Reaching You

The hardest times of last year were the days, weeks and sometimes months we were barred from visiting you in your care home.  I’d imagine how you were, firmly rooted in one of the large armchairs amidst the dementia floor’s communal sitting room.  I’d wondered if you were looking towards the window, trying to connect with the outside world.  Then I’d comfort myself with your lack of understanding – of the entire world gripped by a pandemic, of your situation, of your illness, of us.  Instead, I’d use my memories, my intense love for you and our true connection to try to reach you – but it was hard.

When it was safe to do so, we made the best of the situation by communicating through a wall-to-wall screen. Us on one side reminding you of who we all are and how much you’re truly loved by so many.  You tried hard too, all of us desperate to reach a common ground where there was some understanding and, of course, comfort before our time was up and we had to wave goodbye.

However, now we can visit you properly again, regularly too, and even hold your hand and help you drink and eat and walk.  I know you can feel the warmth of our love.  I can see it in your smile, your recognition and the way you try with every last brain cell to acknowledge and communicate with us.  Because reaching you, Dad – is all I want to do.  I’m at peace with the exciting and beautiful life you had, I understand now only too clearly how this destructive illness obliterates all that and I can honestly accept that what we had has not gone but is now no longer present.  And so, reaching you in some form or other is why when we visit, we play your favourite music and why she brings you a little cake or a photo or just talks of what you knew and loved.

You’re there.  For the moment, we’re reaching you; your blue eyes sparkle to let us know.  

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One island. 3 stowaways.

There wasn’t too much preamble to this trip really.  Not really.  Basically, the 2 of them hatched an elaborate plan before sending me the details with a ? Of course, I was IN before I’d finished reading the first paragraph.

And that’s just about how I found myself on this beautiful 298-acre white sand island with villas on stilts over emerald green water – 21 hours travel time from home.

The resort hotel (something I usually can’t stand), which first opened in 1993, blends brilliantly into the natural jungle surroundings and generally feels like a village – with really friendly villagers.  Very quickly we were on first name terms (and vice versa) with the team on the island whose impressive ethos of courteous and friendly rather than ridiculously refined suited us low-key girls to a tee.

Fewer guests than wildlife (it’s mid November so just as you would imagine), we’ve hung out with plenty of hornbills, some cheeky monkeys, a large colony of fruit bats (google them!), wild boar and … apparently some snakes…

The sea creatures were a little less friendly.  Well, one jellyfish in particular who decided that my front crawl was in his way.  But that’s another story altogether – and one I’d prefer not to cloud our perfectly clear seawater.

So we’ve climbed and trekked the island as well as having our heads in books.  In and out of the jungle and along the road – as there’s no traffic other than the resort van ferrying those who won’t walk.  With a lap pool, a gym, some yoga, a spa and a little work on the side, the week has zipped by and somehow it’s time to return to normality.

But we’ll never forget this alternative universe, this tropic haven of beaches, vibrant rainforest and 5 star pampering.  As it turns out, Pavarotti was right; he visited the island in 1994 and declared it a paradise.

The Stowaways were paying guests of the Pangkor Laut resort, owned and managed by YTL Hotel & Properties which includes two bays with 148 luxury Malaysian-style villas, six restaurants, and three lounges.  

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the mole who wasn’t very good at feeling sad

“I’m not very good at feeling sad,” said the mole to his friend.

His friend looked him with curious eyes.

“I’m not very good at it.  This feeling sad business is really quite tricky for a mole like me,” the mole went on to try and explain. “You see, I’m a happy sort of smiley mole and feel dreadful uncomfortable when that feeling of sadness comes upon me.” He added.

The mole’s friend continued to look at him with his curious eyes.  He had wanted to try and say something but his mouth felt dry and words were just a little jumbled in his head.

Mole, on the other hand, had no problem talking…

“My tummy feels fizzy, my brain is confused, my legs are a little wobbly while my nose… my nose is uncontrollably twitchy,” continued the mole while looking down at his feet.  “And all the time I want to feel happy – and to make this sad feeling go away.”

Mole’s friend put his arm around this gibbering mess of a mole.  There might not be words but he knew how to give his friend a much-needed hug.

