An interview with Mahela Jayawardene

Mahela Jayawardene; one of the greatest batsmen in cricket of all time. The highest scoring right-hand batsman in Test cricket in the history of cricket (374 runs against South Africa). Named the Best International Captain of the Year in 2006 by the International Cricket Council and nominated the Best Test Cricket Player of the Year in 2007. He also happens to be the most capped player in One Day Internationals for his country; Sri Lanka. These are but as few accolades as I could fit in to a single paragraph. Given how much the Sri Lankan nation loves cricket it would be fair to say that Mahela Jayawardene is a sporting hero both in Sri Lanka and around the world. Whilst he has retired from playing cricket professionally Mahela is currently the Head Coach of Mumbai Indians cricket team in the Indian Premier League.

Recently Sri Lanka has needed its heroes more than ever. A devastating terrorist attack on Easter Sunday shattered the peace of a nation knelt in prayer. In excess of 250 people died and left hundreds more wounded. In the immediate aftermath 39 countries issued travel warnings adding to the woes of an economy dependent on tourism.

However, less than three months later Sri Lanka is on its way to recovery. With clarity comes the task of caring for those affected and left at the mercy and goodwill of strangers. Several events, organised around the world, have helped raise funds. One such was hosted by Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London. Sri Lankan seafood restaurant Ministry of Crab collaborated with the hotel for a pop-up and proceeds were donated to the cause. The event was attended by Mahela Jayawardene who co-owns Ministry of Crab restaurant. I caught up with Mahela where he expressed his thoughts on the issues that face Sri Lanka as the country moves forward.

GTW: Mahela Jayawardene welcome back to London.

Mahela Jayawardene: Thank you.

GTW: I appreciate you making the space in your schedule for this interview. Do you get to spend much time in Sri Lanka now with your coaching and other commitments?

Mahela Jayawardene: I do make time to do so. I manage my coaching schedule and break it down to quarters so it’s spread out equally and I spend time in between in Sri Lanka. Obviously travelling for events and my businesses does take me away but they’re always short trips so it’s not too bad. This year with the Cricket World Cup it’s been busier than usual after the IPL. But by next year things will settle down. Sri Lanka is always home and I will never keep away for too long.

GTW: The world was shell-shocked when news of the Easter Sunday attack on Sri Lanka broke. Where were you when you heard the news? How did you feel when you saw those images on your screen?

Mahela Jayawardene: I was in India. It was IPL season. I woke up to the news. My family is in Colombo so I called and made sure everyone was safe. I also knew a lot of the staff in the hotels. We’re regulars for Sunday brunch at those restaurants. We were calling around to find out about the staff there. We personally knew some of the staff that died.

I felt sad when I saw the images. Especially when I looked at the pictures a friend sent me of the church in Negombo. When I saw the children that were hurt it made me really sad. But at the same time, a few days later, when it came to light that the whole situation had been mishandled, I was quite angry. I put this out on my social media. It needed to be said. The only way we can ensure that something like this never happens again is if we are prepared to tell the truth.

We took our eye off the ball with our security and didn’t execute any plan with whatever little intelligence we had. I’m not saying that we could have prevented the whole thing but we could have prevented it being on such a big scale. We could have managed it better. We could have done something. We may not have been able to stop it but we could have done something. That was the root of my anger.

We also have to sympathise with all the tourists that were killed and affected in so many ways. We met the Archbishop of Colombo too to find out what needed to be done. Kumar Sangakkara and I met with with him because we now have to think about the long term effects of this and raising money for the things that need to be done.

Some of the children will need long-term care and we are not necessarily equipped to deliver that in Sri Lanka in the way that it’s required. So we may have to fly these children overseas to get them the care they need. That includes their education. We will need to look at what’s best for them and offer them the best possible chance to become a part of society again. We have to make sure they’re not left behind. There’s a lot to be done and it’s going to be a slow, long process. We need to make sure we don’t forget what happened.

GTW: Immediately after the attack there was some fear that ethnic tensions might rise up again. With the exception of a few isolated incidents it seemed that everyone was eager to get back to some form of normality. Did you feel that this time round Sri Lanka was reacting differently to this act of violence?

