Gluten-Free and Vegan In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Getting Lost In Travel

By nfiamingo

06 Nov 2017

6:30 pm
Chilling in the airport

Philadelphia International Airport (A)

After having trouble with security check-in (my passport set the x-ray specialist to investigate), Maureen and I took the opportunity to have a quick dinner and drinks before we began our international journey.

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10:00 pm
Stuck on the terminal

Philadelphia international Airport

After a 30-minute wait, we had been informed, engine number one was causing some issues and wouldn't automatically start - instead of freaking out, why not start a movie while we wait for the mechanics to come manually start engine number one.

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07 Nov 2017

12:00 am
Gluten-Free American Airlines Meal

Philadelphia International Airport (B)

It’s just about midnight and due to the delay in engine number one starting, we are just now getting our dinner - the good news, special request meals get served first! A perk of being gluten-free!

Since both Maureen and I were freezing, I truly welcomed a warm meal- home cooked or microwaved I don’t really care what it is at this point.

Prior to digging into our dinner, drinks were served. White wine and a warm cup of tea are the perfect remedies to heat up the soul!

For our gluten-free dinner, we are served a fruit salad, garden salad, a rice cake (which tasted like cardboard) and a gluten-free ravioli in a roasted red pepper vodka sauce.

While the meal was NOT gluten-free and vegan, it was vegetarian and again- it is a warm meal!

Upon tasting, the dish was actually rather good! A couple hours later though, and I was extremely ill. The gluten-free provided meal did not sit well with me at all! Maybe it was the dairy or the mix of eating fruits and vegetables all in one sitting that my dosha didn't find fun.

Thank you, American Airlines for a fairly decent in air gluten-free dish!

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4:00 am
Breakfast In-Flight

Flying Over Dublin

After a long nap and a couple of movies, we are now almost to London for our 11-hour layover.

Before we depart American Airlines, we were served a gluten-free breakfast.

Breakfast was light, a small fruit salad, water, yogurt and a gluten-free vegan bar, which was actually rather good. I found this meal to be pretty darn delicious and almost "Nicole-Friendly".

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1:00 pm
Lunch treats!

Beyond Bread (A)

London was, well an interesting time for Maureen and I.

We got to experience the London Tube (public transit system) which had to have told us maybe 100 times to “mind the bump” or should I put it into English, the gap between the train and the platform.

Once we found our way into the city, it was maybe 2 minutes before this guy informed me “your looking lovely today” damn it- why can’t this happen to me in the states?!?! Maybe I should have acted on it - he could have been my prince charming.

I was trying to find some non-tourist things to do and I was actually really excited for high tea, which I reserved for Maureen and me.

Upon arrival, they let me know that they messed up our reservation and that they did not have us reserved for high tea, but rather just a lunch service and couldn't accommodate a high tea request last minute.

Instead, we wondered the odd streets of London's dreary, rainy skies and happen to find a 100% gluten-Free joint, Beyond Bread! I rocked a gluten-free falafel sandwich, but man it was a tough call because their goodies looked amazing and hard to find in the US. Prices seemed pretty fair as well.

Then, while sitting down for a bite to eat, I received an email that our Free Walking Tour had been canceled. So now we just decided to wander the streets and find a good tea and coffee.

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2:30 pm
Tea time inside to avoid the rainy London

Tottenham Court Road London Underground Station (A-)

After walking the streets of London, we found a cute place at Pomme de pain.

Nothing fancy, but it was a warm place and a decent cup of tea.

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8:30 pm
Got Lost trying to find Vantra, London

London Heathrow Airport (LHR) (London Heathrow Airport) (A+)

Argh- after having much success in navigating the streets of a foreign country, we had officially found ourselves lost. Ever so kindly some of the wonderful citizens “google mapped” our destination- only for us to discover this particular Vantra restaurant location has closed.

Maureen and I dove back into a department store to steal some of their free wifi so we could touch base with Kaitlin.

We decided to head to towards Vantra's second location and mapped everything out, saved screenshots of the map and off we were. Being about 95% certain we were going the wrong way, we tried to confirm with some pedestrians- unfortunately, they either have no idea about the streets of London (which for God’s sake, I can see why) or they found it amusing to confuse travelers. Either way, Maureen and I were misguided.

Finally navigating ourselves back, we literally “ran into” Kaitlin on the streets of London only to be delivered some additional bad news- the second location was also temporarily closed in preparation for their new site.

Boo! Whatever, it was not about the destination as much as it was about seeing Kaitlin. We made our way down the block and on our way towards a London pub, we found Rawligion- a 100% gluten, vegan, and organic establishment. Why not check it out?! It is not a “drink” but it is some yummy, fulfilling food! Which, I know I am an oddball, but I prefer good food to an alcoholic beverage any day!

I couldn’t resist but try their spicy jackfruit sandwich- say what?! Two gluten-free sandwiches in one day- unheard of!!

Kaitlin treated us to some raw delicious desserts and pointed us in the right direction towards our train route.

Xoxo, Love you KG and see you soon! Thanks again for everything.

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9:30 pm
Frustrated with The London Transit System

Heathrow Airport (C-)

When one says “the London public transit is crowded” - they are underestimating the craziness of the London Tube.

I had armpits in my ear, feet on my thighs, passenger bags up to my ass and hats in my eyes. This was a cattle-shoot that everyone was eager to, for some reason, voluntarily join in on the fun.

Maureen and I kept waiting for passengers to exit, allowing more breathing room for us and of course, the additional passengers to come aboard and instead- one way or another, somehow we continued to be slammed into additional tightly packed meat patties.

When you think matters couldn’t get any worse, the current train (ETA to Heathrow Airport terminals 1,2,&3 around 7:00 pm for our 7:40 pm boarding) derailed and had us exit to another platform not clearly marked for the terminals of interest to us.

Finally, the “help” on duty, pointed us in the right direction. We joined the crowd and voluntarily smashed ourselves into meat patties and patiently waited for the doors to close.

Watching our clocks and realizing the time was slipping away, a couple more minutes of our patience gifted us with yet another opportunity- the chance to be even more patient. Bahahahahhahaaaha

We derailed yet again. Trying to hop over to platform 1 and in desperation- or maybe frustration at this point, trying to squeeze our way in- we did not make the cut and needed to once again platform hop.

Amen, Alleluia, Praise to all the higher beings above- we are on a train that has closed its doors and started it’s journey to our final destination.

Maureen, actually appearing rather calm - had to know the deal with my anxiety of being fronted with chaotic- disorganization - when my Project Manager mindset has already come up with 5 great alternative ways in which to handle the situation.

Again, counting some of the little blessings, we thankfully didn’t get stuck in Terminal 4 for 8+ minutes- which we had been forwarned happened on a regular basis.

Arriving at Terminal 1,2, & 3 at 7:40 for a flight boarding at 7:50, we checked in and asked for assistance on where to retrieve Maureen's checked bag.

Splitting directions- Maureen retrieved her bag and I headed through security. After some fun there- we eventually reunited and found ourselves safely aboard our flight to Colombo Sri Lanka.

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10:30 pm
Dinner time on Sri Lanka Airlines

In flight- Somewhere (B)

Grilled salmon eggplant, tomato in a green chili salsa with peas, potatoes, salad, gluten-free bread and vegan fruit jelly salad.

Maureen really enjoyed this meal and I piked at a dry piece of fish (that I wouldn't normally eat) and a vegan jelly salad.

The gluten-free bread really wasn't too bad either - a little dry but not a brick!

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11:30 pm
First Cup Sri Lanka Ceylon Tea!!!

In Flight Somewhere (B)

The time has come, I have been waiting patiently for my first cup of the famous Ceylon (Sri Lanka's former name) tea.

I love warm cups of tea! Honestly, my journey confirmed, this cup of tea was simply Lipton's black tea - but hey, why not enjoy it!

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08 Nov 2017

6:00 am
Breakfast on the plane

Maybe Over Iraq (C-)

I spent most of the flight asleep, in prep for avoiding jetlag and now it was time to awake and adjust to the new time zone. The food wasn’t anything to brag about but it was food - honestly, I was a bit jealous of the other's local Sri Lankan menu options.

