We had long been looking forward to a few days R&R on the beach and could think of no better place than the famous beaches of the south coast of Sri Lanka. We booked ourselves in to a small family run guesthouse in Mirissa, just 5 minutes stroll from the beach. Disney Villa, which was not picked for Caro’s love of all things Disney, amused us greatly before we even got there by their shameless ripping off of the Disney logo.Our hosts were very kind, hurrying to make us comfortable and check us in even though we had arrived much earlier than anticipated. As a general rule, Sri Lankans are incredibly kind and warm people and we have been made to feel so welcome wherever we have gone whether it be a homestay, a restaurant, a shop or in to a bus or a tuk tuk. There are of course always exceptions to rules but our experience so far has been that these are few and far between. Our room was also fabulous; it had an enormous 4-poster with swathes of mosquito net hanging all around it and then about half an inch of space to walk around the bed
We were absolutely dying to get to the beach and hurried out and back down to the main road. As ever, we are not simply going for the holiday snaps and trying to make people jealous, we are attempting to be as honest as possible so; the main drag of Mirrisa is horrible. It absolutely stinks, there are piles of rubbish everywhere, some on fire, and the open channels on either side of the road stink of sewage. The main access to the beach is from a bridge over a river mouth, which smells worse than anywhere else and has all sorts of detritus floating in it. Cast away visions of people strolling barefoot down to the beach and rather imagine hurrying down the road holding your breath and not looking too long at anything because it may make you feel sick. At this point heat is not your friend.And then you get down on to the beach proper, which is gorgeous; the sand is golden, the sea is blue and inviting and a collection of ramshackle restaurants and sun loungers awaits you. There is still the odd pile of rubbish but you tend not to see them as much. We were in search of lunch and settled on Kama where we had a very tasty lunch and claimed some sun loungers out front for some post lunch sunning.We were pretty much boneless for the remainder of the day with occasional dips in the sea, which was warm, something we hadn’t experienced for a very long time and enjoyed immensely. That evening we ventured back to the beach for dinner, preceded by beer and cards. James was toying with fire as he brought the canasta score even to 6 all.
Whilst it isn’t exactly sleepy during the day, Mirissa beach comes to life at night. Every kind of LED light and tiki torch is brought out to play and one of the bars even had one of those massive beams that tracks across the sky. In front of every restaurant, just feet from the waves, trays of fish are laid out for you to pick your dinner before being whisked away and cooked. Once we were sat down it was still fairly peaceful and we didn’t see any group getting particularly boozy. People were simply enjoying the sea and their meals.As per usual, we were tired by 8:30pm and retired to the Magic Kingdom for an early night. The following morning, the power cut out at our guesthouse but we had big plans to spend the day on the beach so were thoroughly unconcerned. Our breakfast consisted of fruit and hoppers, a sort of bowl shaped pancake, which were, for some reason, being cooked by a lady in the nextdoor house. Every so often her head would pop up from the opposite side of the eight-foot wall and she would pass a fresh plate over to our host. The fruit was papaya, which is revolting. It has the texture of meat and smells like cat sick and it gets served to you constantly. The hoppers on the other hand were excellent, the floating head could cook.
Another full day on the beach followed and we felt ourselves starting to unwind. It’s not quite the same as going on a beach holiday in Europe or the Caribbean; there aren’t people constantly coming up and offering you drinks (sadly) but there are also very very few people trying to sell you cheap sunglasses (happily). There are also far more burnt white people. It is not an exaggeration to say that 80% of the people on the beach were burned to some degree, and a fair few who looked as though they required medical attention. Either everyone was very stupid or the sun was very strong and we did have the odd moment of thinking “how hard is it to put suncream on?” until we emerged from our second day, having religiously applied factor 50+, ever so slightly but undeniably pink. Folks, the sun in Sri Lanka is really really strong.
Back at the guesthouse a group of boys were playing makeshift cricket on the dirt track outside. We were too shy to ask to take a picture but here’s the track and you can just imagine the rest. Our host did not find this as endearing as we did and peered angrily around the gate every time the ball clanged off it. This had no impact whatsoever and the ball continued to clang of the gate for several hours.
We decided to venture in to the maze of guesthouses behind the main road for dinner and went to a tripadvisor favourite roti restaurant, No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop. Roti is a Sri Lankan staple and, if you do what we did and have one for both main and dessert, is all but guaranteed to put you in to a carb coma. The banoffee roti was one of the best desserts James has ever eaten and has been a frequent topic of conversation with other travellers who have agreed to its awesomeness. An absolute must if you are a banoffee fan.On our trips to and from the beach we had noticed a small mouse type animal scurrying up and down trees and along the walls but weren’t quite sure what it was. James returned from a conversation with our host, who spoke next to no English, armed with the answer. For context; here’s a picture of one (from the Google):
James: Apparently, it’s a monkey
Caro: There’s no way that it’s a monkey
James: She definitely said that it’s a monkey
Caro: It’s not
James: You never know there might be a type of mouse that’s related to a monkey
Caro: Maybe, but that is most definitely not a monkey. At the very best it’s a chipmunkey.
