One island. 3 stowaways.

There wasn’t too much preamble to this trip really.  Not really.  Basically, the 2 of them hatched an elaborate plan before sending me the details with a ? Of course, I was IN before I’d finished reading the first paragraph.

And that’s just about how I found myself on this beautiful 298-acre white sand island with villas on stilts over emerald green water – 21 hours travel time from home.

The resort hotel (something I usually can’t stand), which first opened in 1993, blends brilliantly into the natural jungle surroundings and generally feels like a village – with really friendly villagers.  Very quickly we were on first name terms (and vice versa) with the team on the island whose impressive ethos of courteous and friendly rather than ridiculously refined suited us low-key girls to a tee.

Fewer guests than wildlife (it’s mid November so just as you would imagine), we’ve hung out with plenty of hornbills, some cheeky monkeys, a large colony of fruit bats (google them!), wild boar and … apparently some snakes…

The sea creatures were a little less friendly.  Well, one jellyfish in particular who decided that my front crawl was in his way.  But that’s another story altogether – and one I’d prefer not to cloud our perfectly clear seawater.

So we’ve climbed and trekked the island as well as having our heads in books.  In and out of the jungle and along the road – as there’s no traffic other than the resort van ferrying those who won’t walk.  With a lap pool, a gym, some yoga, a spa and a little work on the side, the week has zipped by and somehow it’s time to return to normality.

But we’ll never forget this alternative universe, this tropic haven of beaches, vibrant rainforest and 5 star pampering.  As it turns out, Pavarotti was right; he visited the island in 1994 and declared it a paradise.

The Stowaways were paying guests of the Pangkor Laut resort, owned and managed by YTL Hotel & Properties which includes two bays with 148 luxury Malaysian-style villas, six restaurants, and three lounges.  

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the mole who wasn’t very good at feeling sad

“I’m not very good at feeling sad,” said the mole to his friend.

His friend looked him with curious eyes.

“I’m not very good at it.  This feeling sad business is really quite tricky for a mole like me,” the mole went on to try and explain. “You see, I’m a happy sort of smiley mole and feel dreadful uncomfortable when that feeling of sadness comes upon me.” He added.

The mole’s friend continued to look at him with his curious eyes.  He had wanted to try and say something but his mouth felt dry and words were just a little jumbled in his head.

Mole, on the other hand, had no problem talking…

“My tummy feels fizzy, my brain is confused, my legs are a little wobbly while my nose… my nose is uncontrollably twitchy,” continued the mole while looking down at his feet.  “And all the time I want to feel happy – and to make this sad feeling go away.”

Mole’s friend put his arm around this gibbering mess of a mole.  There might not be words but he knew how to give his friend a much-needed hug.

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jungle, jungle

I need you to be the judge here. Or at least a collective jury. And I’ll promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

the view from our cabin

You see, when researching where we might stay and visit in Sri Lanka, I came across an eco lodge in Dagana – deep into the wilderness, just East of Kandy. I read on and researched as deep as I could Google and – the more I read – the more I felt a couple of nights of living in the jungle (as eco as is quite frankly possible) might just be a huge amount of fun. AND a sort of challenge, to take us outside of our comfort zone (which is only too ridiculously cushy) while giving us a different, even inspiring perspective on life.

This was always my motive. (nothing more sinister, I promise).

our cabin in Polwaththa Eco-Lodge, Sri Lanka

So last Friday (after a quick samosa for lunch), our driver handed us over to the eco team at the bottom of a dirt track and, as he waved us goodbye for almost 48 hours, we were jeeped-up a very steep mountain deep, deep into the thick undergrowth.

The husband immediately looked concerned. ‘What have you booked?’ he mouthed to me in the back of the jeep.

The boy is wearing ‘leech socks’…. to try and keep those pesky friends off our ankles

Then we arrived and a chorus of animals, birds and all the creepy crawlies that have never been identified greeted us into the lodge. We were shown to our remote cabin (all built from resources the team has immediately available to them) and – since unpacking was never going to be an option – we just lay down on our (rather damp – this is almost rainforest after all) beds to take stock of the situation.

