Sculpting our lives, designing our nest ~ in Sri lanka

Before there was a house, there was a country. And before there was a country, there was a region.

We just culminated a two year long due diligence process that was fun, thrilling, thought provoking and which forced us to really come to terms with our “bottom lines” on what we want to achieve, for the next chapter of our travels, and our lives.

After 6 years in Nicaragua, Latin America, we chose to open up a new chapter in our empty nester lives and reinvent ourselves, yet again, this time in Asia.

For some this is a stressful process, but for us it is nothing short of delectable. We considered the entire region of Asia, and visited over a dozen countries with the express purpose of finding our next home base. Early favorites were Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. We spent enough time in each to get a first assessment of what our lives might look like.

Our challenge was to balance the need to create an income stream, the opportunity to have social or environmental impact, the breadth of experience that each country would summon, the proximity of nature and clean beaches, the vibrancy of the local food source and cuisine, the personality and ease of interaction with locals, the complexity of learning a new language, the cost of living, the viability of the healthcare system and a myriad other smaller considerations.

We eventually took Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar out of the running. But we were ambivalent about several cities/towns that for us, would each make fabulous home bases.

India offered up Pushkar ~ a magnificent explosion of human experience rich with colorful fabrics, a complex local culture and so much more. BUT… the dust (and Peta’s allergies to it) was the defining dimension that took Pushkar out of the running.

Indonesia served up Ubud, Bali ~ the epicenter of raw food cuisine and a mecca for yoga, Peta was partial to Ubud. But I could not wrap my head around a business model where I would likely be able to quickly stand up a sustainable source of revenue.

Laos’s siren call came from Luang Prabang ~ due to its architectural and natural beauty.  Peta was thumbs up on the omni-present community of Buddhist monks and the inevitable weaving of Buddhism as a key dimensions of our potential lives there. I couldn’t see clearly what the path would be to income, but… I was so taken with Luang Prabang, I didn’t care.  Ultimately, Peta felt the ecosystem was a bit limited and while it was/is a wonderful place to visit and live in for a while, we couldn’t quite envision how to manifest a multi-dimensional life there as a home base.

Left therefore were two superlative potential life trajectories, one in Viet Nam (Hoi An) and the other in Sri Lanka (Fort Galle). So different and yet so equally attractive and alluring to both of us, for such a variety of reasons. We couldn’t decide and ultimately, we decided NOT to decide. Hence we are moving in 10 days to our two future home bases ~ Hoi An and Fort Galle/Unawatuna.

Once we decided on our trajectories, we moved quickly. Very quickly.

We visited Viet Nam in June, found an apartment in Hoi An, signed a lease that would begin on August 15, 2016. While we were not yet ready to move physically as Ben had to wrap things up work wise in Chicago, it turned out that one of our best friends was looking to return to Asia, so we offered up our apartment to her, and she is now living there.

There will be plenty more to report on our future lives in Hoi An.

And then there was Unawatuna, Sri Lanka. During the same trip, in June, having decided to lock in on the Fort Galle region, we moved quickly to identify a specific spot. We found a house in a great location, more of a “warehouse” really, with no water, no kitchen or bathroom, just a shell.


After all, we had a blast designing and building our home in Nicaragua. When Peta finally said good bye to our home in Granda, she had a moment of melancholy ~ “We will never have such a beautiful house like this again”, she said. “Au contraire!” I said, there is no reason to think we wouldn’t indulge in an adventure to design and build a home that is perfect for us, again. Somewhere else. Asia.

And so… Game on!

The following is an update on the manifestation of our Sri Lankan vision. To appreciate the choice of location, see our earlier blog entries:

The region: Asia

The country: Sri Lanka

The town: Unawatuna, near the historic Fort Galle

Now it’s about the house itself.


Step one: Figuring out the financials ~ we do not have the means, today, to buy a house. But we do know that the region is a booming investment opportunity. We managed to negotiate an agreement with the owner, whereby we would invest some $ in lieu of rent, for almost one year. And we would sign an option to buy the house, at a pre-set attractive price, should we decide to confirm our long term vision. Done and done!

