Down Dog, Up Dog, Mongoose?

As the locals say, Ayubowan! Welcome to the beautiful oasis that is Camp Poe. I was so thrilled to be invited to stay here for a few days to glamp in the dense jungle, practice yoga twice a day, and relax in the gorgeous pool. The pristine local beach is a mere 2 minutes away beckoning with sparkling crystal waters, white sand, and looming palm trees.

If you guessed that Camp Poe is an ode to Edgar Allen Poe, you are correct! Poe also stands for, "people of earth" and "protect our earth." I was initially drawn to the accommodation because of its obvious beauty but what made me really want to stay here is the founder's commitment to social sustainability. They fixed up the home on the property and gave it to a lovely family who had previously been living in a makeshift shack on the beach. Some of the family members are now employed by Camp Poe. They cook a delicious, donation based, traditional lunch for guests upon request. Mamma is the official host of Camp Poe; she helps maintain the property and teaches cooking classes in her kitchen. Her son-in-law is one of the many local surf instructors Camp Poe deploys to teach guests how to catch a wave. The grounds beautiful pool is used occasionally to teach local children how to swim for free and Sinhala language lessons are available from a local woman. If you've been following Miss Filatelista for a while you'll know that I do my best to be a responsible traveler and seek out experiences that benefit the local community and I feel confident that Camp Poe is making a lasting impact.

The surf and yoga retreat is located off-the-beaten-path in Ahangama between Galle and Weligama in the golden south coast of Sri Lanka. The site is surrounded by traditional Sri Lankan villages and the world-famous palm tree lined train tracks. The facilities are adorned with beachy murals that have been left behind by past travelers, cozy seating areas, a pool table, and a family-style dining area. The ambiance transcends a creative and soothing vibe. The idyllic retreat was bustling with international travelers despite the monsoon season which in reality only meant a few evening thunderstorms and morning bouts of liquid sunshine. We gathered together each morning for a buffet breakfast of local fresh fruits, personally prepared eggs, and Sri Lankan tea. Evening meals are also shared communally with decadent curries made with love and farm fresh vegetables. 

Yoga sessions are held each morning at 8 AM and afternoon at 4 PM in the beautiful outdoor yoga shala surrounded by lush greenery. The practice here consists of Quantum Yoga, a holistic practice that merges ancient Indian Ayurvedic healing with Quantum Physics. The combination is meant to sooth the body where it is needed and strengthen manifestation. The lessons are built around the three doshas. Vata is the elements of space and air, Pitta is fire and water, and Kapha is water and earth. I had a feeling that my dominant dosha was Kapha and headed off to visit a local Ayurvedic doctor to see if my hunch was correct. You can test what your dosha is with this free online tool.

Turns out I was correct. I like to think I am pretty in touch with my body. It is something that comes with the turf of living with a chronic illness your entire life. The doctor took my pulse for nearly a minute and then began to tell me about some of my ailments. A few other guests who had been before told me the doctor had correctly guessed their ages. Knowing this I decided to play a little trick. As he took my pulse I was consciously telling myself that I was 31 years old (I am actually 28). Lo and behold, what do you think the doctor wrote down? 31! 

He confirmed that I am indeed of water and earth and explained that my breathing problems, which I did not tell him about, stem from the imbalance between Pitta and Vata in my body. Interestingly enough he mentioned that they are more balanced than they've been in the past. I confessed and told him that I suffered from asthma but that as I've gotten older it's become less of a daily nuisance. He prescribed some herbal Ayurvedic pills to take (4 a day!) which he promised after 1 month would balance my doshas and regulate my breathing.

Ben, one of the founders of Camp Poe, is also the resident yoga instructor. He helped ease me into all the inverted yoga poses I usually shy away from. He took his time to make sure I felt safe and comfortable and encouraged me to push through the fear and toss my legs over head (with control, of course). It felt amazing to get into asanas I've never tried before, even if just momentarily. I am currently working on perfecting my shoulder stand and crow pose which are big steps for me. 

