“Down South”: Beaches, books, and more

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I’ve learned in Sri Lanka that I’m more of a “mountains and rivers” and less “beaches and palm trees” kind of girl. That said, I have spent more time on the beach in the past few months than I thought I’d ever spend on the beach in the course of my entire lifetime. The beaches in the southern part of the island are generally quite accessible to me in Colombo thanks to a new highway. Nowadays it takes only two hours to get to Matara, for example, and before the highway that trip could take several hours along the coastal road.

I’ve also learned in Sri Lanka that, while I love the amenities a city provides, I also am a country girl at heart and need to get out of the hustle and bustle (and honking horns and traffic) quite often to keep myself enjoying the city life. So because it’s quick escape from city living in Colombo, I’m learning to love the beaches down south. I say “learning to love” because I still love my mountains and rivers but I’ve grown to appreciate the unique gifts of coastal getaways, despite my extremely sunburn-prone skin (I’m recovering from a burn as I write this) and the propensity for sand to migrate home with me from the beach only to inexplicably turn up in my bed (WHY??).

The south has not just provided me with a beaches but also with some fun activities, too. Here’s a round-up of some of my weekend excursions in the south over the past few months:

Dalawella beach

Towards the end of last year, some friends and I got into our heads that we should rent a villa with a pool near the beach. And, honestly, it was the best idea ever because it felt very luxurious but was actually reasonably priced because we brought most of our own food and split the cost of the house evenly. It was relaxing and wonderful to have time by the pool during the day and then venture out to the beach for sunset. It was a very low-key weekend but I think back to it fondly (except for the *wonderful* tuk-tuk drivers who ripped us off on the way there… but what to do?).

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Hanging out on the giant rock on the beach (some people went higher but I 100% chickened out!)

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The after-thunderstorm sunset was breathtaking on the beach

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We rented a villa with a pool! Such luxury!

Whale watching in Mirissa

For my friend’s last weekend in Sri Lanka, we decided to finally invest in seeing some whales. I say “invest” because it’s one of the pricier activities you can do in the south. I wanted to make sure I went with a reputable company that treats with the whales with the respect they deserve and I also wanted to make sure I was safe on a boat in the middle of the ocean so that meant going with a more expensive option.

At dawn, we were picked up from our hotel (a rather… interesting… establishment in nearby Weligama, where we had spent our Saturday lounging on the beach). Then we were shepherded onto the whale watching boat, which was much bigger than I expected, and given breakfast while we went about an hour out into the ocean, until it was deep enough to find the whales. Sri Lanka has a variety of whales that you can see but we were looking in particular for blue whales – the biggest mammals on Earth!

It took a bit but eventually we saw a few for ourselves. Because they are so big, they don’t breach the water like humpbacks or other smaller whales could. Furthermore, they are more shy and less curious than some other species so even though they are massive, they can be more challenging to find. When we did find them, it was amazing to see their backs come up out of the water and then see their tails as they dove into the depths again. We also saw approximately a billion dolphins on our way back to land, which was truly breathtaking.

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Late afternoon on Weligama beach, a favourite spot for surfers in Sri Lanka

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Caught the sunrise in Mirissa while heading out to find some whales

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Breakfast on the boat started with a HUGE plate of fresh fruits

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One of the whales we saw as it dove into the ocean (photo by Raja & the whales, the company we went out with)

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Some of the hundreds and hundreds of dolphins we saw on our way back in (photo by Raja & the whales, the company we went out with)

Galle Literary Festival in Galle Fort

People who know me know I’m a little more than extra nerdy about books and reading and it’s only gotten worse in Sri Lanka with my newfound love of audiobooks. So when I learned that there is an international literary festival in Sri Lanka, I was sure to visit! The festival is in Galle in January each year. I went earlier this year and stayed inside the fort to have easy access to all the events. I spent Friday afternoon, the whole day on Saturday, and then Sunday morning in Galle, attending events with authors like Christina Lamb, John Gimlette, Shyam Selvadurai and more. I also watched the sunset each night – which is spectacular from the fort walls – and, of course, I indulged in all my favourite Galle fort treats like fruity gelato, fancy ice teas, and I even took myself out for a fancy Sunday brunch by the sea at Jetwing Lighthouse hotel.