Step two: Collecting data points for the aesthetics we want to achieve.  While proximity to a superlative yoga studio and gorgeous beach were the key drivers, the specific house’s obvious attributes is in its location nestled amongst a thick tapestry of trees and foliage.  The weather being warm all year round, we opted to prioritize “outdoor living”

One inspiration came from our travels to Yogyakarta, Indonesia where we tucked away a set of visuals in our minds ~ one day (and now today is that day) we would build ourselves an outside garden bathroom.


Outside garden / bathroom in Yogyakarta – over two years ago – loving being in a tub, under the sky and stars. “the next time we build a house, let’s have a tub outside, just like this”!

With this single starting point of prioritizing an internal garden / external bathroom, we built up a vision around materials, color and aesthetic. We both love the process of going from a blank canvas or lump of clay, to an art creation. Building a house, for us, is the same process.

Step 3: Pen to paper ~ we did a draft of our desired end state design and sought cost estimates from local vendors.  A key to this process, of course, is to have a trustworthy and competent local relay.  We quickly found just the right young man with sufficient prior experience, drive and ability to communicate smoothly and to be able to execute a build program, particularly at a distance.


Basic design done by Peta of layout of house. This drawing shows our addition of the open air bathroom at the top of the plan. Currently the house is a rectangular shape, with basic divisions for rooms. There is however, no kitchen per se, no bathroom and no running water or electricity.

We of course had to tweak our vision to match our budget (equivalent to 1 year of rent) and had to do some trade offs.  But so far, we have been able to preserve the most critical aspects of of design vision. The cost estimation with local vendors and local materials yields multiple surprises, some items being cheaper than anticipated and others being more expensive than expected.

The rigor of confronting our vision with a budget is a necessary part of the process and forces us to prioritize elements of our vision. (That dreamy salt water pool will just have to wait!!)


Excel spreadsheet for budget estimate and quotes from builders.

Step 4:Take the plunge and start building ~ And then communicate, communicate, communicate. Clearly, with drawings and photographs to illustrate.

So far so good! Our vision is starting to materialize…..


Close up of design for bathroom. Initially in this first drawing we started off with a semi circular shape. Now, we have changed this to a more organic shape that follows the contours of the back of the property.


Back of the house, where we decide that we will build that (Yogyakarta) dream bathroom.


We use superimposed design onto photographs to communicate by email with the project manager in Sri Lanka.


The red rope is indicative of where the wall around the bathroom will be built. Ah, we are already dreaming of taking baths under the sky and trees.


The trench for the foundation for the wall has begun. Now it’s for real!


And within days, the wall starts to go up, with the post for the water tank at the back. Eventually the bamboo we plant around the water tank will hide it completely with a living green “fence”.


It’s all in the details! We are using the photos we took in Indonesia to inspire and give explicit desired “end state”.



How to choose the right shade of green for the walls, at a distance? These are two of the samples we received and enabled us to communicate that these are ” too dark.”











Design inspiration for wooden or bamboo doorway/gate to the garden which houses the bathtub.



The doorway to the garden will be “right here”!


This is where it’s good to have an active imagination. Imagine that this area is green, green, green with plants, flowers, creepers and a few small trees. We can see it. Can you?


This has to be THE BEST photo we received to determine length of the bath tub. Too funny!

Now the work starts on other parts of the  house… The current house has 3 small “bedrooms”.  We opt to take out a wall between two of the rooms so that we can have one large master bedroom, and one small guest room / office.


The house is a bit dark, so more windows would be nice…and how nice would it be to walk out of the bedroom onto a small yoga deck and into a garden area? The future main bedroom will have glass pane doors to allow light to enter and access to the outside from the bedroom.


Here is the new doorway from what will be the master bedroom, to the outside, what will be garden, and small yoga platform.

