It’s an open-air massacre. Heaps of shiny, mutilated carcasses extend from me to the pier. The stench is unbelievable, as if two rubber-gloved fingers smeared with rotten fish paste were digging up my nostrils. But it’s not just the smell that turns my stomach. It’s the knives. Manoeuvred by expert hands, they slash off the fins, the most valuable part, leaving stark, bloodless holes in the dead creature’s lucid skin.
Standing here with rivulets of water and blood running between my legs makes me almost forget that just down the coast is an idyllic stretch of ochre sand called Bentota Beach. Forty miles south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, and a stop on the way to the charming walled heritage town of Galle, Bentota is one of the country’s most famous beach resorts. A string of five star hotels presides over the dark waves of the restless Indian Ocean, and what remains of the once-dense palm tree forest separates the swimming pools and al fresco patios from the bare sand.
But there’s a dark secret hidden beyond the sun bathing lounge chairs and tan lotion—something lurking in the shadows of the local markets that bestow fresh fish to the buffets served daily at the swanky resorts. This dark side is something the Russian and other international tourists resting their reddening bodies on lounge chairs while their offspring run around the beach will never see.