We are Sally Martin and Jerry Smith, a British couple who decided to invest everything they had six thousand miles away in Sri Lanka, and to create a memorable and unique guest house. The name Jungle Tide comes from an inspirational book written in 1930 by an eccentric Englishman called John Still. We like to think that in our small way we are his heirs.
Sally was born in Sri Lanka (when it was Ceylon), the youngest of six children of a British tea planter, and the fourth generation of her family to be associated with the island. Her great grandfather and grandfather are both buried here. The family left in 1971 when she was thirteen. At the time a nationalist government was making life difficult for foreigners and many of the expat community left the island at around the same time. While much of her childhood was spent in Colombo, some of it was on a tea plantation called Meenawatte, on the slopes of Hunasgiriya mountain which you can see from Jungle Tide. Their old planter’s bungalow is now part of a smart new hotel complex.
Sally did not return to Sri Lanka until 1998 when her new(ish) husband Jerry bought plane tickets for them both and Sally’s eight-year-old daughter as a fortieth birthday present, saying he was curious to see where she grew up. Jerry fell in love with Sri Lanka and, after a further visit in 2001, we decided we would build our future in the island.
Building Jungle Tide
In 2004 we bought the land on which Jungle Tide now stands. At the time it was a mix of overgrown tea and jungle, but it had a stream running through it and wonderful views from the top of the land. The house was completed in 2008 with the help of a brilliant local project manager and an architect who trained under the great Geoffrey Bawa. The design was inspired by a 21st century take on a traditional planter’s bungalow. High ceilings, long veranda, lots of glass but all shaded, and both a western and a traditional Sri Lankan kitchen. When the swimming pool was added a couple of years later, and we had employed two wonderful staff, we were ready to open as a guest house. For five years we ran Jungle Tide remotely while we continued working in England. We came to live here in late 2015. In March 2023 we returned to live in England but still keeping Jungle Tide open as a guest house with our wonderful staff and a top-class local manager, Kenny Williams, who we have known for several years. We intend to spend the UK winter months (January to March) at Jungle Tide each year. And save money on heating bills!
Jungle Tide Values
Making our guests feel at home is at the centre of how we run Jungle Tide. Comfortable rooms and beds, conversations around the dinner table, answering questions and providing advice, arranging transport and planning itineraries, playing games (with children and adults, indoors and outdoors), and maintaining a well-stocked medicine cabinet are the practical ways we try to do this. We let our guests decide the balance they want between privacy and socialising with us and other guests.
Jungle Tide is especially good for families and for older travellers. And it truly excels for three generation families and family reunions. For older people, we provide comfort, conversation, privacy if wanted, and a safe and secure environment. For families, a place where kids of all ages can play safely, learn new skills and knowledge, and discover the joys of unplugged entertainment.
Jungle Tide is a Sri Lankan registered company and all our income goes into the local economy. We encourage our guests to visit the village shops and the bakery while they are here, and to use local drivers and tuk-tuks. We also actively support a local charity – the TEA Project – which provides education and childcare to some of the most impoverished families in Sri Lanka – the pickers and other workers on the tea estates. We arrange visits to the project for interested guests. We have also done some English teaching with local children and we make our swimming pool available (under proper adult supervision) for village kids when we have few guests. During the economic crisis (2022-23) we donated 10% of our room income to provide emergency food supplies to the poorest households in our two local villages, Uduwela and Ingulgolla. Many former guests also contributed generously to this fundraising effort.
We are firm believers in the value of exchange as an alternative to money always having to change hands. So Jungle Tide is available for house exchanges (contact us if you’re interested). We also collaborate with other small high quality hotels and guest houses off the main tourist routes to encourage people to stay in places we can personally recommend, if they do the same for us. And if you are inspired by Jungle Tide but we’re a little out of your budget, you may be able to stay free in exchange for helping us out – especially if you have a skill we need, whether that’s carpentry, horticulture or helping us in our struggle with social media! Contact us for details.
We would like and hope to do more for the environment but at least we have made a start. It is a challenge in rural Sri Lanka where there is no refuse collection, and certainly no recycling facilities. Our hot water is provided by solar units; our drinking water comes from our deep well via filter systems rather than being bought in plastic containers; we reuse many glass bottles and jars and compost all vegetable waste (our dogs see to any leftover meat!). We burn anything combustible in an incinerator rather than on a bonfire, which is less environmentally damaging. And although we are a long way from self-sufficiency we grow a lot of our own fruit and vegetables and some spices. All the eggs we need are provided by our free-range hens. We bake our own bread and cakes, and make lots of jams, chutneys and home-made ice creams from surpluses of fruit.
Martin and Rani Fernando are at the heart of Jungle Tide. They live at the house and have been with us from the very start. Rani is a fabulous cook and expert anthurium grower among her many other talents. Martin maintains the pool in perfect condition and does lots of minor repairs around the house, especially plumbing. Both are very engaged with our guests; Rani will give cookery lessons, Martin will take you on a walking tour of the local village and find you a three wheeler if you need one.
Noni lives in a nearby village and works for us during the week, assisting Rani with gardening, laundry and cleaning. She has been with us since 2016 and is incredibly hard-working and cheerful, despite the hard life she has had. We cannot thank our three staff enough for helping us to make Jungle Tide what it is.
Kenny Williams is another essential part of our team. We have a contract with him as our main driver for guests (Engllish is his first language and he is fluent in Sinhala ad Tamil – you won’t find many drivers like that!) but more than that, Kenny manages Jungle Tide on a day-to-day basis when we are in the UK.
BROKE ‘N’ ENGLISH: LEARNING TO LIVE IN SRI LANKA
Jerry has written a humorous account of how we came to live at Jungle Tide. Chronicling the roller-coaster journey we took from our first visit in 1998 to 2018 when the book was published.
Broke’n’English was positively reviewed in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times by poet and travel writer Royston Ellis. Ashok Ferrey, perhaps the best-known Sri Lankan author living in the country, describes the book as “absolutely delightful” while fellow comedy travel writer Paul Topping (aka The Whingeing Pome) who is based in Colombo said: “I couldn’t put it down. That hasn’t happened since Dan Brown!”
A second edition of Broke’n’English has now been published by Colombo-based Jam Fruit Tree Press, and Jerry is currently working on a follow-up book, which he hopes will also appear in print during 2023 or early 2024.
Find out how to find us and get around the area and greater Sri Lanka. We’re here to help!