The “kitchen” is a bare square room right now.  It will need a door to the outside at the back of the house, so that we can eat our meals outside under the trees. A sink, counter space, a fridge are all part of the priority items per our current budget.




Here is the new door that will lead from the “kitchen” to the back of the house where we will create a garden eating area. Further to the right, we envision a ayurvedic herbal garden and fruit trees.


Yay, the kitchen will have a door AND windows for light and air. Kitchen counters being built.

So that’s where we stand today.

It is a work in progress, but we are confident that we can upgrade the space into something really cool that we will enjoy living in… all it takes is some design creativity, some program management skills, a good local partner to manage day to day activities, and a healthy dose of courage.

We are sculpting our Sri Lankan lives, and designing the house that will be our home base in Sri Lanka for the next chapter of our Green Global Trek.

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Comments on the blog are always appreciated and enjoyed.

54 thoughts on “Sculpting our lives, designing our nest ~ in Sri lanka

  1. lisadorenfest

    I love watching you manifest this latest phase of your dream life! I so appreciate Peta’s pain when saying good-bye to your home in Granada but her joy in saying hello to new adventures in Asia. I feel that way every time we leave a country. The only thing that eases the pain of leaving is the excitement of arriving somewhere else. We plan to sail through Sri Lanka as we make our way westward…likely in 2018 but maybe sooner. Would love to take a dip in your Yogyakarta inspired bathtub when it is complete:-)

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Lisa!

      You have first dibs on the bath tub and we certainly hope you do sail to Sri Lanka and stop by for a visit. Who knows what adventures lie between now and then? It’s a date…

      You are exactly right! Sometimes living in a place and knowing you fit in that place so well, makes it hard to leave. But then the excitement and anticipation of discovering a new country, a new place, a new culture, nothing quite beats that…! Perhaps that is the definition of a nomadic lifestyle.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      We are very pleased with how quickly things are moving along…. and with no drama (so far,so good.)

      For the last year and a half we have been living in the urban jungle of Chicago. It was quite some getting used to after being in a less hectic, more bucolic environment in Asia. I do enjoy cities but I need to be near to nature to restore my energy on a regular basis.

      Stay tuned…..


  2. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

    I’m awed by your sense of adventure and your courage to make a new future for yourselves. May your new life in both countries fulfill all your dreams. I know you’ll have a positive impact on your new communities.
    All that outdoor living – just WOW!

    (No oven or stove top? Outdoor BBQ?)

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sharon!

      Initially we can get by without a stovetop/oven, but we will probably add one as time goes by, especially as we hope to rent and do “home exchange” with this house when we are traveling in the region. We are thinking of a wood fire outdoor oven!


  3. Stan

    I just loved reading this beautiful post with all the detail of the process and progress being made, from thought to actual manifestation and together with the pictures!
    I am in awe of your latest manifestation coming together so beautifully and drama-less in Sri Lanka!!
    Your lifestyle, courage to take the leaps and general consciousness re environment and life are right up my alley… And while I am definitely enjoying my relatively new lifestyle here, there is always part of me feeling, dreaming and ‘watching’ what is wanting to manifest next. You guys are such an inspiration in that and I love you for that!
    Thanks You!!
    And yes, I can totally see your bathroom complete with creepers, trees, flowers etc!!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Stan, I love how much you totally “get us”…. and oh yes, the “devil is in the detail” really applies here. Sometimes I think I might just drive Ben and the construction crew a bit crazy with the level of detail that I go into and lobby for. But the aesthetics are important to me as I am such a visual person.

      Re the environmental part, we have already budgeted for a solar system for hot water and hope to install a rain water catchment for drinking water. And I am very excited to start a medicinal/herbal and vegetable garden there.

      You definitely need to come and visit at some point. You will love the yoga studio near by as well.

      Thanks for continuing to follow our adventure….