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One of the many beautiful sea views in Galle

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Cute outdoor hang-out area set up by the festival

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One of the AMAZING performances I saw during the festival

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I also had the honour of hearing Sri Lanka’s first Everest mountaineers speak about their climb in May 2016

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The Galle fort walls are one of my favourite places to catch a Sri Lankan sunset

Hikkaduwa

It took me a long time to finally get myself to Hikkaduwa but eventually one too many friends shared photos of themselves with sea turtles that I simply had to get myself down there. I visited friends in Matara on Saturday. We browsed beautiful batik at Jez-Look Batik and ate dinner by the ocean at Dutchman’s Street in Fort Matara. Then, on Sunday, I took the morning train to Hikkaduwa. When I got there, I immediately went for a long walk on the beach… at high sun… without sunscreen… (I’m really smart.) So after acquiring myself quite a lovely sunburn, I spent the rest of the day under palm trees reading and chatting with friends. Oh, and we all finally got to see Sri Lanka’s sea turtles! After seeing smaller sea turtles in Borneo at Christmas when I went snorkeling for the first time, I needed to see some again. They are so amazing and the ones at Hikkaduwa are so big and wonderful. It might have even been worth the sunburn.

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Very green view from my friends’ balcony in Matara

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Hikkaduwa beach (Taken as I accidentally baked in the sun… oops! Remember to wear sunscreen ALL THE TIME in Sri Lanka, folks)

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GIANT SEA TURTLE! So beautiful and amazing!

Here’s to more beautiful beach time in the future!

7 days in Sri Lanka (AKA thanks Aurora for flying 25 hours to visit me)

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This story begins a few years ago. My friend Aurora, who I’d met during high school, and I were plotting to travel together. After my co-op term in Ghana, we thought, we’d travel to Nepal. We both had been enchanted with the thought of visiting Nepal for several years so we thought it was the perfect destination. But then, life happened (as it so often does) and plans fell through.

Visions of traveling together were still fresh in our minds, though, when, a couple of years later, I found myself living in Sri Lanka… and Aurora found herself again falling into wanderlust. After a few Facebook Messenger conversations across time zones and continents, it was finally decided that Aurora would travel in southern Thailand for a couple of weeks and then fly to Sri Lanka to spend a week traveling with me around the country in November 2016.

I was ridiculously excited to host Aurora in Sri Lanka… So much so that I might have gone a little overboard in planning. I started by collecting a list from Aurora of all the things in Sri Lanka that she would like to see while she was here. I then created a spreadsheet schedule of what we’d do while she was here and excitedly emailed it to her. I got a message back saying that perhaps seeing 2-3 sites per day plus travel was not possible so I reigned myself in, scaled things back, and sent it off again. It was still going to be a very packed week of jetting around the central and southern provinces but it was doable. Aurora confirmed we could make these plans work so all I had to do was wait for the day to come that she arrived in Sri Lanka.

I met Aurora at the airport in Negombo and we so quickly fell back into our comfortable friendship, so much so that it felt normal for her to be hanging out in my apartment in Colombo, even though the fact that she was there was actually amazing. We spent her first day in the country exploring Colombo. I took her to all my favourite places (Galle Face Green, Independence Square, Gangaramaya Temple) and we ate all my favourite foods (roti, dosa, rice and curry, milk hoppers). We got to visit some places new to me (like the gorgeous Red Mosque in Pettah) and even managed to eat our dinner fast enough to make it to a play that night. It was a packed but brilliant day.

We fell into bed exhausted that night then woke early to take a long, incredibly bumpy train to Polonnaruwa. It was not my favourite train trip in Sri Lanka and I was embarrassed that we were so uncomfortable after bragging to Aurora that train travel is so wonderful here. Thankfully, things got better quickly once we arrived in Polonnaruwa because it was time for our elephant safari in Kaudulla National Park. I’ve seen Asian and African elephants a few times now, but I honestly think I’ll never become bored with them. In Kaudulla, we got so close to so many elephants (probably about a hundred in total) that hang out near the lake during the dry season. We saw elephants young and old and I could’ve spent ages watching them graze, play in watering holes, and even just walk around.

