It was time. Time for me to get away, escape, and attempt to renew body and soul. But where?
After reading Sri Lanka was voted the world’s Number One travel destination by Lonely Planet, I decided to head there for a wellness vacation.
Now I’ve just returned from 10 days of Sri Lankan ecstasy, count me among those singing its praises. This amazing island is a majestic, exotic, historic, culturally fascinating, magnificent visual treat. Trust me, you’ll run out of adjectives and superlatives if you make the trip.
After considerable research, I chose to visit Talalla Retreat for yoga program created by Ang and Dave Keats, a dynamic Gold Coast couple who are an accomplished health and wellness team.
Upon arrival, I made my way through an airport strangely replete with white electronic goods. The beginning of the bus ride to Talalla Retreat was a bit scary, with Tuk Tuks beeping and darting about in every direction and buses zooming around like they were competing at Queensland Raceway. But it wasn’t long before my anxiety gave way to utter delight with the visual feast that is Sri Lanka.
Despite Buddhists outnumbering Christians in Sri Lanka by a ratio of ten to one, there are beautiful statues of Roman Catholic saints on nearly every precinct corner.
I had always associated Sri Lanka with decades of conflict and civil unrest, but the country has been at peace since 2009.
My favourite greeting from the kind and gentle locals was one where the hands are placed at the heart centre and the word “ayubowan” is spoken, meaning “wishing you a long life”.
Once outside the commercial capital of Colombo, I saw gigantic, colossal, awe inspiring statues of Buddha dotting the lush green terrain and abandoned rice paddy fields covered in water lilies. This gorgeous island nation is surrounded by an ocean that is the most astonishing, otherworldly shade of aqua.
En route to Talalla Retreat our yoga group went on safari at Udawalawe National Park.
Seeing wildlife in its natural habitat was a treat. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise: eagles, hornbills, cuckoos, pelicans, cormorants, storks and babblers abound. We also got astonishingly close to leopards, elephants, foxes, water buffalos, peacocks and crocodiles.
Birds are featured on all Sri Lankan currency, supposedly because Sri Lankans believe money flies away. (This got me wondering why birds don’t appear on Aussie dollars when my own money constantly displays an alarming tendency to fly away faster than a Peregrine falcon!)
We made our way toward the southern tip of the island and arrived at Talalla Retreat. Our group came together at dusk for a restorative yoga class with Ang, a truly gifted instructor. After 12 hours on a plane and the trip from the airport, this session was ideal to get back in balance.
Next morning, Dave took us through some amazing flow yoga, complete with groovy tunes. At lunch, we were handed a fruity drink and a colourful, locally made apron in anticipation of an Ayurvedic cooking demonstration.
Most food in Sri Lanka is still prepared in traditional clay pots. An array of chilis, cinnamon, curries, cardamom, coconut milk, mustard, ginger, turmeric, cloves, cumin and other colorful spices were laid out in a dazzling display.
The personable chef showed us how to prepare a spicy dal recipe. After that came a course in curry preparation and soon we were in curry heaven, feasting on delicious eggplant, cucumber mustard and beetroot varieties accompanied by the best papadums ever.
That evening, we joined Ang for gentle Yin yoga in a beach yoga shala (Sanskrit for “house”). Doing my yoga practice in this gorgeous setting, with waves crashing in the background and fireflies zipping around in the dark was a new experience. It took me and my yoga to an inimitable, transcendent place.
Every day at the retreat provided us with stimulating variations on the themes and experiences of that first day at Talalla. Each morning I awoke to the sound of a rooster’s greeting and was inspired to take pre-sunrise walks on the beach.
As dawn came up, I would watch hardworking fisherman hauling in their heavy nets full of tuna. Eventually, I would make my way back to the retreat and find myself surrounded by lush greenery, palm trees, hammocks, lady finger bananas, frangipanis, hibiscus flowers and vegetable patches.
And talk about stimulation of the senses! Visual treats and a gorgeous colour palette everywhere I looked:, exotic, fascinating sounds of birdsong, the delicious flavour profile of tropical fruit, delightful aromas of curry and other nourishing foods, the scent of essential oils, many of them new to me.
Ang would share doTERRA oils, frankincense for the immune system, peppermint for uplift and energy, citrus for cleansing and freshening, and lavender as a sleep aid for us yogis.
Each day was a kind of incredible “life cocktail” consisting of morning yoga, three authentic Sri Lankan meals, siteseeing, and daily group hugs! I would laze by the pool during downtime or take a dip in the ocean out front before joining the group again for Ang’s evening Yin yoga, complete with beach bonfire.
Our little group was lucky enough to christen the brand new yoga shala built at Talalla Retreat with a yoga flow overlooking the ocean. It was an occasion that will be etched in my memory forever.
The activities away from Talalla were almost as enjoyable as the ones at the retreat. We took a trip to the Beelegru Gemstone mine and saw firsthand why the Portuguese, Dutch and English had come for the blue sapphires, rubies, garnets, and other precious stones for hundreds of years. The gems were so beautiful, one couldn’t help but support the local industry and make a purchase!
After our visit to the Beelegru mine, we stopped by the Herman tea plantation to sample their soothing and flavorful “white tea”. Even our bus trip back to Colombo was memorable; we were lucky enough to see blue whales and make a stop to a hidden sea turtle farm.
For our final meal in Sri Lanka, our yoga group had dinner at the sensational Ministry of Crab restaurant. It’s a 17th century Dutch Hospital buildin,g repurposed in 2011 and now part of a rather cosmopolitan shopping district.
My appetite for history was soon eclipsed by my hunger as our server offered a dazzling array of crab options; curry crab, butter crab, pepper crab, garlic chili crab, and so on. I ordered the butter crab and was happier than a pig in mud as I smothered the fresh crustacean into lashings of melted butter accompanied by just-out-of-the-oven bread.
Mine was the dream trip of a lifetime, and Talalla Retreat, pure yoga bliss. I was able to rejuvenate and refresh mind, body and spirit while experiencing the sublime beauty of Sri Lanka and learning about its rich history and culture.
Not once was I required to make a decision, and I always had a comforting sense of everything being done for me. Practically the very definition of relaxation… This was so much more than a vacation – it was a love fest!
My fantastic getaway has me spreading the word and giving all of my friends my highest possible recommendation for attending any retreat created by Ang and Dave Keats. Ang, Dave, and Total Holiday’s knowledgable tour guide Suneth Chamara Liyanage provided me with an experience that was nothing short of magical., I’ll be signing up for their next one in Bali in June of next year.
Who’s coming with me?!
You can find out more or book a stay at Talalla Retreat at www.talallaretreat.com