      1. Stan

        Yes Peta,
        I will totally visit you there!!
        I know it!
        As I was reading your post, lights were going on and off somewhere in ‘there’…. Lights of recognition of intention etc….
        Solar and rain water catchment sound fantastic!!
        It is all really awesome!
        I know what you mean about the details and the aesthetics and I relate totally!
        Keep enjoying the process….

  4. lexklein

    I savored every word and photo of this post over my morning coffee today. Everything about your journey appeals to me; I read it as if it were an adventure novel that I couldn’t put down! Alas, I don’t think my husband could buy into such a vision for our lives. All of the parts that I would find exhilarating and energizing, he would find to be terrible chores. He is adventurous in different ways (in fact, here we are living in a new city in a teeny apartment so that he can pursue a new line of work), but this would not fly with him, I fear. I will have to satisfy myself with solo adventures to strange and wonderful places and – now – with reading stories like yours! (P.S. With enough advance notice, I will join Lisa on that visit in 2018! 🙂 )

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Lex you don’t need to wait for Lisa till 2018, you can get over to Sri Lanka sooner than that!

      So glad we accompanied your morning coffee, that is compliment enough! We reciprocate the feeling by reading your fascinating accounts of your travels in Mongolia and you have certainly inspired us to put Mongolia at the top of our list of must visit soon countries.

      Ben and I manage to balance each other during this process. Actually, I would be very happy perpetually traveling without an anchor country.. This is my BEST! Ben however, prefers to have a home base both for work purposes (yup that thing one needs to do to keep the wheels on financially) and to get a different depth of experience and integration in any given country.

      See you in Sri Lanka!

      Peta (& Ben)

  5. Sue Slaght

    Like Lex i read with great interest over my coffee. I can’t believe how far the building has already come along! That bathroom is going to be extraordinary. I applaud the way you embrace change and are flexible to re-create your lives around the world. I will be watching for updates!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      We are definitely pleased with the quick progress. Of course in the construction process surprises are inevitable so we are staying alert and hoping for a smooth renovation. I am definitely excited about having a bathtub outside and look forward to growing a grape vine so I can pop grapes while relaxing in the tub under the stars. Romantic, right? It’s the little things in life….

      Thanks Sue.

  6. healingpilgrim

    So beautiful and inspiring, to read about you grounding your dreams, narrowing down places to call home (boohoo, about Ubud), and organizing plans, photos and imagined spaces to create this wonderful oasis. Oh, and I love that photo of the worker lying in the bathtub-to-be! Hope our paths cross – in Sri Lanka, Hoi An or… back in Ubud 😉

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Amit.

      I like that… “grounding your dreams”. Exactly!

      Ubud, definitely has a special place in my heart (and stomach… ohhhh the raw food restaurants and the raw vegan desserts. Nowhere in the world can one eat such healthy creative yummy stuff and all at reasonable prices. We will for sure visit, I mean how exactly does one live without that raw carrot cake from “Sage”?

      That photo is definitely a classic!

      I hope our paths cross too…

  7. Brook Skillman

    OMG! I cannot believe this! HEAVEN absolute heaven! Your visions are so clear and take place so quick…Jaw dropping location. I cannot wait to see your gem!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Ben is driving this one and moving so fast, I can hardly keep up. Decisions being made at rapid pace…!

      Remember our oasis of a place in Nicaragua? The big downside, was always the fact that our house was in a city and a noisy city at that! (Recall those 3 a.m. processions, TVs and music blaring at all hours of the day or night, the bombas (firecrackers) going off constantly), well I vowed that the next time we invest in a dwelling it would be in a tranquil environment. And so, here it is…!

      Cannot wait for you to see it. You will LOVE it!!


  8. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

    So excited for you two…love the pictures of design and construction. I am inspired as we will begin building our home in Guatemala in November!! Yay all of us! Trekking, expanding, loving, living and manifesting…all the things! Congratulations!!


