Due to my stupidity we are on quite a strict schedule in Sri Lanka. For reasons unbeknown to myself I scrimped on time here and so with nothing but absolute regret, the time had come or us to make our way to the South Coast.
Just where we were to go on the South coast I had not yet decided, it was something I had planned to ponder at some point along the 8hr journey toward Galle. There were of course a few places I had in mind, but finding the ‘perfect’ beach in Sri Lanka is no easy task.
It is a common misconception that Sri Lanka is surrounded by pristine arcs of sand all sloping gently into a calm, moonstone blue ocean and shadowed only by coconut trees and the sleepy sounds of reggae. In fact many of Sri Lanka’s beaches are nothing but rocky outlays lashed violently by the unforgiving sea. Others are gorgeous but attract only surfers and so finding a beach that is scenically beautiful as well as safe for kids is actually not easy.
The islands best beaches are along the south coast, these tend to be developed areas and lack the intimacy that the beaches on the East Coast offer. Many East coast beaches are completely deserted and you could easily find yourself in a castaway style scenario. As attractive as this may be, the East coast also draws a certain type of tourist – Surfers. If a surfer is headed for a particular beach then usually you can be sure it is not where kids want to be. Surfers are not known for loving calm seas with no undercurrent and so with this in mind, really there aren’t a great deal of beaches in Sri Lanka at this time of year that tick the boxes of safety/beauty and serenity. The ones that did were along the South coast, namely Mirissa and Unawatuna. And no, despite Abi’s best efforts to convince me that the name ‘Unawatuna’ comes from the fact a woman once lived there called Una and she had a Tuna, that is not where the name comes from… I don’t think.
Leaving Ella there was three ways I considered getting to the South Coast, the first was an overnight train from Ella leaving at 7pm and the arriving at 6am into Colombo. A long winded way to go, the benefit would have been that we could have slept the duration in beds. This was actually my preferred option since it suited the kids best. We headed to the train station and soon found out that to book sleeper class trains you had to book them from Colombo, despite the fact we were nowhere near the place I wondered if a guy from India was in charge. In spent ages trying to get the rail guy to phone Colombo and sort something but it was a non starter.
Then there was a taxi, but for 13,000 Rupees it was simply not worth it, despite the fact the price dropped to 9,000 (£50) it simply was not feasible for me to spend this amount on one journey.
The third alternative, and the one none of us wanted to do was the bus. It meant several changes and a long day of being cramped. The problem with Ella is that it is on a bus route, not at the end/start and so your chances of jumping aboard at Ella and getting seat are remote at best. Nonetheless the bus leaves Ella and 8am and so at 7am the following morning we were at the taxi stand. The reason was simple, I would keep an eye out for tourists getting taxis (they are like small 8 seater mini buses) when I saw someone getting into one I would ask where they were going. If it was the South coast then I would ask if they wanted to split the fare with us. It was a no brainer and any backpacker would lap up such an offer and so within five minutes we were headed south in a taxi for 2000Rupees (tenner) to Tissa.
Tissa is almost three hours from Ella but is an important transit hub for the South coast. Just as id hoped, we jumped straight on a bus for Matara and got the best seat on the bus. As the bus rolled along the South coast we got to see most of the beaches and saw some real beauty. But as the guide book had said, these beautiful slices of paradise were battered by huge waves, making them untenable and unsafe for even the strongest swimmers.
We arrived at Matara some three hours later and quickly hopped onto the bus bound for Galle. Galle is the hop off place for the South coast and so it was the logical location.
After some time we passed Mirissa and it looked dangerous, the waves were huge and so we continued on to check out Unawatuna. We had to bail off the bus and started walking toward where we believed the beach was. We walked down this little road and suddenly little guesthouses started to appear. After five minutes we were faced with a stunning arc of golden sand gently being lashed by turquoise seas. The weather was perfect and I could hear the sound of Bob Marley in the background. I looked at both kids who by now were now grinning ear to ear.
We had stumbled upon paradise.