With over 33,000 Workaway hosts in 170 countries there are endless places to dream about whilst you are putting up with a bad winter or perhaps a monotonous job to fund your travels. Every month we select an outstanding host with a lot to offer and great feedback to whet your appetite for adventure and stimulate your imagination. The ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ blog gives the reader a chance to meet some of our favourite hosts and find out what it is about their personality and project which has created such an appeal amongst fellow workawayers. This month’s host is an excellent example of what Workaway hopes to achieve, as he is just as interested in the objectives of his volunteers as he is in his own. Moreover he is well known in the community and actively supports and involves local people in his project.
His name is Tilak, a native of Sri Lanka who spent much of his youth in the UK. He has travelled extensively and has a vast knowledge of eco-construction, making him a perfect host to introduce you to the intricacies of Sri Lankan culture as well as off-grid living. We hope to learn a little more about his little slice, or rather huge plantation-sized slice, of paradise. Situated on the banks of Kalpitiya Lagoon in Sri Lanka, close to the spectacular Wilpattu National Park. Tilak’s coconut plantation is a haven of natural beauty and wildlife.
“When we think about our two weeks at Tilak’s estate we remember evenings full of stories, laughter, good music and great food, surrounded by the noises of swinging palm trees and the voices of peacocks and monkeys everywhere”
– Workawayer Sissy from Germany
Hello there Tilak! What a stunning setting you have! You mention in your profile that because you have the National Park so closeby a lot of animals and birds visit the property.
Yes the National Park is about 6 kms away – so we have wildlife all over. In fact, many hang out on my estate as I have some scrub jungle on it to protect my small lake. We have loads of peacock, eagles and other birdlife, butterflies, two types of monkeys, wild boar, at least a dozen types of snake, scorpions, squirrels (giant and red), slow loris, star tortoise, loads of insects and many more. We have no mosquitoes as we are in an arid area (mosquitoes require stagnant fresh water!!!)
A tropical climate and NO mosquitos, now that IS a bonus!
How do your visitors adapt to being immersed in the wilds?
I always meet them at the airport – this is because I am in the sticks and it’s always difficult for people to get to a remote area by public transport – made much worse if it’s a strange country.
I invariably spend the first three days on the property with the Workawayers to see how they settle in or sometimes there’s overlap with other Workawayers who can help welcome newcomers.
One extreme case was a young girl who had confessed she had a number of phobias she wanted to overcome – brave girl! One was dealing with crowds and people touching/brushing up against her and she was also afraid of the dark and encountering creepy crawlies. Putting her on a local rush hour bus sorted out the first and as for the other two my project provided a cure soon enough!
Fate often has it that we have to confront our fears and demons, especially whilst travelling!
Living as you do with limited access to internet may also be a challenge for people at first (although we suspect it is also very liberating)- how do you find people react to living without constantly checking their phones?
That’s an undersell! We certainly don’t have good connectivity. But where there is a will to communicate there is a way – in many parts of the estate, including all the accomodation areas, there is pretty okay cell phone coverage (no WiFi) – some people do occasional one hour phone calls on WhatsApp/skype to people back home!!! Having said that, I have a cheap phone and I’ve never managed decent whatsapp calls of any duration – but texting suits me fine!
Having read your profile and feedback we are so impressed by your consistent 5 star ratings– you seem to have found the formula!! What is your secret for a successful Workaway experience for both parties?
There’s no real secret – I see it as common sense. Workawayers are often Couchsurfers too – we must understand that it’s a two way street – the Workawayer and the host must benefit. I’m very up-front about this from the start.
I read the applications from Workawayers carefully. I ask that prospective Workawayers share some information in their application, to tell me about themselves, how long they’ll be in the country, what else they’d like to see & experience, how long they’d like to stay with us and how they think they could help. I encourage them to ask plenty of questions.
In fact, ONLY a detailed email from a prospective Workawayer will be considered and I immediately turn down those that haven’t answered properly – same for mails that seem cut and paste responses.
That is useful for our readers to know. It’s not just about making contact with prospective hosts, but showing them that they have read the host profiles and made an effort to reply in a personalised way.
Yes, I look at their profiles too – if they are limited and they seem to have not taken much trouble – I don’t pursue it any further. On the other hand if they have accompanying feedback – I’ll read that too. I make a lot of allowances for those where English is clearly not a strength.
I share a downloadable document with all prospective visitors which gives the Workawayer much more information on me, my project and a lot of useful stuff on Sri Lanka to help them plan.
What kind of projects do you need help with?
We are looking for people who can think out of the box and help strategize sustainable solutions that impact positively on the property and the local community.
Ultimately this is all about helping me decide how to do some low key sustainable tourism in a remote and unspoilt area of Sri Lanka while keeping my coconut estate as the focus. Having a variety of international guests of different ages and from different backgrounds helps me to envisage the type of people I may target if and when I go into tourism. There’s a huge variety of things the Workawayer can get involved in – we are not task masters – we allow people to muck in on what they feel best.
Tell us, what can Workawayers expect to do in their free time?
It’s a really great place to just chill out, we have kayaks, canoes for messing around in the water. Some bikes are there. Plenty of nice walks & hikes but essentially very early in the morning or late afternoon and early evening.
The local market, places of worship and schools are also very interesting to visit and give you the opportunity to see and interact with real villagers in a way that many outsiders are not able to.
Visits can be made to local houses and often you will be invited to share meals. If there is a wedding or other celebration in the area as an outsider an invitation is almost a certainty. The estate and I are very much an integral part of the village life and as a visitor you will be able to join in and experience in a variety of activities that would be of interest.
Cooking – certainly learning how to cook traditionally with freshly ground spices and freshly caught seafood is something many may like to experience.
Your visitors seem very grateful for filling them in on Sri Lankan culture, especially advice on how to behave appropriately and respectfully…
Yes, I believe that the few reported problems with local people are due often to misunderstanding and misreading of signals etc. I give tips on how to behave, dress etc – it has worked brilliantly – all have felt very comfortable – everybody has had fun!
We see that as well as coconuts, you also cultivate cashews and mangos! 😍 What dishes or products can be made from these exquisite ingredients?
Well, we harvest Coconuts every two months and use every part of the coconut tree.
The tree trunk for wood in construction, in fact our buildings are made mainly of coconut wood and thatch. The leaves are woven into mats, bags and thatch for roofing. The husk is turned into rope and planting medium and the shell is used to make spoons and other utensils as well as for charcoal. As for food, the coconut flesh is used in cooking, to make milk and shredded to make other dishes. Lots of sweets are also made using coconut. Almost every dish in Sri Lankan cooking uses coconut in some form! Coconut water is a refreshing and healthy drink too.
Wow, who would have thought just how versatile the coconut tree is?!
As for Cashews, we harvest them just once a year. The soft fruit is used for cooking.
The fruit? That’s something else we’ve learnt– I thought cashew trees only produced nuts!
The nut before drying is peeled and used for cooking, or the nut is dried and sold or eaten.
As for the Mangoes – we should harvest once a year, but my monkeys and other wildlife eat it all! So, ironically we buy locally when in season – crazy I know – but then I like the wildlife!!!
Your place sounds like a paradise! Congratulations on creating somewhere so beautiful for both Workawayers and visitors AND for being such an outstanding host!
Thanks very much for selecting me – I think Workaway is a really great initiative and done well – for me to be recognised as Host of the Month out off 33,000 hosts in 170 countries is a great honour and a very satisfying achievement – thank you very much!
Thanks once again for taking the time out of your day to answer our questions, Tilak. We wish you every success with your schemes and dreams!