JUNE 27, 2014
By ROWENA RYAN,
Travel Reporter Source: news.com.au
WHEN Australian Louise Searle made an impromptu trip to Sri Lanka, she never imagined how it would change her life forever.
After only two days in the country and an incredible twist of events she bought a slice of Sri Lankan property, sealing her fate for this magical land.
Born in Adelaide and growing up in Sydney, Louise now owns a Sri Lankan holiday retreat, Mandalay Lake Villas, and is building a second home for when she and her husband retire.
She tells why moving her life to this incredible country once ravaged by civil war and recovering from a tsunami is the ultimate sea change.
Discovering Sri Lanka
We moved to Singapore in 2007 with our children for my husband’s work. We had never been to Sri Lanka before, and being an easy 3 1/2 hour flight from there, we decided to go for a holiday. With our children and their grandparents, we watched the first cricket match played at the Galle International Cricket Stadium since it was rebuilt after the tsunami.
Our hotel was overbooked due to the cricket crowd, so we were moved to a villa in the Galle Fort.
The villa owners suggested we come and meet them at the lakeside property to see another area of Galle. This was Mandalay Lake Villa on Lake Koggala. The minute we walked in through the large gates, we fell in love with the property, even in its sad state.
They told us the property was for sale. That night we met with the owner and proceeded with the purchase straight away! In fact, we were looking to buy in Bali at the time, so this was a completely spontaneous and passionate purchase.
What makes Sri Lanka so special
After holidaying in Bali for more than 35 years and watching it change, we found Sri Lanka unspoilt and beautiful in every sense. It’s a fusion of India, Polynesia and Bali, yet with it’s own unique culture.
Its natural beauty reminded us of southern India, the slow relaxed pace of Polynesia and all that Bali offered before tourism changed everything.
The food is so clean and fresh, and as a vegetarian I have an abundance of choice. It’s cheap, and when buying from smaller shops, is often without pesticides.
The people are welcoming, friendly and relaxed, with the most amazing smiles. I’ve never felt hassled, and they just seem to go about business without being rushed. The slower pace of life is quite contagious.
Crabs and prawns can be bought straight from the fishermen off our pontoon, which our cook turns into delicious Sri Lankan feasts.
Beautifully baked bread with caraway seeds can be bought from the bread van with “it’s a small world” blaring from the speakers and fried chick peas from a cart can be purchased right outside our front door.
We swim with giant turtles off our favourite beach bar, Wijaya, and have been up close and personal with the awesome blue whales.
My personal connection to Sri Lanka
What has made Sri Lanka so unique and special for me was the amazing personal connections I discovered only after we purchased our villa.
Unbeknown to me, my great, great grandfather, Sir Robert Brownrigg, was the second British Governor of Ceylon in 1815. I happily spent lots time reading all about him in the lovely library of Amangalla.
We realised that our family crest, that had been hanging in my mother’s home for 40 years in Adelaide, has the Ceylonese King of Kandy and the Lion Rampart on it. We never even noticed!
Also my father was an Australian Test cricketer and always spoke fondly about his cricket tour to Colombo in 1951. He even gave me Ceylonese sapphires for my 21st birthday that he’d bought on his tour.
And finally, the owner of the beautiful villa we purchased was originally from my hometown of Adelaide. So I have a strong connection to the place.
What surprises me about Sri Lanka
Everything! Every day there is a lovely surprise, be it a festival or cultural event, a beautiful creature emerging from the bushes, or the locals’ wonderful perspective on life. I have learnt so much from the people I have met.
As a destination, it’s incredible how underdeveloped Sri Lanka was when we arrived seven years ago compared to now. Firstly, the war ended in 2009, and with that came rapid changes. A new freeway has been built, making the treacherous five hour journey from Colombo to Galle, an easy two hour cruise.
The majestic Galle Fort has been completely renovated and has loads of new shops and fabulous places to stay.
The larger hotel chains are starting to arrive, and with that, more tourism, and even more development. The rate of growth has been truly breathtaking, considering they’ve just come out of a 28 year civil war and were then devastated by the tsunami.
I am also surprised and impressed by their resilience and sense of calm.
The challenges of buying property in Sri Lanka
It’s a little confusing, and currently under government revision. But officially, like Bali, foreigners can’t own land although there are several ways to secure property and many foreigners have done so.
One alternative is to purchase is a 99 year lease (as opposed to Bali’s 25+25 year option).
The biggest challenge is making sure the title is clear, as down the line (and this has happened to many purchasers) the ownership can be challenged by a random, distant relative that has come out of the wood work to make a claim.
The court process is also slow and lengthy so we made sure we have a great local lawyer to do a thorough title search. Of course there are risks like other developing countries, but they are worth taking.
Is Sri Lanka cheap?
In comparison to Bali, Singapore and Sydney, yes I think it is. But prices are going up rapidly. Thankfully, building costs are still a tenth of Sydney prices. And food is very cheap and fresh.
Life in Sri Lanka is crazy
There have been so many crazy stories I could write a book. Every day is unpredictable, which is what I love. There is never a dull moment. I have become quite accustomed to monkeys, snakes, giant crabs, otters, kingfishers, the odd mongoose and even a fishing cat (like a small leopard) walking along the lawn.
I’m now quite used to being barefoot, looking less manicured, having ugly, scratched mozzie bites on my legs, and sporting an unusual shade of orange hair, thanks to the old well water. There’s always drama, but nothing has been scary, except the crazy buses on the roads. And for them, I’ve learnt to just close my eyes.
It has taken five years of telling my tuktuk driver, that whilst driving, he’s not to turn his head right around to talk to me. That’s about the most scared I’ve been.
Why I would give up Australia for Sri Lanka
In this part of the world, something exciting happens every day. I seem to gain more energy and vitality from living in a completely different culture, where everyday brings an incredible experience and pushes me well out of my comfort zone.
Hearing the chanting of Buddhist monks, discovering a new vegetable I’d not seen before, mixing with the madness of local village life and all the wonderful wildlife, or just enjoying the peace and tranquillity on the lake or at the beach.
I feel that whilst we have the energy and our health, why not be in a place that expands and invigorates every sense. We love Australia, but right now, we prefer to go forward and discover new places. Sri Lanka is the ultimate sea change.