The juxtaposition from last night’s accommodations to tonight’s is quite fantastic. They are yin and yang opposites. Harmonizing with nature vs. bending it to a manicured will. Sandy feet vs. feet padding across the croquet pitch. Shower is an open pipe outdoors vs. above floor polished concrete oval bathtub standing in the middle of a room the size of my bedroom back home. Quizzical look ‘are the kids really going to sleep in the tree house?’ vs. jaw dropping ‘I am never leaving, I am ordering in until we leave, forget the beach.’
We only just arrived at the Polheena Estate, and I just feel compelled to get my thoughts down. After another long day on the road, stopping to visit a buddist cave temple complex, watching the constant stream of Sri Lankan humanity along the roadside, much of it impoverished, then pulling through the gates to see the rather massive, two story white and black colonial mansion was impactful. Coconut trees, plumeria, mango and other trees shaded the grounds. Carved stone pygmy elephants stood watch over the pool one terrace below the main lawn, and behind the 7 foot wall backing the pool was a vast rice field populated with water buffalo. A baby buff was standing alone, braying for its mama. We were staying here? Inside there are 5 bedrooms with four poster beds, an open living room with two story soaring ceiling, and a 180 degree freestanding concrete spiral staircase. ‘Would we be going out for dinner?’ asked the house manager. Heck no, order take out pizza and pick it up with the tuk-tuk. We just ate a late lunch of grilled shrimp, boiled crab and curries at a beachside restaurant for $7.50 a head, a bit of pizza for dinner will suffice. Afternoon tea is served poolside as the kids take to the pool. It has been a humid day, and everyone is sweaty. The back wall has two shuttered windows. I am intrigued, and when I open one window my gaze is met by a black water buffalo munching away not ten feet from me. ‘Do we want our laundry sent out?’ asks the manager. Really, we just want to do a laundry load ourselves, we are really burgeois just pretending for 3 days that we are Lords. Our staff consists of the manager and his wife the cook, a houseboy, the gardener and the security guy. Still, we send a few items out. The kids are doing lap races in the pool now. And the price tag is?… $400 a night, split $200 each between families. Not a bad deal.
Now, last night’s accommodations may have been a bit bohemian in comparison to where we are now, but we really did enjoy our stay, sandy feet and al fresco everything. Before the mansion, we stayed two nights near Tissa. The attraction in this area is Yala National park, where you go by jeep safari to see leopard, elephant, alligator, deer, boar, elk, monitor lizard, monkey,and many different types of birds. We saw all of these except the crown jewel, a leopard. The landscapes were stunning and the wildlife plentiful.
The wild card accommodations for Sri Lanka was Saraii. Our friend Pearl booked the accommodations for the trip and we were a bit surprised to hear this place only offered mud huts and treehouses, two of each. The children would stay together in a treehouse and the couples each got a mud hut. When I first saw the online pictures of the huts my first response was, ‘Those are pretty nice bed linens for a mud hut. It will be fine.’
When we arrived at Saraii, or should I say almost arrived as the dirt road was too rutted for our van to drive on, we walked the last 100 meters through the dark with our bags. We were in the countryside and it was dark. The place had no formal entrance, the walkways were dirt, the common hut was dimly lit, had one standing fan, two dining tables, a large coffee table and foam mattresses laid out on the low, wide wall enclosing the area.
At the common hut, they had dinner ready for us. The food here turned out to be quite delicious and exotic. Over the two evening dinners we had giant lake prawns and different curries that contained banana flowers, white cucumber, lotus root, green beans, potato, sardines, chicken, beef, and Dahl. Each meal had 4 – 5 curries with rice.
The kids were going to sleep in a true tree house with two levels, woven mats on the floor, palm frond roof, and a ladder handmade from tree branches and rope. The whole house was wrapped in mosquito netting. The mattresses were thin foam. All together a child’s dream place to sleep.
We adults got a large room with concrete floor, 3 walls that were mud slathered over brick, the fourth wall was open with split bamboo shades that could be lowered for privacy. The roof was lofty and made of palm fronds. The kingsize bed had a mosquito net. It did have electricity for the one fan, wall plugs and poor lighting. The open air, ensuite bathrooms had western toilets and a shower under a palm frond room and fenced by bamboo mats. This was luxe compared to the mud hut I lived in in Mauritania!
The kids loved the place. They chased lizards and caught fireflies at night. They had pillow fights in the treehouse. The adults definitely prefer the mansion, it is so much more civilized drinking your tea without sandy feet.