The next day was just as wonderful. We rented bikes and rode around the ruins of the ancient civilization that was once in this area. I had been to Anuradhapura just the weekend before but I never tire of ruins and it was so cool to explore Polonnaruwa with Aurora, who – as an artist – noticed so many things I wouldn’t. Walking around with her perspective made me look at the ruins in a whole new way. We expected to spend a couple of hours there but actually spent almost five hours biking around in the incredible heat of the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Aurora took the heat like a champ, even though we both wore conservative clothing to be respectful of the fact that Polonnaruwa is a Buddhist site. (We were absolutely drenched in sweat but kept hydrated with copious amounts of water and coconut water from vendors inside the historical park.)

Our day wasn’t over after the ruins! We boarded a bus for an hour and traveled to Dambulla, where we climbed to the top of the Golden Temple to see the beautiful cave temples in the mountain and also to see the beautiful view of the Dambulla area from up all those steps. (Also, we climbed those steps with our backpacks bags and shoutout to Aurora for not killing me for making her do that!) Then, we boarded yet another bus and made our way to Kandy for the night. We miraculously found a air conditioned bus to Kandy, which was an excellent treat after a long and hot day.

We spent the next morning in Kandy, wandering around the Temple of the Tooth and inside the nearby museums. I even dragged Aurora to my favourite restaurant in Kandy, the Soya Centre, which has entirely pure vegetarian food. We each bought a neapolitan vegan ice cream for ninety rupees (less than a dollar!) and a samosa for our train ride to Ellathat afternoon. Then we raced to the train station in Kandy to catch our train… only to find our train was late. (The only times trains have been late for me in Sri Lanka is when I’ve dramatically raced to catch them just in time and find myself feeling silly about why on earth I rushed so much if the train was going to be late anyways. Oh well!)

Our train finally arrived and we boarded with many other tourists with large backpacks like us. The train trip to Ella is one of the most famous in the world and for good reason! It travels through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka’s hill country and when it’s a clear day you can see the rolling hills for a long distance. Though somewhat cold and dehydrated (we didn’t have any water and strangely no one came aboard to sell us any) but the trip was amazing and I became enchanted all over again with the beauty of Sri Lanka.

The next morning we awoke very early for a sunrise hike of Ella Rock. The hike was beautiful but a bit “rocky” (haha) because we were a little sleep-deprived and the view was a little foggy at the top. Despite the clouds (I have yet to have a successful sunrise hike here!), I’d say it was worth it because the views from the top are breathtaking. It wasn’t even seven in the morning by the time we descended the rock so we took a short bus to see Ravana Falls, a famous waterfall in the area.

We scrambled up the rocks to see the various levels of this waterfall then had some refreshing coconut water, which always worked to perk us up. That afternoon, we took two (terrifyingly-fast) buses to get south and settled eventually in Mirissa beach. Aurora was again a trooper since she wasn’t feeling one hundred percent but managed to get herself on two three-hour bus trips (by local bus!) and still smile about seeing flying foxes (gigantic bats) on our way there. I was very impressed by her perseverance through illness and was grateful that she indulged my love of the app “Heads Up” (like charades) to pass the time on our bus ride.

The next day in Mirissa we spent on the beach and wandering around town. We had originally hoped to catch a whale-watching trip but with Aurora recovering from being sick and with me also being pretty tired from our gallivanting around the country, not going whale-watching was perfectly fine with me. We ended our day with a dinner on the beach… in a huge and aggressive rainstorm. Aurora was excited to catch a tropical rainstorm so, even though we were soaked through when we arrived back at our hostel, we weren’t too upset that the weather was being dramatic.

For our last day together, we explored a bit of Galle Fort, a favourite place to have delicious food and beautiful views of the sea while learning about Sri Lanka’s colonial history (Portuguese, Dutch then British colonizers) as well as the devastation of the 2004 tsunami. Once back in Colombo, we reflected on our travels and decided that, yes, we did a lot and, yes, we were tired but overall, yes, it was worth it.

With a teary farewell, I sent Aurora off to the airport, hoping that someday soon we’ll travel together again. 

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Elephants at Kaudulla National Park

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Ruins at Polonnaruwa

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Fun fact: inside this giant tree hole in were bees! (thankfully I survived unscathed)

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Aurora and I in Dambulla

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Sunset from the top of the hill that houses the Dambulla cave temple

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The beautiful grounds of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

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On the train to Ella

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On top of Ella Rock (it was just before 6AM here!)