And after a long 13+ hour flight and sitting next to a good looking 30-year old male arborist who literally talked my head off- I’m ready for sleep!

Oh and the best part of the flight, when the guy next to me fell asleep with his head on the call button so the steward attempted to awake him, but he was in a deep sleep.

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2:30 pm
Landed in Sri Lanka

Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) (බණ්ඩාරනායක ජාත්‍යන්තර ගුවන්තොටුපොල)

YEA! We made it after a long journey!

Now we were sure to cover some of the necessities:
- SIM cards changed - allowing us data, local calls, etc. for the duration of our trip.
- Currency exchanged - to date, their currency is not allowed out of the country so you must wait to exchange at the airport.
- Figuring out traveling options and we are off - on our way towards Kandy

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3:30 pm
Rented a personal taxi for the next four days

Taj Airport Garden Hotel Colombo (A+)

Ps it’s a downpour!

We worked with Sudan’s International Travels & Tours
+94 11 2938600

Eshan was our driver

Paid 190 USD, split by two for four days

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4:30 pm
Lunch / dinner

Shani De Catering (A)

Maureen and I both agreed that our appetites were getting a bit angry with us and it was time to find something delicious!

We asked our driver to help us find a good place for a late lunch and he pulled up to a cute little place on the side of the street.

We explained to the owners our food allergies and they showed us that we were safe.

On the buffet menu we had: Rice, fried rice, Dahl, jackfruit curry, green beans, spinach, onion salad - spicy and yummy

Our unlimited lunch buffet cost us 400 rupees or $2.61 USD

I had seconds and then some and then to calm the heat in our mouths from the amazing spicy jackfruit, we indulged in Sri Lankan baby bananas.

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8:30 pm
Made it to Our home for the next two nights

Villa Kamonrich (A+)

Villa Kamonrich.

After a long long drive- seriously haggling our deal for a private taxi for the next four days was the perfect way to go! We could not imagine finding this place on our own, as the driver himself had a very difficult time finding our Villa.

We were tired and ready for a nice shower!

We met the owner, a 23-year old whose parents were both in the medical field, his father had recently passed (Maureen and I gathered it was a form of cancer) and his mother purchased the hotel for him to run. He was very polite, professional and knowledgeable in the area.

He even saved Maureen's and my butt, by writing in Simalese, what Maureen and I could and could not eat on our gluten-free diet! I used this message in every establishment moving forward!

Our stay was lovely, we paid $15 USD per night - could have added a breakfast or dinner for an additional 600 rupees ($4.00), the place was very clean and we just enjoyed our morning and evening views!

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09 Nov 2017

6:00 am
I Can't Sleep....

Pilimathalawa (A+)

I had a two-hour nap, maybe.....

So instead of lying in bed- I awoke to an amazing and beautiful view with a lovely song of bird tunes - tunes that I had never heard before - it was really lovely!

It is a rare occurrence that I can awake and just enjoy my surroundings - I am usually on the go and with a list of "to-dos" on my mind.

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8:30 am
Breakfast time

Bentota bake shop (A)

Our driver left overnight to try and get gas and had no luck. He won’t be back for us until closer to 10 am so instead of paying $6 USD for the Villa to make us rice and curry- we walked maybe 2 minutes for $1.65 USD breakfast buffet- I had to fill my plate twice it was so good.

We had rice, string hoppers (red and white), potato curry, coconut sambal, deviled red pepper, and chickpeas!

The potato curry dipped in the hoppers was one the favorites! It was my first experience with strong hoppers and I was in love - but confused as to why the strong hoppers are considered a breakfast specialty and the pancake-like hoppers are more lunch and dinner.

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9:00 am
Wandering

Akbar Bus Stop (A-)

As I mentioned in the prior post, our driver left late last night and never returned- as there is a gas shortage here and he was waiting for the tanks to be filled and then for his chance to fill up- but 9:30 am came around still no driver and the next ETA was 4 additional hours later and so the equation equals out to a Nicole learning to be patient but really her anger was beginning to emerge.

Maureen no longer felt comfortable with my recent habit of wondering so we needed to create a new plan.

We told our driver that we would get our day started and that he could meet us out - but reimburse any additional charges we had to incur for travel- clearly, our driver was not so pleased to hear we would be cutting into his costs.

Maureen and I tucked into our Villa mates ride to center city Kandy and enjoyed a nice sightseeing, just as our driver returned back to our Villa to begin our day.

Once finally reunited- we had a boatload if things to cover. Seriously, too much to see with so little time.

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12:30 pm
Ceylon Tea Plantation Visit

Pilimathalawa Bus Station/Stop (A+)

Learned about the Ceylon Tea plantation process.

This tour sort of reminded me of Hershey Chocolate Word...

The most shocking thing- the workers are barefoot and guests come in and out- touching and surrounding the tea leaves throughout the tea-creation process. Which was a surprise to me to learn that Lipton purchases the majority of their tea production and that they don't require additional crazy US health regulations.

It was a cool process to see how the leaves get shaken, folded, pressed and moved through the entire tea creation process.

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1:00 pm
Came across the monkeys

Elephant's Back Rock View Point (A+)

On our way to the spice garden - our driver pulled over for us to take a look - we had read a good deal about monkeys in Sri Lanka, but had not yet come across any.

These guys are bold - they cross the street, hang on electrical wires - you name it, I am sure they are ready to try it.

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1:30 pm
Spice Garden 27

Medisewana Hospital (A)

I knew I wanted to check out an Ayurvedic spice garden, and Spice Garden 27 was the one our Villa owner suggested to us.

Upon arrival, we were paired with our free tour guide- whom which is in his final year of Ayurvedic studies.

He walked us through the garden, pointing out a number of spices I often use in cooking, but was ignorant of its origin and a number of its health benefits and uses.

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2:00 pm
Lunch Time

Wijayasiri bakers (B+)

Poor Maureen is not loving the local Sri Lankan rice and curry!

Our driver suggested this place for lunch - although I do not think he was too familiar with it himself.

We walked in and it looked like they were getting ready to close the buffet for the day, but we snuck in. I provided my trusty gluten-free translation card to them and they went through what was and was not safe for us to eat and most of it was gluten-free friendly.

As we sat down to eat, the owner and his children joined us. His English was not excellent, but we could converse a little. Oddly enough, the owner had an infatuation with my pen so I lost my one and only pen on this trip.

Not 100% sure what I ate, but it was pretty good and pretty affordable at $1.89 per person.

I know I had rice, green bean curry, pumpkin curry, I think a parsley sambol or maybe a mallung and another green dish of some sort. I wouldn't say this was my favorite, but it wasn't bad.

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2:30 pm
Elephant Orphanage

Millennium Elephant Foundation (A+)

Wow - not too much to add here, as words don’t really explain how my inner-child was glowing from ear-to-ear.

What was included in our $13.03 USD ticket?
Elephant sanctuary introduction.
Bathe the elephant.
Ride the elephant if and with an additional charge, feed him!!

A longtime dream come true.

Please, if you are considering visiting an elephant orphanage, be sure to do your research and confirm they are attending to the elephants’ needs in a loving and carrying manner.

This place seemed to treat the animals fairly (oddly enough, most of the employees were Amerian or Canadian) and I just enjoyed spending time with the beautiful elephants.

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6:00 pm
Traditional Kandyan and Low Country Dances

Lake view park ground (B-)

This was one of the events that everyone recommends!

But, when the dances began, both Maureen and I thought to ourselves, “Why does everyone recommend this crap?” It is like a church hall, sort of shitty, community play.

But as the end approached us and the men began eating and even walking on fire -the experience became something worth sharing.

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8:30 pm
Saw the Palace

Kandy Palace (B)

As I went to return to our driver's car, he said, "No, come with me".
He instructed Maureen and I that we would need to see the palace and he was right, we should take a peek!

What a beautiful site to see!

Our walk towards the palace provided a sense of respect, prayer, and peace.

Thankfully we had planned to try and sneak in a temple visit today and dressed accordingly- knees and shoulders were covered.

Walking around- what used to be home to the Prince of Kandy and is now a place of worship - in your bare feet truly provided a grounding and blessed experience.

