The Jungle at the Bottom of My Garden

27 September 2013

Our Villa is on the south coast of Sri Lanka.

Villa Malgedara. Twenty minutes walk through the village to the beach and two minutes walk to the edge of Koggala Lake, the largest lake in Sri Lanka. It’s a wonderful way to start and end the day, wandering the tree-shaded dirt lanes. After three weeks amongst them, the village’s population is used to us wandering their neighbourhood, admiring their tidy yards of swept dirt filled with surprising bursts of red from hibiscus, white star-like flowers of the temple tree, jasmine and abundance of leafy green shrubs all seeking shade under the canopy of palms, bo and teak trees. Everywhere we are welcomed with a “hello”, “good morning”, “goodbye” – a dentist’s delight of bright white teeth smiling through overbites and gapped grins, always with the ubiquitous nod. Ignored by the numerous drain dogs in varying degrees of health sunning themselves or participating in the universal tradition of bum sniffing. Them, not us.

In fact Villa Malgedara has an abundance of wildlife encased in its bougainvillea-covered walls.

We share our green paradise with Siobhan the squirrel, who is generally glimpsed hauling some leaf or stick into a creeper growing over a palm between the shaded terrace and the pool. Siobhan is constructing what appears to be a squirrel condominium.

Then there’s the trio of Monitor Lizards; Marty, Marcia and Stanley (who lives in a burrow under the garden stairs).

Our light brown drain dog puppies keep a close eye on the events of the villa. From the terrace we often see the white-tipped tail of Sneaky passing through, or Cheeky, who is still not forgiven for stealing my swimming goggles from the pool terrace.

Koggala Lake welcomes the occasional sea plane, which casts a shadow across Malgedara Villa’s acre of garden on its landing approach. The massive Koggala Lake is home to an ancient Buddhist temple whose chants can be heard carried on the sea breeze. Bird Island generates a daily journey of avian life, and then at dusk a super highway of bats doing the night shift.

Ahhh Villa life … Yep, I know how pretentious that sounded, and I do apologise.

Spending the day bobbing quietly in the Villa’s infinity pool, with a view of our tropical retreat of heliconias, temple flower tress, mango and giant ginger with its waxy red bloom.

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Okay, I just reread this, and I’m starting to sound like a travel brochure. So bear with me.

Watching from the pool, our kithul palm is alive with howler monkeys with their furry black and white faces. The vine-covered wall surrounding the property provides a short cut for the forty-strong troop of monkeys who make their daily trek from village to jungle, chattering and mischievously dropping coconut bombs from the palms they swing from.

I had a bonding moment a couple of days ago. Whilst in the pool, one male sat and munched on a mango just staring at me. I discovered the sad truth that I’m not scintillating company, because after about three minutes of our primate stare-off, he dropped the mango, scratched his red bum and proceeded to play with himself. (For you quick-wits who know me, I know what you’re thinking.)

If I sit still for long enough, Marcia the Monitor Lizard is not afraid to sun herself on the rock ledge beyond the pool. Even the villa’s mongoose couple, Bonnie and Clyde, are visible playing in the long grass, loping from the rice paddy on one side of the property through the low wire fence onto the villa’s lawn. Siobhan the Squirrel’s family tear around over the villa’s terracotta-tiled roof, up palm trees or into the bush. A flash and bushy tail.

My absolute favourite is to see the flash of blue, as a Kingfisher decides just which branch it is going to land on. Yes, thanks Mikey, the Kingfisher is a relative of the Kookaburra.

The tropical day is an unfolding episode of Animal Kingdom.

We generally spend the entire day jumping from pool to the terrace, reading books in the rattan-covered planters chairs, or dining at the long teak table. Our polished concrete terrace has a five metre high terracotta-tiled roof, supported by eight pillars that shade us from the tropical sun or quick bursts of rain.

The summer monsoon is a week away.

One side of our outdoor living room looks down to the pool and the other side is a whitewashed wall with brown timber shutters off our bedrooms and an indoor lounge. Passing through the french doors into the lounge, we have two more rooms across an outdoor passage.

No, this isn’t the Weekend Real Estate Supplement, although if anyone from the Weekend Australian is reading this, I freelance.

The most important room in the villa, as in all homes, is the kitchen. Ours is a shuttered room in the corner of the villa. Just step into that empty room and immediately one of our four hosts appears. This is their domain, closely guarded. Just still can’t get used to someone making all my food, mixing my drinks and making my bed.

Not that I’m saying I couldn’t get used to it.

Roshan is our 25 year old villa manager, translator, tuk tuk driver, cleaner, tour desk and ‘go to’ man.

Dilshan, our curly haired Master Chief, always has a bright white smile and is a curry master in the kitchen.

Podi, our night watchman, is in charge of early morning tea and warding off stray cats and dogs (yes, that means you Cheeky).

20130929-115021.jpgAnd finally Nilame, who quietly goes about his business of keeping the gardens clear of palm fronds, coconuts and mangos discarded by the monkeys; fastidiously cleans the pool each morning; scampers up the thin palm trees to deliver to us fresh coconuts; and skilfully repairs the monkey-damaged water pipes. Little rascals.

Nilame’s newest qualification is flower arranger. I led a flower arranging workshop for the villa staff after a “particularly creative” afternoon. I know how that sounds, but they got into it and we all had a laugh … and the next day he had copied and improved on my botanical display!

We have four days before we journey on to Jaffna, in the far North.

I certainly know how fortunate we have been to meet such wonderful warm people, and to have shared it with friends who dropped in for a stay.

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It’s night now. Mike and I are sitting on the terrace, a waft of incense and mosquito coil, the orchestra of frogs and crickets. Sipping a G&T and staring into the darkness.

All I can see is the white moonlit trunks of the palm trees, dotting the sloped lawn leading down to our back fence.

It feels like a magical world, watching the fireflies blinking on and off as they move in and out of the silhouettes of palms, vines, mango trees and the black mass which is the jungle at the bottom of my garden.

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About Freoroamers

Richard has worked in hospitality and travel for almost three decades and has been a regular traveller since childhood. He now travels for both work and pleasure, and is a Senior Contributor to Trip Advisor and other digital media travel platforms.
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