Sculpting our lives, building our Sri Lanka nest ~ part 3

If readers are confused about our “nest construction”, switching as it does between Hoi An, Viet Nam and Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, there is good reason for it. We are creating two home bases in parallel and, to be more exact, it’s more like a braid with two interwoven strands, than two parallel tracks.

While Peta is settling into our Hoi An river house in Viet Nam, I, Ben head to work, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for a week. Meetings in Colombo present an opportunity to go to the Southern coast on the weekend and check on the construction team’s progress.

Normally, Pete and I would seek to do this together, as we fully expect that being ‘on the ground’ will generate a slew of questions and decisions for the builders to proceed apace. But given the 12 hour journey from Danang Airport in Viet Nam to Colombo in Sri Lanka, it just didn’t make sense for both of us to come… especially so soon after the grueling 24 hour journey to get here from the U.S.

This is a granular update that may not appeal to everyone, but which might be of interest to anyone who has built, or has dreamt of building their own house.

My (Ben) challenge, is to start to “bring it all together”. We have made much progress, but there are still some very thorny unresolved issues.

 External garden bathroom:

The wall is great. It curves beautifully. It is a perfect shade of weathered teal green, and the wax finish makes it very pleasant to the touch. I can totally envision how it will look once there are flowers planted which attract butterflies, vines and creepers scaling the walls and a small tree or two. Perhaps a passion fruit creeper growing on the wall next to the bathtub so we can eat passion fruit  while soaking in the tub.


Night time makes the walls appear grey, but they are in fact a lovely washed teal green color.

The light outlets are now in place. It is easy to visualize how my ceramic lanterns sculpted in Hoi An will look in here, casting shapes and shadows on the walls.

The shower is a tad high, but nothing catastrophic ~ easy to adjust at a later stage. (A perfect example of how easily miscommunications happen at a distance. We thought we were specific in saying the shower should be sufficiently high, as Ben is 6’2 and often has to stoop under shower heads. Well we definitely got a higher shower than the average here!….)

Importantly, the municipality has come to connect the water to the house. So, we finally have running water! Getting this to actually happen was no easy feat.

A solar panel is on the roof, and as electricity is apparently expensive, solar gets us a lower monthly bill as well as is environmentally friendly. We have always wanted a solar panel, and would like at some future date, to add a rain cachement system to collect and make use of rain water.


The elephant in the room is of course the coveted bathtub.

We are at the time of my arrival, yet to come up with a valid solution.

I visit multiple traditional bathtub vendors in Colombo. The bathtubs are either boring, or, the couple that are very beautiful, are imported Italian designs and prohibitively expensive ~ way out of our price range.

The option of using an old boat to create a bathtub (which we wrote about in our  prior blog entry) is not happening.  I went to several beaches, spoke with multiple fishermen, and it’s just not viable because there do not appear to be any discarded or unused boats. I did find one antique boat, very beautiful but way too expensive and much, much too big…


My one viable boat find. Our bathroom garden would need to be the size of the whole house for this to work from a proportion point of view.

The beautiful bamboo boats in Hoi An are perfect from a visual point of view, but too expensive and impractical to ship to Sri Lanka. Oh well. It was fun toying with the thought of making this work.

So, we nix the boat converted to bathtub idea.

I am however, determined to find a solution before I leave, because the bathtub has become one of our priority items to have set up by the time we move in here.

Finally, as I take a tuk tuk ride toward the historic city of Fort Galle, I have a “eureka” moment when I pass something along the road that captures my attention and gets my creative juices flowing…..

We drive past an industrial cement pipeline company ~ the kind which makes huge cement cylinders, used for underground municipal water pipes.

What if, I muse, we  forget the intended use of these industrial cement cylinders, and just think of them for their shape ~ a long hollow cylindrical shape. They are 3.5 feet in diameter and 3 feet in length.

What if, we somehow could cut through the middle of these and make them into two equal half cylinders? AND, what if, we then fuse the two half cylinders, to make a 6 foot long shape. Why couldn’t THAT become a bathtub?

The solution is so “outside the box”, that I have a hard time convincing my Sri Lankan program manager, Kumara, to take it seriously. He is, however, extremely diplomatic and while trying not to laugh, he humors me by listening to the concept I have come up with.


Trying out the pipe for size….

Um yeah, this could maybe work…

I wonder if Pete will mind taking a bath in an industrial pipe?


The pipe is huge. One does not normally see these, as they are run under ground under streets transporting water.


But yet, two days later, here are the said pipes, delivered to the property, waiting to be made into, yup, a bathtub!