I do recommend a visit, just keep in mind, for the locals, entry is free but for tourists, the cost is just over $10 USD

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9:00 pm
Maureen needs a change from curry

Kandy (B-)

Eshan asked us about dinner and knowing that Maureen hasn’t really been eating, I asked for a non-curry option.

After eliminating curry and gluten, this appeared to be a bit foreign of a request for a Sri Lankan. Eshan was determined to help and actually found us some street food. Something of which, as a gluten-free gal, I didn’t imagine possible...even in the US. Marking this one off the bucket list!

The man (Chef) forgot the curry, or chili sauce to go with the hoppers so I ate them plain and had fruit (baby bananas and a mango to go with them). Apparently, it is common to have bananas and honey with just about everything!

I must say the fruit stall Eshan picked was lacking in choices and rather expensive, even for American money... but I later found this to be a thing - fruit was just expensive in Sri Lanka and comparable to what it would cost in the US.

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10 Nov 2017

8:00 am
Quick bite to eat

Kandy Railway Station (A)

We had to get to the train station early to ensure we got tickets and seats so we found a local quick bite to eat- sort of more expensive than what we have grown used to- but still cheap ($1.30 USD).

I must say, this was another experience, being gluten-free that I didn’t think I would ever get to experience but I ordered food from a small convenience store and it was wrapped in newspaper and handed to me.

The string hoppers are one of the many favorite dishes I have enjoyed here and this morning’s batch was paired with a vegetarian egg curry- which was mild and delicious!

So we prepped ourselves for the HIGHLY recommended 8-hour train ride. We left most of our bags with our driver and waited patiently for our train to arrive.

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9:30 am
The Epic Train Ride

Kandy Railway Station (A+)

And so it begins- the journey that is recommended by EVERYONE :)

A FULL 8- hours and I feel this is how the tourists can capture an accurate perspective on the Sri Lanka way of life.

When planning this day- we thought the train ride MIGHT be around 6 hours but quickly learned we were looking at closer to 8.

Good thing we packed food and water and that I am a pushing little rude American and managed to squeeze my way into some pretty sweet seats for Maureen and me- there was a number of individuals that had to stand for almost the full 8 hours, so I was very grateful for the spots we had.

I wish I could somehow put into words the emotions, thoughts, questions... that all arose on this train ride but I just can’t seem to find a way to gather the correct wording and feel that it depicts what was experienced.

As you drive through the different towns, you begin to pick up on those that are nearly poor, low-income factory workers and those of a bit higher profession ( which appeared to be working for the Milk Factory)

What gets me, despite working a very labor intensive job, the townspeople would eagerly stop for a moment- look up, smile and wave to the train packed full of tourists and locals alike.

I of course, couldn’t but help stick my whole top portion of my body out the window and wake back in glee. I think Maureen feared I might fall out a couple of times.

This train ride provided the opportunity to see wildlife, mainly monkeys, tea fields, tea plantations, a milk plantation (oddly enough, the only building in all of Sri Lanka that appeared to be equipped with a significant amount of security), townsmen and women, the agricultural (cloud forests), and of course- the opportunity to meet and communicate with other travelers (Myril from Denmark in particular).

The agricultural beauties and varieties are really where most of my questions stem from. Like how can one town be a forest and the next a jungle? Hydrangea bushes?!? Does that seem right?

Regardless- this is a trip I recommend to anyone traveling to/through Sri Lanka. And if you do make it, get there early, the seats fill up quickly and I would pack food but if you are unable to, they provide a wide variety of their local delicacies (some, very few are gluten-free- I did enjoy a roasted peanut of some sort).

I think I may have exceeded my threshold on photos for this trip and sadly my camera battery died early on, BUT we still made the most of it!

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4:30 pm
9 Arch Bridge

Rock View

Eh..everyone recommends this- BUT, maybe it is because we Americans are rich in bridges that I just didn’t understand the excitement in this one. But, I did see it!

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5:00 pm
King Coconut Water

Rock View (C)

My whole coconut, which was not yet ripe, tasted like water BUT it is all good- and was an experience I can now check off my bucket list.

This cost me 100 rupees or $.65 USD.

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5:30 pm
Little Adams Peak

Little Adam's Peak (A+)

AMAZING - yes I know, I’ve said it before, if you have seen one scenic overview, you have seen them all. However, that is not the case here.

Little Adam’s Peak is somehow like Yoga to me- healing to the mind, the body, and the soul. Add in the sounds of Buddhists prayer in the far distance and it is one of the most tranquil places I have ever been to.

Again, another opportunity from today that I feel any words I type out, will not pay justice to the actual experience!

I would make the suggestion for all to try and see this one! The hike can be shortened by driving up half way and then walk the remaining 10-minutes or so... it does get steep at times, so not recommended for all.

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6:30 pm
Settling into our Home and Dinner

Ella (A+)

Maureen wasn't feeling here A++ self-today- we started early, missed coffee and a proper breakfast and spent 8-hours on a train.... can’t blame the girl for wanting to call it an early evening.

We had our driver take her “home” where I quickly dropped my bags and headed out to provide her some much-needed downtime and Eshan (the driver) and I headed off to find a good local eatery.

He took me to one of his favorite places - which, I am learning they charge locals less for everything, so keep this in mind and haggle EVERYTHING, including your meal!

Anyhow, while Eshan went to park, I showed the woman my handmade gluten-Free translation card and she looked at me, smiled and said- come!

She headed towards the back of the restaurant, opened a pot lid and said, rice you can eat with coconut gravy, next pot lid quickly is removed and she notes, Dahl, is good for you. Moving along, “you like beets?” My response “YES!”, breadfruit curry- this is good for you! You like? Yes- I’m loving please fill me up!!!!!

She piled my plate full of white rice and all of the additional accomplishments and then sent me off to my outside seating (my favorite) table where I was brought a coconut gravy.

Now I am really trying to embrace eating only with my hands and I do so with most of my foods at home, but I seem to struggle with rice and she could see that. A set of silverware was brought to me to wash in the hand-washing sink located, like most, next to the guests’ tables - as a means to wash their hands prior to enjoying their meals.

I must say- traveling or home- this was my very first solo meals out and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The food was one of my favorites of the entire trip!

The breadfruit curry was outstanding as well as the coconut gravy, and well, okay, all of it was amazing,

Sadly, this joint had no name (or at least not one written in English) for me to recommend to all!

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9:00 pm
Ayurvedic Spa Time

Grand Ella Motel (A-)

With the long flights, car rides and now plane rides - my miserable hip pain that I have been fortunate enough not to experience in the past couple of years, was coming back to pester me!

So when I finished my dinner, I asked Eshan to help me find an affordable Ayurvedic Spa that was still open.

The first place we found was a rip-off and even Eshan couldn’t work a deal with them so we headed out for another option- getting later in the day- I was a bit worried most places would have already closed.

We tried one more place that appeared to be open and I was able to haggle down from 4000 lkr to 1,500lkr ( under $9.76 USD) for a one-hour full body massage.

Now for the bad news, the staff had already left and I had only an option to book for tomorrow- which I couldn't do because we needed to head south pretty early... thankfully, the owner decides to provide the service herself!

An hour later and I was feeling much better!

Heading back to our hotel, Eshan let me know that he received a call and Maureen was headed down in a tuk-tuk. I simply assumed it was because she was feeling better and wanted a nice dinner herself.

This was not the case- she was not okay with our prior accommodations and made a booking elsewhere.

We traveled together so we stick together - pulling Maureen back into our car we went back to retrieve my items before canceling and checking out her new booking.

Thankfully, the last place lets us just walk out and cancel- even after Maureen had used their showers).

Sadly, Maureen’s new find didn’t have accommodations for Eshan so back to booking.com where we found a hotel that made everyone feel more comfortable and also had a place for our driver!

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11 Nov 2017

8:00 am
Ella’s Waterfalls

Rambada Falls (A+)

We awoke early to leave for what, at the time, we had no idea would become a magical and rewarding day.

Ella is known for its majestic waterfalls and while our schedule only allotted for one- it was a site to be seen - very commanding of your energy, your presence... your attention.

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8:30 am
Breakfast

Road Side (B-)

Breakfast time! While the hotel provided breakfast, at a small additional charge, it didn’t appear too gluten-free friendly so we asked our driver to help us find the “local’” options.

