It was with some trepidation that Erin and I left the safety of our traditional homestay in the main traveller’s hub of Ella in the Sri Lankan hills. Aboard a small scooter, we headed out along the winding Ella-Passara Road. Passing through row upon row of tea plantations. Our destination? Tomorrowland. We had limited information on what Tomorrowland actually was. Drawn by the unique hammock tents, other information suggested Tomorrowland could be part hippie commune part Russian trance club.
After many winding switchbacks, Google maps suggested we had arrived. All we could make out was a steep driveway and what looked like the Bates Motel situated on the steep slope far above. Our scooter must have sensed a similar dread. Halfway up the driveway the motor chugged and stalled. We made the rest of the ascent nervously on foot.
We were met at the entrance to a grand doorway by a mellow, long-haired Russian. His name was Valentin. Apart from Valentin the place seemed deserted. We stepped into a cavernous atrium revealing what looked to be the setting for a dance club. A DJ booth was set into one wall, graffiti decorated the other thatched walls and a decent set of disco light fixtures hung high above on the ceiling. Weaved matting covered the polished concrete floor. We cautiously enquired about the hammock tent availability. We could see two hammock tents strung up outside the main building which seemed to hover over the surrounding tea plantation.
“Hammock tents are full,” replied Valentin. “We have other tents, just normal tents,” he advised. We were ushered to a rear courtyard where 5-6 small tents were set up on a terrace. As our main reason for staying were the hammock tents, we continued with Valentin back around to the front porch. The porch also contained two more tents with accompanying deck chairs which looked out across a spectacular valley.
We were considering our next move when we were met by Sana. Sana was an energetic Sri Lankan who explained how he co-owned Tomorrowland with Valentin. Tomorrowland had only been open 6 weeks and had been a lot of work to get going. He was working through the peak holiday period training up the staff before stepping away from the day to day operations. Sana had worked in the hotel industry most his life. He had a keen eye for what worked in running a hotel and wished to see this same ethic carry through Tomorrowland, even if this concept was a little more casual. By this point, we had settled into the deck chairs enjoying the view with the resident dog Sandy curled up at our feet.
Eventually, we decided we’d stay the following night to experience Tomorrowland and Sana’s hospitality. No formalities to book, just Sana saying he’d see us tomorrow. So we verbally reserved one of the two tents on the front balcony. Still, we were a little anxious about what went on after dark. Did the supposed nightclub go all night? Were we being admitted to a cult? Were we being drawn in by Sana’s charm to be the daily sacrifice to be sent to ‘Tomorrowland’? Only time would tell.
Returning the next day, before relaxing for the afternoon, we first wanted to check out the hammock tents which drew us to the place. Sana was happy for us to give them a go before the ‘supposed’ guests arrived. The place was still empty. Entry to the tent was via the underbelly of the suspended floor. Some loosely stacked cinder blocks allowed access to a thin rope ladder. Actual entry required pulling ourselves through a small hole and flopping unceremoniously onto the floor. Once inside it had the feel of laying on a trampoline. The view was great as it was positioned high above the neat rows of tea trees from the surrounding plantation. To get out, it was again an ungainly exit as the tent practically gave birth to us as we clambered down from the hole in the base.
We sat back in the deck chairs for the afternoon reading and playing with the resident dog Sandy and a small kitten. Still on edge that we were the only people there, we were relieved when a few backpackers strolled up the front steps. We were though assessing their intentions as they walked past us to the entryway. Were they here for some relaxed semi-indoor camping like us? Or, were they likely to be dancing into the wee hours of the morning to thumping tunes?
Sana meanwhile was in his element doing the orientations for new guests and getting them assigned a tent. The place was gradually filling up. Dinner was also being offered, which we opted for. We began chatting with our fellow guests over an ice cold local Lion beer served from the grand bar set back from the supposed dance floor.
More people kept showing up. Sana was proud of his reviews and status on booking.com and Airbnb. His promotional skills seemed to be working. He mentioned that accommodation in Ella was about full and a lot were getting in touch coming off the evening train. Sana was happy to accommodate everyone. When he ran out of tents he offered the overflow guests the matting within the main hall. Never breaking stride and never a problem he and his crew held it all together as the place grew with even more people. Quite a buzz overcame the place helped along by the music which began to rise in intensity.
The first round of dinner was called and we were treated to quite an amazing spread cooked by Sana’s girlfriend. A myriad of local curries with accompanying roti bread and sauces. The music got going in earnest, as did the lights, but it was all at a bearable level. Soundproofing ensured that outside the main hall you couldn’t hear a thing.
We eventually decided to call it a night and crawled into our tent. Apart from Sandy wanting to snuggle up to us in the tent during the night, we had one of the most peaceful nights of sleep so far in Sri Lanka. Only waking to a beautiful sunrise coming over the valley which we could see through the open door of our tent.
While it could be argued the place had an identity crisis between a dance club and a backpackers hang out, the fact is Tomorrowland was a very peaceful location among the hills with an amazing view. The relaxed attitude of Sana and his crew rubbed off on everyone who arrived. It was certain that the traditional homestays of Ella were curious as to what change ‘Tomorrowland’ may bring to tourism in Ella.