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Two girls on the beach in Hiriketiya, Sri Lanka

Dikwella, Sri Lanka: My Home Away From Home

After leaving Morocco, I went to Sri Lanka without much of an agenda and I figured I would stay for a couple weeks. After finding a cool little jungle hostel in Dikwella, Sri Lanka on my fourth day and making a rad group of friends, that couple weeks quickly turned into six weeks. 

rope swing in Dikwella, Sri Lanka
A rope swing on the beach near Verse, my favorite coworking space.

Dikwella, Sri Lanka

I spent a couple nights at a hostel outside of Colombo when I first arrived. It was fun, but I don’t like big cities. Next I took the train out of the city and into a beach town called Welligama.

Welligama was a cool town with a great beach. I met lots of other solo female travelers and even rented a surfboard. It was just a bit too touristy and big for me. I was looking for a traveler community to be a part of, and I thought I would find it elsewhere. So after two nights in Welligama, I packed my bags and hopped on a local bus.

I was headed for a small beach town called Dikwella. After reading some booking.com reviews of one specific hostel, I wanted to check it out. People wrote things like, “I stayed here for two weeks. There’s such a great community.” That’s exactly what I was looking for.

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After riding two buses and taking one tuk tuk, I arrived at White Peacock Hostel. It was a small place in the jungle close to a beach and a mile from town. A guy named Amran showed me my bed and told me there would be free dinner later.

The hostel definitely looked like people lived there, as opposed to just passing through for a couple of days. All the travelers there seemed to know each other, and they welcomed me in. I wondered if this was the kind of place I had been hoping to find. 

We all ate dinner together later that night. It seemed like a few different people just sort of pitched in to help. I met a French girl who told me she had been there for four months. A Ukranian guy said the same thing. A couple other girls were going on one month of having stayed there. 

white peacock hostel in Dikwella, Sri Lanka

Making a Home Away From Home in Dikwella

After a few nights at White Peacock in Dikwella, Sri Lanka, I told one of the owners Sean to extend me for a few more.

I got in a routine of things in Dikwella. In the morning, I would walk to Hiriketiya Beach and swim, tan, and read my book. My new friends had a favorite beach spot where we would congregate together and hang out. If I went there at any time of day, I was sure to see a few familiar faces.

After a couple hours of relaxing, I would walk into town and go to a place called Verse. It was a trendy coworking space with fast internet, good work spaces, and delicious iced coffee and food. Digital nomads seemed to congregate there. It was a bit too hipster and expensive for me to actually want to stay there. But I enjoyed my daily work sessions. 

During my time in Dikwella, I poured a lot of energy into my blog and revising old posts. While I blog for fun, I also make some money off of it. I read quite a bit about how making old posts more SEO-friendly would increase traffic. And hey, months later it’s been working and was well worth the effort. I also got set up with a new freelance writing gig. And I wrote a free ebook for people who subscribe to my blog. That was also totally worth the effort, because I’ve gotten about 550 new subscribers since I started offering it. (Subscribe below if you want a copy of the ebook.)

After I was done, I usually walked into town to buy seltzer water. Sri Lanka didn’t sit well with my stomach and I had trouble eating. Seltzer would settle things. Sometimes one of my friends would pass by on a motorbike and I would hop on for a ride home. Otherwise I would walk and be harassed by the local dogs barking at me all the way down their street. 

Every evening I would go home to White Peacock. Sometimes I would help Amran and the other girls cook dinner for everyone or I would offer to do the dishes afterwards. Amran always made Sri Lankan food and would coach us on how to do the same. I learned how to make coconut sambal and I chopped vegetables. One night, I made fried mushrooms for everyone that tasted just like chicken. 

There were about twelve of us who were there for the long term. We looked out for each other, ate our meals together, stayed up late and drank together, and grew close. We loved our hostel, even though the power went out twice a day, sometimes we ran out of water for showers, and the bugs ate me alive every night. 

I always had trouble sleeping in Sri Lanka. I met a German girl named Lou who was also a night owl. Every night we stayed up late together. Sometimes we would talk and hang out and sometimes we would just sit next to each other and watch Netflix. 

There was another German girl named Olivia and she became like my little sister. When she hurt her knee and couldn’t go surfing anymore, I would bring her frozen water bottles and we would lay on a mattress together and watch Queer Eye. 

People were always walking around barefoot, in bikinis or shirtless. Most of us adapted the Asian style of eating our rice with our hands. Someone showed me how to scoop it up and use my thumb to push it in my mouth.

I soon started doing what everyone else did and made a home of my little space in my dorm. I started leaving my toothbrush next to everyone else’s in the bathroom. I hand washed my laundry in a bucket and hung it on the line to dry. It began to feel like communal living. 

A Trip to the Mountains

After about three weeks at White Peacock, we began planning a trip to the mountains. A dozen of us piled onto a local bus and made the long journey. We stayed at a place called Bambarakanda Holiday Resort. We had the whole place to ourselves. There was a front porch view of the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka. We were within walking distance of a national park.

Amran came alive in the mountains and led us on a hike through the national park. He even took us off-trail to a place he deemed “the secret waterfall”. It very well may have been secret too because I didn’t see too many signs of others who had hiked back there.