Enough about the down dogs and the up dogs, you're probably wondering, what about the mongoose? Camp Poe was my second time camping in an exotic locale. Last year I had the opportunity to sleep in a tent in the Moroccan Sahara Desert for two weeks. But it was the first time that I shared my tent. My first night the monsoon rolled in to make an appearance with a ferocious storm. Lightning cracked above as rain plummeted the roof of my tent. The tents are incredibly durable and cozy, the rain was soothing and the scent of the damp jungle were lulling me to sleep when suddenly I felt something furry on my arm. I was certain it was just the wind pushing the tent into my body and fell back asleep. But it wasn't the tent, it was a massive mongoose (at least two feet long, I swear) that had managed to weasel it's way into the tent. I probably didn't secure the zipper tightly at the bottom. We had a starring and screaming contest for what felt like 30 minutes as we dodged each other as we both looked for a way to escape. Finally, Ben came to my rescue and released the critter front the tent. I was completely fine, just a bit panicked, but I can already look back and laugh at the experience. 

Disclosure Policy: I was a guest at Camp Poe. However, as always, all opinions are my own. 

The Strangest Massage Ever

Image courtesy of Mahagedara Wellness Retreat

You know that scene in the last season of American Horror Story where the cannibal family, the Polks, start seasoning Lee's leg in preparation to eat it? Sorry to bring up that seriously disturbing image but that basically sums up what a churna pinda swedana ayurvedic massage feels like. It is as if your flesh is being tenderized to be prepared before being baked in an oven.

Let me explain. Churna pinda swedana massages are part of the Ayurvedic medical practice. This particular whole body massage lasts for an hour, but you may want it to end sooner, as it seriously hurts! And I am the type who asks a masseuse to go so deep they leave bruises. But the pressure isn't what is painful about this massage, it is the burning heat. The process induces perspiration that sheds the body of unwanted toxins. I discovered this myself while trying a variety of ayurvedic massages during my three-week stint in Rishikesh, India practicing yoga at an ashram. For around $10 for each hour-long massage, I could not resist trying the various ancient treatments.

The cloth bundle used in pinda swedana massages is stuffed with medicinal herbs, leaves, seeds, and sticks, such as ginger, lavender, black gram, and gingley seed. It is warmed by being pressed against another cloth bundle that has been sitting in flames and is soaked in oil. The herb bundle is rubbed against the warm one to absorb heat and oil and the immediately punched, pounded and pushed in circular patterns vigorously across the body. The rhythmic pattern doesn't have a chance to become soothing because you can start to anticipate the next section of flesh that will burn as the bundle touches the skin. 
This style of massage is meant to be good for easing muscular pain, soothing the joints, and relieving the body of stiffness. All things my body desperately needed after practicing yoga for over 3 hours a day for two weeks! I left my pinda sedana massage feeling bruised, yet soft, silky, yet stinky. The odor of the heated herbs was so strong it actually made my stomach rumble for lunch. You're not allowed to shower for a few hours after having a heated massage so I went about my day smelling like seasoned meat. The next day my yoga practice was deeper than ever and my lower back and shoulders were not causing me as much pain as they had before the treatment. The verdict? Although this massage was strange and somewhat painful I would absolutely do it again.

Experiencing local wellness methods is one of my favorite ways to get in touch with the culture of the country I am visiting. Tell me in the comments what has been the strangest massage you have ever received, or even which was the best? I still fantasize about the coconut husk body scrub massage I had in Northern Thailand that left my muscles soothed and my skin silky smooth. Another personal favorite was a Tibetian pressure point massage I got in the Himayalas. 

Taking it Easy in Galle, Sri Lanka

My first stop in the aptly nicknamed Wonder of Asia, Sri Lanka, was the tranquil southern beach town of Galle. I was invited to stay at the darling Take It Easy Beach Huts that are located just 10 minutes west of the Galle Fort in Pitiwella Beach. I was fortunate that during my four day, three night stay it only drizzled a bit some mornings and was otherwise quite dry for the rainy season, especially after the floods that just tormented nearby areas.