Cost of the Italian bathtub, pre delivery from Colombo: $1750.

Cost of this quirky and very original creation: $100.

Will it work? I have no idea…. it sure seems worth the effort to try and see what happens. All part of the adventure.


Living room:

The room looks infinitely larger now that the walls have been cleaned up. As I arrive, the painters are putting the second coat of under paint, and within 2 days they will complete the final light cream top coat of paint. It looks great already.


Now that the windows have been cleaned there is a lot more light inside.


Looking through the hallway arch, towards the front door of the house. Living room is on the right. Bedrooms on the left.


Workers getting the ceiling fans ready for installation. You can see through the archway, through the back door into the bathroom garden.

Neither of us are big fans of air conditioning. (We lived in Granada, Nicaragua in a tropical climate for six years. Our house there had AC in the bedrooms, which we very rarely used. Ceiling fans and good air flow are great for a cooling breeze and avoiding air conditioning.)

The unresolved next issue is the floor:

We can’t put down tiles, because the current floor is of a certain finish which, for some reason, does not lend itself to cementing anything over it. I have looked into wooden flooring, but it is pretty pricey.

I  take some time to sit in silence on the beach and think about our lifestyle.

We like to sit on and be on the floor a lot. Pete is prone to impromptu yoga stretches. It is inevitable that we will have animals aplenty, and that inevitably we will gravitate towards the floor to be with them.

So, who else has a lifestyle which focuses around time spent ‘on the floor’…?

The Japanese. Tatami floors.

We can’t get original Japanese tatami mats because they are extremely expensive (and unavailable here). Why not a local version though? After all, a tatami mat is but a soft-ish, woven grass. I remember having seen a rattan type store somewhere along the road. Off I go on my rented motorbike in search of the one last practical, budget friendly solution for the floor that I can think of.

I find the store. And in addition to their mostly woven baskets, yes, they do have woven mats! They are soft. They are 3 feet x 6 feet (think yoga mat size.) The room is 24 feet x 14 feet. I figure we need 18 mats!

Cost of each mat = 500 rupees ( 3  U.S. dollars per mat)!

Voila! I have a perfectly viable floor covering solution for a grand total of $60!

The wooden flooring I was quoted in Colombo was $3000.

(There will be some additional minimal costs with the mats, such as paper thin strips of straw colored wood, used to secure the woven mats to the cement floor.)

Will it work?

Hopefully. I don’t know….but I’d invest $100 to give it a shot.


Grass mats laid out on the floor to create a Japanese tatami style room. The colored fabric strip will be covered by a paper thin piece of wood to secure the mats in place.

Looks pretty cool to me! I run the  idea by Pete and she agrees it sounds like a great idea.

The kitchen

We have decided to go with colored concrete for the kitchen counter tops. Inexpensive, easy to clean and minimalist design. We weren’ t sure how it would look, but pleased to say, it looks great. The concrete top is softened by the wooden shelves built underneath for storage.


I discover that the kitchen has ‘acloves’ which I did not recall being there. These will be used for wooden shelving on either side. Later we can determine how we make use of the central section.


We will soon be moving to our Sri Lanka abode, so it’s time to focus on the functional and basic requirements.

We are big consumers of fresh fruit and veggies, no or minimal cooking required. But, there is always that time when we do need a pot of boiling water for this or that. One tuk tuk ride to town takes me to a kitchenware type store ~ in 30m, I buy a cook top and a toaster oven for grilling veggies, etc. We are definitely fine without an oven. We barely used the one we had in Nicaragua. (We can always add this later, as needed.)

We still need a fridge. (Funnily enough, these can be bought on arrival at the airport, tax free.)


The closet

I have a vague recollection of a dark, small room that was intended as the bathroom. When I go into this space, I think it will work very well as a walk-in closet for the main bedroom now that it is cleaned up and painted and a small wall was removed.

It will be pretty novel for us to have a real closet. I call Pete to ask her for some help in designing the space. Within 30mn I have a design from her. On day two, I meet the carpenter, show him the drawing, and he asks me to measure where I want the shelves, the rails, the drawers.

On a roll here….


A walk in closet. Novel concept for two people who lived out of one small backpack (Ben), one carry on suitcase (Peta) for almost two years!

The main bedroom:

Gone is the middle wall between the original two small rooms, yielding a large and spacious main bedroom.


The newly built French doors will allow us to step out of our bedroom into the garden on the side and is also a huge infusion of additional light and airiness to the room. The doors are positioned to ‘line up’ with the doorway into the living room, for good airflow.


Peeking into the main bedroom (from the living room.)