The next day myself, Lou, and our German friend Matias hiked up a ridgeline called Wangedigala. It was green and beautiful. We could see our hotel from the top. We hiked up the ridgeline for a while until rain clouds rolled in and we got so drenched that we turned back. 

The closest town was tiny and without many supplies. A few of the guys tried to make a trip there for alcohol and cigarettes. They found booze, but there were only two packs of cigarettes in the whole town. Everyone began rationing. 

Finally, it was time to leave and go back to Dikwella. 

We came home to Diane and Anton who had been caretaking the hostel while we were gone. 

Visa Run to the City

My visa was about to end, and I had a decision to make. I had promised myself I would stop staying in countries for ridiculously long amounts of time (like 8 months total in Nepal or 2 months in Thailand) and actually go see other places. After all, I had hardly seen any of Sri Lanka except for Dikwella. Was I really going to spend the rest of my international trip in one place? I even went as far as paying for an India visa. Flights to get there were cheap.

In the end, I wasn’t ready to leave Sri Lanka yet. I made a trip to the city and extended my visa for even longer. 

fresh cooked lobster in Sri Lanka
After cooking two trash bags full of lobster.

Befriending a Scam Artist

Around this time, this guy started hanging out around our hostel and had befriended a few of my roommates (they were basically my roommates at this point). I got weird vibes off of him, but people who knew him better didn’t see a problem. He was working at a villa down the street from us.

He would just bring over things for us like cases of beer or seafood. He let one girl borrow a bicycle. One afternoon he dropped off two trash bags full of lobsters.

No one else had even tried lobster before, and as someone who had been on a few childhood vacations to Maine I was the most qualified to prepare them for us. They were frozen, so I assumed they were dead and started cooking them. 

It was pretty straightforward at first, and I learned to just cook them until the shell turned red. One thing I didn’t like was that the person who caught the lobsters seemed unaware of ethical practices. I knew from meeting a Maine lobster fisherman that it’s good practice to throw back lobsters that have eggs under their tails and the small adolescents. They don’t seem to do these things in Sri Lanka.

After about an hour of cooking, some of the lobsters started waking up. I suppose they were unfreezing and becoming conscious again. They weren’t just twitched either. One tried to crawl away. I thought the kindest thing would be to cook the ones that were waking up first. 

It took hours to cook all the lobsters, and dinner was late that night. I sent one of the guys to the store to buy butter for us to melt for dipping. Finally, around 9 pm we had a feast. It was so delicious and a big venture away from our typical dinner of rice, dal, and vegetables. 

Fast forward a couple days, I arrive home from a day out to learn that a group of angry fishermen and locals had showed up during the day. It turns out this guy was a big scam artist. He had told the lobster fisherman to put the lobster on credit with the villa he worked at, unbeknown to the actual villa owner. 

He also did countless other things around town for his own benefit, such as scamming locals out of money or scamming free things. When the locals caught onto him, he skipped town with his stolen money, never to be heard from again. 

Sri Lanka Easter Bombings

Easter was another typical day for me. I had a little beach time in the morning before heading to my coworking space. At some point while I was away, I heard news that there had been a bombing in the capital. I packed up my things and took a tuk tuk back to the hostel.

We all stayed together, anxious about anyone who wanted to go out. We periodically updated the news and watched the death toll climb. We wondered if it was over or if there would be more attacks. 

Soon a national emergency was declared, and the government shut down all forms of social media. I couldn’t post anything online to let people know I was OK. WhatsApp was how I called and messaged home, and even that was shut down. Someone taught me how to download a VPN app, so it would look like my phone was in a different place and I could use social media again.

We wondered if it was safe to stay in Sri Lanka or better to leave. My American friend Holly and I pondered on things with an extra dose of American paranoia. After a few days, authorities began finding bomb supplies and undetonated bombs in public places such as the airport and main bus terminal. We all determined we should just stay in Dikwella and not go anywhere.

There was too much uncertainty going on.

Saying Goodbye to Friends

Rainy season was in full swing, and because of that many members of our group had already bought plane tickets home or to other countries before the bombings had happened. It seemed that many of us were leaving within two weeks of each other. 

One by one, I said goodbye to my new friends, each departure equally emotional. Although we all got along, we also had individual best friends in our group. When Viktoria left, we watched Olivia have a hard time and be sad for days after. She would share her morning oatmeal tradition with me and Lou, something her and Viktoria had done.

Wanting to avoid public transportation during a time of recent bombings, everyone who was leaving coughed up $50 for a taxi to the airport three hours away. It was way pricier than the $5 bus ticket, but probably less risky. 

Finally, my day came to leave. It didn’t really hit me until the taxi pulled up. As per tradition during a departure, everyone gathered around in the front yard and gave me long hugs. When I gave my last hugs to Lou and Olivia, it hit me that I was actually leaving. I didn’t want to go, but I had an international plane ticket. 

Anton and Kevin put my bags in the taxi and I hopped in. After six weeks in my perfect jungle hostel, it was finally time to go home. 

I’ve been a part of lots of outdoor work communities and hiking trail communities, but this was my first and only travel, commune community. It makes me sad to think that all of us will never be at White Peacock all together again. I’m sure I could go back and there would be new faces and some old, like Sean, Amran, and Kevin. But I’m not sure it would be the same without the others. 

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