The views of the beaches along the west coast of Sri Lanka had been beautiful, but as we turned off the highway onto the small lane that would take us to our hotel, we looked out onto an idyllic bay with gentle waves and low buildings facing the beach. We pulled up in front of the Thaproban (the name the Romans called Sri Lanka) Hotel, only to be told that we were booked in its sister-hotel just a little further back from the beach. That’s right; we had chosen to be a little more secluded and closer to the swimming pool, and the Thambapanni Retreat was our home for the coming week, Christmas included.
We were greeted warmly, given a glass of delicious passion fruit juice on arrival, and then taken up a winding path to our bungalow hidden in the lush vegetation on the hillside above the small swimming pool. We were thrilled to see the small terrace with comfy chairs before we were ushered into our large room with a natural rock wall at the head of the bed. A large mosquito net was artfully draped to either side and the sheets were decorated with fresh flower pillows.
We had booked the room as a triple to accommodate Adia as well, and a single bed was waiting for her. We asked for a mosquito net to be hung above her bed and once this was done we were all set to enjoy our stay. The room had an attached open-air shower, the only one at the hotel. This was part of the reason we had selected this room, I have never stayed in a hotel and showered under the stars.
The pool looked very inviting but we were more interested in checking out the beach so we quickly changed and made the short walk to the Thaproban. We were surprised to see that the waves lapped right up to the cement foundation of the hotel. At that time of the afternoon, there was little beach to speak at all. After what we had read about restrictions on the beach following the tsunami, we expected all the buildings to be set back at least 200m from the waters edge.
Beach or no beach, we were into the waves in no time at all. The water looked so inviting, but we were surprised to find a large amount of broken coral hidden by the lapping water and these made standing very uncomfortable. Add to this, small black rocks hidden in the sand. It wasn’t long before Anil stubbed his toe and opened a small cut. The salt water stung the wound and Anil’s time in the ocean was pretty much done. Adia and I stayed in much longer as we are both better swimmers and could move out beyond the coral and the rocks.
We toweled off after a short swim and had lunch on the terrace at the edge of the property, literally above the breaking surf. The food was delicious, a good start to our culinary enjoyment of Unawatuna, even if our beach time was less than great. We headed back to our ‘retreat’ and spent the balance of the afternoon enjoying the pool and catching up on our emails using the hotel’s WiFi.
At first we were disappointed that we couldn’t get a signal in our room high above the pool, but we later came to realize it was a good thing. With two laptops on hand, there was always one of us ‘connected’ and having to come to the pool meant we were out of our room, enjoying the sun and the gardens. Adia would come down to the pool early in the morning in order to Skype Geoff back in Victoria and Anil and I could laze a little longer in bed, reading books before breakfast. What a lazy life!
As so we passed our time, alternating some time at the beach with walks through the small village, great meals prepared by the amazing chef at our hotel and fresh passion fruit juice at the Kingfisher Beach Hut. Anil and Adia spent some great time together while I worked on my journal, uploading photos and catching up on writing about our time in Jordan and India. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Eve and we were heading down to the Thaproban for a huge Christmas buffet dinner.
We had ordered a bottle of Malbec from Argentina and booked our table on the terrace, overlooking the sea but we were stunned to arrive and see the huge meal that had been prepared for the guests of the two sister-hotels. The chef, who had earlier treated us to a cooking demonstration of Sri Lankan vegetarian dishes, had really out-done himself. We had been given a lovely printed menu listing the dishes, but still, I was surprised to see a huge turkey nestled in among the grilled seafood, roast beef and barbecued pork. I can’t even remember when I last had turkey.
The meal was delicious, the salads fresh and tasty and there was even cranberry sauce and gravy to smother my thick slice of turkey breast. We washed it all down with a nice Merlot and apologies from the waiter that the hoped-for Malbec had not been available. I wasn’t too concerned; this is Sri Lanka and I was surprised to find South American wines available here, most wines are Australian or French. The local people don’t drink to a large extent and alcohol is imported mainly for the tourists. We had a long look at the dessert table, but as the three of us aren’t really sweet fans we were ready to pass it all up when I spotted a fresh mango cheesecake. Temptation won out and we all enjoyed a few bites before we waddled back to our hotel. It was Christmas after all.
When we turned on the light in our room, we were greeted with ‘Merry Xmas’ written with leaves and flower petals on the sheets of our bed. Neatly tucked near the pillows were small packets of chocolate and homemade cookies wrapped in red cellophane, tied with red ribbons. A Christmas card from the hotel was placed there as well, with warm wishes for a happy holiday season. It was a nice touch. The only problem was, we had to destroy the pretty decorations in order to flop our heavily laden bodies into bed for the night.
And so we passed our week in Unawatuna. We made an excursion along the South Coast but I have written about that in a separate entry. We had originally intended to stay at the Thambapanni Retreat for only five days but decided we wanted to stay another two days. Unfortunately, all the rooms were booked solid until the middle of January. It had been very quiet when we first arrived and we had mistakenly assumed that the hotel was going to have only a moderate number of guests.
However, during our stay, we had become very friendly with the new manager and he arranged for us to stay at a nearby guesthouse run by the brother of the hotel’s owner. We weren’t too thrilled to have to move and stay in a very basic room, but we were allowed to use all the facilities of the Thambapanni as if we were still guests there. That made all the difference, we spent our time at the pool, using the wireless internet, eating our meals at the restaurant and only sleeping at the guesthouse.
One thing I have failed to mention, and this is probably because they didn’t bother me at all, but Adia and Anil really suffered from the mosquitoes at Unawatuna. They are really vicious biters and they both developed huge welts from the dozens of bites they received. Adia bought some Ayurvedic ointment that is loaded with citronella oil and helps repel the insects and soothe the bites, but only a little. Though we were all tempted to stay at the beach for a longer period of time, the mosquitoes drove us to head for the hills.
We knew the weather would be cooler in the mountainous region of south-central Sri Lanka and we hoped that there would be fewer mosquitoes to contend with too. We hired a car and driver to take us to Ella, a small village in the heart of the tea gardens, a little way off from the larger centers that are visited by foreign and Sri Lankan tourists alike. We were able to book a few nights at the Lonely Planet’s ‘Our Pick’ place just outside of Ella, the description in the guidebook sounded like just the place for us to while away a few more days of Adia’s time with us.
It was such a treat to spend so much time together, Anil and I both agreed that we would let her call the shots as to what we did and where we went during our three weeks together. After all, we planned to stay in Sri Lanka another month after her departure on Jan 11th, and we could see and do what we wanted to then. If she wanted to stay on the beach for the entire time, we were prepared to let her have her way; oh, the sacrifices we make for our children, it’s a tough job being a parent. What a lazy life indeed!