And because I had always thought that this might make an interesting blog post (again, full disclosure), I sat back and watched how my gang responded to our living conditions – basic accommodation, a constantly invaded bathroom by slugs, snails and the like, the constant threat (and therefore immediate removal) of leeches galore as well as full on noisy elements and those all too dominating multi-legged neighbours.

the local village

The Boy – I must admit – immediately got the picture. ‘This is an adventure and it’s fun” he instructed the other two. ‘Yes, it’s a challenge but every time you are scared or uncomfortable, you just have to recognise those are simply scary emotions and so you have to turn them into something funny.”

He didn’t even freak out when the Husband found a leech in his small boy armpit sucking the living daylights. He just told me to get it OFF.

The Girl would be the first to admit she’s found it hard. The first evening she brought her dinner straight back up. I think the combination of fear and spices were mostly to blame.   At 545am as the thunder and lightening hit our tin roof, she did wonder if maybe we might cancel our second night and ‘leave this **** hole’ as soon as it was light. But the next morning we were trekking (with a guide) through stunning woodland and meeting local villagers on our way to the waterfall deep in the jungle. (oh and – for the record – I didn’t scream when I saw the snake.)

these lovely women invited us into their home as they made sugary snacks from the sap of a tree

The Husband has asked me not to go into detail about how he’s felt and so I’ll respect that. He did add though that he was super impressed to see how economically self-sufficient life was at the eco lodge. The team, and their surrounding area, grow almost everything they need to live – coffee, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, almond, avocados, coconut, bananas, cacao, rice, tea, spices and so much more – with obviously all the timber you could ever need. The food is good and meal times are really sociable… which was just the reassurance we needed (except I didn’t really enjoy hearing that my new friend had found a rat in her bathroom in the middle of the night). The lodge and its activities are extremely well organised; there is no doubt in all of our minds that they are passionate about creating something extremely special there.

this cute little fella wanted me to take his picture

 

homegrown pepper

The bonus of living without wifi (it is available in the central eating/relaxing area but strongly discouraged) was something I personally had been craving. As a freelancer, I’ve been working a little each day of this trip and this gave me full permission to down tools and be totally present. Besides, cool Lion beer and a rolling card game is all you need to spend an evening (or 2) in the Great Outdoors.

so green, it’s almost fluorescent

Whether or not you feel I’m guilty of cruelty to those who might not like jungles… I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for subjecting my gang to most of the above. Besides we did all agree that we have laughed more during the last 24 hours than we’ve laughed EVER BEFORE and there’s something incredibly bonding about all finding a situation belly-achingly hilarious. Even after 2 nights of very little sleep.

For more information about Polwaththa Eco Lodges – click here.

(For all those asking for a list of everywhere we’ve stayed, I’ll post that at the end of the trip. As I’ve mentioned on Instagram a few times – our trip was organised by Rickshaw Travel.)

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secret histoire

So much about the planning (or should I say plotting) of holidays is tactical, I find. There was my mother on the end of the phone asking how the children had done in their French aural exams. And there I was slightly exaggerating as to how baffling they were finding the French language. Because, you see, we were both angling for the perfect excuse… to make a beeline for a petit sejour en France… more specifically for Ile de Re, just off the west coast.

It was her (calculated) decision to stay in the main town of St-Martin-de-Ré and it was in the well-researched way (only really) she knows how that La Baronnie was discovered – an 18th-century manor house posing as the most exquisite B+B you could ever imagine.

And from here we entered French history; on 22 April 1785, La Baronnie was acquired by King Louis XVI for Marie-Antoinette, you see…

La Baronnie in Ile de Ré

More like a private home than a traditional hotel, the stone mansion is a truly peaceful hideaway. Restored by Pierre and Florence Pallardy – he is a well-known osteopath and she is a model turned interior designer – our stay was an intimate, calm and almost regal experience. And yet we were only two minutes walk from the town’s busy and picturesque harbour.

So we cycled and we walked. We adored the narrow lanes spilling over with hollyhocks. We experienced pure shutter envy. And we ate.

Here are our favourites for dinner in St Martin for those planning a visit:

Le Cible (thank you to friends who passed this gem on to us!)  all the sand, all the charm

Le Bistro de Marin no reservations, no frills but beaucoup de BUZZ

Le Serghi don’t be put off by the limited menu, every plate was truly delicious

Un Air de Famille the newbie in town, might end up trumping them all with enthusiasm 

(the legendary) La Martiniere, artisan glacier

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