Many people tell me I am brave, I am a single female traveler and teacher choosing to leave everyone and everything to start a new life in Sri Lanka. Friends tell me I am an inspiration, and courageous and to me it just feels like the right thing to do in my life right now. I want to escape the rat race and 9-5 working ethic. I want to be free and live by the sea. To some it may seem like a dream but why can't our dreams become reality?!?
I have been searching for the place to settle and make my new life. I spent 2 years travelling in India and Nepal and although they are wonderful and exciting countries I didn't get that 'home' feeling from them. Sri Lanka is different to the rest of Asia in many ways and when I first set foot here two years ago I immediately felt a connection.
My Top 5 Reasons to move to Sri Lanka, in no particular order, are:
1. Sri Lankan Beaches
The South Coast hosts some of the most beautiful beaches, white sands, clear water and lots of greenery and great surf!
Living in Weligama, there is a great beach for learning to surf, with consistent beach breaks and a great atmosphere. However, it is not the prettiest sunbathing beach. Luckily, Mirissa is situated right next door and is a slice of paradise with it's long band of white sand encompassed by palm trees. There is also Secret Beach and Jungle Beach only down the road and both host clear lagoon like water, great for swimming. Tangalle, a stunningly long and wide beach, not so good for swimming but great for sunsets (pictured right) , is only an hour and a half away on the bus.
I love the surf combined with reggae vibe around the South coast, a great place to learn to surf, relax and party.
In contrast to the South, the beaches on the East coast are completely different. Under developed stretches of sand, clear and still water - so no surf here, but there is incredible diving and snorkelling.
Nilavelli Beach in Trincomolee is secluded and peaceful, a beautiful place to completely relax and unwind for a few days. Upavelli, closer to Trinco town has a great atmosphere being busier and hosting some great guest houses right along the beach. For total privacy there are a number of less touristy beaches along the east coast from Trincomolee down to Batticoloa - a coast line definitely worth exploring.
2. Sri Lankan Surf Spots
I am a complete beginner to surfing. In fact, when I arrived to settle for the season in October last year I didn't even think I wanted to try surfing. But I found Freedom Surf School and had an incredible surf lesson. Laughing and loving every minute, I became addicted.
Now, every morning I go to the bay to catch the first waves and watch the sunrise from my surfboard. It is a relaxing and motivating experience all at the same time and being 30 and learning something new that I feel I can progress at it is an incredible feeling. After 6 months of surf lessons and practise, I can now surf with a 7'4" hard board on the green water and I'm determined to get even better this season.
Sri Lanka has many surf spots of which I am yet to explore. But as my surfing progresses I am looking forward to going on surf tours around the area to catch waves at different spots along the coast. During the season in the south, there are plenty to choose from, all the way along the coast from Hikaduwa to Kabalana, you can find various breaks that are suited to different surf abilities. When the season finishes in the south the surfers all move to Arugam Bay,on the south west side of the island.
However, the off season in the south does not mean 'off' for the waves and for the beginners who want to practise. Weligama Bay provides continuous and consistent breaks all year round and many now say it is better to go and play during the off season as there are less crowds in the water, meaning less people to contend with for the waves.
3. Sri Lankan People
Despite being a small island, Sri Lanka is said to be one of the most religious countries in the world. 99% of people claim that religion plays an important part in their everyday lives. From the population of just over 20,000,000 the country houses Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, all coming together to form a great combination of beliefs and cultures. The majority, 75%, of Sri Lankan citizens are Buddhist, with the Tamil community making up the HIndu population that live predominantly in the North and along the East coast.
In general the people in Sri Lanka are extremely friendly and helpful, and I believe the religious morals and values that they choose to live by impacts this. Buddhism promotes the belief in Karma - if you do good for others then good things will come your way and this certainly impacts the positive and warm atmosphere of the country.
Travelling as a single female from one side of the island for the first time, a part of me felt quite nervous. However very quickly I realised that I was quite safe and that there was always someone to ask for help or directions and that they would immediately go out of their way to make sure that I was safe and on the right track.
The history of the country, the devastation of the Tsunami and the recent civil war means that there is a small divide within the country. However, looking at the people you would never suspect the tragedy that a lot of them have endured during their life. Positivity and happiness is contagious throughout the small island with everybody talking to everybody as friends and smiling and shouting hello whenever you pass.
One guy I have met is a complete inspiration and a great example of selfless commitment to humanity. Raj, who is Tamil and now lives and works in the South, lost his entire family during the war. He now works in a restaurant in Weligama and in all of his spare time (which isn't too much as he works very long hours) he has dedicated to setting up a charity 'Change Makers'. He collects as much as he can from his friends in the south, with which he buys essential provisions for deprived children in Sri Lanka, some with special needs. On his one day off a month he visits children's homes and orphanages to distribute his donations and helps out around the homes, cooking, cleaning, doing arts and crafts workshops. For someone to have lost so much and still give so much shows a great strength and attitude to life.