The four brightly colored beach huts are made of locally sourced natural materials. Beach huts like these take a lot less energy to create, and maintain, making them a responsible accommodation option. The green hut, where I stayed, is the closest to the sea, just mere meters from the shoreline. The accommodation is simple, without any frills, but what it lacks in amenities it makes up for with a cozy hammock tied between two palm trees, a long stretch of sandy private beach, the most incredible sunsets, zillions of stars to be spotted on a clear night, and the soothing sound of the ocean to lull you to sleep. You can book a stay at the property on Airbnb and save $40 off your first booking of $75 by using my referral link. Accommodation along the Sri Lankan coast is typically very expensive but rates for the huts range between $10 - $15 a night depending on the season which is an amazing deal considering that beach front property in Galle is the most valuable in all of Sri Lanka. 

I woke up each morning as the sunlight streamed into my hut and the sounds of the morning tide crashed into the shoreline. Being in such close proximity to Mother Nature invoked a strong sense of oneness with nature within me and provided motivation to continue with my morning yoga practice. I find it to be much easier on my knees and ankles to hold certain asanas when my mat is spread out over sand. I honestly can't imagine a better way to start the day than sun salutations towards the sea to show gratitude for being in such a beautiful place.

While visiting Galle you'd be amiss not to make a trip to the ancient fortified peninsula remnant from the Portuguese rule during the 16th century. The fort itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and while it is not that exciting to explore it is one of the best kept European fortresses in Asia. If old stones are not your thing at least head down to the tip of the Galle Old Town to admire the Galle lighthouse and climb the Flag Rock Bastion for views of Crow Island, the Japanese Peace Pagoda, Jungle Beach and the blue hues of the Laccadive Sea. The houses of worship within the peninsula give visitors a taste of how blended the community is, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus all reside in Galle and often their temples are seen right next to one another. I really loved the gleaming, white Buddha outside of the Shri Sudharmalaya Temple.

On the same street as the temple is my favorite restaurant in the charming Galle Old Town, Pilgrims Hostel. The boutique backpacker accommodation in Galle Fort also operates a charming restaurant in which the owner of Pilgrims is also the chef! I paid them a visit to discuss their work with a local charity for disabled persons, Sambodhi Home, and was treated to a delicious freshly caught grilled yellowfin tuna steak.

The next day was spent exploring the surrounding Galle area thanks to Maike, the owner of Take It Easy Beach Huts, who also runs a professional tour company. After visiting the local market to pick up egg rolls, fish buns, mangosteen, and coconuts we headed off to our first stop, the Japanese Peace Pagoda. I was really fascinated to see the Buddhist Temple as just a few weeks earlier I had hiked some 1,300 meters up into the Himalayas to visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda in Pokhara, Nepal. There are 80 Peace Pagodas in the world, new bucket list? 

From the temple, it is a quick hike down through the jungle to the namesake Jungle Beach. The beach here is stunning due to the natural cove, lush surroundings, and local people enjoying the surf, sand, and sun. This was the only beach where I was actually able to enter the sea in Galle due to the rough monsoon waters along the coast. While the ocean is gentler at Jungle Beach there are lots of huge coral formations that are hard to see as the water isn't very clear. Stepping on one will really damage the sessile animal and also leave you quite scratched up so swim carefully. Please don't remove coral from the ocean, there is actually plenty of dead coral that has washed up onto the shore so if you must take some home, select a piece that is in the sand. 

After a swim in the sea, we shared some veg roti and fresh passion fruit juice, then hopped back on the bike and made our way towards Dalawella Beach. This is where the Instagram-famous palm tree with the knot swing can be found. Unfortunately, the family who runs Dream Cabana, the property which the tree belongs too, refused to let the swing down. They are fearful the tree could break due to upwards of 50 tourists lining up on a daily basis during the season to take a turn on the swing. But do not be fooled, they were not concerned about my safety. Instead, they worry that without the palm tree and swing their business will suffer so they prefer to keep the swing for patrons in the high season. I did try offering them a very generous sum to let down the swing but to no avail. Luckily, Maike knew of another beach swing and we were able to capture some great moments there. It's in a secret location that I swore I wouldn't share.

Disclosure Policy: I was a guest at Take It Easy Beach Huts. However, as always, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Ordering a product through an affiliate link results in a commission at no additional cost to you. This helps pay for the cost of running this website and keeps content free.