Before Elias and I left Belgium, we created an account on Workaway.info. Workaway is a platform where hosts from all over the world offer volunteer opportunities for travelers. In exchange for a couple of hours of work per day you get a free place to sleep and meals in some cases. Since we were planning to travel slowly and as long as possible, we thought this would be a nice way to keep ourselves busy while learning something new and supporting local communities.
During our three months in Sri Lanka we had two Workaway experiences and they were both great so I would like to talk about both of them.
After the bombings, we ended up in the South of Sri Lanka. We were planning on staying in Weligama for a while; it’s a good place to surf for beginners. I had surfed a couple of times before, but I was definitely still a beginner. Besides, I was planning to pass my love for surfing on to Elias who had never really surfed before. It was the end of the high season and the start of the rainy season so every afternoon thick clouds covered the sky; preparing for some heavy rain and thunder. We found a Workaway opportunity in a hostel in a small town next to Weligama with a name we only managed to pronounce after two weeks. Polwathumodara. But if you want the bus driver to know where you are going, you need to pronounce it: Polwatoomoduruh. Anyway, it’s a small village in between Weligama and Mirissa, the last one a party town where people go for (apart from partying) whale and dolphin watching.
“Berg House Mirissa” is beautifully located on a hill and nicely positioned so you can go left to party in Mirissa, right to surf in Weligama and straight ahead for a secluded beach. The owner of the hostel is Dulli. A 28-year-old Sri Lankan who had started the hostel the year before. Over the weeks we met a lot of young men in Sri Lanka who started their business after having worked for 5 to 10 years in the Middle East. Dulli too, had worked abroad for many years; he spent time in Europe and in different countries in the Middle East. He and others told us that life is hard in Sri Lanka. There are very few job opportunities and even if you find one, you have to work hard for very little money. In places like Oman, Qatar and Dubai, the pay and the quality of life is better so many Sri Lankans go there to work and save up money, which they can invest in their own business once they return to their motherland.
There was a lot to do on the large property of Berg House Mirissa. A new building had been constructed recently and some coconut trees had been cut down. All this left a big mess in the garden which had to be cleaned up. Besides that, the new house had to be prepared for renting, which meant it had to be cleaned, decorated and photographed for Airbnb & Booking.com. In the meantime, the interior of the hostel needed some extra decoration and one of the other volunteers started on a large mural which she needed some assistance for. For the largest part there were six of us. Five volunteers: Elias and I, Vicky (a bubbly young woman from London), Alex (a yoga teacher from Paris), Kim (a creative Dutchie) and Dulli of course. Since the low season was starting and many tourists left Sri Lanka after the bombings, the hostel didn’t have guests except for us. It was like we rented a big house with friends and the six of us had a lot of fun working and living together.
Most days in Polwhatumodara looked like this: In the mornings, Elias and I would wake up early and take the bus to Weligama to go surfing. We rented a board at the beach for 250 rupees per hour and surfed until we were too exhausted to paddle out. Although the waves got rougher every day, for the most part it was perfect for us to practice. After getting back we made ourselves coffee and a large brunch before starting our work day. Mostly we worked for 4 or 5 hours doing garden work, painting or (in my case) photography. It felt nice to do something with my skills and to pick up old talents like painting.
Every night of the first week there was a curfew, which meant we had to stay inside from about 9 PM until the next morning 6 AM. So most of the time we made sure we bought some drinks and food so we could stay in all night and cook delicious meals together. There was a very large kitchen with many herbs and spices and Dulli & Vicky were quite good at making curries and chapati. I started to get used to eating rice and curry every day and was surprised how many types there are.
Our off days we spent in Weligama, on the beach or somewhere we wanted to visit. One day we went to Galle, an old colonial town with a Dutch fort. It’s weird to walk around in a hot Sri Lankan town which feels like Europe. What felt even weirder was that this place clearly would have been buzzing with tourists, but all streets with restaurants and souvenir shops were deserted. We would get used to this feeling in the months to come…
In total we stayed for two weeks before we decided it was time to move on. We were ready for some mountains and decided to travel land inwards (see other story).
A couple of weeks later we started our second work away in Kandy, one of the bigger cities of Sri Lanka in the centre of the country. We were looking for something in that area and coincidentally Chaturah sent us a message because he was looking for volunteers. He was opening a new hostel and basically everything you can imagine still had to be done: starting with painting the exterior and interior completely white. Since the hostel was not livable yet, we stayed in his other hostel: Funk Bunks Hostel Kandy. A very beautiful hostel on a hill, overlooking the lush green hills of Kandy. Our room was big and luxurious and we got food three times a day. We were taken care of perfectly!
This time we were the only volunteers which meant that a lot of time it was just the two of us painting in the house. Most of the time it was fun, having a big house for ourselves, playing loud music or listening to podcasts and in the mean time playing around with paint. But it was a little lonely and two weeks of white paint was quite enough.
Kandy is beautiful. It’s a pretty big city but it’s not so busy and chaotic as Colombo. It’s very green and a little fresher at night because of the altitude. There are many parks and viewpoints and our favourite place was the botanical garden. It’s a little expensive (1500 rupees per person) but we thought it was worth it. It’s so big you can easily wander around for a full day, and still miss out on some parts of the park. Kandy is not much of a party town, or at least not when we were there. We did go to a local party with our host Chaturah, which was technically a high school reunion with DJ’s and a lot of Arrack, the local coconut liquor. We made some friends and it turned out to be a great night, even though a fight broke out, supposedly because of me. I was practically the only white girl on the dance floor and even though it must have been clear that I had a boyfriend whom I was dancing with most of the time, two local dudes found a reason to fight. Apart from this party we had some great nights at Slightly Chilled’s cafe with some other people we met during our time there. The terrace looks out over Kandy and watching the sundown from there makes for a perfect evening.
Summarizing it all, I can’t say anything bad about our Workaway experiences in Sri Lanka and I can’t wait to try some more in other parts of the world. If you consider volunteering while travelling, I wrote down some tips for you to read! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comment section or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org 😉
Tips for volunteering abroad:
- Make sure your insurance covers volunteer work abroad
- Some websites to check out: workaway.info, helpx.net or wwoofinternational.org. Most of these websites ask for a (one-time) membership fee. These website use a reference system so you can check where you are going.
- Check references! If you want to be sure, only go to places which have at least 3 reviews.
- You can also ask for volunteer options on the way: in hostels for example. While we were in Sri Lanka there were very few opportunities since all the tourists left Sri Lanka after the bombings, but usually this is fairly easy, especially if you have time to stay for a while.