Off the Beaten Track in Bentota, Sri Lanka

The shrill scream of a peacock sounded in my ears. It was a sound that sent shivers down my spine as I got immediate recollections from all those nature documentaries I used to binge-watch as a kid. Their sound is unmistakable, almost like a cry.

The rain thumped on the canopy above us as we tucked into breakfast. In typical Sri Lankan style, we feasted on fresh local fruit and fried egg. Except, I really don’t like fruit, hence the hilarious expression as I tentatively bit into a piece of pineapple.

Our AirBnB host informed us that different regions in Sri Lanka specialise in different fruits. He told us the pineapple in Mirissa was particularly good. Lewis could testify that the pineapple was indeed the best pineapple he had tasted since arriving in Sri Lanka. In fact, it was the best pineapple he had ever tried.

After we’d satisfied our stomachs, it was time to pack before getting on the road again. We had originally planned to stay in Mirissa for 2 nights. However, being as useless as planning as I am, this turned out not to be a sensible option as had we stayed for that extra night, it would mean a very long, last-minute trek back to catch our flights that same evening via train. I don’t think neither me nor Lewis have the stamina to go through with a rough travel day like that.

Instead I had done some rearranging and found us an AirBnB to stay at in a coastal town called Bentota. It was roughly an 2 hour drive from where we were staying in Mirissa and our AirBnB host in Bentota had kindly offered to pick us up from Mirissa, making our lives a hell of a lot easier. From Bentota it would then be another 2 hours to reach Negombo where the international airport is located.

We still had a few minutes before our host from Bentota was due to arrive so decided to explore the roof-top at our accommodation.

From the roof-top we were able to absorb our location. The surrounding area was incredibly lush. Right behind our accommodation was a fishery which had been responsible for some questionable smells that wafted over to us sometimes. A couple of cows were having a look around the fishery, clearly drawn in by the fishy smell.

“Look, a monkey!” I excitedly called, pointing to a small brown speck in the distance atop a bright red roof.

The primate looked like a Toque Macaque, a species of monkey which is endemic to Sri Lanka and is therefore endangered, although in abundance throughout the tropical island.

It wasn’t long before we clambered down from the roof and greeted our host from our upcoming AirBnB. A funeral procession through the town of Mirissa had delayed his arrival but he was now ready to take us to his homestay in Bentota.

By the time we hit the road, the traffic had subsided and we had a clean run-through as we headed north up Sri Lanka’s west coastline.

I have so many fond memories of Sri Lanka. It’s an island I associate with lush tropical forests and delicious food. However, what stands out the most to me and has left the greatest impression on me is the people. The people are Sri Lanka are some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met. Our host for the evening stood out to me.

Immediately he made Lewis and I feel welcome and it wasn’t long before we had learnt about his life story and finding peace through meditation, something that Lewis and I are keen to try.

Lewis was suddenly keen for a meditation retreat!

Although I love the sound of meditation, I think I’d always have to throw in some adventure into my trips.

We entered the vibrant town of Bentota. Although Bentota is a popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka, we were veering away from the path less-trodden and were heading into the jungle, along the banks of the Bentota Ganga.

We journeyed to the very southern tip of the Bentota region, where the Bentota Ganga met Dedduwa Lake. The bustling streets were far behind us now as we turned off the tarred road onto a rickety forest track. Here, lush forests encased us from all sides, separated by quaint houses and shrines.

We pulled up outside a one-storey house, painted a welcoming yellow colour. The house was surrounded by lush gardens, the tall trees alive with birdsong. This was going to be our home for the night.

Our room was part of the main house. This was our host’s family home where his siblings and parents also lived.

I was impressed with the beautiful decor of our room. It even had an air-conditioning unit which was a real luxury! Just outside our room and en suite was a little seating area with gorgeous views of the gardens and through the trees, the river! Here we were given a welcoming drink of Sri Lankan tea.

The house was situated upon the banks of the Bentota ganga, a great river that meets the ocean in the town of Bentota. Where the land met the river at the bottom of the garden, there were mangrove swamps, their great roots twisting down beneath the water.

The river was home to an array of wildlife including great monitor lizards (of which I stumbled across two in my wanderings around the garden) and even crocodiles.

By the river was a little wooden jetty, jutting out into the river. Strapped to the jetty was a small white boat which belonged to our AirBnB host. It was the perfect spot to sit and watch the quiet river.

Here we felt submerged in nature. The area was quiet except for the chanting coming from the local shrine, carried on a gentle breeze. Not a single boat passed down the river, leaving it serene and unspoiled.

It was time for some lunch. We asked our AirBnB host where he recommended for lunch, specifying that we wanted an authentic experience. He thought for a moment before concluding that he knew just the place and he would happily give us a lift there and back from the restaurant which was located in the main town.

Lewis and I thought this sounded perfect so jumped in the car, our bellies rumbling eagerly.

The restaurant was called ‘The Lotus Leaf’ and at lunchtime a buffet came out with a variety of curries to choose from. We arrived just after 2pm, catching the buffet just before it closed.

To say the restaurant was an authentic experience would have been an understatement. We arrived at a small restaurant with a buffet at one side. Behind the counter, Sri Lankans put a bit of everything on our plates for us to try. Well, I say plates but it was actually a thin sheet of plastic in a basket and we were not provided with knives and forks because the people of Sri Lanka eat with their hands. They say that by eating with your hands you are able to have a more of a connection with your food and are able to appreciate it more. Still, I hadn’t quite got the knack of scooping curry up with my bare hands so located some utensils that were at the corner of the restaurant.

Lewis and I began to dig into our food which was piled up incredibly high on our plates and was now at room-temperature. I guessed the buffet must have been out for a couple of hours. I decided quite quickly that I wasn’t feeling the mango (no surprises there) or the fish so offloaded those elements onto Lewis’ plate. We were stuffed to the brim by the time we had finished.

The day concluded with us relaxing back at the house. We were feeling rather stuffed and sleepy. Lewis was particularly full, not really feeling like eating any dinner which is very unlike him. I guess he really did gorge himself and had my rejected items to eat as well. Still, our hosts had been preparing dinner for us so we made an effort to eat as much of it as we could. They had also made us some special dishes that were especially tailored to our spicy tastebuds. Sri Lankans love spice! So to hear that we also loved spicy food was like music to their ears.

“You eat like true Sri Lankans!” Our host exclaimed in delight.

His 11 year old sister had helped prepared the dinner and was especially curious to see what our reaction was like to the spicy dish. The family couldn’t stop smiling as we dug in, thoroughly enjoying the heat.

As night fell around us, I noticed a flicker of yellow out of the corner of my eye. It was gone. Wait, it was back! A tiny spec of yellow dancing amongst the shadowy palms. And another. And another! There was no denying that the twinkling orange glows were fireflies. It was like they were performing a goodbye dance for us as tonight was our last night in Sri Lanka before we jetted off back home.

I couldn’t stop smiling as I watched them, the croaking of frogs and the screaming of crickets in my ears. I always feel so at peace whilst amongst nature.