Travelling the world is a dream to many. Seeing the most beautiful places, exploring exotic cultures and learning about the history and way of life in a land far from home are just a few of the reasons I have found myself living on the road for the past 15 years. In the beginning I loved the independence and confidence I found travelling alone.
After six months travelling through Sri Lanka, from the mountains to the beaches, I yearned to share the experience with others. I wanted to surf and practice yoga with friends, yet I didn’t necessarily want to join a surf camp or a strict yoga retreat. I wanted a beautiful place to lay my head, incredible Ayurvedic local food to eat and nice friendly people to share it with me. So a few months later Santosha Society was born. As a yoga teacher, a surfer and a world traveller, I designed the “escapes” to include all the tools in life that have made me a happier and healthier person – surf, travel, yoga and meditation.
Last month, the dream became a reality. A group of wanderlust travellers arrived one by one to Colombo International Airport. Some came with surfboards and others with yoga mats, all headed south along the coast to the tranquil little surfing village of Madiha. For the week our homes were two stunningly beautiful beachfront villas offering two pools on a spacious lawn full of towering palm trees and hanging hammocks. Just out front were some of the best waves in the area. With a little Zen yoga pavilion sitting in the middle of the spacious lawn, the location couldn’t have been more perfect.
We started every morning with a peaceful meditation followed by an invigorating yoga class for all levels. With the soothing sound of the sea and the simple shade of towering palm trees, the yoga only amplified the peace we were already experiencing.
With a happy mix of surfers, yogis, old travellers and couples, we wanted everyone to feel free to do whatever it is they came for. Like choosing a flavour of ice cream, decisions were hard to make as the options were just too good. Some dedicated the week to rejuvenation and health, taking advantage of the yoga classes before heading off to try the Ayurvedic massage treatments available in the area while others were here strictly to surf. Cyndy, my mother, and her jovial friend Suzanne made it a point to get a massage every single day after a long walk on the beach and a refreshing swim in the turquoise waters. Many actually managed to do it all — two yoga and meditation sessions a day, surf, and more exploration in between.
Sri Lanka is home to a stunningly beautiful coastline offering surf breaks for all skill levels. With perfect peeling waves crashing just a few meters away, there were a few glassy mornings the surfers couldn’t help themselves. I saw Chrystal tiptoeing through the yard, board in hand to the ocean. With surf this good, the yoga must wait. The surf was incredible. With two breaks just out front, the longboarders and less experienced surfers enjoyed a nice mellow right hander while the more advanced surfers chose the fast and shallower left.
After a day or two of spectating, two of the visitors – Vilia and Mareike decided to give surfing a try for the first time. So off they went to Weligama for a lesson with the same local surf coach that taught me. All of us cheered them on as we watched their faces light up after catching their first wave. Another two visitors who came all the way from Alaska, Jason and Kasha searched out the quieter, more romantic surf spots. They might have spent more time kissing than catching waves, but they left the water feeling satisfying nonetheless.
Throughout the week each of us experienced the spicy culture of Sri Lanka. Cruising around in colourful tuk-tuks, we explored ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, the lush green tea plantations, and endless deserted beaches. Enroute we stopped at Ayurvedic shops, local markets, and even a rundown little snake farm. For lunch, visitors would indulge in all the local culinary options like rotti, kottu, steamed chickpea, king coconuts, rice and curry.
Every evening as the sky darkened and the stars appeared, one by one the tuk-tuks would slowly roll back onto the property just in time for the class after sunset. With two yoga teachers available, we had two timeslots and two styles. Evening yoga was usually focussed on relaxing and slowing down. Many visitors had never tried Yoga Nidra, Yin Yoga, Yoga for Surfers or Restorative Yoga, so it was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to some healing techniques they could take with them on their travels or back to their homes.
After yoga, it was my favourite time of the day – dinner time. The table overflowed each night with the most incredible vegetable and seafood dishes, salads, soups and desserts. For one of our visitors, Vilia, a popular German food blogger, she could always be found in the kitchen watching the staff prepare our delectable dinners learning about Ayurvedic food and how to prepare them. During the week we all experienced something new, with an assortment of local tropical fruits to try or the Kola Kanda green porridge for breakfast, and cashew nut and beetroot curries for dinner. The food could easily be the highlight of the trip for me.
With only a week to experience the country, it is understandable to feel like you just don’t have enough time. Dinner was a great antidote to that as everyone had a story to tell about their own personal day-to-day adventures. While time might have limited us to go everywhere we would have liked, through the dinner conversations we shared, I felt like I lived 12 lives in one day. It was a lovely way to experience more than was physically possible. It was also where we really had the chance to get to know each other a little more each day.
As the week came to an end and the last visitor waved goodbye from the window of the fast moving northbound train, she shouted to me, “See you in Morocco!” I smiled and shouted back “I sure hope so.” After years of being an independent traveller, I now look forward to trips with fun-loving friends (some I just met for the first time).
I love world trips where you just show up and have a great time. No hassling or negotiating for prices, no searching for the perfect location only to find it’s already booked. By taking the pressure off of organizing transportation to a dinner spot that you have no idea how the food will be, this leaves more time for unforgettable memories. More time spent surfing, stretching, eating, laughing and hanging in a hammock.
Travelling alone is still important to me, but sharing an experience like this with a group of likeminded individuals is truly a beautiful way to travel in a new country.
For now I return to the life I was so familiar with, where modest accommodation, one course dinners and reading a book at the dinner table is the norm. The sounds of belly laughter and Lex’s ukulele are all just a memory now. I reminisce of the amazing week that was once just a dream.
The truth is yoga is less likely to happen when it isn’t offered just out your front door and having a group of friends to surf with is a lot more fun. By surfing, stretching and travelling together, we inspired each other and learn from one another. I learned a Buddhist chant from Anna. Vilia taught me all about being a vegan on the road. The list of places I want to travel grew exponentially after talks with Mareike and Freshteh, both well-travelled. I surfed nearly every day with Chrystal, Ishita, and Vanessa. I loved waking up every morning to share a cup of coffee with Kasha and Jason. But more than anyone, Cyndy and her fun-loving friend Suzanne taught me that it’s important to grab a girlfriend and get away from it all, even when it seems impossible to leave behind your husband and kids. That getting away and experiencing the world with someone you love is important no matter you age, nationality, abilities and situation. If you dream it, then you must do it.
Most of all, I feel that I made a lot of friends — like-minded, adventurous, motivated and inspiring friends. The buzz of excitement that came from the “Sri Lanka Surf and Yoga Escape” left me inspired, motivated, and well…. feeling content. This one week in paradise, we created a little society; a society passionate about surf, yoga and travel. Santosha is the Sanskrit word meaning “contentment.” So now back home, all surfed out, stretched out, and exhausted from adventuring, I believe during this week we created a society who were not only searching for a little santosha, but amazingly enough, I think most of us found it.
Santosha Society is a travelling community of surfing and yoga aficionados that find love and peace in the calms and rapids of the sea. Started off by four lovely women, the Society today invites people to the seas with their journeys for solace around the world. For more information or to say hello, visit www.santoshasociety.com
Words By: Kori Hahn
Photos By: Nick Green