Mahela Jayawardene: Yes, most certainly. We’ve had almost a decade of peace and we were finally able to enjoy our country for the first time without fear. When we were growing up, during the civil war, our parents were terrified to send us to school because they weren’t sure we’d come back. No one wants that again. That’s where everyone united and looked beyond personal agendas and political affiliations to put our country first and make sure we did the right thing. I think that’s why so many people made sure that their voices were heard on this matter.

I know that social media can be used negatively but in this instance it was a good platform for people to express what they thought. I know that some used it in the wrong way but we always have to expect that. We can’t prevent that. But mostly people were positive and standing up for the right thing.

GTW: So, tonight is a pretty special evening and an amazing collaboration between Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London and Ministry of Crab. The aim is to raise money for the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. The fact that you’re here suggests that it’s important to you to give the event visibility. Is that the case?

Mahela Jayawardene: Most certainly. Shangri-La, London has always been supportive of Ministry of Crab. This is our third pop-up with the hotel. They’ve been a brilliant partner. We have a restaurant in Shangri-La, Manila too and I think when the attack happened Shangri-La also wanted to do something to help. So it worked out well. This evening is about having a visible Sri Lankan brand support this cause and not about promoting myself. We’re trying to showcase what Sri Lanka has to offer and encourage tourists to come back. Sri Lanka is still Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel for 2019.

GTW: Looking ahead, how assured are you of Sri Lanka’s recovery as a destination?

Mahela Jayawardene: Well, at the moment it’s too soon to say. I think as a country we are standing up quickly. It does also depend on the political trust other countries have in Sri Lanka. We’ve spoken with several Ambassadors and they are confident of the security measures we’ve taken which is the reason the travel ban came down pretty quickly.

Given the renewed trust that has been placed on us, by the rest of the world, Sri Lanka now needs to walk the talk. We need to show stability, that we’re taking action and that we would not let something like this happen again. It’s had a ripple effect on the entire nation. It didn’t just affect hotel bookings and airlines. It effected the entire tourist industry’s structure from small scale entrepreneurs to foreign investors.

Personally I’m hoping that we will recover by next year. However, our high season starts between November and December. As long as we’re all taking positive steps in the same direction it should happen.

GTW: Finally, as one of the highest profile Sri Lankans in the world what is your message to the world?

Mahela Jayawardene: Sri Lanka is a vibrant country. It’s a simple place but it’s beautiful. You can have wildlife, beaches, culture, tea and religious culture all in one place. The message is please come and enjoy that. People who’ve visited once always come back. That’s a very positive thing and it says everything.

Mahela Jayawardene at the Ministry of Crab pop-up at Shangri-La At The Shard, London

This interview was conducted at the Ministry of Crab pop-up hosted at Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London on 5th July 2019. All proceeds from the evening will be used to help victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. In addition, a further £2000 was raised through the auction of a bat and ball signed by Mahela and a five nights’ stay at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo and Shangri-La Hotel, Hambantota, Sri Lanka.

How PGA Catalunya resort offers you more than a round of golf

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Catalunya, Spain is acclaimed for many things. Arguably, it’s home to one of the most famous cities in the world; Barcelona. Bordered by France, Andorra and the Mediterranean Sea it would be fair to say that the region is abundantly blessed. A naturally rugged coastline, hot Mediterranean climate and the Pyrenees valleys have given rise to a region conducive to good living and superior cuisine.

These innate characteristics and strategic location were not lost on the creators of the luxury golf escape PGA Catalunya Resort. Armed with the region’s natural blessings the resort has set about graciously adding value to its offering. Their recent developments pledge more than an exceptional round of golf.