For me, people play a very important part in my life and to live now in a country where people show so much consideration, time and care towards one another, I can take inspiration and hope and feel privileged to play a part in this community.
4. Sri Lankan Food
Food also plays an important part in my life. Being a vegan and, some might say, health obsessed, I like to eat well and know that my food is fresh. Sri Lankan cuisine ticks all the boxes for me as well as being a delight to the taste buds. The delicious combination of spice and coconut is perfect and extremely healthy.
Here is a run through of the days dishes:
String Hopper (rice noodles) dahl (lentils with coconut milk, tumeric and curry powder) coconut sambol (freshly grated coconut, onion, tomato and chilli), fish curry is added by the locals and a boiled egg.
Roti (thin breads made fresh and cooked on a hot plate), egg roti has an egg cracked into the middle of the bread and the roti is folded over the egg so that it cooks in the middle. Coconut roti, small round, flat roti where the flour has been mixed with coconut. I love these rotis chopped up and covered in dahl and sambol. You can also find vegetable roti, which is a Sri Lankan version of a samosa with spicy potato and vegetables as the filling, or fish roti which has a fish and vegetable filling.
Rice and curry is the lunch time staple. the curry comes in many different parts with different vegetables being cooked and curried separately in different ways. You will usually find a dahl, sambol or salad, pomadums and deep fried chillies alonside the numerous vegetable dishes. For vegans and vegetarians there are plenty of vegetables all only cooked with coconut oil and no dairy. For meat eaters you can always add on fish, chicken or egg.
Short Eats - a selection of vegetable rotis, fish roti, egg rolls (egg and vegetable filling in a roti covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried in coconut oil) , fish rolls and vegetable rolls, a selection of different breads, some with vegetable fillings. All very cheap 10-20p each and extremely delicious.
Kottu is a popular dinner choice - chopped up roti that is stir fried with spring onions and carrots. Some describe it as pasta or noodle like, only it is with bread. You can add chicken or egg and locals take it with a spicy chicken broth known as hoddy.
A different kind of hopper is also available, they are made of the same rice flour batter and cooked in small metal pots to create a thin, crispy like pancakes with a fluffy bottom. Eggs can also be added to create and omlette in the bottom and these are served with hoddy and hot chilli paste.
Alternatively, fried rice or noodles can be taken for dinner, with meat, egg or seafood being added.
For anyone that is gluten intolerant I have been told by a celiac friend who I met travelling in Sri Lanka last year that the rotis are not made with wheat flour and she could eat them with no problem. The food is nicely spicy, for my taste anyway, but I do enjoy spice. If you don't like spice you can always ask for the dishes to have no spice and they will be made accordingly. The majority of food is prepared freshly each day and has the great advantage of being very cheap - if you eat in local spots, local restaurants in Sri Lanka are called Hotels. Each meal will usually average between 50p-£1.50, depending on where you are in the country and where you choose to dine.
5. Sri Lanka's Diverse Landscape's
This small, tear drop shaped island is one full of wonder. I like to describe it as an island that contains the world. You can find every kind of landscape here, apart from the desert, and the mega bonus is that it is easy, quick and cheap to travel around and explore.
The majority of the population are situated around the coast so when you venture inland the landscape is organic and untouched and extremely green and beautiful. From rainforest to jungle, lagoons to the mountains Sri Lanka's vast and diverse landscapes will never cease to amaze. You can snorkel with sharks (Pigeon Island), observe blue whales, scuba dive ship wrecks (HMS in Batticoloa), learn to surf (Weligama) and Kite surf (Kalpitiya).
The train ride form Kandy to Ella is one of the most spectacular journeys I have ever taken and will never grow tired of. With the tracks running across the tops of the mountains the views open up rice paddies, tea plantations, waterfalls and endless greenery. You can get cosy under blankets and escape the heat in Neuwara Ellya and trek Adams Peak in Hatton by hopping of this magical train ride at different points.
Nature is respected and the national parks of Yalla and Udawalawe allow you to visit incredible wildlife in its natural environment.
I have been lucky enough to explore a fair bit of the island but I still have a lot of exploring to do, which is incredibly exciting. The transport is well linked across the country so it is easy to hop off on 'holiday' and be a traveller again.
Sri Lanka for me is now my home and I am excited at what the future holds in terms of settling here and exploring this stunning country. I look forward to get the chance to show others why I love this amazing island, that has so much to offer and can make dreams become reality.