Sri Lanka Part 2: sun, sand & seafood

Sri Lanka’s beaches have been on our must visit list since reading ‘The Lonely Planet Story’ five years ago. And while we’re sure the beaches have very much changed since Tony and Maureen Wheeler first wrote about them, they were still a perfect way to spend our last week in Sri Lanka.

From Ella we caught a bus driven by a wannabe rally car driver to Matara. On the upside, I got a great arm and core workout trying not to slip off the seat as we made our way downhill. From Matara it was just one more, rather sweaty, bus ride to Mirissa beach.

Mirissa is a quiet and picturesque bay that is especially beautiful for a walk at 7am when most people are still sleeping. It was certainly our favourite of the three coastal towns that we chose to visit.

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Mirissa is well known for its whale watching so we booked a tour with Raja and the Whales who came highly recommended. The captain works for the university and as such does everything by the book, unlike some of the other operators who essentially chase the whales. At the break of dawn we headed out to sea until in the distance we could see blue whales blowing water out of their spouts. Getting a little closer we sat in silence dotted around the boat waiting for someone to yell a clock number indicating where the whales were surfacing. We were lucky enough to see at least six of them diving down (tail up if we were extra lucky) before coming back up again. They were huge. Big enough that we could swim in their arteries apparently.

While we were out there a massive cargo ship came into view. One of the staff explained that sadly they sometimes hit the whales and then zoomed in on a photo he’d just taken. The ship was on auto pilot and there was not a soul in sight.

After an hour out there by ourselves the other tour operators started rocking up, doing far more knots than they should and getting way too close to the whales. Our captain, clearly very frustrated with this happening so frequently, sounded a warning siren each time he spotted them going against protocol.  Eventually, fed up and with us having seen plenty of whales, we turned around and headed back to shore. When we arrived at our guesthouse the owner told us we’d been very fortunate, the past few days guests had only spotted one or two whales.

We had also heard rave reviews about ayurvedic massages in Sri Lanka, so that afternoon we set out to see what all the fuss was about. An hour later I walked, nay, floated, out of the room feeling amazing. We were also rather smelly due to the herbal oil used. A small price to pay for such relaxation.

That night we walked along the shoreline to find a spot for dinner with Jane and Carl who had just arrived from Aragum Bay. The whole grilled fish was cooked to perfection. Unfortunately we can’t say the same for Jane’s calamari which arrived whole and cold.

From Mirissa we headed to Unawatuna, a more popular beach destination. However, I think this is due to its proximity to Galle rather than it being a superior beach as we found it to be too crowded with deck chairs and dining tables for our liking. Having said that, it is a better beach for swimming compared with Mirissa where we spent a whole day watching people get dumped and loosing items in the surf.

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Our Unawatuna experience consisted of lazing on the beach reading while sipping lime sodas and occasionally saying no to someone selling king coconuts or sarongs. So there’s not much to report, except for seeing a turtle make its way to the water and this adorable puppy who decided to sit under my chair while we enjoyed a Lion Lager at sunset one day.

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On our last night we were awoken at 1am by the sound of two cannon blasts marking the start of Poya, the full moon holiday. It also happened to be Valentines Day. As alcohol is banned on holidays in Sri Lanka there was no bottle of wine with dinner for us this year. That morning we caught a tuk tuk to Galle Fort which is unlike any other part of Sri Lanka. For one, it’s extremely quiet. Add to that a heavy Dutch influence with colonial buildings and churches dotting the streets.

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We spent the afternoon walking the fort walls, dodging courting couples and watching numerous cricket games. From kids playing with a tennis ball at the park to teams in their cricket whites at the Galle International Stadium. According to our tuk tuk driver most of the fort was lucky enough to escape the rath of the 2004 tsunami however the cricket stadium needed to be rebuilt and received a generous donation from Shane Warne.

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Sri Lankans really love their cricket and it was apparent in Galle moreso than anywhere else on the island. As soon as a local discovered we were from Australia they proceeded to ask if we liked cricket, played cricket, watched cricket and if we thought Australia was improving since winning the ashes. Then with pride they would explain how Sri Lanka were doing really well, even with a young captain.

The sunset in Galle was stunning and we found a spot on the wall to watch the sun dip into the Indian Ocean. Afterwards I had my first truely spicy meal in Sri Lanka. Before arriving we had the expectation that Sri Lankan cuisine would be extremely spicy, and maybe it is. But it seems travellers have complained so much that it is hard to come by a hot dish as a tourist. Even after asking for our curries to be spicy we were left a bit disappointed, although the flavours were beautiful. So when I ordered the ‘spicy calamari’ I didn’t think much of it. Finally, I got to experience the mouth on fire, nose watering goodness that I had hoped for. What a way to end our journey to this wonderfully diverse country.

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