Golf with a bite

At the heart of the resort of course, are its two world-renowned golf courses. The Stadium Course has been named the best in Spain, third in Continental Europe and is in the top 100 courses in the world. Not a bad round of golf at all. Furthermore, the club house sets new standards for exclusive members’ clubs. Celebrated interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán, a master of light and space, has created a fresh and modern departure from traditional golf clubhouses. The building is in perfect harmony with its natural setting and offers undisturbed views across the Stadium Course. A lavish bistro menu at The Club Café includes fried oysters, kale and beetroot or an Angus beef burger. Local Cava and Champagne compliments the wine and beer list making it the perfect place for a light lunch after a round.

LAVIDA Hotel

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Swimming Pool at Sunset – Hotel LAVIDA – PGA Catalunya Resort – Girona – Spain

The most alluring recent expansion however, is LAVIDA Hotel. If golf isn’t your thing this gateway hotel on the resort offers everything else you could possibly want from an unforgettable holiday.  Located just ten minutes from Gerona and an hour from Barcelona it’s the perfect compromise for friends and family who enjoy different things. With cycling, hiking, trekking, horse-riding and boat trips in and around Gerona it’s enough to tempt you away from the golf courses. All this and I’ve barely mentioned the backdrop of the Pyrenees mountains which dominates the view. LAVIDA Hotel’s 50 rooms, with sweeping views of the golf courses, provides a luxurious shelter for outdoor enthusiasts on the resort.

A second hotel, Hotel Camiral, also located on the resort is the home of 1477 Restaurant headed by Executive Chef Francisco Hernandez. A menu sourced from local artisan produce cooked with a distinctly Catalan twist, with wines from its cellar, provides an exquisite gastronomical experience.

Own a piece of heavenly Catalunya

Once you visit the resort and enjoy its rugged tranquility, five star cuisine, exquisite wines and unparalleled hospitality you’d be forgiven for not wanting to leave. So how fortunate for us that one no longer has to. PGA Catalunya offers a  development of 50 new three-bedroom luxury villas for sale. Designed by Barcelona-based Lagula Architects each villa is distributed across two floors and placed to benefit from its celestial surroundings. The first release becomes available in 2019. With such generous value added luxury there is little doubt that we shall all be flocking to Catalunya very soon.

 

 

For more information visit: www.pgacatalunya.com

Good Hotel Lives up to its Name.

The Setting

East London’s latest floating hotel, Good Hotel, sparked a great deal of curiosity amongst the locals when it arrived here last September. The structure which made it’s way across the North Sea and into the Royal Docks (pulled along by tug boats) will stay anchored in its scenic home for the next five years. Built in 2007 as a prison to hold illegal immigrants the hotel works on a non profit basis but offers premium hospitality.

Does it work? Yes! I spent a night at the Good Hotel and experienced all the hospitality and service of it’s well trained and well informed staff. The proof that it works is in the pudding. It has opened a second hotel based on the same model in Antigua, Guatemala.

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The Living Room where you can eat, drink, work and meet with friends.

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The Mission

Mission Good Hotel is to train long-term unemployed locals in a variety of jobs in the hospitality industry. A training program named, “Good Training”, once completed qualifies participants to a three-month contract at Good Hotel. Furthermore, it progresses to negotiations in the city’s hotel business on the participant’s behalf. This adds weight and value to those seeking a career in the industry but have been unable to break in to it.

The Rooms

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Mine was a double deluxe room with waterfront view with the same minimalist theme which runs through the hotel. The crisp cotton sheets were as soft as silk and the down pillows ensured a wonderful night of sleep for me. A cute addition was the complimentary “Worry Doll” from Guatemala, left on my pillow, to carry away worries while I slept. An endearing personal touch which connects you to the philosophy of the hotel.

Breakfast

Breakfast was included as part of my stay. It was an array of food to satisfy even the most demanding patrons. It was obvious that the hotel attracted a wide range of people. There were families on city breaks, couples on romantic weekends, solo travellers as well as business travellers enjoying breakfast. The buffet style offering served a classic English, continental, yoghurts and a variety of cereals and seasonal fruit. Did I mention? All the food is sourced locally.

