the tree. Serene, reflective, and unchanging the Bhudda sits amongst bark and earth in a heavy, languid atmosphere. Directly across from the Buddha is the Ayurveda massage room, dripping in scents of sesame and ylang ylang.
A few paces beyond the massage room leads one into the dinning area. All the Villa’s guests eat together with the resident yoga instructor and Villa owner twice daily at an expansive jack wood table (from the tree of the jack fruit - its richly dark like mahogany but significantly heavier, immovable even. Sri Lankans traditionally keep all their valuables in a large jack wood chest in the corner of their living area. They claim that there is no need for a bank vault in Sri Lanka because once the jack fruit chest is locked its impossible to lift.)
Food is served twice daily. It arrives in large coconut shell bowls, placed across the centre of the dinning table. For breakfast we have mixed fruits grown locally such as papaya, banana and mango. This is served with homemade curd and jaggery. To follow are eggs from the hens out back, cooked to your preference (I have enjoyed omelette, done in coconut oil with a hint of marsala, onion and chilli). The eggs are served with coconut sambal (tomato, onion, lime, coconut flesh, garlic, ginger). They also grind their own coconut flour and make the most delectable coconut rotis. The dense texture and nutty flavour is unmatched. I have dreams about these coconut rotis. They also make their own passion fruit jam and on occasions there is something sweet on offer; one morning it was a soft coconut roti roll with almond, cardamom and jaggery. The coffee, and of course, the tea, is top class.
For dinner there is always a big bowl of organic brown/red rice grown not far from here. This is accompanied by all manner of various vegetarian dishes and one 'fresh fish of the day' option for those who want. We have tasted their richly spiced dhal; their green bean curry in coconut milk (which they make themselves); their jack fruit curry which is rich and soft and sumptuous; lotus root, tomato, red onion and coriander salad; gotukola, coconut flesh (minced) and red onion salad; a local variety of pumpkin curry; sautéed potatoes with onion, garlic, lemongrass, chilli and tamarind; okra curry; bitter gourd that is sliced thinly, soaked in salt water and spices and then fried lightly in coconut oil; dried spiced banana chips; chickpea fritters like pakora but different; mango and avocado salad with sesame seeds; pumpkin soup with mint and lemongrass as a small starter. A few nights there have also been fresh prawns served, grilled with lemongrass chilli, garlic and a hint of coconut milk and spring onion. My mom says they are incredibly succulent. We have a bit of fresh fruit for desert (and bought ice cream for those who want) and then ginger and lemongrass water to finish. It's quite simply spellbinding!
The yoga classes are held twice daily, at 7:30 - 9am and 5:30 - 6:45pm, with breakfast and dinner following both about half an hour afterwards. The yoga instructor here now is Fernando. Although originally from Mexico, he calls Cannes his home base, and seems to spend his year travelling from one yoga resort to the next. Deservedly so, he is an excellent teacher. He is incredibly creative, patient, gentle and thoughtful in his practice. Each class is structured around a specific theme, mantra or meditation. Often it is a challenging class but one never feels pressured or rushed. The degree of sweating over the session is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. When leaning over my mat about thirty minutes in to the class there is a stream of sweat running off my nose and stinging my eyes! I wish I had packed more yoga clothes as I just can't keep up with the washing demand (and it takes forever to dry, such is the salubrious atmosphere). On Saturday evening we had our class on the beach which is about 200 metres from here over the railroad tracks.
It must be said that the only disruption to the serenity of this villa is the screeching noise and deep rumble of the train at roughly an hourly interval during the day and three times during the night. I don't mind being woken by this at night however for when I open my eyes I can see fireflies dancing around the room like fairies in a forest, hunting mosquitoes on the other side of the voluminous netting draped over my hard but stately bed.
During our free time, my mother and I have been into Galle and a few other beach spots along the coast. There is a regular bus service nearby. The vehicle is decked out in glitter, flashing lights and gaudy Buddha glamour. Like the roads in India, each bus trip here is a death defying experience - its a mix of complete madness and exuberance in equal doses. The beaches along this coast are beautiful but don't have the expansiveness of South Africa, and the water is not quite paradise blue, but its close enough. Sipping on a fresh coconut overlooking Sri Lankan fisherman on their stilts, harpooning and netting in the day's catch is hard to beat!
We visited the Martin Wickramasinghe ancestral home and small folk museum in Kogalla yesterday. I had no idea but Wickramasinghe is Sri Lanka's most famous Sinhalese author, who penned over a hundred books in his lifetime (mid-19th to mid-20th century) including a treatise on D H Lawrence's Lady Chattlerley's Lover from a Sinhalese Buddhist perspective (!). I'm simply dying to get my hands on an English translation. Ranjit, the erudite manager of the Wickramasinghe estate, has invited us to lunch at his house outside Galle on Friday. He also claims that his brother in law is an antique dealer and has some silver jewellery to sell me (the sense that I would be willing to buy this was deftly perceived by Ranjit).
On Sunday we are going to the Sinharaja Rainforest which is about three hours inland from Galle and its said to have over 160 varieties of orchid. We are also planning a trip to Unawatuna beach tomorrow and a walk from there up to a pagoda over looking the coastline and Galle Fort. Today is massage and reading on the veranda day!
I look forward to sharing the beautiful experiences to be had in Sri Lanka with you in January 2018! See more details about the retreat here: