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Welcome to TW|FIT

Three years ago, adjusting to a new life in the UAE, I signed up for a remote surfing camp in Southern Sri Lanka that offered to teach a land-bound Midwesterner the ins and outs of becoming a bronzed, laisse-faire surfer. After a week of expert instruction and wipe-outs that left my ego even more bruised than usual, I realized that while I would never become the next Kelly Slater, I could share this experience with people the world over.

Starting with our inaugural trip from 4-9 October, TW|FIT, in partnership with Vogue Fitness and Talalla Surf Camp and Retreat, offer guests the best of travel, fitness, and relaxation. Explore Southern Sri Lanka while staying fit with the world’s best fitness, surf, and yoga coaches. Our trips are specifically geared to those of all fitness levels who are interested in more than the average beach retreat.

Traveling Wonk was founded on the premise of merging travel and tourism with knowledge and heritage. Our focus on thoughtful travel is meant to bridge the gap between the destinations we visit and the people who live there. Our fitness venture is no different.

We continue this philosophy by partnering with local surf instructors, employing local student-carpenters to create uniquely designed “logs” for our punishing yet rewarding beach sessions, and providing local fishermen with alternative sources of income through the use of their beautifully crafted boats for our capstone team competition.

Our partnership with Vogue Fitness offers TW and its guests the unique opportunity to learn and train from the fittest coaches in the world, while enjoying TW’s uncompromising guest experiences and service.

Fitness has always been a cornerstone of my life, whether as a young officer in the U.S. Army or serving as a humanitarian worker in Afghanistan. I found that true peace and reflection is easier to come by through an hour or two of sweat and pain than a lifetime of sedentary contemplation. Come join us on a truly unique experience and let fitness be a part of your travels.

For more information feel free to email chris@travelingwonk.com and visit our partner’s websites at www.vfuae.com and www.talallaretreat.com.

Lion and the Dragon…Reawakened?

Picture1Over a year after U.S Secretary of State John Kerry became the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Sri Lanka in decades, very little U.S. foreign direct investment and aid has followed. Reeling after a decade’s long civil war and the aftereffects of the 2005 Tsunami, Sri Lanka was eager to regain a political and economic partnership with the world’s leading economy.

Following the Secretary’s visit, the State Department announced a $31 million aid package as part of the New Silk Road and Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor Initiatives. The aid packages, while well intentioned, pale in comparison to the over $4.8 billion in loans, aid, and FDI provided by China since 2005.

Situated only 30 kilometers from India’s southern most point, the island nation of Sri Lanka plays a vital role in the geopolitical landscape of South Asia and the South Indian Sea. Strategically located only a few miles from the East-West shipping lanes, Sri Lanka’s central position overlooks the shipment of 2/3 of the world’s oil, while massive ocean container ships transport thousands of metric tons of goods every year.

In the wake of Sri Lanka’s decade’s long civil war and its bloody conclusion in 2009, China has taken considerable advantage of the West’s reluctance to invest in Sri Lanka.  Western governments shunned long-term political and economic investments due to alleged human rights abuses stemming from the defeat of the LTTE, thus creating a political and economic vacuum. China, sensing an opportunity to expand upon its expanding influence in the Indian Ocean, responded immediately.

In March 2011, China Communications Construction Company began construction of the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City project. Reclaiming hundreds of acres from the sea, the project was stalled upon the election of President Maithripala Sirisena but was recently given the green light for completion. Today, the Colombo Port City construction project dominates Colombo’s landscape with cranes protruding off the shore of the capital’s coast.

Colombo is not the only region of Sri Lanka that has received significant FDI from China. Along Sri Lanka’s southern coast, hotels and restaurants catering to Chinese tourists, businessmen, and workers are booked year round. The Hambantota deep sea port, while stalled for a few years, has been renewed and poses the ability to serve as a strategic commercial and military outpost for China.

Yet, U.S investment into Sri Lanka remains sporadic and inconsistent even though the Sri Lankan government is desperate for foreign cash reserves. Sri Lanka’s efforts to woe Chinese investment comes as the country faces a deepening foreign reserves and balance of payments crisis that has been exacerbated by $1.3 billion in government outflows in 2015 and a downgrade in its foreign and local currency issuer ratings by Fitch from BB- to B+.

China’s political and economic push into Sri Lanka comes at a time of growing international concern over China’s expansion into the South China Sea. Analysts believe that China is looking to establish a corresponding maritime “string of pearls” to shape, influence, and ultimately impede U.S. and Indian positions within the region. While this may be more economic than geo-strategic, it nevertheless places the U.S. and its allies on the losing side of a fight for influence.

