Co-working In Sri Lanka
I hate the Winter. I can't bear it. It's endless. It's grey, it's low hanging and it's kind of suffocating. I love Ireland. When it's not grey and low hanging, it's green and lush with mishty rain and gentle breezes that smell like the ocean and tingle your cheeks. I'm able to love Ireland for only a portion of the year because when it's cold, it's HELL and I turn evil. Now maybe it's because I spent almost 12 years living in London's Brixton and some of the West Indian vibes rubbed off on me or maybe I'm just a bad Celt but I can't do the cold to the point that it makes me angry inside and the only way I can deal with that is by binge eating donuts which doesn't work on a lot of different levels, mainly the waistline level.
With all that in mind I've made an executive decision to evacuate for Jan and hopefully Feb every year to somewhere warm and sandy and I think that place might just have to be Sri Lanka. This year I decided to make my exodus to a country whose name is through to be derived from the Tamil word "ilanku" (இலங்கு), which means "to shine" or "to glitter". Well I can safely say this place shines and there's a whole lotta gold going on.
In September of last year I returned to London to sell my flat and pitched two clients while I was there, both of whom I won so it meant I was on insane deadlines that took me right up to Christmas. I was feeling pretty spent so about 3 weeks before we were due to leave myself and my friend Sara decided to book Sri Lanka. Word of advice - DO NOT book your trip this close to travel. THAT'S SOMETHING REALLY STUPID DISORGANISED PEOPLE DO - and yes I am both of them on occasion. Our flights cost us an eye watering €1200 as this is peak season for Sri Sri. It's a big destination for New Years.
I won't go into the whole itinerary of our trip as this isn't a travel post and I'd bore myself as well as you writing about my one month long gap yah. My friend Sara came over for ten days holidays and after she left I planned to travel on to co-work my way around. When she left I found myself with no friends so I decided to move into a hostel to make friends. Always worked as a way to make friends in my twenties and although I've spent most of my career in fashion staying in five star hotels I don't really give a toss about that kind of thing and I love adventures. Weligama was a key destination for people learning to surf which was one of my main aims and having done some research I found that Weligama had a "Poshtel" called WE-ESCAPE - like a hostel only posher. The poshtel was also across the road from The Marriot so if I wanted to go posh I could leave my poshtel and go to the hotel - I did this a few times so I could chill on the lawn sipping £12 Gin and Tonics surrounded by Russian oligarchs with fake tits and big lips. That was cool too.
The pictures looked insane but pictures can be deceiving. It also looked like it was on the side of a road, which sadly a lot of places are - Sri Lanka's not the most peaceful paradise and it's a struggle if you're noise sensitive like me. My tuk tuk veered off the road across the railway track and proceeded up the path of a lush green garden with enormous palms towards a colonial style building - so far so good! Upon arrival I was greeted by the staff with flowers and a watermelon drink, lead in to a side office where I was checked in. The porter then took my luggage and lead me through to the first courtyard off which the dorm rooms opened. The dorms were cool, crisp, spotlessly clean and scented like some sort of yoga retreat, not the kind of hostel I'd experienced as a teen. In the place of bunkbeds were concrete structures housing comfy mattresses and proper duvets with sheets changed and turned down every day like a hotel stay.
I was lead through to the second courtyard by staff which was the bar and restaurant with tables round the edge and a dropped kitchen in the middle. Off this was stunning pool area with loungers, ibiza "chill-out" type music and table service all day long. I can safely say that this place blew any kind of hostel experience I've ever had qnd I will be going back for sure. The food was exceptional with a different themed offering every evening from Mexican and Italian to Japanese and Kottu Kottu, the local speciality. At approx £10 for dinner it wasn't the cheapest option but it was hella good and I ate here a lot.
Not officially a co-working space, it's still very well set up for Sri Lanka digital nomads. The vibe is friendly and it's so easy to make friends. I struck up a friendship at the pool with a Russian photographer/film-maker(not an oligarch, real tits, real lips) who works in a very similar line of work to me in Vienna. We're still in touch and I'm hoping to visit her over the coming months. Other guests were content creators, surfers, yoga teachers and holiday makers.
So yeah co-wokring in Sri Lanka adavice - the internet isn't super reliable so the best thing to do is to hotspot off your phone. I bought a local SIM (get me for tech) from one of the mobile phone shops in Weligama town and for about £15 you can get a month's worth of data to service any of your internet needs. Across from We Escape is possibly the best surf school in Weligama called Green Rooms where you can rent a surfboard for about £5 per hour and buy a full lesson for £25.