However, most places had not yet opened... looks like the locals take a much later Saturday breakfast.

Maureen really won’t eat much of the local foods so we tried our best to find something as a compromise- which appeared more difficult than imagined.

We almost gave up but then agreed on this cute roadside joint and its amazing views!

I had string hoppers with a coconut curry. Some of their local red rice, Dahl, pumpkin curry and coconut sombal- it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t my favorite either.

Our driver actually paid for this meal- how sweet?!?

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10:00 am
Bought dad a present

Big Game Camp Udawalawe (A+)

On our way to the next destination, our driver pulled over for a quick check on directions and Maureen and I took it as an opportunity to take a look at the road-side stand.

At first glance, nothing was of real interest and then a bottle of honey caught my eye- this was the first we had seen honey in Sri Lanka. Which is odd, because it turns out that they add bananas and honey to pretty much everything.

Then just off to the right was COCONUT HONEY. The price seemed reasonable to us (80 rupees or $0.52 USD) so we ran back to the car to grab money- confirmed without the driver that he wasn’t ripping us off and that in fact, coconut honey was what we thought it was, honey from a coconut tree.

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10:30 am
Rice Patty Fields

Somewhere On The Way To Galle (A+)

What a sight to see! Their man-made irrigation systems are flawless!

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12:00 pm
Cinnamon Plantation

Urapola Sri Rathanajothi Temple (A+)

We had discussed going to Cinnamon Island, but I think our driver was well aware that cost was sometimes a thing to be considered on our end and instead- he drove around- pulling over often to communicate with the locals and instructed us that we had arrived but would need to walk a bit.

Hmmm- this doesn’t look like where I would board a boat to the island- but I’ll go with it.

Eshan, who informed us that his friend had a cinnamon farm, started to educate both Maureen and me as we walked through the Cinnamon tree fields.

I had just been reading the night before how it is not allowed for tourists to set foot on the actual plantains these days but all of the sudden, they were herding us through and what do you know?- our driver arranged for an up close and personal 1:1 cinnamon making tour!

OMG!

So first things first. Grow trees. Then harvest them, prune or cut the trees down, and then soak the trees.

Once soaked, you scrape off the bark and then dry them.
Then scrape some more and then stuff, roll, and cut.

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1:30 pm
Lunch time

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி (C-)

Once again, they attempted to overcharge us until our driver helped communicate a local’s deal. Fried rice for 100LKR and $1.50 USD for Maureen’s egg fried rice.

Eh- I think Maureen was okay with it but I was bored and wanted to explore some of the other offerings but for the price, under $1.00 USD, it couldn't argue too much.

I’m starting to see how the locals do this whole eating thing.

Approach the communal sink- wash hands and your own plates, utensils etc. and then load up on your carbs by eating with your hands. I’m almost decent at it, but rice without a curry is pretty difficult to eat with your hands.

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3:00 pm
Gem time!

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி (B)

Sri Lanka is known for its sapphires and apparently, if you go to the correct places- you can walk away with a great deal.

We arrived to open doors, literally and then welcomed to a quick tour on how they cut, clean, and create the jewelry onsite.

Then we moved inside to look at and become educated on all that they had to offer in terms of gems and pre-made jewelry.

In the end, Maureen had purchased a necklace that would be hand created and delivered directly to our resort. I had them create a ring for me, bring it to the resort and only after I agreed to the creation pay and enjoy it. I haggled them down to $30 USD.

Even if you have no intentions of purchasing these items- it is fun to be “pampered” for a bit.

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3:30 pm
Travel Through Galle Fort

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி (A)

The Galle Fort, or Dutch Fort as it is also known, is a fortification first built by the Portugese on the Southwestern coast of Sri Lanka. The initial fortifications, which were built in the late 16th century, were quite basic. However the fort underwent extensive modifications in the 17th century by the Dutch, making it one of the most important archeological, architectural and historic monuments to illutrate the European influence in South East Asia between the 16th and 19th centuries. According to a statement by UNESCO the site was recognized as a World Heritage Site for its unique exposition of an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries which is the criteterion number four for such recognition.

If you have time, I do recommend checking it out- the water is gorgeous and the view is breathtaking.

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5:00 pm
Checking into our apartment for the night

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி

We lucked out and at $18.00 USD, we had landed ourselves an apartment with breakfast included.

It was actually a small apartment and when not rented, the owner would use as a hostel. It was beautiful, clean and came along with the morning singing bread truck and Buddhist prayers.

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5:30 pm
Saying good bye to Eshan

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி (A)

Eshan was a great driver who really took care of us- he really truly made our trip what it was and full of many wonderful once in a lifetime experience. We would have never been able to see all the sights we did without his help and of course, he stopped the locals from ripping us off and educated us on the Sri Lankan way of life.

So knowing that his free time consisted of drinking and smoking- we got a bottle of the famous Sri Lankan Coconut Arrack to say goodbye to our driver.

Personally, I was not a fan - BUT everyone else seemed to enjoy it.

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10:00 pm
Searching for dinner...

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி (A-)

Not too much luck here- it was suggested we take a short walk and we would come across and a mixture of western and local favorites- but again, Maureen was not having it. She was missing her typical western meals. She had noted that if we found hoppers with eggs or fried rice, she would be happy and I found both, BUT she didn't have much interest in them.

I went with some of the local fruits- baby bananas, pineapple and papaya- and then made mauree and I a coconut rice dish for our home cooked meal.

Oh and check it out, the papaya did NOT have seeds inside?!?!

The fruit cost me $1.50 USD

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12 Nov 2017

6:30 am
Waking up pretty early this morning

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி

Not that I have been getting a ton of sleep on this trip but just as I was settling into a deep sleep the gorgeous yet maybe a tad too early— Buddhist monks started praying- guess who is up now?!

Oh and wait for it- the singing bread truck came around bright and early as well. He comes around twice daily, morning and evening and when we try and let the locals know that in America, the only truck that sings is an ice cream truck, they laugh at you.

8:30 am
Breakfast at our Villa

Galle | ගාල්ල | காலி (A+)

The lovely host made us a mix of western and local cuisine and it was amazing!

We had milk rice, little bananas, papaya, honey and tea!

Then, following breakfast, we got the opportunity to speak with and learn about our host and her family. Her husband, formally a tourist guide, recently passed from what we gather to be a brain disease. She has two daughters- the oldest is studying neurological medicine in Washington state (only made possible by scholarship) and her second daughter, here in Sri Lanka, is studying engineering.

In addition, she helped educate us on Maureen’s favorite flower- the red anthurium.

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11:00 am
Ayurvedic Garden

Summer Garden (A)

Since drivers around here make a commission off bringing in tourists to spend money- our tuk-tuk driver was more than happy to stop at a couple places on the way back to our resort.

First, we stopped at the spice / outdoor food market. Then off to our second Ayurvedic Spice Garden - which provided a free 15-minute massage and what is now a weird hair removal patch. So... yes your lotion that you rubbed my hair does safely and very effectively remove hair....but now I look a bit odd and uneven.

Oh and this was my first tuk-tuk drive of the trip!!!

Random notes:
White pineapple powder and juice help clean out your system

Varicose veins- a warm towel with black pepper oil and herbal balm and apply down up the process.

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11:30 am
Turtle Hatchery

Turtle Sanctuary

The Turtle Hatchery is the one places I thought Maureen would truly appreciate here in Sri Lanka.

They had a number of turtles laying eggs and a number of rescued turtles that needed special care at this time - i.e shell damage due to a boat or missing limbs.

It was a gift to be able to step back and watch Maureen in her “natural” place.

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12:00 pm
Arrived at Sion Surf Camp

Sion Surf Camp (A+)

We made it! After a week on our own and many many hours in transit via many different methods of transportation, we had officially arrived at our final destination - Sion Surf Camp.

While we waited for the remainder of the group:
Gina, Anna Marie, Nate, Stacey, Kelly, myself and Maureen - I took the opportunity to sit, relax and soak up the sun!

I also indulged in the Today's Special Vegan (made with coconut milk) smoothie.

The resort group had finally all arrived and was ready for a quick yoga session!

All seven of us (including Gina) were blessed to practice yoga on an enclosed rooftop deck which provided for the perfect sunset view!