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Street art in Mirissa outside of our hostel

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Sunshine on Mirissa beach

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A stormy dinner on the beach in Mirissa

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We found the perfect shop for Aurora in Galle Fort…. Called “Aurora”!

Thanks for such a wonderful trip, my friend!

Homestay at Wilpotha village & beach time at Kalpitiya

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As part of the orientation program for new Uniterra volunteers, WUSC Sri Lanka sends each volunteer to an overnight homestay in a village called Wilpotha, which is about an hour north of Negombo (depending on the traffic, of course). During this homestay, the volunteers stay with a family who lives around or below the poverty line and who do not speak very much English, if any at all. This experience is designed to help volunteers understand rural living in Sri Lanka and also as an exercise in humility because the volunteers are thrown into a very unknown situation, by themselves, and need to act with as much as grace and respect as possible throughout.

Last Friday it was my turn to participate in this final step of orientation. Generally, the homestay should happen sometime in the first week of arriving in Sri Lanka but we got busy getting down to business so it got put off – oh well! One thing we emphasize to new volunteers during orientation that I have found a helpful reminder myself when things don’t go as planned is: “Go with the flow”. Anyways, we left for Wilpotha on Friday morning. Instead of driving straight there, though, we stopped in Negombo to check up on a couple of hotels we are thinking of using for the second half of the upcoming Uniterra program Asia regional meeting, which WUSC Sri Lanka’s Uniterra team is hosting in August. (We’ll be bringing together the teams from Uniterra’s four Asian countries: Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Nepal! I’m very excited to meet everyone and participate in my small way in these meetings.) We checked out a couple of lovely hotels, got some follow-up contact info, and then were off on our way again to our final destination at Wilpotha.

When we approached Wilpotha, I noticed immediately how green and lush everything is. Sri Lanka is lush in general but here it seemed more noticeable. The palms seemed greener, the sky a clearer blue, and the soil a deeper red. I also noticed that it reminded me a lot of Bibiani, Ghana, where I stayed for three months in 2014 on another Uniterra mandate. (Several things about Sri Lanka – especially the climate and weather – remind me of Ghana regularly but this was the most obvious comparison so far.) Before arriving at my homestay, my supervisor brought me and the other volunteer Sabrina to a women’s centre, where women from the area come together to produce quality craft products like handmade paper and bags made from coconut fibres with the purpose of economic empowerment. We arrived at the centre quite late for lunch so, after a brief tour, we tucked in to the incredible meal they had prepared for us. It was delicious! Afterwards, they showed us how they roast and hull cashews by hand. Cashews have always been my favourite nuts and will definitely stay my favourite after I had them freshly roasted for the first time. They were like warm nut butter packets and probably my favourite thing I’ve had since I arrived (although I just recently ate my first rambutan, which are also amazing).

Since we were a little late to arrive due to visiting hotels in Negombo, we didn’t hang out long after eating lunch at the women’s centre so that Sabrina and I could have some daylight hours to get to know our homestay families. To get to our homestays, we drove down some quite perilous village roads (lots of potholes but some beautiful views of rice patties and palm forests). First stop was the home where I’d be staying the night. I was greeted by a large, smiling family of strangers who were generously opening their home to me (a stranger to them) for the next 24 hours. I was a little overwhelmed with all the excitement and activity happening around me in Sinhala, a language I do not yet speak (I’m scheduling language lessons soon!) but I nonetheless felt very welcomed. They laughed when I threw my hands up in the air enthusiastically when it was announced their family is vegetarian, which made everyone laugh so I guess that was a decent first impression.

The WUSC staff soon left to drop Sabrina off at her homestay (another family down the road) and I was struck with the classic “What now?” feeling of arriving in a new place. Thankfully, my homestay family had a plan… They were taking me to the water tank, said the daughter who spoke a few words of English. I thought (internally) that the water tank didn’t seem like that exciting a place to visit, because I thought the water tank was like the water tower in Canada, but I didn’t know what else I was going to do while I was there so I followed their lead. We actually did pass a kind of water tower as we walked but I soon learned that the water tank is not a water tower but is, in fact, what people here call a water reservoir, which looks just like a lake. It was beautiful there, the water all filled with floating, blooming flowers. As we walked along the concrete edge of the lake / reservoir, the family chatted in Sinhala around me and the teenaged daughter pointed out various trees that bear fruit that people here eat.

