It was almost a shame when the train eventually stopped at Matara. The difficult four hour journey to the end of the line had only just started to become enjoyable. For the last half hour we skirted the beautiful beach towns of Sri Lanka’s south coast, passing through a few places we hoped to visit later on. We hung out of the open door and watched the world go by. When the train heaved to a violent stop and all at once the sticky heat of the ferocious midday sun returned. We jumped down from the train and joined the rabble of humans heading for the exit, trying in vain not to take any one out with our rucksacks.
Outside a colourful line of Tuk-Tuks sat waiting to snap up some business. We skirted by the first few who seemed a little pushy and headed towards the back of the eager line. We cut in half the first price that was offered and then after some arm waving and head shaking, came to a more agreeable price somewhere in the middle. Our diver was a little more reserved than the drivers we had met in the city and we wondered if life on the south coast was maybe a little more mellow. We left Matara in a flash, passing by a huge temple overlooked by a giant Buddha and with an Elephant chained to a tree. From there we hit the coastal road, a windy stretch of tarmac lined with pungent fish markets and cheap looking roadside restaurants. After only a couple of kilometres we abruptly swung off to the right and flew on to a rough, dirt road we could easily have missed. The not so nimble Tuk-Tuk struggled along the terrain before we merged nicely with a small road lined with quaint guesthouses.
Talalla Ocean Beach was brand new and partly still under construction. But we were greeted warmly by the owners who explained a slight mishap with the booking, but still managed to find us a room. Lal the owner was a slender and nervous looking man with a somewhat over courteous manner. He reminded me strongly of Manuel from Faulty Towers and even had the moustache to match. Sadrina was mothering, always carrying a beautiful smile and a steaming cup of Sri Lankan Tea. We hoped that all our guesthouse owners would be so warm and welcoming.
Paradise is a word that I throw around quite a bit. I guess i’m lucky enough to have seen some beautiful places. But believe me when I say that Talalla Beach was paradise. I’t was even more beautiful that all the pictures we’d seen and the optimistic images we’d created in our minds. Along its majestic curve the beach was lined all the way with a thick layer of leaning palms. The soft sand was spattered with resting fishing boats who’s colourful decoration dazzled under the sun.
There were no more than five beach shack restaurants dotted along the beach. We headed to the closest one in search of a lunchtime curry and found a little table in the shade of a fishing boat. We ordered their four curry special in order to try a few local flavours. The waiter was so laid back he practically took our order lying down. It took a while for the food to arrive but we were in no rush, we had no where else to be. With our feet in the sand we silently sipped a coconut and watched the waves break on the shore. When our curries did arrive we were blown away, firstly by the portion size and secondly by the flavours. We had four deep bowls of curried vegetables, pumpkin, green bean, spicy okra and a delicious dahl. Our rice came in something closer to a bucket than a bowl and as every good foodie would, I felt I had to finish it.
We took a stroll along the beach to walk off our heavy lunch, before heading in to the ocean for our first Sri Lankan swim. The clear blue water was refreshingly cool, calm and solitary. We felt like we had the entire ocean to ourselves. For the rest of the afternoon we snoozed and read our books under the shade of a fishing boat. It was some much needed down time from our whirlwind welcome to Sri Lanka. We never fully awoke from our afternoon nap. That night we enjoyed a sunset beer on the beach before succumbing to this new pace of life which slowed us down to a delightful stop.
Feeling well rested, we were up and about early the next morning. We took a slow jog on the empty beach and returned to find breakfast waiting for us. In the centre of the table was a beautifully decorated china teapot and some delicate looking cups. Carefully, we each poured ourselves a serve and topped it up with some thick, warm milk from a pretty little jug.
It should be said that I’m not (or wasn’t) really a tea drinker. But that first sip of Sri Lankan tea changed my perspective in a way that’s only comparable to having your first pint of really good beer. It’s not always clear what’s appealing, but you know you’ve made a friend for life. My initial reaction was one of overwhelming comfort. The warm liquid sang of flavour and tradition. As though years of hard work and care had just been poured in to my little tea cup. We could have drank it forever. My second cup, without the milk, was even more incredible. It lacked the comfort of the first but replaced the warm hug with a sense of purpose.
Then our hoppers arrived, A plate piled high with light coconuty pancakes, thin and crispy around the edges with a pool of delightful stodge in the middle. Sadrina served them with jam and butter but we sensed a more traditional, Sri Lankan topping, would do them more justice.
We gladly wasted the day away lounging in a shady spot on the beach, our eternal slumber broken only by occasional dips in the ocean. We read our books and calmly sipped on coconuts until the sun began to set. Again we enjoyed a slow sunset stroll, stopping for a beer at the far end of the beach. After dark we ate at a rickety old restaurant perched precariously in to the rock face at the western end of the beach. With caution we climbed up uneven steps and ladders in the pitch dark until we reached a wooden platform set with tables and chairs. We were high above the beach but could still hear the sound of lapping waves through the darkness. Our host, Nyala, was a sassy teen who seemed to be running the show on her own and doing a bloody good job. She was friendly, helpful and had impeccable English. Though she did make her distaste for my request for beer quite clear. With confidence she recommended the prawn curry, which on arrival turned out to be an impeccable choice. The prawns were thick, meaty and swimming in spice. With all the extra rice she had given me it was a marathon to finish, but I didn’t dare disappoint our gracious host again.
For the rest of the night we sat staring across the bay in to the darkness, knowing that below us was one of the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen. Although our time here was short, it was enough to rejuvenate our shell-shocked souls and prepare us for the journey ahead. Something in us longed to come back, even before we’d left. But with so much to do and see in Sri Lanka we bid our goodbyes to Talalla and headed next morning to the beach town of Mirissa.