After yoga, we still had a bit of time until dinner. This gave Kelly and Stacey time to rest. Maureen time to move out of our room and into her own private air-conditioned room and Anna Marie, Nate, Gina and I time to sit and drool over what smells had emerged from the kitchen in anticipation for our very late dinner!

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7:30 pm
Dinner Time

Sion Surf Camp (A-)

7:30 pm and dinner is served!

All retreat members (there was also an all women’s group and a couple additional guests) share a family-style meal that is a western-focus and dominantly western gone bad.

The locals here really don’t do western well - but local cuisine is an excellent treat.

Since the main option was not gluten-free friendly, I was served my very own spread and let me tell you- I felt spoiled and very loved. Food is clearly the way to my heart!

I was served rice, green bean curry, Dahl, and for first time on this trip a salad, and eggplant curry- which was out of this world!!

I had preferred some of the prior green bean curries and Dahl that I had while traveling Sri Lanka - not that this was bad- just not the favorite from my travels but their eggplant curry was out of this world!

I had to have had 3, maybe 4 servings before passing it off to the table for sharing.

Since it gets very dark early here (around 6 pm), there isn’t much to do in the evenings so most retire to bed early.

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13 Nov 2017

6:00 am
The Singing Bread Truck

Sion Surf Camp

I have spoken about Sri Lanka's singing bread truck a coup of times, but today, today I sort of wanted to kill the singing bread truck.

I think if I would have chosen to sleep on the road- I would have a greater chance for a restful sleep and just as I was blocking out all the traffic and dog barking- settling in for a quick nap... boom that darn singing bread trucks comes a rolling around- who knew Sri Lanka was so big on their bread?!?!? This truck comes around at a minimum of twice a day (more for heavily populated areas).

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7:30 am
Breakfast on the beach

sionsurfcamp (A)

Shredded coconut and red rice, fruit salad, and local honey!

This was one of my all-time favorite breakfasts at Sion! Most other mornings, I was missing a carb for my gluten-free option but this rice and freshly shredded coconut were just what I needed and something so simple, yet, I had never considered creating it myself before. This was the Sri Lankan version of muesli.

The fruits typically were bananas, papaya, pineapple and only the lucky days, mangos!

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9:00 am
Reiki Time

sionsurfcamp

Anne Marie was in a bit of pain from her travels so I offered to provide Reiki to her. Upon initial review, I realized she needed a more hands-on approach- so we hung out and tried to help release some of her back pain.

All while the Sion pups watch/chilled with us on the beach.

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1:00 pm
Animal SOS Sri Lanka Dog and Cat Shelter

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

This was very difficult on many many levels!

They have over 600 dogs and never enough time to provide them all with the love and attention they deserve!

Some dogs are disabled. Some dogs are just in need of a home. Either way, this was emotionally very hard for me.

The past couple of years I had dealt with (and overcome many) anxieties but one of the anxieties I struggled with was an over-compulsion for cleanliness and being around 600+ dogs really had my anxiety sky-rocketing.

That and the recent adoption of my Lutana, an abused pup herself, I really found it emotionally draining to see how poorly people treat animals and then to watch Flo and Maze (the main employees for Animal SOS) give up any financial freedom to live and eat with these animals to ensure that they receive a proper chance in life, well, it is just amazing to me! It humbles me and makes me want to be a bit less selfish than I am today.

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1:30 pm
Lunch at the Animal SOS Shelter

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A)

If you volunteer for a minimum of a 1/2 day, you eat dinner with the staff!

I have to say, there Dahl was amazing! A refreshing carrot salad and this vegan soy meat which had a nice kick to it and lunch was definitely a success! Plus I really liked my plate! :)

I offered to do dishes after our meal. It was the least I could do...

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3:30 pm
Surf Lesson Time

Kumbalgama Railway Station (B)

This being my very first lesson and one of the few times I’ve been in the ocean since- well since way back when we used to head to Myrtle Beach, S.C as kids every Easter to spend time with my grandparents.

During our land lesson, it began to rain. The raindrops being a bit on the freezing side and unwelcomed- made it difficult to hear the instructor and difficult to want to participate- but I’m in freaking Sri Lanka and I am taking this opportunity to learn surfing!

After a quick lesson on land- we were off into the water!

Thankfully the water is much warmer than the rain droplets on land!

I got out there- laid on my board and was ready to rock and roll.

First wave and I was almost fully up- now I’m determined to go back, try again, and get up!

After a couple heavy wave hits- all of my last year’s injuries started - in a sense - to scold me.

Our instructor, Ralph ( a “Live. Eat. Breath surfing for 30+ Years kind of a guy - actually started as a hair stylist in London) convinced me to give it “one more go” and I’m so happy he did because this time I got up on my board. It was awesome - but I need to honor my body and slow down. I made my way to land and had some time to get to know some of the addition Sion Surf Camp guests that were also out for a surf lesson.

“If at first, you don’t succeed, try try try again!”

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5:00 pm
Competitiveness...

Midigama (A)

Okay so we are all humans and we all enjoy a bit of competition- right?

Well I spoke with Ollie, one of the best Sion Employees (he is really the one who helped ensure all of my meals were gluten-free and vegan) and scored the “Gina Team” some Sion Surf Camp stickers at a price - we now started a competition for, who can take the most creative photo with Sion’s sticker - and whoever does will be announced as the glory winner at Friday's bonfire and receive a bottle of their local coconut liquor- Arrack.

Okay Ollie, challenge accepted!

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6:00 pm
Restorative Yoga on the Beach

Midigama (A+)

Gina provided us a much needed restorative yoga class facing the ocean waves and the Sri Lanka sunset, which again, mind you, this happens very early here (6 pm) - which is a bit confusing to the body and mind!

The practice was cut a bit short on the account of rain!

And I think the bugs ate me up just a tad, but it was still an enjoyable practice.

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7:30 pm
Dinner!

Midigama (A+)

One of the favorite things on this trip- eating!!!!!

After speaking with the owner, informing, in a subtle manner, that our group says, get rid of the western foods and bring in the local delicacies- tonight's dinner’s menu was now Sri Lankan local cuisine for all!

This was one of my favorite meals to date!

Rice, bitter gourd salad, green bean curry, malanga(?) curry, eggplant curry ( rather different than the night before and even more amazing) and Dahl, which tonight’s was creamy and full of the Sri Lankan flavors I was missing in the previous night's version!

So freaking good! I think I had three full plates!

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8:30 pm
Evening Fun Time

Midigama (A)

It just so happened to be Angie’s, the owner of Sion's, Birthday!!!

As Americans, we have a need to celebrate.

A couple of us took a quick walk, found a chocolate and pistachio and dried fruit ice cream and headed back in search of a birthday candle! Ollie, once again, a huge help, found us a candle and helped get the celebrations moving.

With the early darkness, we did manage to get some cards against humanity it before retiring pretty early in the evening.

14 Nov 2017

7:30 am
Breakfast time

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

Delicious hoppers and a spicy spread. Even though I had read that hoppers are more of a lunch and dinner specialty - Sion Surf Camp provided us a treat for breakfast!

I loaded mine with a spicy Sri Lanka’s pounded onion and chili sauce known as lunu miris and then had fresh Sri Lankan fruits on the side. Which okay, my dosha type would be screaming, "NO, don't combine fresh fruits with anything and don't overdo it on the spicy!" BUT I couldn't help myself.

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9:00 am
My ring arrived.

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A)

Earlier in the week, Maureen and I ordered some nice pieces to be specially made. I was mean and actually made the company create the ring I wanted first, and then I would have the opportunity to review before committing to it.

Moonstone for October and the teardrop for Sri Lanka

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9:30 am
Yoga on the beach

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

First class on the beach for this trip and first ever beach yoga class for me. The experience was rewarding, opening, challenging... and peaceful.

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10:00 am
Puppies on the beach

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

The disabled pups get some beach love.

The animal SOS rescue brought their puppies down to the beach for some fun in the sun, or what they refer to as hydrotherapy.

Harnesses where attached to those missing limbs so that they might have the opportunity to run in the sand.

Life jackets where brought so that all (who wanted) could experience the beach hydrotherapy.

It was a very rewarding experience.

