By Selena Oh
As we set off around dusk after work, my friend and I were looking forward to getting into Habarana later that night in want of maximising our time during the weekend that we intended spending there!
The pleasant Walkers Tours driver Kavindra was bang on time, smiling welcomingly to collect our bags and ourselves. We were a trifle late, but we finally set off. Even though the sun had set and darkness had crept in, as we drove past Pasyala, we couldn’t help but stop to buy some freshly-roasted, salted cadjunuts to snack on during the journey.
Trailing behind belching trucks, honking cars and the usual crazily driven buses, we arrived at 10 something at our destination after a five-hour-long drive. The familiar signage of the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana was sighted and we drove through to the majestic tall pillared lobby of the hotel!
A pleasant and refreshing avocado juice welcomed us served by colourfully clad receptionists eager to show us to our chalet and also to the buffet, which was about to be cleared! Soon word got round that we had arrived, and from the Regional Chef Jeeva, to the Assistant Manager Chaminda, we were met and indulged with exotic foods and excellent service.
The dining room was still occupied with other guests, all who were relaxing the evening away. The adjoining bar belted out some popular music, sometimes so loud that some of us just couldn’t make conversation, but that was what was wanted I was told. We left our dining experience to get an early night.
Awakening to what I thought was a huge downpour of rain, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only the heavy rustling of the leaves of the trees that sheltered each chalet. Having forgotten to draw the curtains, the rays of the sun streamed in, waking us up, which was just as well, as we got off to an early start, not wanting to waste a minute idling or lazing around unnecessarily.
Showered and freshened up, we felt like the morning that enveloped us – crisp with fragrant hues of the flowering shrubs, birds that were chirping throughout – all in a happy tone, we almost felt like skipping our way to the restaurant for a much-looked-forward-to breakfast! Once again, a huge buffet with different aromas wafting in the air tempted us to waffles, homemade yoghurts (a first in the hotels in Sri Lanka), hoppers, string hoppers, pol roti with the popular accompaniments, ‘kola kenda,’ a herbal porridge with pieces of pure kitul jaggary to tag onto, fruit, juices, cereals, freshly baked breads – the choice was nothing but the best!
Off to Chaaya Blu
As squirrels begged for tit-bits on the side, we laboured over breakfast and decided to drive out to Trincomalee to see Chaaya Blu, which has been in operation for a year plus! The roads were certainly a tad better, so we sped off anxious to see the stunning beaches of the east coast. Suddenly, we were beckoned by a policeman who came out from nowhere, who claimed we were speeding. We were just five km over the speed limit. Regardless of our many excuses, and pleading, we were still charged a fee of Rs. 1,000.
We continued until we reached Chaaya Blu and were again given the right royal welcome that emanates from the hotel culture of the John Keells Group. It was certainly ‘one journey, many paths’ as their slogan narrated.Ahead of us, were miles of a stretch of an unbelievable blue sheet with soft white cotton looking swirls waiting to catch either the breath of a whale or dolphins at play, the rays of the sun, or even just us the human beings waiting to dive into the warm waters of the ocean! Boats were spotted afar, and we were told that these boats were carrying divers to hotspots to do what they were here for! We didn’t have enough time to take a boat out to see whales or dolphins and opted to believe in whatever was told to us by other guests, who packed the restaurants to full capacity. Indeed, a refreshing change from how the hotels were patronised hardly a few years ago.
General Manager Ravi Fernando walked us through the many areas in the property, through superior rooms, suites, the beach-fronted rooms, bar, specialty restaurant and the main restaurant, the diving office, etc. A 36 degree centigrade temperature was not the most comfortable, but we were fortunate to have a warm breeze waft through the restaurant, which helped to keep ourselves slightly more comfortable.
A quick lunch of seafood and salads and a fond farewell saw us back in our vehicle heading back to the Lodge once again. A thrilling moment for a minute or two was ours, when a wild lone elephant suddenly appeared from the jungle, coming out for food, stared at us and slowly walked away.
Back in the hotel, not wanting to waste even a minute of us being there, we opted to roam the farm where vegetables were grown organically, guided by Nilantha Kodituwakku, the Assistant Manager and Naturalist from Nature Trail. He took us through a butterfly patch which boasted blooms that attracted many species of all types of butterflies. With a sharp eye for bird watching, he explained the many varieties we saw, while some of them had to be identified first by their tone of chirp. I became extremely good at it by the end of the walk!
A feathered world indeed it was after almost 60 minutes of trekking, ending almost at the edge of the Habarana Tank bund. Here was another stretch of beauty with the setting sun’s rays reflecting in the rippling water. Temptation to have a dip in these waters crept into my mind, but I was soon dragged away for no one was sure what might be lurking in those waters. Four peacocks swiftly ran ahead of us, creeping back into the forest, even though I tried hard to photograph the group. Watching the cows being driven to their shelters, quails in their nurseries, chasing the cheeky monkeys away from eating fruit or destroying the manioc crops, it was quite an exciting walk through nature. I loved it!
Back in our rooms, after a long day of a lot of walking, a shower was a must and we soon returned to the bar to have drinks with the Assistant Manager, to be followed by dinner. My friend chose to experience the Azmaara Spa, which is located in a chalet furthest away in the complex, nestled beneath huge trees giving that feel of rustic quietness which is what one requires at a spa. She said the experience was heavenly though heavy on the purse!
Before dinner, we took a quick peek into the neighbouring Chaaya Village, which was also bustling with people and running to a full capacity! The lounge was busy, streaming with tourists – all indulging in a fare that is hard to beat! Bells were rung to announce an act of some sort which was to take place. But after a quick walk with Teddy Roland, General Manager of this property, we returned to our sanctuary for dinner and a not-so-early night!
With incentive conferences taking place that weekend, we were not in a position to take a closer eye of this newly-facilitated area. Air conditioned but still with the feel of being up in the skies at the level of the tree top made this venue hard to come by. For certain, this cannot be found in any hotel in Colombo! A Thai restaurant serving an a la carte menu was an option, if one tires of eating off a buffet three times a day!
Time to say goodbye
Sadly, our stay soon came to an end! Bidding goodbye to our newfound friends, it felt as if we knew them all our lives and naturally sad to return to Colombo where a normal life would prevail again!
On the way back, we stopped at a Spice Garden just out of Habarana to learn more on the available magical spices grown in our own land, which if taken correctly would lead us to a healthier lifestyle! However, the prices were rather exorbitant so we chose to continue the way we were!
So, all those out there, looking at where to go when the next long weekend arrives, can certainly be guaranteed of a satisfying vacation break which is only a call away to confirm your booking online or by calling the Walkers Tours Travel arm or John Keells Leisure sector for a total package.
The good news is that soon to arrive is the air taxi commute which would fly you out there for a mere approximate rate of Rs. 4,900 per head (one way), saving you five hours of commuting by road!
The writer is a marketing communication specialist from Singapore and visited Sri Lanka recently