James: I think it could be
Caro: *Googles* It’s a squirrel
It was time for us to move on to our second beach town, Tangalle, which is larger but quieter from a tourist perspective and has a more authentic Sri Lankan feel to it. We eventually found the bus stop on the main road, the policeman we asked struggled to help, but after discussing it with a tuk tuk driver we decided to get a tuk tuk to Tangalle instead. He had told us that as it was Sri Lankan Independence Day the buses would arrive less than once an hour and were going to be really busy etc. In hindsight, we realise that this probably wasn’t true: Tuk Tuk Drivers – 2 Rolling Stones – 0. This did however mean that we had a fairly easy journey and it ticked “long tuk tuk journey” off our to do list. As we drove through the town of Dondra our driver pointed out the window to an elephant in the courtyard of a temple, we both had to crane around to see it so he pulled over and we climbed out.It was not a pretty sight and sadly this was not the only poor beast chained up there. This one looked to be in a fair bit of distress, constantly tossing its head, but at least it was being kept cool. The driver, mistaking our photo taking for enthusiasm, asked us if we wanted to ride it. No, we absolutely did not.
We had again chosen a homestay a stone’s through from the beach, the Ananda Homestay. Our hostess, Ramini, was such a beautiful, kind person and she made us feel like members of her family. With that in mind, please take the following in the spirit that it is intended; to inform on travelling on a budget. Levels of cleanliness and facilities vary hugely in homestays and the difference of a pound a night can be vast. This homestay was probably the most rough and ready example that we have experienced, with bare lightbulbs (not all of which worked) and a certain lack of cleanliness to the whole place.We will spare you the photos of the large creepy crawly that we heard scurrying around the bedroom at night and found lurking in a corner of the bathroom the next morning. Another excellent tit bit came from a fellow traveller who had extended her stay there from one to four days (honestly it was a wonderful place): she had asked Ramini to do some laundry for her but not all of it had been returned, when she pointed this out our wonderful host shrugged and said “maybe the monkeys took it” with a massive smile and not even a smidge of irony.
Once we had dumped our bags we wandered around town, ducking in to the obligatory tourist shops and hitting the market, which was in a slightly dank and dingy covered area but had beautiful looking fruit and veg.Our wanders took us toward the harbour and we passed over a very dodgy looking bridge which we assume was damaged by the Tsunami 13 years ago and never fixed. We strolled past traditional fishing boats and the fisherman’s quarters which, on a sad note, was covered in posters looking for missing fisherman.After a refresh Caro did some yoga back at the homestay and James ventured off east along the road behind the beach. This was lined with the guesthouses but these became sparser the further from town you got and then runs along a lagoon which was brimming with bird life. The road suddenly stops at a river and there is an excellent raft and rope crossing system for guests of the remaining few hotels. Beyond here the beach carries on for miles and James spent the money he had to bring back drinking water to buy beer and watch the world go by.We ventured out that evening in search of a highly recommend restaurant from trip advisor which was just around the corner from our homestay. As we should have expected, it was rammed so we wandered on until we came across The Tree’s (their apostrophe not ours, it added to the charm). Their two tables were full, but they found us a table round the back which faced in to the kitchen. We strongly suspect that it was their family dining table. The whole experience from then on in was brilliant. We watched at least 7 women working away in the kitchen, nothing hurried, no shouting, just steadily working to create amazing food. The family children played around us and took a dislike to James, which Caro did nothing to discourage, in fact quite the opposite. The food was delicious. At the end of meal, we had a chat with the owner. He had been a tuk tuk driver previously and had brought one of his guests home for dinner, the chap said the food was delicious and that they should open a restaurant, so they did. It was one of the best dining experiences we have had in a while and would thoroughly recommend it. And they let you sign their wall.
The following morning Caro helped Ramini out by making tea and coffee at breakfast and was rewarded with a demonstration of hopper cooking.
Then it was back to the beach where we remained sunbathing and swimming for the rest of the day, though there are only a few places you can swim as the sea has a real pull and you can get battered by the waves.We spent a quiet evening having dinner at the homestay and chatting with the other guests, who were suitably traveller crazy; one called himself Pirate and could nail a rubik’s cube in minutes. We awoke the next morning feeling a bit iffy with Montezuma’s Revenge kicking in and the commencement of a game that we charmingly named “Danger Fart”. Just what we wanted before a 3-hour bus journey.