I really enjoyed capturing some of the beauty and love of these pups as much as I enjoyed cuddling and helping these pups get into the ocean.

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10:30 am
First Sri Lanka Bus Ride

Kumbalgama Railway Station (C)

Killer bus - literally, the drivers from hell.

The bus pulls over, almost running you over, to not come to a complete stop and you run as you hop in.

Then if they stop at your stop, you dive out of a moving bus.

It was... an experience.

There was a number of times when they wouldn't stop where we wanted to and we would end up walking further than if we hadn't taken the bus.

Some of the buses are fully decorated, disco-lights, TVs, buddhas, etc.

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1:30 pm
Lunch

Kumbalgama Railway Station (B-)

Ollie helped prepare a Nicole-Friendly dish for me after everyone else had enjoyed a meal out at a place called Mamas. For me, I was a bit nervous to eat here since every dish contained gluten of some sort or another.

It was vegetable fried rice (minus soy sauce) with pineapple and a little added spicy. I was a bit bored with this one, but it was food and I was hungry!

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3:00 pm
Had a day of chill

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

Really- nothing happened but maybe 4 pots of tea ordered and shared with the lovely Anne Marie.

It was nice to just hang near the beach- taking in the sound of the waves, smell of the sea salt, and the cool breeze!

It had been too long since I took a nothing day and it was much deserved.

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7:30 pm
Dinner

Kumbalgama Railway Station (B)

On tonight's menu: vegetable and egg biryani, pineapple salad, rice flour pancakes with some type of hummus-like spicy spread, Ulundhu Vadai, vegetable pakora, potato curry and cucumber raja.

Not my favorite meal and I think I actually had a reaction to this one or the lunch- but it was still pretty tasty.

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9:00 pm
A night to play games and hang

Garton's Cape (A)

Cards against humanity and some Sri Lanka Arrack (coconut alcohol).

15 Nov 2017

7:00 am
Breakfast

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

I was not feeling my best - so I actually stocked up on the fresh fruit, tried some coffee with coconut milk (which, because they were out of real coconuts was made from a powdered milk substance), and made a lime papaya seed tea.

The only thing missing was some good gluten-free carbs. I asked Ollie if tomorrow might bring me some gluten-free carbs! I mean, a gal is on vacation and has the entitlement to ask for what she wishes, right?

I was hopeful that the fresh fruits would help calm the sunburn I managed to get from 30-minutes in the sun with two suntan lotion applications. Man, the sun out here is brutal! Good thing my roommate for the week had packed some Witch Hazel with Rose essential Oils!

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10:00 am
2nd Day at the Animal SOS Shelter

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A+)

Today we head back to the dog shelter to show some affection to some of the disabled (giving them some donated dog treats) and help bathe the disabled and some of the puppies!

Still really not feeling well and recovering from my sunburn, I laid low - cuddled with a couple dog friends in their compound and then helped take photos during bath time. It was a life-changing experience to watch all of the volunteers interact with the dogs!

I actually recall there being one dog, Sirruby (?) who was recovering from a skin disease, leaving her bald and filled with scabs. Normally, when volunteers come to bathe her, they are certain to wear gloves - not because it is contagious, but because it is mentally hard for humans to digest sometimes.

Anne Marie on the other hand, said, no to the gloves and was able to provide some much needed skin-to-skin contact that Sirruby was in need of. She was one of the more beautiful dogs at the shelter and will forever be remembered, in my mind, as the "ugly duckling".

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2:00 pm
Lunch

Kumbalgama Railway Station (A-)

Normally, after you volunteer at the Animal SOS Shelter for a 1/2 day or more, you join the team for their lunch - but today's lunch was not very filling or Nicole-Friendly.

Once back at Sion Surf Camp, we all swarmed the bar like starving beasts! Again, the lunch menu here is heavily western-focuses and not very Nicole-friendly and my go-to Ollie was enjoying mowing the grass. I did find the owner and she was extremely helpful in placing a lunch order for me- BUT it never came so we had to reorder it and the chef came out personally to make sure I enjoyed it!

My meal today was, rice, cucumbers, tomatoes, balsamic salad, okra and a beet curry (with a nice spice to it). This meal was would rank as of my favorites and the rest of my team was envious!

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2:30 pm
Maureen Departed Us

Maureen needed to do what was best for her and going home early was exactly that and honestly, I’m so proud of her that she came out and I hope she is not only proud of herself but that she enjoyed her time here!

I could see that some parts of the trip were more difficult for her than others and I could also see Maureen in her element when volunteering at the Animal SOS Shelter.

I have known Maureen for just over a year now and I can honestly say, I had never seen her so comforted than I did when she was engaging with the disabled dogs. She was able to bring them some affection and love and in return, she too felt loved and whole.

I hope that one day, Maureen will have the opportunity to feel this love and affection on a daily basis and know that she is, in fact, worth that love!

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4:30 pm
Yoga time

Garton's Cape (A)

Yoga on the rooftop pavilion was beyond welcomed since I missed this morning’s early class due to the stomach issues.

Prior to this retreat, I hadn't had the honor of taking Gina's class for almost a good 6-months and it is inspiring to see how much she has grown as a person, as a yogi, and as a leader.

Her teaching style is unique compared to most. Every class is begun with the question "what do you need?" and all students are welcome to share what it is that they need at this present moment - be it emotional, physical or spiritual. The class is then created on the fly (how many yoga teachers do you know that can successfully pull this off) based on everyone's' needs.

While Gina is a hands-off teacher and I do tend to miss some of the physical adjustments, they are typically not needed in the alignment aspect, as her queues guide you to where you need to be, I just tend to miss the hands-on adjustments for the human connection that I enjoy during yoga.

6:30 pm
Ayurvedic Cooking Class

Midigama (A+)

Another dream come true on this magical adventure!

I started the week with the team asking if anyone would be interested in a cooking class and by surprise, everyone else seemed to share my excitement. And since Sion Surf Camp doesn't serve dinner on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, we figured a Wednesday evening cooking class would make perfect sense.

As recommended by Sion's yoga instructor, we found and booked with Chef Welle.

Our adventure began with the Sri Lankan bus system, a bit of a walk in the dark (mind you, it is pitch black around 6:00 pm) and finally locating Chef Welle's home/homestay/cooking classes.

Upon arrival, how do I begin to explain the inner child that was peaking out and jumping for freaking joy inside of me? I was trying my best to contain this inner-chile, as I didn't want to embarrass myself with the team - BUT REALLY, I AM LEARNING AYURVEDIC COOKING IN A SRI LANKAN GRANDMA'S KITCHEN!? HOLY SHIT this is a dream beyond a dream come!

Chef Welle cooks in his grandma's kitchen, is a published author, fisherman, owns a homestay, makes and sells his own spices and homemade-coconut oil, oh and makes awesome lights out of fisherman equipment. Basically, I aspire to be somewhat of a small percentage of this man!

As we begin our cooking lesson we notice the baskets of ingredients on the kitchen floor and almost question if he will be able to make enough food for the group with so little.

We begin with the pumpkin curry. Using Walle's homemade curry powder and only the freshest ingredients.

We watch as he cracks open a coconut and then scrapes out the meat! Then using this fresh coconut meat to make milk (three cups water to the whole coconut's meat) which will be used in most of our night's menu.

I watch in awe, trying to remember everything Chef Walle is saying so that I may go home and "try" to duplicate myself - and I sit in amazement that I found someone else who cooks with little to no oil! There wasn't one thing the Chef was cooking with that I wouldn't use at home. Is this a first, I found a 100% Nicole-Friendly option!?

Moving on to the “jungle” mushroom dish- I had never had a jungle mushroom prior, but they almost appear and feel like noodles when cooked!

Next on the menu was a refreshing coconut cucumber salad- very simple, basically cucumbers, tomato, lime juice and freshly grated coconut. This was one of my favorites from the evening.

Lastly, a quick tuna dish was created for our non-veg folks.

Oh and not to forget, one of my favorite Sri Lankan delicacies, the red rice. Chef had previously cooked the red rice due to the length of time it takes to cook.

Then, as a group, we sat and enjoyed our made with love meal!

Just as our group was finishing stuffing our faces, chef brings out dessert. A coconut milk, coconut meat, sweet potatoes and bananas, raisins and honey!

