Sri Lanka: When people make places

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MannarPeople are a very important part of my travel. They can make or break an experience for me.

When I was backpacking in Sri Lanka for two weeks in November 2017, I got the opportunity to slow travel – immerse myself in local culture, stay at places where few have ventured and interact with countless local faces. In this post, I’m going to share three local host experiences that stayed with me long after my SL trip was over. At the outset, let me state that I’m hardly a fussy traveller. You can give me an average house but if the host is warm, welcoming and genuine, I’m a happy guest. That’s what I’m going to talk about. These homes were not perfect, but their hosts definitely scored 🙂

Catamaran Lagoon House, Rekawa

After four days of luxurious living by the beaches in Hikkaduwa and Weligama, I landed in Rekawa near Tangalle. My home was the Catamaran Lagoon house, and my host was a fisherman named Asira.

accommodation Sri Lanka-Catamaran lagoon house

with Asira, our host at the Catamaran Lagoon House

Asira had a dream to start his own guest house, but no means to support the dream. So he got an Australian tourist to fund him on the condition that for two months in a year, when the Australian comes down to Sri Lanka, he will live there. For the rest of the time, Asira can use the house for business. Asira agreed, but the funds were still limited. So he decided to build the house by himself. He chopped the woods, he did the plumbing, and he became the electrician. It took Asira two years to build the Catamaran Lagoon House.

accommodation Sri Lanka-rekawa-catamaran lagoon house

Catamaran Lagoon House, Rekawa

accommodation Sri Lanka-rekawa lagoon-catamaran lagoon house

Our house overlooking the Rekawa Lagoon

The entire property ran on solar power. The shower was designed as a cobra. The basin sat on a polished branch of a tree. Sure, the Catamaran Lagoon House was inventive, but it wasn’t without its flaws. I had a hard time locating the place because the property was barely two months old. The room was cramped, there was no wi-fi or AC and the TV never worked. The water in the bathroom barely escaped unless I manually mopped it towards the drain. But I was willing to ignore this all, after listening to Asira’s story and the hard work he had put in to make his dream come true.

Address: No 63, Rekawa West, Netolpitiya, Tangalle 82135, Sri Lanka
Cost: 2500 INR (about 40$) for a night. Asira kindly accepted US dollars, as I ran out of local currency during my time there

Top left: Canoeing in the Rekawa Lagoon in one of Asira’s canoes; Bottom left: My kitchenette; Right: The bathroom

Kandy City Monkey Hostel, Kandy

I expected the hostel scene to be good in Kandy since it was a huge town. My abode was the Kandy City Monkey Hostel, about 20 odd minutes from the city center.

Honestly, I have stayed at better hostels. I booked a private room here, but it still came with a sharing bathroom. The bed made noise every time I turned, the window was sealed with a plank, and the wi-fi didn’t work except in the hall.

But Lata, our host did her best to make up for these shortcomings. She was this tiny lady in her mid forties, bubbly and ever so cheerful. Lata single handed managed the entire show at the Kandy City Monkey Hostel – from serving breakfast to doing the check in/check outs, cleaning the place and making sure there are no stray rowdy incidents with boarders.

accommodation Sri Lanka-kandy city monkey hostel-Kandy

with Lata, our host at Kandy City Monkey Hostel

Lata had a certain fondness for us…like she was unable to connect with the plentiful Westerners at the hostel and thought us to be her own. She loved Bollywood. When I first asked her name, in a very playful tone she said ‘Lata...(paused, then trailed off)…Mangeshhhhkar’. She lent me her umbrella when it rained heavily that night and I had to go out to buy some dinner. The next morning, she was generous with the boiled eggs, toast jam and apples for breakfast. And when we checked out, she warmly hugged and kissed us on the cheeks. It felt like we were saying good bye to a family member.

Address: No. 77, Anniwatta Road, Kandy, 20000
Cost: 650 INR for a night for a private room for two people

accommodation Sri Lanka-kandy city monkey hostel

Private room at the Kandy City Monkey Hostel

Blue Moon Rest House, Mannar

Half way through my Sri Lankan holiday, I landed in the fishing town of Mannar, once a battleground for the LTTE during the civil war. My only reason to be here was because I was closest to India at just 30km. Also here is where the mythical Ram Setu Bridge is said to have connected India to Lanka. But Mannar had nothing else to offer. Kite surfing was slowly picking up here, but it still had a long way to go. Needless to say, the hotels and guest house scene wasn’t great.

accommodation Sri Lanka-mannar

Mannar, Sri Lanka

I booked the Blue Moon Rest House while on the bus from Medawachchiya to Mannar earlier that morning. True to its name, it was a nice blue painted house. My room was in the backyard while the front was sublet to a Courier Company. The bathroom was sharing too, which I really didn’t mind. But then there was no hot water; and worse, THE FLUSH STOPPED FUNCTIONING.

accommodation Sri Lanka-mannar-blue moon rest house

Blue Moon Rest House, Mannar

My host Jude, a 29 year old government bank employee, lived with his mother a kilometer away from the property. I appreciated that Jude turned up after work that evening to check on me. He fixed the flush by himself; and stayed back at the property that night, since I was the only guest and the area was quite isolated.

Jude and I ended up having a good chat about how he got the idea to change this property into a guest house, his plans for further studies in the UK and my experience as a student in London. I also introduced him to TripAdvisor.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t click a picture of Jude because he left early next morning for work, before I could even wake up. But he left me breakfast in the kitchen 🙂

Address: Chavatkaddu Road, Mannar 41000
Cost: 600 INR for a room with two single beds and a resident lizard. Free ride around Mannar market with the neighborhood cycle

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Edwina D'souza

Read write watch, 2 left hands and feet, recluse, gazer and occasionally suffer from wanderlust syndrome!!

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