One of the most frequently asked questions we heard as tourists in Sri Lanka (and one that Lonely Planet advised us to answer in good humour and politely!) was, "Where are you from?" or, more pointedly and simply: "Which country?" When we replied, "England. UK. London." our response was met with either approval ("Your country helped us so much during the tsumani!"), a knowing nod, with some reference to cricket ("England cricket - not very good right now!") or the most amusing of all, "I have always wanted to see snow." We'd tilt our heads back and laugh at this last one, but it was said with such wistfulness, with such sincerity, that it had to be true.
For us, it was the opposite: we'd been pounding the streets of London, doing the 9-5 (or in John's case, 6:30 to crazy-o-clock), putting in the hours until this, our reward. We were glad to perspire while standing still in the sun. We slathered sunscreen on our pale arms and legs, willing to get an enviable tan that our colleagues would be jealous of. Our heads were always up, up, up: looking at these palm trees, staring at the ocean - mesmerized by the pattern of waves that never, ever, repeated themselves. Some were so high, they'd knock me in the neck, leaving me spluttering and swearing, salt water in my eye.
We started our journey in Thalpe, shunning the pretty but overpopulated beaches of Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa for the quieter (though perhaps less swim-able beach) tranquility of Apa Villa - a collection of 7 beach-front suites set in grounds dotted with frangipani trees and swaying palm trees.
When we arrived and stepped through the beautiful reception area below, there was no check-in process, no papers to sign, no passports to photocopy. We were simply welcomed with a handshake and a smile and shown to our Cardamom Suite, which faced the resort's beautiful infinity pool and encouraged to "enjoy our stay".
I woke one morning and stumbled onto the polished concrete verandah, shielding my eyes against the already-bright sun. John was already ensconced in one of the many colorful hammocks tied to the palm trees, reading Hilary Mantel and looking the most relaxed I've seen him in months.
The guidebooks warned us about swimming in Sri Lanka's pristine but often rough waters - and it's true, you have to be selective about where you swim. Some of the beaches are rocky once you wade in and this is true of the beach directly in front of Apa Villa. But venture a few minutes down the beach to your left and the sand extends for quite a ways in ... it's shallow enough to comfortably bob along and there's no alarming current to pull you in.
Life hack: Sri Lankans add a squeeze of lime to their fresh papaya. A total game changer.
We ate directly outside our suite on the verandah, against the backdrop of the infinity pool, and fell in love with this buffalo milk curd, served with treacle, which tasted like a lighter, even creamier version of Greek yogurt - carving out slices with our spoons and adding treacle when necessary. Afterwards, we'd change into swimwear and spend the rest of the day alternating between the pool, the beach, the hotel loungers and falling asleep on the seating area/daybed outside our room.
The next day, we ventured to Unawatuna Beach, where John got absolutely burnt ... I didn't show too much sympathy at the time, but then felt very sorry for him a few days later when he was clearly still in pain and I jokingly dubbed his feet "underdone pork chops - white on the outside and pink in the middle" (I'm the WORST) and made him promise to see a doctor when he got home.
With waves that are far more manageable and easier to swim in, the beach is dotted with guesthouses and sun worshippers - all vying for a spot on the sand.
There were times, in both Thalpe and Unawatuna, that I felt like I had been magically dropped into a screensaver. So, that's why I laughed when the Sri Lankans told me they'd always wanted to see snow. I couldn't imagine anything more far removed from the cold London I had left when I looked up to see this:
If a coconut fell and hit me on the head, I still would have thought I'd been dreaming.