Amazing! I wish I would have saved more room for this dessert!

Random notes I took during class
Pumpkin skin = yes!!!
Red onion is no sugar, white onion is high in sugar...
Curry leaves clean blood
Black is better than yellow seeds
Ulaha- spice to help with joints.
Coconut water will become vinegar if you let it set.
Red rice is without sugar and white rice = sugar
Honey with black pepper good for brain

What Chef Walle eats in a typical day:
Breakfast: Vegan pancakes or sweet potato cookies.
Lunh: Salad bowls
Dinner: Curry of some sort.

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16 Nov 2017

8:30 am
Breakfast

Midigama (A+)

Thank you Ollie- I know you put the recommendations in and this morning I was blessed with one of my favorites- Fresh fruit and rice with coconut.
I also tried my tea with honey and black pepper this morning, as suggested by our Ayurvedic cook last night.

Ollie also brought out coconut sambol for us to try.

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9:30 am
Yoga on the Rooftop Deck

Garton's Cape (A+)

What an amazing way to flow - that is with the feel of the wind and the sound of the waves! If you can truly embrace the present moment and clear your mind of all other distractions, it is a freeing and clarifying experience.

I actually recall a moment where I wasn't sure if I was even listening to Gina's guidance or doing my own thing - I was so in the moment.

12:30 pm
Off for a Little Adventure.

Midigama (A+)

We wanted to return to Shawn’s to grab some of his homemade spices and another cup of his freshly ground tea.

He greeted us, provided a cup of tea, assembled his fresh tea and provided us presents - bananas and his handmade coconut spoons.

Adorable! I love when people are truly traditional and welcome people to their homes with their own historical methods of greeting.

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1:30 pm
The Adventures of Tourism

Midigama (C)

I am not sure that we understand how the bus systems of Sri Lanka work- OR the bus drivers like to play games with tourist. Either way, we got a bit frustrated when the bus drivers would tell us that we should enter and that they will stop at our requested destination and then refuse to stop - and yes, we were pushing the button on the ceiling to request a stop.

Oh well- adventures to always remember, right?

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2:00 pm
Late Lunch

Midigama (A)

After a number of buses and tuk-tuk ride that we need to acquire to return home, the chef at Sion Surf Camp made me my own personal gluten-free and vegan meal.

Today's lunch was: carrot sambal, carrot curry, pumpkin curry, salad, a deviled onion salad, and red rice (which contains less sugar than white rice).

As always, delicious.

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3:00 pm
Some Much Needed "Me" Time.

Midigama (A+)

After our day's journey, I had the opportunity to just hang out at the Surf Camp and enjoy some chill time in the hammock!

I was so proud of myself. Even just 6 months ago, I would have never allowed myself this time. I may have sat in the hammock, but my mind would have been racing with lies - "your lazy" "your not worthy of this downtime" "you have too much to do right now to just sit here".

I have grown so much in the past year, that I can now sit here in this hammock and allow myself peace and silence and rejuvenate during this downtime.

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8:30 pm
Dinner Time

Hotel Lace Rock Beach Cabanas (A+)

This was one of my favorite meals in Sri Lanka.

The menu included: Basmati rice. Dahl. Okra Curry. Coconut Salad. Beet Curry. Pumpkin Curry. Salad.

Oh and did I mention, the power was out at Sion Surf Camp...again.

Honestly, though, I actually enjoyed that the power was out and that we sat together, under candlelight to enjoy a communal meal together.

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9:00 pm
Just Hanging Out After Dinner

Garton's Cape (A)

This evening almost everyone dropped like flies and went to their rooms around 8:30 pm - I just can’t eat three full plates of Sri Lankan food and then head to bed- it just not possible. Nor is it possible to put this amazing food in front of me and expect me to eat light so that I might go to bed early...nope, not happening.

A couple of us did stay in the bar area and just hung out for a couple hours- nothing fancy, we actually called it a night around 11:00 pm.

17 Nov 2017

8:00 am
Breakfast

Kumbalgama Railway Station (B-)

This morning I awoke to a cup of Ceylon tea and thanks to our Ayurvedic cooking class, I knew to add both fresh honey and black pepper to increase brain functionality.

Then the fabulous kitchen staff brought out a fruit salad, which contained bits of avocado in it. I had not combined fruit and avocado prior but I liked it! Ollie then brought out some freshly grated coconut for me to sprinkle on my fruit salad.

Then this morning’s special was brought out and I have ensured it was Nicole-Safe. It’s called Halapa. It’s a traditional Sri Lanka sweet made from ragi flour, coconut, honey and wrapped in a banana or a kanda leaf. These babies are pretty awesome- definitely sweet but oh so addicting.

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9:30 am
We will win the competition #Stickit2Sion

Garton's Cape (A)

We started it and we will win it!

It is the competitive American way in me. And after having had a couple days to conjure up some pretty fabulous ideas, again, the American way of thinking erupted - “sex sells” and the girls voted we do a boob Sion Surf sticker submission.

Having already offended a couple of the locals this week with my weight, I thought it would be best if I sat this one out. Although, I was damn proud of myself because the decision was solely made on the basis that I did not want to offend anyone rather than feeling uncomfortable in my own body. BUT- to ensure I still maintained a part in this submission, I was more than happy to be the photographer and do a little photo editing.

Within no time, the submission was submitted and we knew we had the win “in the bag” at this point.

We shared our entry with the staff of Sion Surf and we were soaring in confidence!

Those boys though, you could see ideas brewing in their heads. And of course they would try and compete- but again, the American way will prevail, “sex sells and female sex sells more so than male sex”.

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1:00 pm
Lunch Time

Hotel Lace Rock Beach Cabanas (A-)

I am coming to a good place in my life, understanding my limits, what I enjoy, and what I might need in the present moment- I decided to pass on volunteering at Animal SOS Shelter today.

Instead, I went back to my room. I took a short nap. Got dressed for the day. Did a private mini yoga session. Headed back to Sion Surf Camp to touch base with the rest of the team on if they would be joining me for lunch or eating at the shelter.

As I entered the gates back at Sion, I noticed the gardener skip back to the kitchen- it turns out, he was kindly informing the chef that I had arrived and was likely ready for a gluten-free and vegan lunch.

Within moments, the chef came out to personally check in with me and I will never turn down food, so I was ready and excited to see what today’s meal was.

Today I was brought out a plate of rice, deviled beets, jackfruit curry and a side salad.

I am really loving their many takes on beets!

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2:30 pm
Coconut

Shaka Sign Surf Camps (B-)

The day was a hot one and I was feeling dehydrated- figuring a coconut would be very nourishing, and since Sion had just received a fresh delivery of King Coconuts, I ordered myself one. Especially since the camp’s power was out once again and ordering a vegan smoothie just wasn’t going to happen.

I am beginning to think I have bad luck with the coconuts. Today’s coconut finally had some flavor- but was still not what it should be. Once I drank all of the fresh water, I asked the staff to open the coconut so I could devour the meat- and its meat was no good. Boo!

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3:30 pm
Surf time for the group and beach time for me

Shaka Sign Surf Camps (A)

I don’t think my body is currently ready for surfing so I figured I would join the group but enjoy some beach time :)

To be honest, I am not sure that surfing is really my thing. I'd rather not get my head slammed by waves, thank you very much!

I opted for some beach time, sure to apply a lot of sunscreen and stay covered with light clothes. I watched some of the local fishermen come back to land and caught a nice chat or two with the other teammates that would come out for a couple minutes break before heading back out to the water.

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8:30 pm
Dinner BBQ on the Beach

Midigama (A-)

Omg and drink specials - I ate too much!

Happy hour was buy 1, get 1. SO........ I mean, "when in Rome..."

The Beach BBQ consisted of the below "Nicole-Friendly" options:

Vegetable rice
Vegetable tempuras (kohila)
Fried plantains and onions
Lotus (?) salad
Dressings
Corn on the cob - the corn here did fine with my digestive system.
White sweet potato
Vegetable skewers that included jackfruit

I have to say, this was a good meal, but not in the running for my favorite during this trip - which saddened me, as it was my final dinner at Sion Surf Camp. All the good food memories!

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9:30 pm
All the Glory...

