From the European atmosphere of Galle Fort, we traveled south to the tropical beach town of Mirissa. Not only does Mirissa have the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen, it also happens to be my father’s birthplace and hometown.
The Family House
My dad grew up in Mirissa, along with his cadre of older brothers and a pair of sisters, in a large house with ten rooms and one bathroom. The beach was just across the street and down the sandy slope, a natural playground for my dad, aunts, uncles, and the rest of the children in the village. They especially enjoyed playing on Giragala, a tiny isle accessed from the beach by hopping from rock to rock across a shallow stretch of the water.
That was back before tourists and surfers joined the scene, before beachfront hotels and restaurants sprouted up to support the burgeoning tourism industry. My relatives are among those who monetized their old childhood homes through tourism.
While EZ and I were in town, we met with one of my uncles and cousins (and his family), who treated us to more warm hospitality and delicious food, including both homemade short-eats (appetizers) and a meal at a government-owned hilltop restaurant that caters to locals. These relatives still live in Mirissa, behind the house my father grew up in, which had recently been converted by a pair of New Zealanders into a party hostel named Why Not. My uncle showed us a black-and-white photo of the original house with 100 Buddhist monks receiving alms, before taking us to visit the hostel. What a difference!
The ten rooms that once fit my dad’s large family now fits eighty backpackers. One of the rooms has been converted into a bathroom with multiple stalls. The courtyard where I remember eating rice and curry with my cousins when I visited at age ten now holds a pool and a bar.
The house/hostel, situated on Matara Rd., is not all that’s changed over the years. Even since my first time in Sri Lanka fifteen years ago, I noticed how Matara Rd.—once a sleepy lane with a post office and a sprinkling of shops and houses—had grown into a busy thoroughfare. So busy, in fact, that crossing the street as a pedestrian can be a bit of a dare. But it’s necessary to reach the beach, unless you splurge for one of the cute new beachfront hotels, which book up quickly. EZ and I had to cross the main street, but once we did, we stayed on the beach as long as possible. I mean, who’d want to leave?
Once your feet touch the soft, warm sands, shuffling down the small slope and toward the water, the traffic noise melts away and the street disappears from view. The gentle shushing of the Indian Ocean meets your ears. Rich air, with a tang of salt, fills your lungs. Your eyes sweep across the crescent of beach—the glassy blue-green-gray water, tipped with pearly froth, stretching to meet the fringe of coconut trees. The soft sands warming your feet mirror the soft sunshine warming your face. Peace washes over you.
EZ and I let our eyes wander the crescent again, seeking a suitable spot to drop anchor for Operation Relaxation. The main strip of Mirissa Beach features a string of beachside bars and restaurant—which would be fun to explore later in the evening.
But for now, we wanted to rest our bones on a quiet patch of sand near the water. So EZ and I turned our sights south, where a rocky outcrop seemed to form a path to another crescent of beach.
Walking carefully along the sometimes precarious rock path, we saw a part of the beach set up for surfing lessons and an expanse occupied mostly by locals. We watched the sands transition from tan to black to tan again. We spotted the pretty little isle of Giragala. And we saw a stunning crescent of beach that seemed more isolated than the main strip and much farther removed from the street.
This part of the beach had fewer tourists, mainly only those from the nearby beachfront boutique hotels. Not many other tourists braved the rocky path as we did. EZ and I stepped off the path, back onto the soft sands, and walked all the way to the farthest end of the crescent, to the most remote, peaceful part of the beach. There, we claimed two beach lounge chairs for the price of two drinks from the boutique hotel just up the way. And the drinks were less than $5. What a steal! This hotel also had clean facilities and food, so that we could save our lounge chairs if we needed a quick bathroom break or a bite.
EZ and I lay out in the sun, beneath the fronds of the coconut trees. By turns, we sipped, read, chatted, people-watched, napped, and swam. Pure bliss. Ultimate relaxation.
Swimming was dream. I waded into the lukewarm, silky waters, which pooled and lapped around me playfully. Submersion felt soothing. The breaststroke, a refreshing glide through smooth waters. Delicious.
Sunset was spectacular. The giant fire-sun sank slowly, silhouetting surfers, swimmers, and fishing boats against the purpling sky.
The Main Strip
In the deepening twilight, the main strip glittered as restaurants and bars came alive with candlit and twinkle-lit seating right on the beach. Music floated through the air, mingling. Just steps away, the sea sighed against the shore.
Like many other places in Sri Lanka, the scene was a bit mellower due to the temporary dip in tourism. But normally, this strip is supposed to be quite the party scene.
EZ and I strolled along the shore, the still-warmish waves lapping our bare feet, as we surveyed our options for dinner. In front of each outdoor seating area stood a cache of fresh fish on ice. Fresh, as in caught that day by fishermen on that same beach. Talk about sea-to-table! They all looked delectable, gleaming silver in the lamplight.
We decided that we couldn’t go wrong. I don’t even remember the name of the restaurant we settled upon. But I do recall the yummy fish dish I enjoyed, super fresh and flavorful, crispy on the outside, melty on the inside. EZ ordered a pizza, which I thought might be a poor choice in Sri Lanka, but this particular pie was well done. Thin crust, wood-fired, and appropriately cheesy. We wandered farther down the strip to another restaurant for drinks and dessert—an ice cream sundae—then continued to walk along the beach until we could walk no more and sleep beckoned.
In addition to serving as a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me, Mirissa provided two perfect days of beach beauty and replenishing R&R. We didn’t bother spending time exploring the restaurants, bars, and shops of Matara Rd., though I’d imagine a few crosswalks would go a long way toward making that experience safer and more pleasant. But we were too enamored with the beach to stray far from it for long.
Luckily, more beach time awaited us in our next stop, Tangalle.