  9. badfish

    What a great post. It’s the kind of thing I would love to do, but most likely will never have the courage to try, and I don’t know why because I’m always conjuring images of what a house I might build would look like…it would definitely have a bathroom bigger than the kitchen like yours, and be outside. And round. Sooo Bali-ish! I do like to put myself out into the world, but I have a hard time making decisions…unlike you guys! Although I’m considering Vietnam for my next journey. But if I make it to Sri Lanka, can I please use your tub?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Badfish.

      Indulging in ones design and creative house building spirit is of course a lot easier to do when building a house in countries with a relatively low cost of labor. The process is definitely fun, but not without some elements of stress, especially at a distance.

      We will be based in Sri Lanka, but also in Hoi An, Viet Nam where we have a small apartment rented on the river near the Historical part of town. So do connect with us if you come our way and we can get a “cafe sua da” or “nuoc mia” together. And yes,you can definitely use our tub if and when you make it to Sri Lanka. Right now, we are in process of decision re what kind of tub to use. Turns out a regular tub in Sri Lanka is rather pricey. So we are considering using an old boat as the base and trying to find someone to make an interior lining for the tub. Stay tuned…. see you in Asia!


  10. carolinehelbig

    I love how you provided your thought process of deciding which location, and your step by step details are amazing. The outdoor bath sounds absolutely dreamy. I am very excited for you guys and look forward to seeing it all progress.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Caroline.

      The deliberate process to weigh multiple country destinations for our future home base(s) has much to do with the fact that Ben likes to have an anchor base whereas I would be perfectly happy to keep moving…. Sri Lanka as a region is rich with potential and we will no doubt travel extensively and at the same time will have the “luxury” of a home and a cool bath tub!


  11. Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go

    Isn’t it amazing to have the freedom to take a zig or a zag in life? Loved reading about your quest for a new home base (or two) and I also enjoyed the photos of your new home in progress. I had a good laugh at the “perspective” photo of determining the bathtub size! And what a lovely idea, a soak under the stars. I’ll look forward to seeing the end results. Anita

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Anita… Yes it is a privilege indeed to have the freedom to “zig and zag” in life. I like how you put that!
      I did not think we would be renovating a house anywhere, (after Nicaragua), Ben assured me we would one day, and well, here we are…


  12. Johnny-O

    I do hope you realize what an inspiration this all is, for me & I’m sure others — above and beyond the pleasure of sharing your pleasure. I’m at the very least inspired to visit you some day! Looking forward to some Hoi An story-telling…..

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks John. Glad you are reading and enjoying the blog! See you in either of our new neighborhoods one day, hopefully.
      Hoi An coming up soon!!


  13. CompassAndCamera

    Peta! And Ben! I just hopped on over to your blog, and found your amazing story about building in Sri Lanka. Wow! Congrats! Having lived in Asia for nearly four years, I think you made a magnificent choice with Sri Lanka. It is such a beautiful country in so many ways. Can’t wait to read more about your adventure and watch the house take shape. Best of luck with everything!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Kelly, we see you are based in Singapore. Great base no doubt for Asian explorations.

      Yes, we did quite a lot of field research for the past two years, and after three visits to Sri Lanka, we are pretty excited about being based there soon. It is such a diverse cultural jewel. Do sign up as a “follower” so you can get automatic updates of the house as it takes shape in the near future.

      We will have a second home base in Hoi An, Viet Nam. Stop by if you are visit Fort Galle, Sri Lanka, or Hoi An, Viet Nam!


  14. petakaplan

    From Sasha:

    Thanks for sharing!

    All the best to the two of you on your next chapter!!

    It seems like many of us are moving through exciting transition times.

    Would love to visit Sri Lanka one day!

  15. Rochy

    Well, here I am in Jolly Joburg trying to get one door handle and a garage sliding door fixed by myriad of incompetent workmen, while you are building a house in the forest with a bath in the garden and a kitchen with no stove. You know how much I admire your courage and adventurous life and am inspired by every journey you take. With great determination I am going to find a cruise that stops in Unawatuna and come have a long and peaceful bath with you and listen to your stories and soak in your exuberance for life and your passion for living. All the best to you and to Ben.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      I laughed so hard while reading this…. Too, too funny! Maybe we should put a stove in that kitchen come to think f it! (Thanks for the reminder…:)

      Such really heartwarming compliments. Thank you.