Garton's Cape (A)

The winner was announced for Sion’s #Stickit2winit competition and let’s be honest, we started the competition and we knew we would have to win it!!!

And... we did!

The guys did give us a run for our money but just couldn’t cut it- "boobs over balls" became the jingle of the evening.

After dinner, live music was played, a fire was a blazing (literally almost impossible to sit next to as the heat generated far too much for me) and drinks were.... well drunk.

It was a good time and I had enjoyed watching everyone letting loose and living in the moment.

I was able to check off another a bucket list item - bonfire on the beach!

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18 Nov 2017

8:00 am
Our Last Sri Lanka Breakfast

Sion Surf Camp (B-)

After a night of partying for the group - my roommate snored all night and the girls next door, they invited one of the “wild” dogs to join them for a good nights rest and used a frisbee to provided water for the other who remained outside.

Their hearts are truly filled with gold and I am sure having spent time at the S.O.S Animal Shelter even more so expanded their “parental-sense” for these dogs. I am humbled to call them friends.

I headed off for breakfast and figured I would likely be solo- BUT found a couple strays made their way over - some still a little drunk - some, the hangover was starting to set in.

As I sit here for my last morning at Sion Surf Camp, I think to myself, "Man, am I going to miss having tea and breakfast made for me"- it’s a rare treat for me and the Sion Surf team did an excellent job accommodating.

The "Nicole-Safe" food was an amazing and unexpected benefit to this trip- I couldn't help but sit there a bit somber. I’ve gotten to know most of our group fairly well and I have grown very fond of having friends and someone to eat each meal with. Back at home, I currently eat by myself, and usually while watching tv or researching articles- instead of sitting and enjoying my meal and perhaps another’s company.

Reflecting back, one of my Sion Surf Camp's favorite breakfasts was the red rice and coconut with fresh island fruits!

Today's breakfast menu "Nicole-Friendly" items brought us string hoppers, Dahl, spicy coconut sambol and fresh fruit.

I think I ate a bit too much with the thought in mind, "This is it, this is my last Sri Lankan breakfast, take in as much as you can!"

But I did enjoy another cup of Ceylon tea, local honey, and black pepper (I've got to increase my brain functionality".

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10:30 am
Last Opportunity for a Slow Day

Sion Surf Camp (A+)

I was blessed with a number of adventures this trip - honestly, I accomplished more on the wish-list than I thought even possible. Again, many thanks to those that help make it happen!

This morning no one was feeling their 100% after the long night / early morning and we found ourselves just sitting near Sion's beach- taking in the last sight- of the deep blue ocean. I am not a typical beach gal, but I have to admit, sitting here feeling the waves through my hair, the sun wrapping my soul, the sound of waves crashing and the sheer beauty of the local surfers dancing the waves - was tranquil. It stole my soul and placed me in a very peaceful state of mind.

On our way back to our rooms this particular morning, the tree monkeys were a bit rambunctious! I started to recall the advice the rest of the group provided - "Monkeys like food and shiny things and they will attack them." SO..... since I was walking solo, had bananas stashed in my bag and a shiny cell phone in my hands, I darted through the land of monkeys very quickly!

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12:30 pm
Lunch Time

Midigama (A-)

I'm not sure what the cause was, I just know I was not feeling well. Which I often do not feel well and still make sure I eat. The Sion chef was happy to create one final lunch for me - I have to say, I’m not 100% certain what I was eating- it was good, I was just unfamiliar with it - which was the first of all dishes I wasn't able to figure out.

I struggled to finish lunch only because my stomach was really not loving me- but I managed to get most down.

I had two salads- one with and one without dressing. Dahl. Rice and two other vegetable curries (not sure?).

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1:00 pm
Off to the Airport We Go

I arranged with Maureen’s and my prior driver to pick us up for a discounted rate of 7,000 rupees and no tolls- other drivers charge double and you are responsible for all tolls.

Our driver was unavailable but he sent his friend in a fancy van.

He arrived early BUT the Sri Lankan Buses! We had gotten on one that once again, would not let us off- thus running very late to meet our driver but it all worked out!

We said our goodbyes to the team and off we were.

I fell asleep for most of the drive and then work up abruptly and BOOM I was tossing my cookies!

It was a good thing I had gotten my dinner to go and had a bag available!

Our driver was awesome and just kept asking if I was okay. Stacey and Kelly helped me through it all- even carrying my luggage at the airport and getting me checked in. Prayers and thanks go out to them!

6:30 pm
Back To Our Rooms For A Final Nap

Little Fish (A+)

Most of us returned to our rooms to take the time to pack up and take a short nap.

We awoke to our last communal 30-minute yoga class and then off to Sion to meet with Emma (our adopted UK team member, soon moving to Italy) and we once again hopped on the crazy disco-themed Sri Lankan buses.

Our group felt comfortable enough to do so with Gina along with us since our recent bus experiences have been anything but smooth. Yes, I would chalk them up to an adventure- but smooth was not happening for us and we needed to get to dinner and back in a timely manner.

We made it to Mirissa (the most touristy spot I had visited thus far) and known for their whale watching. In our quick walking around, I would say, I found some cool places I would have liked to visit, but again, back to a very touristy area - which is what I try to avoid when visiting new areas.

Those in our group that needed the ATM ran over real quick before we found our way to the recommended Little Tuna restaurant. (Special thanks to Jess, the yoga instructor at Sion Surf Camp for the recommendation).

What an adorable place! All seven of us ordered a massive amount of food and drinks for under 100 USD! Impossible in the US!

I ordered a pineapple, ginger and a mint smoothie (since they were out of coconut) and the beet roll minus the egg and mayo and added an avocado.

Sadly, I was feeling very ill and wasn’t able to enjoy this dish as much as I had hoped for. I look forward to returning soon because the few bites I did manage to get in where amazing!

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19 Nov 2017

2:30 am
En Route and Sick As A Dog

There really is no worse feeling than being sick while away from home, especially when sitting in a cold airport for hours, knowing you will be boarding a moving plane for an additional 13+ hours!!

But thanks to a number of individuals, I made it and gladly slept on the flight for most of the ride.

I was sure to keep ordering orange juice and water to try and rehydrate myself and found myself thanking the lord that Maureen (reminder, left early) and I had previously arranged for seats together and near the bathroom. This allowed extra space for me to lay and the proximity to the bathroom was awesome!!!

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5:00 am
They Awoke Me for Food

I really couldn’t bring myself to eat much but I did nibble on a couple vegetables and fruit.

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10:30 am
Back to Sleep & Time to Eat Again

Sri Lankan Airlines is awesome at trying to help their passengers adapt to time-changes. They woke me for a hot towel and a warm breakfast... since Maureen was not flying with me- I was able to pick and choose some additional items from her tray- yay for more fruit.

I was beginning to feel a bit better and thought I would try some food.

I ate some of the potatoes and mushrooms, two pieces of pineapple, the orange juice and the cardboard-like bread. Not my favorite in-flight meal but not the worst either.

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2:00 pm
The Initial Flight was Delayed

My first flight of the trip was delayed, which then caused a miss in connecting flights, which, the airline already anticipated such and changed our flights without notification.

As I entered the London airport, still feeling very ill and fatigued, I was detained by security - likely due to my illness.

I finally made it through security and was trying to figure out a flight that would get me home,

I walked for about 20 minutes to where the cranky women told me to and I find out this was very wrong and I would need to go back my 20-minutes get a train, take a shuttle and then go through security again (get detained, again!) then walk another 15 minutes!

I was feeling a little stressed, a bit annoyed, and exhausted!

Oh, and I was told they would no longer be able to accommodate a gluten-free meal. Question, if you anticipated that we would need to change flights so you reroute us, why wouldn't you also reroute our meals?! British Airways, oh how I do not love you right now!

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3:30 pm
First Class Made Me Lunch

As I entered the plane, knowing I am still not well but would need to eat, I asked the flight attendant if they would have anything they could muster up for a gluten-free dish.

The flight attendants where awesome! They did everything in their power to help! They had the first class chef whip up a meal for me. While I do not eat cheese or fish - when the first class chef goes out of his way to provide you with a good gluten-free meal and the cheese is real Parmesan- you eat it all!!!

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