They were very protective of me as we walked, making sure I was walking in the centre of the family so I wouldn’t get struck by an errant tuk-tuk or run into a cow or trip and fall on bramble. They continued this trend as I sweat through my shirt. I got many questions (“Too hot?!”) about this but I reassured them I was fine… I generally sweat a loooot here in Sri Lanka and it’s just my body doing its thing to keep me alive in the thick humidity. I was also at the time still struggling with a minor cold so everyone in the family fretted every time I coughed. They fretted not in a way that suggested they were concerned about getting sick themselves but in a way that they wanted to make sure I was okay. An uncle who spoke English fairly well came over later to interpret and told me definitively that I have tonsilitis and that I should go to a doctor soon to get antibiotics. (Note: I’m pretty sure I don’t have tonsilitis, but their care for me was very sweet.)

When we got back from the lake / reservoir, I was fed various fruits from the trees on their property and some fresh bread with mango jam. Then, I was given a bicycling lesson from the older daughter who spoke a few words of English. I say I was given a lesson 1) because I’m not that great on a bike… Just ask the scars on my knees from an unfortunate biking accident in South Africa… and 2) because I’ve never biked on anything other than a paved road before but here I was suddenly biking on the tiny dirt footpath between a shallow ditch and a barbed wire fence. I shouted, “I’m going to die!” before embarking on the short journey down the path to the main road, which made everyone in the family laugh (I wasn’t really joking…). They might not have understood the English words but they certainly understood the meaning of the English words thanks to my surely panicked tone of voice. Spoiler alert: I did not die! But I did not win a vote of confidence for my biking skills because I was encouraged to stay off the main road on the bicycle (the one with the aforementioned tuk-tuks and cows, so it was probably for the best).

As the evening winded down and the sun began to set, my energy levels dipped as well. It’s honestly exhausting attempting to communicate with brand new people, let alone people with whom you share no language, culture, or even life experience, really. (For the record, it’s all these differences that make this experience worthwhile!) So I prepared myself for bed by brushing my teeth with well-water scooped up by my homestay mum. Everyone seemed confused that I was brushing my teeth… And I soon learned this is because we hadn’t eaten dinner. I had mistakenly assumed that all the fruit and bread and jam I had eaten just an hour or so before had been dinner but I was wrong! A short time later, I was presented a heaping plate of vegetarian rice and curry. This meal had been prepared for me on a wood fire and as the guest I was eating first so I tucked in despite not being that hungry. Despite the fact that I was so worried that it would look like I didn’t enjoy the food (which was delicious, of course!), I was unable to finish even half the meal. I had had a late lunch at the women’s centre and all that food in between and I was feeling tired, all of which resulted in a diminished appetite… which, of course, was impossible to explain across the language barrier. So I smiled and said “Thank you!” a million times and prayed my message got across and that no one’s feelings got hurt.

Then, I brushed my teeth again and climbed into the bed they had provided for me for the night. It was a double bed without a mattress but with a mosquito net so it was really all I needed after all the excitement during the day. I did have some trouble falling asleep with Sinhalese-dubbed Indian sitcoms playing loudly from the television, but I reminded myself to “go with the flow” and eventually found sleep. I was awoken at exactly 3:35AM when the rooster decided it was morning but was thankfully able to find sleep again. Then I was awoken around 5AM when a cellphone rang with the loudest ringtone I have ever experienced blasted from the house’s main room, where most of the family was sleeping on bed mats. That phone call (perhaps, alarm?) must have signalled the beginning of the day because after that the whole family was up and began their day. Blessedly, they left me undisturbed so I was able to get even more rest. When I finally rose around 7:30AM, I was presented with a chorus of “Hello’s”, a cup of hot sweetened black tea, and a plate piled high with string hoppers for breakfast.

We spent the morning chatting about the differences between life in Canada and Sri Lanka, using the English-speaking uncle as our translator. It was such a unique experience being able to ask them questions about their lives in Sri Lanka and them ask me questions in return about life in Canada. It felt like an exchange and I was very grateful for the translator’s ability to break the awkwardness that exists between people who do not have a common language. We chatted, drank coconuts, and they laughed as I excitedly videoed the baby goats and then suddenly it was time to leave. I’d been there for just over 24 hours and I had gotten so much from the experience in such a short time. I learned the value of “smile and nod” and other body language to communicate and I learned that just being open to new experiences can take you places you would have never expected. That said, I was exhausted from the effort and looking forward to taking a break from all the learning just for a bit.

