I think it's fair to say most public buses aren't designed to accommodate backpackers! In fact, the only space for our main backpacks on Sri Lankan buses was wedged by the driver and gearstick! So with our backpacks cleared of the driver and his vital controls, we literally jumped off the bus and landed on the main road running through Mirissa.
Amelia and I had researched accommodation options before arriving, and had by now realised Sri Lanka is a place where 'on the door' prices definitely work out cheaper than online.
'Bandhusena Homestay' was where we ended up at. For less than £10 a night it was value for money and our host was more than hospitable. Her and her husband owned a lavish house with tall white walls and a wrought iron gate encircling their premises. We almost walked straight past it in our search for a typical guesthouse!
Mirissa is a renowned for its daily whale watching trips between November and April. We'd spoken to a few people during our travels around Sri Lanka about the trips, some of which were complimentary, others almost the polar opposite. The last thing Amelia and I want to do is become irresponsible tourists, so we did as much research as possible. Luck would have it that our homestay owner was a lecturer of conservation at a nearby University, and to add to that also had a national park ranger staying with her. They both highly recommended a relatively new company starting out in Mirissa. Having heard and read about boats 'chasing' whales to 'earn' their tips, the welfare of the animals was still on our minds, but it was hard to imagine that these two particular citizens would be unreliable, so we decided to go ahead and book it.
As we'd lined up a boat trip quicker than anticipated, Amelia and I prescribed ourselves to an afternoon of sun worshipping and swimming. But not before a quick bite at a popular tourist restaurant. Surprisingly their pricing was reasonable, so for a change Amelia and I tucked into some fried noodles.
Happily we discovered a fairly isolated part of Mirissa's golden sands without the many tourists we'd seen lurking around. Unbeknown to us we managed to plonk ourselves near a guitarist, whom after a short snooze skilfully plucked away some nice mellow songs. It was a chilled afternoon and thoroughly welcomed after buzzing around inland for a few weeks.
We were starting to become accustomed to eating curry three times a day, but that still didn't stop us from grasping at any opportunity to have something different. With Mirissa being a touristy town, there was that opportunity. Amelia and I ate at 'Little Tuna', a quaint restaurant serving sushi and other Japanese dishes. Apart from the portion sizes being a little too small for me, we savoured the freshly made selection of sushi rolls.
Whale watching has always been something I've wanted to do, and with the chance of seeing the largest creature to have ever lived, Amelia and I were excited to say the least.
A tuk tuk picked us up at 6.30am and took us to Mirissa Harbour, where we boarded a sixty seater boat to take us out to sea. The boat was busy but only two thirds of the seats were occupied, so happily it didn't feel too crowded. The boat crew briefed us on the morning ahead and told us under strict terms not to rush to one side of the boat if a whale is spotted - a serious safety concern, especially after the recent capsizing of a whale watching boat in Canada.
Flanked by approximately a dozen other tour boats of a similar size, we were far from on our own out there. It seems if the whales are within the vicinity they're mainly found in one particular place. We'd been informed by numerous people that the blue whales hadn't been spotted for seventeen days though, which could've been linked to an aggressive killer whale lurking in the area during that time.
There was an apprehensive silence on the boat as we displaced schools of flying fish on our hours journey away from shore. As we neared, the silence soon turned into an excited rambling and with a purge of sea water from the blowhole of a distant blue whale, the crew and passengers collectively gasped at its magnificence. Nature is what it is though, unpredictable! So when the blue whales dived down (100m+) to feed a moment later, nobody knew where they'd reappear. Considering a blue whale can grow up to thirty metres long and have a tongue weighing more than an elephant it's not as easy as you might think to spot them! Throughout our morning on the choppy open sea, those of us who weren't throwing up overboard (like the Chinese tourists) were extraordinarily lucky to see, according to the crew, eight blue whales! To Amelia and I it looked like the same pair that kept resurfacing, so who knows. Gladly, from what we saw, all the boats kept a considerate distance and when one surprisingly surfaced within fifty metres of our boat, rather than chasing it down the captain kept a straight course and respectfully ran parallel with the pair of jumbo jet sized whales! It was a mind blowing few minutes, which passed in a flash and before we knew it they'd flicked up their flukes and taken another deep dive to feed on krill.
Nearing the shore after four hours, we had yet another streak of luck in the form of spinner dolphins! We didn't see the pod perform any of the characteristic spinning jumps, but it was an awesome way to end our morning.
When we returned via foot to our ever smiley hostess, she had a surprise in store for us... To soothe our sun kissed skin she'd cut some fresh aloe vera from the garden and prepared a pure organic gel. Her and her cousin had also converted an area in her open garage with sunbeds for the massage! It was an elemental setup but it was hugely appreciated, and we happily laid there for an hour while they massaged in the aloe vera.
After a lunch at the snail paced 'Dewmini Roti Shop', we spent our afternoon at the not so aptly named 'Secret Beach'. It was a mission finding it (not on google maps!), we had to battle through thick jungle and clamber over boulders to keep following the signs, needless to say it was a bit of a shock to see plenty of other people when we arrived. It wasn't until we left that we found a much easier road on the opposite side to which we'd arrived from!
A return to the previous day's lunch spot was on the cards for dinner. Amelia and I bother ordered a generous serving of delicious rice and several curries, after which we were well and truly pooped and ready to turn in for the night.
The owners of Bandhusena made us feel like part of the family, and after a typical Sri Lankan breakfast we received a goodbye hug and an open invite to return whenever we're nearby.
It was back to the main road and onto a rapidly passing bus to get to our next coastal destination..