As I walk through the house, a  truck arrives and delivers our king sized mattress. Good, we have something to sleep on!


Exterior of the house:

The house is transforming from a basic rectangle “with potential”, into a really cute little house.


We decide to go with a burnt orange/ sienna tone for the exterior. These two shades are the closest to that color palette that are available. A on two sides of the house, B on the other two sides. Who said that all walls need to be the same color?

Lots of sanding down is required to clean the traditional wooden carved small posts that are above the windows.



(Future site of) Ayurvedic herb and vegetable garden:

I ask Kumara to help us delineate our property, which he does by creating a ‘living fence’. This helps me see where our garden will be. The living fence is created using branches in the ground ~ after the rain they will sprout and start growing leaves and eventually branches.


Front of the house to the right.


In Nicaragua, Peta created a beautiful lush colorful garden for our bamboo house, where prior to that there had just been rubble and garbage. Looking forward to seeing how this takes form.

Animals… Already?!?

If you know us, then you know how much we love animals and feel that a home is truly a home once it has cats and/or dogs.  Animals tend to come to us, quite naturally… (there are many blog posts in the archives about the beloved animals who have shared our lives). Peta’s whole life, stray cats and kittens have found their way under her ‘wing’.

Well, it seems that there is already a stray dog living at the house. Wait, no, there are two dogs. Um well, actually, it appears that there are THREE dogs that have made this house a home before we even get there. This is definitely an all time record for us, that the animals are already there before US!


They were there when we visited the house the first time. They are here again, or still remain Two are affectionate and one is a bit sickly looking and rather scared.



All work and no play:

It’s time for me to reward myself with a fun activity as I have been going round the clock, first in Colombo for work, and now here in Unawatuna for the house.

I decide to go antique hunting…Fort Galle is a treasure trove of antiques as it has been populated by wealthy residents for 300+ years. The architecture is Dutch and Portuguese, the subsequent colonial period was British. In short, there is sure to be an interesting collection of antiques.

And indeed, what a treasure trove. I’m just looking… just looking.



Too bad this piece is too small to be a bathtub and too big to be a wash basin. This is however a terrific picture of Kumara, our program manager who has been supervising the renovations on our behalf, and has done a great job!


We love old doors. Maybe we can incorporate some of them into the house at a later stage.


This textured old wagon wheel epitomizes the colors and multi layers of texture that are Sri Lanka.


Old window frames…. Objects to be carefully selected and incorporated slowly over time. Something we will both enjoy doing.

I admit to being a bit like a kid in a candy store in this antique warehouse that is much like Ali Baba’s cavern. I treat myself to a small purchase: three old large ceramic storage urns. I think they will look great in the kitchen or the bathroom garden.img_0158

I leave Unawatuna and Sri Lanka, with the satisfaction that all is on track, both with my work and our future house. There are still a few unresolved issues, most clearly the bathtub, but I am  pretty optimistic it will all work out.

This is the third post on the topic of creating our nest in Sri Lanka. To see what you might have missed before this post, check out:

Sculpting our lives, designing our nest ~ in Sri lanka


Sculpting our lives, designing our nest ~ continued…


40 thoughts on “Sculpting our lives, building our Sri Lanka nest ~ part 3

  1. Gilda Baxter

    You have made fantastic progress with the house, I like the idea of solar panels and later on to catch rain water, all very environmentally friendly. I think that the cement bathtub could work well, are you going to sink it into the ground? Thanks for the update ?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Gilda.
      The pipe bathtub will be partially sunk into the ground….just enough to secure it from being a rollercoaster bathtub.


  2. Chantal

    This is truly amazing and very inviting……I am definitely coming to visit…..soon.

    Meanwhile, I love watching it all from scratch too….heavenly.

    Good job, keep going….its 5 a.m. I am awake and this is definitely not putting me to sleep. Love you both.??

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Fantastic!! We would love you to come and visit. You were the first to see our house in Nicaragua, so it makes sense that you be one of the first to come to Sri Lanka. So glad you like what we have done so far.

      Thank you for sharing our adventure and for your warm and lovely comments.
      We love you too! and you are going to love the salt water pool at the yoga center a few minutes walk away from the house.

      Ben & Peta

  3. carolinehelbig

    Wonderful update, thanks Ben. I love the way the walls curve in the outdoor bathroom and I see you have incorporated curves in the kitchen counter—beautiful. I’m really enjoying the continuing saga of the bathtub and look forward to seeing how the pipes work out.

    Both your creativity in this process is amazing and inspirational.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Caroline, so glad you are enjoying the creative process.