There's a lot of surf schools in Weligama but not all are good. Some of the schools are just opportunists who have thrown themselves on a board with zero skill and really if you're beginning you gotta get the basics right cause cool and chill as surfing looks, it's pretty full on and the ocean is always going to turn you into a tiny insignificant at some point. You need to be armed with some level of skill against something so immense. These guys have a mixture of European and Sri Lankan instructors and an excellent reputation and I can't recommend enough.
Christina Kulikova, my new Russian best friend (always wanted a Russian best friend, like a cool spy) was heading off to another beach called HIRIKETIYA where she'd heard about a co working space called Verse Collective. I'd done a lot of research on Co Working before I left and there didn't seem to be a huge scene. She'd found these guys on Air B + B. At £15 per night the offering was looking fairly tasty. As I mentioned before, I found Sri Lanka a bit of an assault on the senses to start off with. The British thought it would be a great idea to build a railway that encircled the entire coast, now while this is very convenient and makes for great getting around, it doesn't make the the most serene experience and when your ears aren't being assulted with diesel train engines they're getting it from Tuk tuks and mopeds. I'd been in Sri Lanka nearly two weeks at this point and kind of given up on tranquility. It was lively, it was colourful but it wasn't as chill as I was expecting. That was......until I went to Verse. I'd heard a few people recommend Hiriketia, a small bay with one solid wave that gently roles in about every 30 - 45 seconds, ideal for beginners. Problem was it sounded toooooo chill. Never happy - grass always greener, yep that's me. Until I met Christina nobody had mentioned the co-working space. So I jumped on a bus to Dikwella and then I jumped on a tuk tuk to Verse and when I got there I knew I'd found IT.
Verse collective is AMAZING. There's not many places that I truly think are special and this is one of them. If this website is The Nice Things then verse is The Nice Place. Set up by a South African couple Penny and Jeremy, they'd been living in Dubai for years and decided to take the leap and set-up Verse. It had literally just opened when I visited and the guys have done an amazing job in such a short space of time. The interior was designed by a South African firm and it's the perfect balance of contemporary and colonial. It's SO well set up for co-working and it's clear that it's been designed specially with this in mind. There's so many locations for Yogis they wanted their space to be about work and collaboration. They've maximised the space with single rooms suitable for solo travellers as well as suites. The rooms were a real highlight, more like something you'd expect at a jungle retreat. Each one was set up with a single bed and mosquito net with a fan inside the net - GENIUS! It's the little details like this that make all the difference. The best part of the rooms though is that the end of each booth was open to the air with a big palm tree so you feel like you're sleeping outdoors under the sky. I found this a big overwhelming cause I like being in little caves and the energy felt v expansive but after a few days the connect was amazing.
THE FOOD. OH GOD THE FOOD. These guys have NAILED whatever's going on in their kitchen. When you're surfing you're burning a lot of energy so a good breakfast is a must. I think breakfast became my favourite meal of the day here - stacks of drippy pancakes with banana or home-mades granola with yoghurt and fresh fruit. Beers free flowing and chips for days - not for breakfast, well...actually not for breakfast every day.
The location itself is right opposite a very peaceful beach with cows just ambling up and down. The more lively Hiriketia beach is about 7 mins walk where I took yoga lessons as Salt House and ate more really nice food and drank more really nice beer. There's a handful of cool beach shacks which serve up nice grub for lunch and the surf here is just kinda lazy grab a board and throw yourself onto that gentle wave.
As with all the best stories there's a mad twist in the end - I got work done. The biggest wave I thought I’d be hit by was procrastination. Usually when you finish a holiday you pack your bags and return to your low hanging skies to brave public transport in a big city which puts you in the perfect mind-frame for work, anything to stop you pining after your beached out bliss. On this case I finished my holiday holiday and checked into my working holidy, an idyllic paradise close to soft sandy shores and friendly surf. It’s a much harder transition to get your act together when there's sun and beer to be had but I did it and it’s possible. Because the lifestyle there is early rising it’s possible to do a few hours in the waves before you even open your MacBook and it’s just such a lovely environment to work in you feel truly blessed.
Thankfully one of my fave clients is Sri Lankan manufacturer MAS who are possibly one of the most sophisticated set-ups I’ve seen - it’s like Google campus! I’ve a decent excuse to go back time and time again so it looks like I'll be Sri-lanka bound for January 2019 and I believe there's more new co-working spaces popping up which I'll be checking out and co-working from. If you fancy joining me hit me up - it's always better with gang!