It’s 5am and I have been awake since midnight having gone to bed at 10pm ……. Oh the woes of long haul travel and jetlag. But who cares???? I’m here. In Sri Lanka sitting on my terrace in the pitch black and in the distance I can hear some sort of prayer chanting (which is enchanting) and in the near proximity beneath my terrace I can hear some sort of animal chomping noises (which is somewhat terrifying) and also a myriad of different and exotic bird songs.
I am at Horathapola. It’s a coconut plantation about an hour’s drive north of Colombo airport where I landed after a 10 and a half hour flight from Heathrow. I felt dirty and tired and disoriented after all that time not sleeping in economy and made my way through customs to find my driver. A sea of drivers with name cards were awaiting and my eyesight being somewhat blurred from tiredness, I squinted my way to the one that had my own name emblazoned on it. I was so delighted he was there and I introduced myself and shook his hand when I heard someone say “What about me?” and I turned and screamed and cried to see Lau had made the journey with the driver to greet me. Nigel and Lau had arrived from Granada via Madrid via Dubai four hours earlier and the plan was we meet at the plantation but Lau had decided to surprise me – and that he did.
The drive was fascinating, rice paddy fields, rivers, bright coloured fruit on street stalls, lush listed green……. And then we arrived in our paradise. All utterly breathtaking but my most favourite was a vast frangipani tree that resembled a sculptured work of art.
Horathapola is reached via secured gates, which were opened by one of the staff, and we drove through fields of fruit trees until we reached the very magnificent colonial house where we would be staying.The staff were all there to greet me and one presented me with a much needed and enjoyed fresh coconut drink whilst Nigel regally waved from the balcony.
A few minutes later we were eating a light and delicious lunch of prawns and salad and sipping wine and chatting excitedly. Eventually the Boys showed me my room. Situated on the first floor, it is vast and luxurious and homely all at once. It houses a big four poster bed draped with white muslin. Stunning dark wood mirrors, dressing table, drawers, (plenty of room for all the travel friendly Issey Miyake). The bathroom is big enough to clean an entire football team all at once. And on my bed presents from the Boys. From Menfis the now iconic black and white snail sculptures of the Lorca poem I had so fallen in love with and lusted after in Granada. And a divine notebook to list blog ideas.
After unpacking and showering it was champagne (served with swizzles of papadums and mustard leaves) on the terrace, then a typically Sri Lankan feast of hopper noodles, white tuna curry and umpteen accompaniments, such as baby loofah (no, not kidding!).
Then a sleepless night when blondie here figured that the name of our place is actually Greek and means many plots of land.
Hmmmmmm. Why did I take so long to recognise it?
Later. Much later. Feels like the middle of the day but it’s around 7.30 am. Breakfast. Walk with a guide from the estate. Seeing a Hindu and Buddhist temple side by side (learn rest of the world), watching cashews being prepared (did you know the milk is poisonous?), looking at gorgeous birds and flowers, then back in time to sunbathe by the pool – oh no time for that, blogs need to be written.
Then later again. Snuck in some jacuzzi time then a drive through the estate to see cashew trees, mango trees, pepper vines, and so much more. Our mode of transport? Ox- cart, of course! Even the ox smelled exquisite as he had been sprayed with cinnamon to ward the flies off. Time to spray myself with same I think before cocktail time on the terrace.
It’s 8 December and we are in Horathapola.
Lau and I visited Horathapola Coconut Estate for the first time in 2011. This was our first visit to Sri Lanka and this was the very very first place we stayed in. We were here for just one night, kicking ourselves as we departed, wishing we had stayed longer and more or less vowing that one day we would return. And we have. Here we are again, this time with Maroulla, at the start of our fourth holiday in Sri Lanka. On this occasion we’re staying for two nights. But guess what? When we leave shortly after breakfast tomorrow morning on our way to Yala for 2 days of safari, we will (Maroulla too I am sure) be kicking ourselves, wishing we had stayed for longer and vowing (this time firmly) to return.
What is so entrancing is that in those six years very little has changed. Yes, of course there have been the necessary tweaks and refurbishments that old houses like this call for, but nothing intrudes or cries out. It still feels like you’re entering the much-loved country home of a well-heeled, cultured family, where the adults of the family can sit in the corners they played in as children and sleep in the beds they’ve always slept in, tended by a small loyal team of servants. The house has soul. It’s loved. The red, patinated tiles are buckled slightly with use as if still soft clay. The servants remove the cups and saucers and glasses from the dressers, lay the table and casually sprinkle the setting with frangipani flowers just as the lady of the house probably did all those years ago. The calm, nay, quasi spiritual manager, Nalin is still here. 32 years old, he has worked for the owners for 16 years. That says a lot. But there is no family here right now. Well, yes there is. Us. That’s the feeling you get from the moment you step over the threshold.
What have we done today? A village walk with local Buddhist and Hindu temples clasped together on a rock, cashew nut processing (what a process!), bird spotting (the red woodpeckers and crayon yellow oriole my favourites), greeting the local fish delivery man (an array of silvers in a plastic tray on the back of his moped). A swim and jacuzzi after lunch. A bullock cart ride through the coconut trees at a medieval pace with the bullock handler scampering up the tree, death defyingly (it seemed to us urban wimps) to hack us some coconuts for an afternoon drink, then risking life and limb (again it seemed) to machete them into two. All that’s great and wonderful and memorable. But what will endure even more as yet another Horathapola memory is that ‘home’ feeling, and the peace, the utter peace and the Eden green and that feeling that your tension and stress are being gently wiped and caressed from your body simply by being here.
I hereby vow we will return for a third visit.
Maybe three days next time. Ever-increasing stays. We might even make it to a week one day! That would be very nice. But then I think we might not leave at all.