At Traveling Wonk, we bring these political and strategic dynamics to you through highly curated tours led by those who are shaping Sri Lanka’s future. To learn more about our trips and our mission to connect people with the culture, politics, and heritage of our destinations, visit us at www.travelingwonk.com

Homegrown Talent

 

Students from Talalla Vocational School's IT class are eager to learn more but face critical shortages.

Students from Talalla Vocational School’s IT class are eager to learn more but face critical shortages.

Almost three years ago to the day, wiping sand from my mouth after another humbling surfing session off the southern coast of Sri Lanka, I asked a local driver about a school we passed on our way to the local surf break. Responding in a semi-coherent mix of English and Singhalese, I managed to make out, “America.Tsunami.Work, “ before being hit with a plume of black smoke emanating from a passing lorry.

Using those three words as a foundation for further research, I discovered that the building was a recently completed vocational school funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Somewhat shocked to find a gleaming example of U.S. taxpayer’s dollars at work, I immediately made a mental note to learn more. Little did I know that this school and its story would start me on a journey of entrepreneurship, self-discovery, and learning.

Three years later I was finally able to visit the Talalla area Vocational School and fully understand the importance the school plays in the local community and how through the help of others, the students can thrive in a fast changing and dynamic environment. Met by the lovely Director General, Mrs Chulangani Perera, who’s pride for the school was not easily masked by her infinite charm, I was quickly given a tour.

 

Director General Mrs. Chulangani Perera of Talall's Vocational School standing next to the USAID plaque commemorating the inauguration in 2008.

Director General Mrs. Chulangani Perera of Talalla Vocational School standing next to the USAID plaque commemorating the inauguration in 2008.

I soon discovered that the school serves as a lifeline for the community, graduating around 200 students a year in fields ranging from welding and carpentry, to cooking and information technology. With a burgeoning tourism sector, the community is well served by the school’s graduates, yet many students, especially women, struggle to remain enrolled.

Life-support facilities for students remain obsolete and because of this most of the female students can not and do not remain on campus. Female educational participation in rural communities such as Talalla, remain significantly minimal due to familial, cultural, and economic constraints, yet throughout the campus I was overwhelmed by the presence of young woman yearning for a better future. More and more young women were opting to study fields traditionally “reserved” for men such as carpentry, welding, and information technology.

While much has been accomplished since the its inauguration in 2008 the school and its students remain in need of even the most basic supplies. Traveling Wonk is dedicated to helping support and promote the students and teachers of Talalla Vocational School and welcome travelers to come and witness the school in action.

At Traveling Wonk, it is our mission to connect travelers to places, people, and experiences that would otherwise be passed at the blink of an eye. We yearn for the ability to create natural connections through shared understanding, knowledge, and a passion for education. It is through experiences, like those shared at Talalla Vocational School, that we cherish and bring to our guests. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of travel?” Do we travel to relax? Purely for pleasure? Or is there a deeper and more nuanced purpose…

In The Beginning

About Traveling Wonk

Has Chinese political and economic influence changed the political economies of South and Southeast Asia? Has American influence strengthened or weakened over the past decade? Can continuous economic development coexist with a sustained commitment to wildlife conservation? Does any of this matter? These are a few questions that we look to answer as we take our guests on an incredible journey of learning and discovery.

Traveling Wonk is a veteran-owned U.S. business dedicated to exploring countries through the eyes of policy, education, and culture. Whether you are a cultural or political wonk, let us introduce you to a world full of ideas, creativity, and inspiration

In partnership with leading universities of South and Southeast Asia, we bring you the heartbeat of destinations through the eyes and ears of the experts who live there. From business and archaeology, to wildlife conservation and regional cuisines, our customized trips bring the experts to you.

Where We Go

Traveling Wonk’s first destination is the beautiful island nation of Sri Lanka. With its northernmost point sitting only 50km from Southern India, Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the South Indian Sea and its accessible interior, makes the country a perfect starting point to explore the rich cultural dynamics of South Asia.

Sip Tea with the Imam of Jaffna’s Grand Mosque in the morning and explore the Hindu pilgrimage site of Nallur Kovil in the afternoon, while keeping an eye out for delicious naan bread sold from roadside stands. From North to South and all points in-between, Traveling Wonk works with our guests to provide the best curated journeys with the region’s foremost experts.

Learn More

We encourage you to follow Traveling Wonk’s journey of discovery and learning as we being our maiden voyage in New York City at the New York Times Travel Show from January 9-10, 2016. Stop by our booth and learn more about our mission, destinations, and vision.

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