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jungle, jungle

I need you to be the judge here. Or at least a collective jury. And I’ll promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

the view from our cabin

You see, when researching where we might stay and visit in Sri Lanka, I came across an eco lodge in Dagana – deep into the wilderness, just East of Kandy. I read on and researched as deep as I could Google and – the more I read – the more I felt a couple of nights of living in the jungle (as eco as is quite frankly possible) might just be a huge amount of fun. AND a sort of challenge, to take us outside of our comfort zone (which is only too ridiculously cushy) while giving us a different, even inspiring perspective on life.

This was always my motive. (nothing more sinister, I promise).

our cabin in Polwaththa Eco-Lodge, Sri Lanka

So last Friday (after a quick samosa for lunch), our driver handed us over to the eco team at the bottom of a dirt track and, as he waved us goodbye for almost 48 hours, we were jeeped-up a very steep mountain deep, deep into the thick undergrowth.

The husband immediately looked concerned. ‘What have you booked?’ he mouthed to me in the back of the jeep.

The boy is wearing ‘leech socks’…. to try and keep those pesky friends off our ankles

Then we arrived and a chorus of animals, birds and all the creepy crawlies that have never been identified greeted us into the lodge. We were shown to our remote cabin (all built from resources the team has immediately available to them) and – since unpacking was never going to be an option – we just lay down on our (rather damp – this is almost rainforest after all) beds to take stock of the situation.

And because I had always thought that this might make an interesting blog post (again, full disclosure), I sat back and watched how my gang responded to our living conditions – basic accommodation, a constantly invaded bathroom by slugs, snails and the like, the constant threat (and therefore immediate removal) of leeches galore as well as full on noisy elements and those all too dominating multi-legged neighbours.

the local village

The Boy – I must admit – immediately got the picture. ‘This is an adventure and it’s fun” he instructed the other two. ‘Yes, it’s a challenge but every time you are scared or uncomfortable, you just have to recognise those are simply scary emotions and so you have to turn them into something funny.”

He didn’t even freak out when the Husband found a leech in his small boy armpit sucking the living daylights. He just told me to get it OFF.

The Girl would be the first to admit she’s found it hard. The first evening she brought her dinner straight back up. I think the combination of fear and spices were mostly to blame.   At 545am as the thunder and lightening hit our tin roof, she did wonder if maybe we might cancel our second night and ‘leave this **** hole’ as soon as it was light. But the next morning we were trekking (with a guide) through stunning woodland and meeting local villagers on our way to the waterfall deep in the jungle. (oh and – for the record – I didn’t scream when I saw the snake.)

these lovely women invited us into their home as they made sugary snacks from the sap of a tree

The Husband has asked me not to go into detail about how he’s felt and so I’ll respect that. He did add though that he was super impressed to see how economically self-sufficient life was at the eco lodge. The team, and their surrounding area, grow almost everything they need to live – coffee, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, almond, avocados, coconut, bananas, cacao, rice, tea, spices and so much more – with obviously all the timber you could ever need. The food is good and meal times are really sociable… which was just the reassurance we needed (except I didn’t really enjoy hearing that my new friend had found a rat in her bathroom in the middle of the night). The lodge and its activities are extremely well organised; there is no doubt in all of our minds that they are passionate about creating something extremely special there.

this cute little fella wanted me to take his picture


homegrown pepper

The bonus of living without wifi (it is available in the central eating/relaxing area but strongly discouraged) was something I personally had been craving. As a freelancer, I’ve been working a little each day of this trip and this gave me full permission to down tools and be totally present. Besides, cool Lion beer and a rolling card game is all you need to spend an evening (or 2) in the Great Outdoors.

so green, it’s almost fluorescent

Whether or not you feel I’m guilty of cruelty to those who might not like jungles… I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for subjecting my gang to most of the above. Besides we did all agree that we have laughed more during the last 24 hours than we’ve laughed EVER BEFORE and there’s something incredibly bonding about all finding a situation belly-achingly hilarious. Even after 2 nights of very little sleep.

For more information about Polwaththa Eco Lodges – click here.

(For all those asking for a list of everywhere we’ve stayed, I’ll post that at the end of the trip. As I’ve mentioned on Instagram a few times – our trip was organised by Rickshaw Travel.)

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