Sabrina and I spent the next night in Kalpitiya, a beautiful series of lagoons north of Wilpotha. Kalpitiya is famous worldwide as a destination for kitesurfing and we were hoping to have a lesson while we were there. We planned to stay just for an overnight, though, and the wind didn’t pick up until Sunday afternoon so we weren’t able to have a lesson. Honestly, it was probably for the best because a day or so (an afternoon and a morning) on the beach, reading in a hammock, was exactly what I needed to recharge. It wasn’t just the homestay in Wilpotha that I needed a break from but really the entire experience of being a new expat; while it’s incredibly rewarding being in a new place and constantly experiencing new things / people / places / etc., it is also tiring. I was reminded by this time on the beach that it’s important to focus always on self-care, not just when it’s convenient. After resting for some time in those hammocks, reading, and enjoying the heat, I felt ready again to learn and grow, which is what I’m here for in the first place.

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Spotted on the drive: a gigantic monitor lizard holding up traffic

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Also spotted: transporting an elephant for festivals

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Elephant again, but from the front

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Women’s centre where we had lunch

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Beautiful lunch spread! (Before the flies arrived…)

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Lunch on a leaf (no, you don’t eat the leaf)

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Roasting cashews

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Hulling fresh roasted cashews

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Cashews drying in the sun

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View at the women’s centre

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Just hangin’ out at the women’s centre

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The house I stayed in at Wilpotha

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Homestay’s back room

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My bed for the night (pardon the blurry photo)

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Homestay’s main room

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Homestay’s backyard

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Homestay’s front yard

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One of the bikes at my homestay in Wilpotha (not the bike I thought I was going to die on, though)

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One of the paths I rode on with the bike

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Me with two of the daughters (this photo was taken as I was trying to explain how to take the photo with my phone but I still think it’s excellent because the two girls look utterly bored)

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Baby goats!

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Some of the many fruits I tried

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Sri Lanka Kite, the camp we stayed at in Kalpitiya

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The lagoon at Sri Lanka Kite

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Our little bungalow at Dolphin Eco Lodge / Sri Lanka Kite

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Selfie to capture the hammock moment(s)… I was in there for hours!

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I finished the first of the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson so I thought I’d change things up with Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist

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Finally the wind picked up and out came the kitesurfers

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Good vibes before heading back to Colombo

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

Sun, Sea, & Coconuts: Tofo Beach

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After a wonderful stay in Swaziland, Luke and I headed over to Mozambique. At the border between the two countries, one of the agents asked where we were going, to which I responded excitedly: “To the beach!” She laughed at my enthusiasm and told me I’d be there soon. Sure enough, not long after this exchange, Luke and I were in Maputo. But it turned out that we still had quite the journey ahead of us before we arrived at the beach!

We only spent about five hours in the hostel in Maputo because we’d arrived quite late in the night and had to leave again pretty early in the morning (4AM!) to catch the bus to Tofo. So we were one of the last ones to stumble into the dorm at the end of the night and we were the first ones to head out in the morning. (My apologies to the others in the dorm that night. We tried so hard to be quiet but my alarm did go off at an ungodly hour…)

The bus from Maputo to Tofo was certainly an experience. While Tofo is just under five hundred kilometers away from Maputo up the coast, it took us nearly eleven hours to get there! Thankfully, we spent much of it sleeping but I’ll say there were moments during the ride when I wondered to myself if this was going to be worth it. Not only was the bus journey very long, but we were also very squished for the entire trip as the drivers had packed the aisles high with luggage, bags, and all sorts of boxes so we carried our backpacks on our laps. Even with some shut eye on this stuffy, squishy, hot trip, we were exhausted when we finally arrived in Tofo, just after sun down.

We stayed at Fatima's, a Tofo institution

We stayed at Fatima’s, a Tofo institution

All my doubts about the worthiness of this trip vanished, though, when I first looked upon the beach. There was still a glow of the afternoon sun on the ocean and the air smelled thick with salt and humidity. The evening wind was strong coming off the waves, catching me as I breathed a sigh of relief… A sigh of relaxation, too, for the first time that day. We’d finally made it to the beach!

