Cat and her husband Dan escaped their busy London lives for a year to remember. They quit their jobs, got married in South Africa in February and in April they arrived in Sri Lanka to spend four months learning to kitesurf. I spoke to Cat about her experience of living ‘a life less ordinary’.
What would you be doing in your ‘ordinary’ life if you hadn’t taken time out to do something different?
I work in PR and Dan is a lawyer so we’re very much office-bound. We would still be staying in our house in Streatham Hill and pretty much living for the weekends!
To fund our adventure, we are renting out our house in London. We’ve tried to incorporate some time in countries that are relatively cheap to live, like Sri Lanka.
Where are you right now?
On my porch in Kandakulia, a tiny fishing village near the town of Kalpitiya on the west coast of Sri Lanka. The house is directly opposite a coconut forest and beyond that, the beach. Tropical birds are singing, we have a tuk-tuk in the driveway and the hammock is swinging in the breeze.
What do you think of Kalpitiya?
At the moment it is the windy season and so it’s very popular with kitesurfers, but it’s still relatively undeveloped as a tourist destination. Most people stay in the handful of kitesurfing camps around a large lagoon. As we were staying in the area for a few months, we decided to rent a house and sourced a tuk-tuk which we use to go to the lagoon to kitesurf and into the town of Kalpitiya to do the weekly shop.
Kalpitiya is a great place for being close to nature. The wild donkeys that roam around and the stray dogs are our entertainment! We had two donkeys, Felix and Felicity, that would come and spend time with us on the porch – looking for food to eat obviously. We found Felix walking around the house one morning. Our adopted dog, Blackie, had puppies so that was a great moment!
Why did you decide to take up kitesurfing in Sri Lanka?
We have a friend who is a kite instructor in Kalpitiya. Every time he came back to the UK to visit us, he would tell us that we just HAD to come out to Sri Lanka so he could teach us! We love snowboarding and surfing so we were keen to try it.
We’d heard that it can be a tough sport, so we decided on a long stint in Sri Lanka to learn gradually and get to a good enough level for trying it again in other countries.
Best moments so far?
We did a trip to an island called Vela, one hour’s boat ride from Kalpitiya. It’s a tiny fishing island with no running water or electricity, but it has the most perfect strong and consistent wind; a kitesufer’s paradise!
We were lucky enough to stay with a fisherman and his family on the island overnight, who fed us and let us sleep in their hut. The father (we called him Uncle) came back from his evening fishing trip and the whole family gathered round to unload the reams of net, separating the fish which will be sold fresh in the morning from the ones that are salted.
It’s a real communal affair, with everyone getting involved under the candlelight. The following day, after very little sleep, they all work together to untangle and repair the net, ready for the next fishing trip that night. It was a very special experience to see how hard they work, and how they all chip in and maintain a positive attitude.
And what was the lowest point?
When we arrived in Kalpitiya it was extremely unseasonable weather; torrential rain every day for two weeks. Our house had a leaking roof, we had no furniture apart from beds and the power and water supplies would turn off for days on end. There was no wind so we couldn’t kitesurf and there’s very little else to do in Kalpitiya!
What have you learnt from your adventure?
Everything moves at its own pace in Sri Lanka, and you just have to go with it, otherwise you’ll become very frustrated very quickly! Having lived in London for five years, I got sucked into the fast paced life so this was something I really had to get to grips with.
Something a Swiss man, who’s lived in Kalpitiya for ten years, also stuck with me. He told me was that he didn’t have insurance, so his insurance was Karma and treating the local people well. He reckoned that if he was good to people, it would come back to him and he’d experience fewer problems, or, if he did have any problems, the villagers would be more willing to help him. I think that’s a great way to live. (For the record, I have very thorough travel insurance).
Would you recommend the area to others looking for a change?
I would recommend Sri Lanka as a place to travel. There’s a lot of diversity due to the different religions and landscapes, from the beaches to the tea plantations in the mountains. It has a relatively undeveloped tourist industry compared with other Asian countries, which means you can gain a more ‘authentic’ experience.
I would recommend Kalpitiya only as a kitesurfing destination and not really for more than a month as there’s very little to do there apart from kiting! Although spending time here meant that we really got to know the local people and became a part of the community. That’s something that you don’t get as a tourist.
We’re going to Sydney for a few days and onto New Zealand for three months. We then travel to Mexico for a month to surf, San Francisco for Christmas and New Year, Canada for snowboarding, before heading home via New York.
You can follow Cat’s adventures on Instagram via @blushingcatt