I arrived tired but excited in Negombo after 36 hours of flight hopping. Customs and immigration was a breeze and a driver at the airport took me to the Jetwing Sea at Negombo Beach for 1,500 Rupees, around 15$ Canadian. Arriving at 5:30am I was a little punch drunk but too excited to go to bed, instead I wandered the beautiful hotel property to get my bearings and couldn’t resist a swim before breakfast.
Swimming in warm water was something I was really looking forward to and Negombo beach didn’t disappoint. The sand was a lovely bronzy brown and had a nice crunchy texture underfoot and when I waded into the water there was no hesitation born from cold temperature, it was just as I hoped for. I swam out a ways and caught some waves that were perfect for some impromptu body surfing, one of my favourite beach time activities. Welcome to Sri Lanka Scott.
With my initial dunk out of the way I made my way to the incredible buffet breakfast put on by the hotel. The trials of the flight over were soon forgotten as I sat in the dining area with a full plate and rich Sri Lankan coffee as I contemplated the scene before me. The Jetwing Sea is a very interesting property. The main street in Negombo follows the beach and wedged between it and the water is a narrow ribbon of development. Properties aren’t deep, instead they’re long and narrow, so when we arrived at the hotel the driver pulled into the portico just off the road and stopped in front of the entrance. Five steps later, with no doors to navigate through, I was in the reception area, this was ‘open concept’ taken to the max, and if one continued walking past the reception there was another flight of steps down to the dining area which looked out onto the beach. One could walk off the street, into the reception, through the dining area and be on the beach in less than half a minute. I loved it. The property was built for the beach and the covered dining area was open to it so the sound of crashing waves could be heard over chefs frying up traditional Sri Lankan ‘Hoppers,’ but more on that later. The open concept is one that I love and the fact chipmonks and small birds were dancing in and out looking for breadcrumbs drove the point home. For whatever reason I was already feeling very relaxed.
My trip was just beginning, I had 39 days in front of me to gather material for my tea documentary in Sri Lanka, that would start in earnest on Monday when I started the ‘School of Tea’ I'd been enrolled in by Dilmah Tea. But it was only Saturday so I had a couple of days to shake off the travel blues and bask on the beach and enjoy the property. I was very fortunate that through some Indonesian contacts, Ms. Endah Juliastuti and Mr. Thayalan Bartlett (Barty), I was introduced to the Jetwing Hotel group that had very kindly offered their support during my filming through lodging at some of their properties. The Jetwing group is family owned and has a very interesting collection of hotels around the country. I say interesting in the sense their properties reflect the environment they were built in.....and they're not boring. The Jetwing Sea is a beach resort and to that end they nailed it. An open concept that spilled onto the beach, two swimming pools, beautiful rooms that look through palm trees to the ocean, and a very friendly and laid back staff which all conspire to soothe the body and soul from the moment of arrival. That’s in Negombo, go to Galle and you can stay in an old converted Dutch house, go to Bentota and they’ll put you up in a houseboat, or a resort if that's your fancy, or if you want to visit Sigiya they have an ‘Eco Resort,’ Vil Uyana, that’s been acknowledged as one of the best of its kind, and if you’re interested in architecture they have two Geoffrey Bawa hotels, the Jetwing Beach and the Jetwing Lighthouse. They cover the hospitality industry in a very creative and interesting way…..in short they’re not predictable.
As for initial observations, whenever I travel I habitually focus on things that excite my senses. For me there are many things that do that, but the primary ones are the people I meet during my travels and how they live and eat, the local architecture, and where the country is in a developmental aspect. For the next two days I started to take mental notes that were weighed up against my own Canadian way of life. How did Sri Lanka differ, how was it the same, what did I enjoy more, what did I miss. I’ve already mentioned ‘open concept' living, something that exists in Canada, but only within the house, never from inside to out as in Sri Lanka. I could just imagine allowing Canadian winters to whistle through the house in mid January…..absolutely not. I found that very appealing about the Jetwing Sea. The beach was also a huge bonus, it differed in colour and texture from my 'norm,' and the temperature of the water was a very pleasant experience. Perhaps the biggest revelation however were the people, right off the bat I found I was drawn to them. The Sri Lankan people are a very friendly lot. Smiles were greeted with smiles and eye contact was welcomed, not avoided. What can I say, I like to talk a lot and ask questions, and it turns out the locals were more than happy to allow me to do both.
My stay at the Jetwing Sea was made extra special by the staff, they were incredible, and a large part of that was because of the resident manager, Mr. Bandara. He was a true gentleman and when I listened to his story I had to admire his path. He had started for Jetwing back in the 80s as a security guard, after that he'd become a houseboy, then all these years later here he was the resident manager, and a very good one at that. During our conversation he told me a lot about Jetwing, a family business, and all the while he talked I could sense his pride as he felt he too was part of the Jetwing family, in fact his three brothers also work for Jetwing. Loyalty today is rare and I was beginning to see some aspects of Sri Lankan culture that I feel are perhaps sliding in Canadian society. When I mentioned to Mr. Bandera that I would like to film a chef preparing a traditional Sri Lankan ‘Hopper’ breakfast he didn’t hesitate and the next morning I arrived in the dining room and two of his Chefs prepared three Sri Lankan dishes for me, hoppers included. During that little filming session I had a good natter with both Chefs and was fascinated by their stories and as one was also a photographer and film maker I was kept on my toes.
For my time at the Jetwing Sea I would like to thank Mr. Bandara and his staff for their assistance on site, they were very gracious indeed. I would also like to thank Mr. Prasanna Welangoda for his assistance in booking and Ishanth Gunawardene for saying yes in the first place. Beautiful property, fantastic staff, and an incredible start to my Sri Lankan adventure.
Thank you and Ayubawon!