Last month, we were in Mirissa. Off-season Mirissa is where you don’t see overcrowded boats chasing waves, and each other to see a glimpse of world’s largest mammal, the blue whale. Instead, it’s where your quick strolls turn into long walks along the sandy shore. It’s where you visit the same local-run garden cafe three times a day. It’s where wee crab friends run back to the ocean as the clouds pass by and skies turn into colours you cannot name. It’s where you lie down for hours on abandoned resort sunbeds for free.
We love Mirissa. We absolutely loved it. But deep down, Mirissa, and the entire South Coast make us cringe. Here’s why:
- It’s polluted. While Sri Lanka’s becoming the ‘it-destination’ and tourism industry is taking over the island like never before, pollution is one major problem the island has to face. The beach is mostly polluted. The roads are littered. Plastic bottles and polythene bags are a common scene in small water canals.
- It’s ‘crowded’ even during the off-season. While this might not be a reason to cringe, our (mostly Zin’s) idea of a beach, is, complete isolation with a hammock to lie down and sip a margarita (and a cup of chai, too). The main beach of Mirissa was pretty crowded when we visited it. However, we walked about one and half kilometers and found a few nice, isolated spots to while away the time. Okay, sugar plum, what we are trying to say is, the tourism industry is really taken over the island. Yep!
- There’s no local life. We don’t know about you but one of our favorite things about traveling is, to embrace and enjoy the local life. To get an idea about the cultures and traditions. We absolutely love it. And in Mirissa, there’s absolutely no local life. Every house is a guesthouse. Every twenty-some boy is a surf instructor or a “beach boy.” Same applies to the entire South Coast. We agree that tourism has brought them a source of income. But when every wee house turns into a hotel/resort/guesthouse solely to earn money, discriminate locals and treat the travelers with no proper hospitality, it’s a big NO-NO. See: this isn’t bashing about locals who run guesthouses. The foreign-run resorts and luxury ‘hotels’ are cringe-worthier. We wonder how local life used to be before tourism industry took place in the island.
- Hotels. Resorts. Guesthouses. Hostels. Any other sort of insane name you can give to a room with a bed. Yep! They are everywhere. Every house is one of those. Everything. And EVERYONE FIGHTS FOR THE BEST “SEA VIEW.” (See: “Parrot Island View”)
- YOU WILL LOSE IT. Okay, everyone, every sugar plum, listen! What might have brought the tourists here? What might have opened up the tourism industry in the South Coast? The beaches. Those sandy far-stretched beaches once existed. Now, there’s only a little of it. Kudos, humans, you’ve killed it. There’s coastal erosion. Plenty of it. Some parts have become narrower than ever that in some years, the waves may wash you over as you’re sitting in a Matara-Weligama private bus. Yay!
- Where is the ‘local’ traveler? We are not talking about Colombo ‘hipsters’ who occasionally drive their Porsche Down South and call them “travelers.” We see plenty of sarong-wearing-hipsters with a foreign accent. When Zin was young, she traveled with her dada who used to point out each and every river stream and talk about its history. About local life years back. About when Sri Lanka actually produced sugar in factories in Kantale. Where are they? Where are teachers you can learn while you travel? Where are those curious learners who want to learn about new places? About its culture? About its long-lost romance? This is the thing. If Zin brings her mother here, mommy dear would feel insecure. She did, in many places. How sad is it that you feel insecure in your own country because ‘westernization’ has taken over it.
- There’s discrimination. While we didn’t come across any sort of discrimination during our time in Mirissa, we’ve heard plenty about it. Mirissa has a bad reputation for that. Many budget, mid range and even luxury accommodation options don’t welcome locals. And many high-end restaurants will probably think we locals have no money to pay their bill. This is common in the entire island that when we book budget accommodation options, we always see if the owner is foreign. Sad to say that we’ve never faced discrimination by foreign owners/hosts but locals. A nation where locals discriminate against their own – do you need any reasons for the island’s unsustainable development?
- Feminism/freedom doesn’t mean it’s right to roam around the streets in a bikini. Or absolutely ‘short’ shorts. When you go to a place, respect the local culture. There’s absolutely nothing ‘local’ in Sri Lanka’s Down South that it’s become kind of normal if you have a white skin. But you can occasionally spot an old grandma with a frowned face. We wonder how their lives used to be years back.
- Sexual harassment. There’s plenty of it in the island. Mostly, in many occasions, it may not go beyond usual catcalling. Many solo female travelers we’ve met has faced some sort of physical harassment as well. And listen, not only white females face this. Local women face this the most. Everytime. The patriarchal society has normalized it for years that many locals think it’s absolutely normal to catcall a girl. Your ‘ah-nangi’s’ make us girls cringe. It’s become a major cause of Zin’s social anxiety as well. How many times would you think before taking a crowded local bus?
We could go on about how island’s unsustainable development (mainly a reason due to its rising popularity in tourism industry) makes us cringe. Here’s the thing. In a few years, some of these beaches won’t be there. So if you are heading there now, here are a few useful/sustainable tips:
- Use Booking.com when you book accommodation options. Read the reviews carefully. Booking.com is the ONLY 100% reliable booking site as every review is from a guest who stayed at a certain property. You can’t fake them. And due to Booking.com policies, hotels can’t turn you down even if you are local. Yet, we’ve heard about a few occasions where this still happened. So read the reviews. And if you ever had a bad experience, write it down. It may help another traveler. Same goes with a good experience, too.
- Use Airbnb. We love Airbnbs as they give you a sense of local life and in most Airbnbs, you are living with a family. Airbnbs become your home, too. Read the reviews on Airbnb before you book. We’ve met some amazing people when we’ve stayed at Airbnbs. (Also read: Natural Mystic Sanctuary: Finding bliss in Deniyaya)
- Don’t litter the environment. Please, love it!
- Dress up appropriately according to the place and time.
- Don’t feel insecure about taking the public bus/train. Don’t think that driving your own car and staying at a luxury resort is the ‘only’ cool way to travel. Travel as you prefer it and the way you could afford it. Be true to yourself. Sri Lanka is where “I’ve never taken the bus” makes one a cool kid! Wrong. It does not. Absolutely not. Here’s a cool fact: when you take public transport, you are doing a tiny bit of good to the environment that can have a major effect. 1 train instead of 100 cars minimize the carbon emission. You are traveling responsibly. Yes, you are, cool kid!
After all, it’s still the island of ours. We love it. The ocean takes the sorrows away despite being loaded with pollution. Palm trees dance slowly to the sea-breeze. Castle-like clouds go pass by and at dusk, sun sets and paints skies in an unimaginable palette. The island is where everything and anything is possible.
Have you been to Mirissa yet?
Nathan and Zinara