The Roof Terrace

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Perhaps the icing on the cake at Good Hotel is its roof terrace which serves as a bar and chill out space. The bar opens from 11am until 9.30pm. It serves breakfast juices, healthy kale, spinach and pineapple smoothies (simply out of this world!) as well as cocktails and snacks. A recent addition to the terrace’s itinerary is rooftop yoga which is proving equally popular with guests and locals.

London has seen a wave of roof top bars open up all over the capital recently. East London in particular has relatively underground, cool terrace bars which are yet to be overrun by the masses. The roof top at the Good Hotel however, stands out because of the breath taking view it offers while you sip a drink. (My favourite was the strawberry daiquiri in case you’re wondering). There is a panoramic view of the Thames as well as the Royal Docks. The wooden decking against the white furniture simply adds to the atmosphere here. This is an urban oasis in the heart of London making no compromises. Only winners here. Be sure to check them out.

Desert Safari – Qatar.

Desert Safari

As if everything in Qatar wasn’t already cool enough, it is also here that I discovered the incredible adventure that is the desert safari.

So, on a Sunday morning, I joined a group of my fellow bloggers and travel writers to wait eagerly for Falcon Tours to carry us to our next adventure. We headed south, out of Doha, in two 4×4 vehicles accompanied by experienced desert drivers. After a quick mandatory stop to deflate tyres, in preparation for the conditions, we drove out and entered the desert.

(www.falcontoursqatar.com)

Landscape

As the landscape began to change dramatically the scenery overwhelmed me. The dunes rose above our heads and stood majestically against the horizon. There was little else as far as the eye could see. The sand curved, dipped and rose without warning. At times, the drops were near vertical and our 4×4 slid downwards, almost sideways.

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Trying to capture everything around me.

In some places, salt had deposited over the surface and glistened a shiny white. Elsewhere, rain from previous days had nurtured plants which burst through the sand. Then we hit an unforgivingly rocky surface and the jeep jolted over each rock. When I climbed outside, the coolness of the sand under my feet seemed contradictory against the lack of humidity in the air. By this point, I had felt waves of different emotions and we had spent less than an hour in the desert!

Camels Everywhere!

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Camel love.

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Wild camels

If that wasn’t enough, we then drove around scouring the horizon for wild camels. It was wonderful to watch our experienced guide navigate this harsh landscape which had no roads, signs or landmarks. Eventually, we spotted wild camels in the distance grazing peacefully. We drove up so close that we could almost touch one. In Arabic culture camels symbolise patience, tolerance and endurance. When you see these creatures in the wild it’s easy to understand why.

Desert Plants

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Recent rain had changed the landscape. Plants such as these covered large areas with still more tender shoots peeking out of the sand.

The Inland Sea.

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The Qatari desert also boasts an inland sea. If the desert is Qatar’s heart beat then THIS surely must be the jewel in its crown. It’s a hauntingly beautiful yet little known natural wonder. The desert and dunes surround the sea where Qatar separates from Saudi Arabia. It’s a beach like no other that I have ever seen. It will require all your energy to get here but I promise it will be worth it.

Regency Sealine Camp

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Our final stop was the Regency Sealine camp. It’s a beautiful place to rest and relax – a metaphorical oasis in the desert with tented cabanas, a restaurant and great staff. The restaurant served a mouth watering buffet of grilled meats and kabsa accompanied by vegetables, breads and fresh salads with dips. Sweet deserts and fresh fruit followed with plenty of Qatari sweet coffee – qahwa helw. Everything was colourful and full of flavour. The service was impeccable.

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After lunch, I did little but relax and take in the spectacular views. Most of all, following the bumpy ride and the intense experience in the desert it felt good to slow the pace down. The beach here is private so it was possible to walk along it in peaceful serenity.

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So, if I must conclude, this safari went beyond expectations. An intense 4×4 adventure combined with a sighting of wild camels and a mesmerising inland sea are more than I could have hoped for in the space of 2 hours! Finally arriving at an oasis of luxury where I could shower, eat, change and stroll along a quiet white sandy beach for the rest of the afternoon was the icing on the cake. It felt like I had kept my cake and eaten it too and when you get here you will know exactly what I mean.

(www.regencysealinecamp.com)