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Mirissa, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, has everything for a lazy beach vacation

Days in the sun (From top) Whale watchers spot a fin; Mirissa’s Coconut Tree Hill

Days in the sun (From top) Whale watchers spot a fin; Mirissa’s Coconut Tree Hill  

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Blue ocean: check. Whale watching: check. Surf spots: check. Mirissa, a little dot on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, has everything for a lazy beach vacation, including access to a private airline. We hop on board

Arrive

At Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, a car awaits to drive us to our seaside destination. Now, depending on the kind of traveller you are, there are other ways of doing this. The train route takes you along the coastline and is said to offer stunning views, provided you reach early enough in the morning to avoid the breakneck, Mumbai local-like crowds. And don’t mind disembarking at Weligama, about seven kilometres away, then taking a tuktuk the rest of the way. The car we hired, however, takes the smooth Southern Expressway that stays inland for the most part, passing fields, coffee estates and little hamlets: two-and-a-half hours of greenery that end at a little budget hotel by the sea.

Lots to see Lighthouse in Mirissa on the background of sunset, Sri Lanka

Lots to see Lighthouse in Mirissa on the background of sunset, Sri Lanka  

Day 1

5 am

The day is dedicated to catching a glimpse of the world’s largest mammal, in the ocean waters that serve as its feeding ground, way off the coast of Sri Lanka. We wake up at 5 am, for we have to report at the whale watchers’ office at Mirissa Harbour around 6 am. It is barely 15 minutes away, but hey, waking up takes time.

6 am

Before we know it, we are on our way in a little tuktuk driven by a surprisingly chirpy man. At the office, we are greeted by other men, also far more active and awake than we are. Mirissa is something of a hub for whale watching, and all the action begins early. The plus side of this is that tourists have a number of options to choose from; the minus side is that the sheer, haphazard rush of large ferries every morning tends to stress the mammal out.

The concerns are many, we are told by the family that runs Raja & The Whales, a local business with tie-ups with conservation agencies. Ethical tour operators are those who start off by listing the dos and don’ts — they inform you about the minimum distance that they always maintain, and tell you that, between closing in to get a good look and staying way to glimpse just the fin (maybe the tip of a tail and a burst of water), they will always choose the latter option.

Mirissa, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, has everything for a lazy beach vacation

After all that, they let you know that the feeding waters are a good two-and-a half hours journey into choppy ocean waters. If you think you are fit enough to avoid seasickness, think again.

Don’t get me wrong: the view of the receding coastline is beautiful, and the spray of ocean water on a leaping ferry is as exciting as few things can be. On a good day, you get to see as many as eight majestic blue whales — like I did. On a bad day, well, at least you get half your money back.

By the time we reach land again, it is nearly 1 pm. We are euphoric but exhausted. Having donated most of the contents of my stomach to the ocean, I can barely stay up, and long for some dry clothes and a warm bed. I will be sleeping till lunch, and lunch will be very, very late.

2 pm

Lunch, as it turns out, involves popping down to one of the many ‘roti huts’ down the lane, scarfing down a kothu parotta and a hearty, meat-stuffed parotta, and going back to the hotel to catch up on more sleep.

7 pm

Matara Road runs parallel to a stretch of Mirissa beach, and is flanked by hotels, backpacker hostels, souvenir shops and restaurants. Little lanes and unpaved shortcuts run through these like veins, connecting the road directly to the beach itself. We are too lazy to explore, so we walk up to an open restaurant under coconut trees, walk right through, and emerge on the other side to see plastic chairs steadied on sand, facing the ocean.

Restaurants like these line the little bay, docked by a little hill at each end. All of them have tables facing the water, and their catch for the day displayed proudly up front. The idea is for us to choose our fish, and choose our drink, and thus choose our restaurant. Since we have a hankering for whisky, we choose the lone shack serving it that evening (besides showing off some beautiful red snappers), and set up camp.

Day 2

8 am

Our destination for today is Koggala air force base. At this hour, it is a little over half-an-hour away. Traffic comprises mainly school buses and our lone tuktuk, buzzing along merrily on a road that runs along the seaside. We pass surf schools lining Weligama beach, fishing poles and boats on Midigama beach, and a little jetty with livelihood-assuring, sturdy fishing vessels tied tight.

At the air base, a private airline called F-air is waiting to fly us up on its four-seater plane, to try and spot whales from the sky. It is an hour-long affair from end to end, beginning with briefings by a marine biologist. After we are assured that the plane would not be disturbing whale behaviour in any way, we take off: first flying along the coast, gazing at beaches, palm groves and coral reefs below. Eventually, we turn towards the open ocean, coordinating with whale tracking ferries and keeping our eyes peeled for the tell-tale burst of water. Whales evade us, but a number of dolphins skip in and out of the rippling water, till eventually it is time to head back.

A group of whale watchers on a boat watching a Blue Whale

A group of whale watchers on a boat watching a Blue Whale  

11 am

The morning still stretches out before us, but it is too harshly sunny to stroll and shop. Or even to head to the beach. So we decide to try out something we have read a lot about: Sri Lanka’s “authentic” Chinese cuisine. A sizeable Chinese immigrant population has ensured that the cuisine is commonly available in the country’s tourist town — we walk into The Blue Whale, and are cheerily informed that though they do not serve alcohol, BYOBs are welcome. So we sit down with two beer cans and order seafood, noodles and rice. The first two come in massive tureens fit to serve a party of four to the full; the latter in a little vessel scarcely larger than a dessert bowl. It looks clear, light and mild, but the chillies are surprisingly palpable.

6 pm

The evening is for shopping and gazing at waves. The first is happily done with within an hour — exchange rate being in our favour and shops being not too many. After that, we head to our favoured spot of last night, whiling away our last few hours in the company of stars, sand and sea.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 2:08:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/mirissa-on-the-southern-coast-of-sri-lanka-has-everything-for-a-lazy-beach-vacation/article30522215.ece

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