      YES! Look for a cruise anywhere to Sri lanka, it’s a small country. After all, you came to Nicaragua, so of course, we expect you to come and visit in Sri Lanka as well. Looking forward to it!!


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      And to think that just a few years ago, we too knew very little about this small island at the tip of India.

      Glad you are enjoying following the journey. More to come….


  16. Joanne Sisco

    I read this post with increasing interest. Wow. Just wow!! The two of you are able to move and make decisions very quickly.

    Like you, I would also have made the bathroom the first priority 🙂 I’ve never been in an outdoor bathroom and now I feel I must add the experience to my list of New Things!

    So the only part I’m puzzled about is the rainy season. I’m assuming there is either an indoor toilet, or the outdoor toilet will have some half roof over it?

    Looking forward to the next update.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Joanne… Once we make up our minds, it’s full steam ahead.

      Oh yes, once you try an outdoor bathroom, there is no going back. (Tropical climate of course is a pre requisite.)
      Funny you should mention the rainy season, as that is starting now and we were just talking about having adequate drainage put in. The toilet is outside and yes it will have a small bamboo or wooden type of structure above it and we will probably have a big umbrella handy too!

      Next update coming soon….


  17. Gilda Baxter

    It is fascinating to hear about your decision process on choosing where to call home. I think feeling safe would be very important to me. Your building plans are great andI love how you are surrounded by so much greenery. A little piece of paradise.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Feeling safe is definitely important. Our experience has been overwhelmingly one of feeling safe and welcome in almost all the places we have been in SE Asia. (It was somewhat of a culture shock upon return to Chicago for a year and a half though, as there are so many issues and tragedies by way of gun violence.)

      The green forest in the area was definitely a draw for us, as was proximity to a good beach.


  18. My Inner Chick

    ——AHHHHHHH, I’m envious of your travels.

    Such a RICH & Vibrant life of monks, culture, transformations, and delectable bathtubs!

    Can’t wait to see the end result. HURRY.

    Btw: I LOVE the beginning of this post. Like a classic, delicious novel.

    ****Before there was a house, there was a country. And before there was a country, there was a region.****

    FABULOUS, addictive blog.

    xx from MN.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Wow! Thank you for all the compliments. If you are indeed “addicted” you have years of previous countries to “catch up” on… we started the blog in Nicaragua, eight years ago. Lots of adventures in between.


  19. Pingback: Sculpting our lives, building our Sri Lanka nest ~ part 3 – Empty Nesters on a Green Global Trek

  20. Liesbet

    Wow! Speaking of a project. This is such an amazing decision for you guys, to create a home base and develop it from “scratch”.

    Where are you living in the meantime? I assume people speak English in Sri Lanka? Language would be an important factor for us to choose a home base, especially when major projects are in the works or jobs have to be found.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Not quite “from scratch”. Our approach was to take an empty shell of a house that we found in a great location and then to augment it to fit our needs and wants.

      In the meantime we are enjoying life in Hoi An, Viet Nam, a place we grew to love when we lived here in 2013 and then when we returned in 2014 with one of our sons.

      Yes, people do speak English in Sri Lanka. Not everyone, especially not in very rural locations though. They also speak Sinhalese and Tamil. Since most Sinhalese do not speak Tamil, English is often a language where the two ethnic communities “meet”.

      We fully expected that for proper long term integration we would need to learn the local language, which turned out to be a significant criterion in selecting Sri Lanka versus Viet Nam as Vietnamese is prohibitively complex. Both of us are multilingual and are looking forward to learning Sinhalese. Ben intends to be fluent within two years, but it will take me much longer than that!


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