Six months ago, my husband left me. To adequately describe what it was like for me during those early days is impossible. I don’t have the words to articulate how deep and vast my grief was. Our seven-year wedding anniversary fell a short two weeks after he left and for what little I did know at that time, I was certain I couldn’t be home surrounded by the life we had built together over a 13-year journey, on the anniversary of our marriage. That is how I ended up at Sunshine Stories.
My ex told me about Sunshine Stories a year prior, we were planning to visit together. In the wake of his extremely abrupt and unexpected exit, I thought of the place we had always wanted to experience as a couple and I felt it was there, I needed to go. Alone. Not quite your “Eat, Pray, Love” situation despite how it may sound, it was far from it. I wasn’t eating much those days and the love that I was so secure in, that I thought transcended all obstacles, had been eviscerated. Prayers however were abundant and plentiful, and Sunshine Stories was an answered prayer.
Living in Boston, Massachusetts, Sri Lanka is literally on the other side of the world for me, it is far and remote (8,638 miles to be exact). With essentially no planning and with the support of my incredible family and friends, my ticket to Sri Lanka was booked less than 48 hours before arriving. I went in search of surf but what I discovered there was so much more than that.
Sunshine Stories is one of those places you read about in a book or see in a movie. It’s a place you think couldn’t possibly exist in real life, because it’s just that good. It’s a sanctuary where you can expect to find wonderfully kind souls, incredibly fresh food and an innate passion for life by way of surfing and yoga.
I had the opportunity to stay at Sunshine Stories sister property first, Ceylon Sliders. I am so glad I was able to visit both properties because they are both so different and unique. Ceylon has a simplistic beauty to it that is enhanced by its natural surroundings. The greens of a palm frond and the tones of various blues from the ocean that lies directly across from the hotel give it an ethereal vibe. When I walked into my room after almost two days of travel, there was a painting hung on the wall that read, “let the waves set you free”. I instantly broke down upon reading this powerful message, it spoke to me on another level. That painting is forever seared in memory and it became my mantra for the duration of my stay and subsequently, my life.
In my opinion, there is little more you could need or want at Ceylon. You can rent a board in the reception (which also serves as the cutest little surf shop) and walk it right across the street to take it for a ride. They have a lovely café that boasts some of the best coffee in town. I had a hard time not ordering everything off their menu just by the descriptions alone but their avocado toast was my favorite and a frequent meal for me après surf. I was fortunate enough to meet another solo traveler during my stay at Ceylon, I call her my Australian Angel, we instantly bonded and she ended up joining me at SS for the week where my journey towards healing truly began. We are still frequently in touch to this day.
SS is located in the province of Ahangama, about 15 min by way of tuk tuk (their local transportation) to Ceylon Sliders which is located in Weligama. Upon arriving at SS, I was greeted by cold fresh coconuts and a staff who very quickly became friends and confidants.
There was an ease to SS, while your days are planned with surf, yoga and other fun activities, I never felt like I HAD to do anything or that the days were too full. Sometimes I could show up on my Yoga mat for every session, other times I needed to sob uncontrollably into my pillow by myself, there was space to do both. The support I received from total strangers, restored a little bit of the faith that had been so violently ripped away from me. It gave me hope.
The grounds at SS are stunning. They are nestled in green, lush trees that quite literally make you feel as if you are in the jungle. Sounds (and sights) of monkeys can be heard throughout the day. At night, the stars shine with such ferocity as they have no competition from surrounding light.
The food at SS was hands down some of the best I’ve had in my life. Made from the freshest ingredients, there wasn’t one meal I didn’t enjoy. From fish & chips night to the cooking class given right at the retreat, it is one of the things I remember the most.
As I mentioned, a part of what drew me to SS was the surf. I learned to surf about a year ago in Rincon, Puerto Rico and very quickly became addicted. Learning to surf with Mitch (the head coach) felt like a religion. I soaked up every word, every ounce of the 30-years of surfing knowledge he has. One of the many great things about SS is the “surf theory” the provide each day, where you very simply learn about various components that comprise the sport of Surfing. Wind, current, waves, etiquette when you’re in the water (of my favorite things to learn from Mitch, as he had some notably memorable stories on the topic). Being somewhat of a nerd, learning about the sport was just as important to me as the application. I consider myself to be a beginner surfer and felt immensely supported by the instruction I was given while I was there. One the best takeaways was that each one of our surf sessions was recorded. Each day they would take us each through our respective videos to discuss patterns, small tweaks for improvements etc. They send everyone a compilation video of your sessions after you leave and it is still one my most valued treasures. Not because I can be seen surfing the waves of Sri Lanka, but because I was captured at one of the darkest times of my life, on a surf board, smiling ear to ear.
More than anything, Surfing was the only time I was completely unaware of what I was going through emotionally and mentally. I would check out, remain present and not hyper fixate about what my future held. My relationship with the ocean has always been one of the most important in my life. I gain lessons from her daily, I am grounded when I am near her and pine for her when I’m away for too long. There are moments where she is incredibly kind to me, and others when she is unbelievably harsh. Still, I cannot deny the source of power and strength I draw from her, especially now in my adult years. The feeling of riding a wave is one I cannot replicate anywhere else in my life, no matter how hard I try.
The women I met on this journey were all brilliant, most of whom were also travelling solo. They came from all walks of life, each with a beautiful story to tell. SS brings people to a place that fosters, nurtures and deepens experiences. At least that’s what it did for me. I will never forget the amazing people I met there at a time when I needed it the most and the beautiful country of Sri Lanka where I was able to leave a small piece of my broken heart behind.
Photos and words by Hafsa Lewis @hafsalewis