      This particular house has very straight lines and we are definitely the types that prefer soft curves… so we just had to add some.

      We enjoy the process of renovating a basic house to something more interesting and personal. This is the third time that we are renovating a house together, the first two times, being in Granada, Nicaragua.

      The process is not without mishaps and there is always a natural tension between wanting to move full steam ahead versus being more reflective and desirous of more time to process, before “pulling the trigger.” I am sure you can guess which one is which? 🙂

      PK: It is definitely a tad scary to have Ben out there solo and unconstrained… Ha, ha.

      Peta & Ben

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Well, thanks!

      I think the tatami mat floors will be an experience. However, we will have to have people take their shoes off at the door as it will not be easy to keep clean otherwise. However, in many parts of Asia, it is of course customary to leave one’s shoes at the door.

      The “paradise” part will kick in once the garden takes hold. Can’t wait for that!


      1. Gili Rosenberg

        Taking off shoes doesn’t sound like a big deal to me – it’s pretty standard in many places, including our home, Vancouver. Everything is looking great – are you planning on covering part of the bathroom in some way…? The rainy months might be an issue otherwise – being in a hot steaming bath in the rain is lots of fun, but going to the bathroom and getting drenched – not so much…

        1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

          Thanks Gili.

          Re covering the bathroom, we have certainly discussed this and we will eventually have a living pergola such as a passion fruit vine over the toilet and wash basin the meantime we are totally fine having a big umbrella to use, as needed. What’s a little rain? We are definitely looking forward to being in our tub in the rain, at night under the stars and any other time of day that strikes our fancy.


  4. Sue Slaght

    Wow look at all the progress! Such creative ideas that will make your home so special , not to mention save a ton of money. Looking forward to the next installment very much!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sue, it feels “full steam ahead.” Decisions and action are all being taken quickly as the team of workers are on the job and have another job waiting for them. Ben certainly made good progress in getting some crucial decisions made in the two days he was there. I can’t wait to see it for myself and start working on the garden.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Anabel, I DO think Ben is extremely ingenious but it’s also about a good degree of courage to actually go forward with it too. How often does one think of a great idea? But between ideas and execution there are often many exit ramps. Not so with Ben though!


  5. D. Wallace Peach

    Lovely and what an adventure. I think it’s great that you’re thinking outside the box, but also incorporating old doors and windows over time. They will give the house so much character 🙂 Beautiful.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Box? What box? ha, ha.

      It is definitely for us about taking advantage of the environment and since Fort Galle is blessed with a rich architectural history it makes sense to enrich the house with local “treasures.”

      Thanks for your lovely comments.


  6. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

    Your house is so wonderfully organic, growing from its surroundings rather than imposing on them. Love the living fence, all the curvy walls, and the lovely windows everywhere. Could you use that huge bowl that’s too small for a bathtub as a pond in the garden?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Sharon thank you for the organic compliment. Having started with a rectangular box, if the feeling now is already of an organic shape, then we have succeeded in our design intentions.

      You got us thinking…maybe the huge bowl could be a gigantic bird bath? (Our only concern would be mosquitoes.)


  7. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

    Franki J :

    Hi darlings, I have just read Ben’s long but hugely interesting story of your Sri Lankan build. Beautifully written. Having built a couple of houses of our own, I find this process fascinating to say the least. Great job Ben. Look forward to seeing the finished product.
    Huge hugs,

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Beautiful Fran, so glad to know you are keeping track of our adventure. We fully expect a visit from you in Sri Lanka in 2017! Can’t wait!
      huge hugs back

  8. My Inner Chick

    **** butterflies, vines and creepers scaling the walls and a small tree or two. Perhaps a passion fruit creeper growing on the wall next to the bathtub so we can eat passion fruit while soaking in the tub****

    I get REALLY exhilarated reading about the construction of your new house!

    Your ideas and thoughts of bathtubs “Fill” me up inside! Is that weird?

    —-And how you might soak in the bathtub while eating passion fruit! Oh, My!

    —And your pets! LOVE! love! love! How many stray cats do you have? What are the names of these little, furry gems? Dogs? Goats? Cows? Lizards?

    Much love and excitement from Minnesota! x

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Kim it is always so terrific to read your feedback!

      Take a look at the following post about animals we have met and become enamored with along our travels: dogs and cats yes! but also cows and water buffaloes! large goats and larger elephants and attitudinal camels.

      At one point in time we had a record 9 cats, 3 dogs, 4 kittens and 1 puppy living with us, in Granada, Nicaragua. We also had a constant stream of stray dogs at our door, as we were offering up food and attention.

