The southern coastal road from Unawatuna to Mirissa throws up spectacular scenes of village life, gorgeous beaches untouched by tourism, and fleeting glimpses of the iconic ‘stilt’ fishermen, who sit on sticks out in the water and fish, although the majority are now doing it to take advantage of tourism (they charge for photographs). We were in a van driven by a slightly less-suicidal, but still business-minded Sri Lankan, who asked us five minutes after we had set off if we were interested in seeing a ‘spice garden’ Though I knew this would also mean some kind of scam, I went along with it. We had time, we’d set off nice and early, and I had fond memories of a very educative trip I’d made to a spice garden in Zanzibar many years before. We cut off down a dirt track and trundled towards the spice garden, which was set in lovely grounds complete with a huge lake where you could hire a boat.
The tour of the spice garden was interesting…..we saw how the Sri Lankans use herbs, spices, and fruit (including the red pineapple) to make all kinds of medicine and beauty products, and they showed us natural hair removal creams (I tried it on my arm and it really works!), and gave a short demonstration of a Ayurvedic massage. We were then shown to the ‘pharmacy’, all along the ‘doctor’ and some of the assistants smiling away thinking ‘another tourist fleeced’, and our van driver licking his lips, almost tasting his commission. Everything in the pharmacy was expensive, too expensive for Sri Lanka. We bought a token cream to keep everybody happy, then hopped back in the van as a group of bewildered tourists arrived on an undoubtedly unplanned detour. The curly haired German-looking chap at the head of the group and I exchanged knowing ‘this is a tourist trap but we’ve just got to go along with it’ looks, then we were off and on our way to Mirissa.
Our hotel was the lovely Peacock Villa in a little village about a 10 minute walk back from the beach – a hidden gem would be a cliche, but a hidden gem it is. Lovely grounds, run by shy but friendly Sri Lankan brothers. We were staying on the ground floor, and the room had everything you need to make it comfy – fridge, kettle etc, with a nice terrace facing the countryside. Of course, you can stay near the beach for much more money – but you’ll also get the heavy noisy traffic of the coastal road keeping you awake. We dumped our bags and headed out pretty quickly, taking a shortcut to the beach past the goats roaming freely around, and winding down by a brook and through the village, full of smiling friendly locals, who were obviously not yet that accustomed to tourists wandering about, but seemed to be fine that they were. We crossed the busy, noisy coastal road, and to paradise.
Mirissa is gorgeous. A beautiful blonde beach great for surfing, with a few rustic huts serving as restaurants and bars. It’s also known as the ‘whale-watching beach’ – and there were plenty of signs up in front of boat operator kiosks proudly proclaiming the number of different types of whales seen the previous day (blue whales, whale sharks, bryde wales), and the number of dolphins. Unfortunately, we had no time on this trip to see whales – boats set off around 7:30am, and we were heading to Yala in the morning. Still, we had the afternoon to enjoy the beautiful beach.
And so we spent the day wandering up and down the lovely beach. It has a raw, largely unspoiled feel to it….certainly no big brash resorts have opened up right on the beach yet. We had lunch in the inevitable Reggae bar, a simple place with crudely made wooden chairs and tables on the beach, Bob Marley music, and a smattering of local beach boys, sweaty red-faced tourists, and dreadlocked hippies who were trying hard not to think about having to go to law school next year. We had a deliciously simple curry washed down with a bottle of Lion beer, and then went for a swim in the deliciously warm surf.
For sunset we climbed the little rock just out at sea, which commanded impressive views of the seemingly endless coastline dotted with little fishing boats that had ben hauled up onto the beach fringed with palms to the north, with surfers riding the plentiful waves. It was a beautiful sunset, a sunset that made the rocks glow a reddish amber, and cast a golden river over the ocean. We walked around to a little restaurant and I had a pot of delicious tea, then we went for a swim, and, when we were tired of being bashed by the waves, we found a beach restaurant with little plastic tables bathed in candlelight. We selected our fish, fresh in that day, and sat down to enjoy a srumptious fish supper. If I ever lived in Sri Lanka one day, I thought, I’d be here every weekend.