The beach!

The beach! (More photos at the end of the post)

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Return to Cape Coast: Oasis Beach, Baobab House, & the Monkey Forest

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For the second half of my trip back south the weekend before last, I went back to Cape Coast. I traveled back there for a number of reasons. First, I wanted a more peaceful ride home than the one I experienced on the Bibiani-Takoradi route. I’ve taken the bus from Cape Coast to Kumasi before so I know the road is paved and thus the trip more predictable. Second, while Ezile Bay was beautiful, their food was kind of dull and the vegan deliciousness at Baobab House was calling to me. Finally, after a couple of days by myself, I was looking for some company and I knew that I’d meet some other foreign travellers and volunteers in Cape Coast, which is much more tourist-y than where I was staying further west along the coast.

So I packed up my backpack after two nights at Ezile Bay and headed on a tro-tro out to Cape Coast. A couple of hours later, I’d traveled from the Western to the Central Region. I was checked into a lovely little room at Baobab House and I was happily eating a massive plate of tofu spaghetti bolognese on the outdoor patio. As I sipped on fresh pineapple juice, I began chatting with a really rad woman from Vancouver Island in Canada who is here in Ghana volunteering as a yoga instructor with Global Mamas. She gave me some great book recommendations and told me about her life back home on the west coast where she lives off the grid with her husband.

My room at Baobab House in Cape Coast

My room at Baobab House in Cape Coast

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Beach Hike to Cape Three Points

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Last weekend, when I was at Ezile Bay, I had the opportunity to strike something off my Ghana Bucket List by visiting the lighthouse at Cape Three Points. I thought I was staying a mere ten minute walk from the lighthouse. I asked one of the servers at the lodge how to walk there. Her amused expression told me it wasn’t as close as I’d hoped. She explained that I should arrange for a guide to walk me there and offered to call one they work with regularly. Eager to get going, I accepted and a half an hour later my guide, Ben, arrived and informed me that the hike will take about four hours in total.

Shocked by the misinformation I’d received about the proximity of the Cape, I nonetheless accepted the tour. A beachside hike sounded like just the adventure I was looking for, as a matter of fact. He told me we should get going to avoid the hottest part of the day so we set off almost immediately, walking briefly along the Ezile Bay beach then through the rainforest then along a long red road used to access the local plantations of cocoa, plantain, cassava, maize, and palm nuts.

Walking along a dirt road

Walking along a dirt road

Beautiful beach views

Beautiful beach views along the way

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A Couple of Beach-y Days at Ezile Bay

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After a slightly stressful bus trip to get there, I spent last Saturday and Sunday nights relaxing at a lodge called Ezile Bay, which is near Akwidaa Old Town (about an hour or so tro-tro ride from the nearest city, Takoradi).

Old Akwidaa village seen from across the bay

Old Akwidaa village seen from across the bay in the morning

A young fisherman & his canoe at the end of the day

A young fisherman & his canoe at the end of the day

The beach at Ezile Bay is pretty unbelievable. True to it’s name, it’s a small bay, creating a protected and private swimming area. The waves there are calm – even in the storm on Saturday night, they weren’t violent.

A sunny morning for my first day at Ezile Bay

A sunny morning for my first day at Ezile Bay

The same view of the bay in the evening

A similar view of the bay in the evening

Each morning I stayed at the lodge there I went for a long walk on the beach, strolling along up to my knees in the warm and foamy water. It was so intoxicating – the rhythmic waves, the hot sun, and the song of local birds. My morning walks turned into to afternoon and evening walks, too. I was too mesmerized by the landscape’s natural beauty to stop wandering around.

Beautiful shade trees on the beach help you keep your cool

Beautiful shade trees on the beach help you keep your cool in the afternoon heat

Who hasn't dreamed of running away to live in a little cottage on the beach like this one?

Who hasn’t dreamed of running away to live in a lil’ cottage on the beach like this?

From these walks, I unfortunately earned an impressive and tender sunburn on the backs of my legs. My lower half is all red and white stripes, streaky from where my sunscreen rubbed off in the sand and the sea. I’ve forgiven myself for this little mistake, though, because forgetting to reapply sunscreen is quite easy when you’re in paradise.