      And then of course, there is Namal, the baby elephant we fell in love with, in Sri Lanka at the elephant orphanage.

      These are some starter animal related blog posts from the archive…

      Peta & Ben

  9. Bun Karyudo

    It’s all looking good. I’ll be interested to see if the bath idea works out.

    It’s a wildly original out-of-the-box and into-the-cylinder notion and certainly deserves to work.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      BunBun, we will be interested to see TOO, if the bath tub works out!!

      “wildly original out-of-the-box and into-the-cylinder”

      … ahhh, what a perfect description. Love it. Can we quote you in our next house update?

      Peta & Ben

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      We will be moving there pretty soon, which is a reason things have been speeding along. Once we get all the priority criteria addressed, it will be fun to slowly evolve the house even more with smaller details. Exciting!

      Thanks Lex!

  10. healingpilgrim

    So exciting to see you nearly done with the fabulous house makeover 😉 I loved reading of Ben’s sense of adventure and re-purposing suggestions.. especially the bathtub!

    Painted cement floors and counters have been all the rage here in Bali (as you might have seen yourselves), so I’m glad to see you’ve adopted that low-cost but funky approach in SI. Looking forward to more installments and moving day too!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Amit. Seems we have the major factors nearing completion soon. After that it will be about a slower pace of attending to details.

      Painted cement has a certain charm and is certainly a good budget option. For floors we decided against leaving them plain as concrete floors are just too hard for walking on day after day.

      Looking forward to moving day too!


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Louise. We are definitely excited to have an outdoor bathroom garden. Hopefully no “slip factor” in the bathtub… but we will wait and see how it works out and then problem solve what doesn’t.


  11. Brook Skillman

    As I read this blog, I am in pure joy because I realized that while Peta and I were having our time together in Hoi An and Ben was off in Sri Lanka, Peta would randomly show me a picture here and there with a question like, “Do you like this color or that color?” and “What do you think of this floor?”. And in what felt like a matter of minutes, this blog is here with all the updates and all the questions fall into place. You guys really make things happen, like fast.

    Too much to say about the bathtub…blown away…but not surprised with Ben’s infinite brilliant mind.

    I would like to point out an exceptional part of the blog that couldn’t be more on point:
    ‘We like to sit on and be on the floor a lot. Pete is prone to impromptu yoga stretches. It is inevitable that we will have animals aplenty, and that inevitably we will gravitate towards the floor to be with them.’

    Thank you my loved ones…Can’t wait for the next!!!!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      It has been so great to be together during this lovely time, of chilling in Hoi An, Viet Nam and having a flurry of decisions to make regarding the makeover of the house in Sri Lanka. Ben moves quickly, as you know ~ which is definitely a positive force to getting things done, but the tradeoff of course is that some decisions that I would have usually taken some time to ponder over, have had to be made in haste.

      I have to agree with you re Ben’s “infinite brilliant mind” it is definitely an asset. Not just for house renovation but for structuring and shaping our lives ~ from my saying… I want to go to Sri Lanka because of the elephants… to his creating the conditions that will allow us to build this chapter of our Green Global Trek. Exciting!!


      Looking forward to the next exciting chapter together

  12. Pingback: Sculpting our lives, building our Sri Lanka nest ~ part 4 – Empty Nesters on a Green Global Trek

  13. Frank

    What an exciting project – but I imagine also stressful in some ways especially working on 2 at the same time. But the idea of constructing one’s home from the ground up must be very fulfilling.

    Frank (bbqboy)
    Ps Instant pets – great!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Exciting, and actually very little stress. Amazingly. I definitely would have liked a slower approach to things but at the same time I think most of the stress with remodelling happens if you are there and living with it. The noise, the dust etc. So, there was haste in order to get it ready and maximize time when the team of workers was there. We are not building “from the ground up”just remodelling. We did two builds from the ground up in Nicaragua. One a conventional house and the other, made from bamboo.

      Here in Viet Nam we are renting. So no work to do!

      Thanks for your comments Frank!


    2. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Frank.

      Actually the renovation has not been stressful, most likely because we are not living in the house during the process and therefore do not have to deal with noise and dust. We are not working on two houses at the same time, as here in Hoi An, we have been renting a river front small house.

      The house in Sri Lanka we are not building from “the ground up”.. we did that with two houses in Nicaragua. One was conventional and the other a bamboo house. In Sri Lanka, we are doing a dramatic renovating of a house that really was just a shell with no electricity, water, etc etc.

      Instant pets for sure ~ for the first time, the animals are there before we are!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


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