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As the daughter of a South American living in the Colorado Rockies, I took part in an annual migration every winter. As soon as school let out, I was tucked under my mother’s wing and flown to a beach in Mexico or some Caribbean island where I was let loose while she defrosted for a week or two with a hat tipped over her eyes, a cold beer nearby. My days revolved around food, much as they do now. I’d take mom’s pesos and seek out the local fare, testing malted sodas and plantain chips, sucking on sugar cane. I think I accidentally ate a dove once.
It was on one of these trips that I discovered the true taste of fresh coconut. Artificial coconut has an appealing smell that evokes good times and summer fun—Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil, Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers, Almond Joys—but it’s nothing like the mild sweetness of the real thing. I was surprised by the size of fresh coconuts, too. Boys my age would climb up tall, limbless trees on the beach and deliver coconuts almost the diameter of a soccer ball, husky and green in color. The hard brown things we bought at Safeway were the more mature coconuts. And only aged coconuts have the dense white meat inside. The texture of fresh coconut is more akin to lox, shivery and slimy with the kind of mouthfeel that usually makes kids whine. But I loved it and still do.
Now I am living in Bhutan, where it’s so cold I don’t bother putting the milk in the refrigerator, where my shampoo needs defrosting, where I huddle around my space heater pining for summer even when it’s summer. So at the invitation of a friend, I tucked myself under my own wing and headed south for some warmth at a spectacular retreat tucked in the jungles of central Sri Lanka. It was a week of gazing at balmy waterfronts, walking barefoot on swept pathways, stepping over vipers, and night after night of amazing meals. We ate like King Ashoka’s daughter Sanghamitta must have eaten when she brought the Bodhi tree bough to the island two thousand years ago—organic locally grown curries served on banana leaves. We sat on a spacious rock by a fire eating under the stars while monkeys watched, casting curious shadows.
This piece of paradise is called Ulpotha, and it’s completely unplugged; there is no electricity, let alone Internet, no clocks, no amplified music, no refrigeration. It takes about a day to get used to the lack of buzz, and then it’s as if your humanity is handed back to you on a hand-hewn plate. Too many months in Bhutan had made me brittle, but Sri Lanka quickly undid it all. The warmth sank into my bones. There were others there, a violinist, a perfumer, a playwright. We bathed outside, dipping coconut ladles into copper pots. We did yoga under a banyan tree. We contemplated death by crocodile. We rode bikes through coconut groves.
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