Although it was on the other side of the island Nilaveli and Pigeon island was high on our list of places to visit. Numerous people had recommended it for it's laid back atmosphere and excellent diving opportunities. It also meant we got to sample our first Sri Lankan train. An early start of 5am and we were on the train, slightly less rickety than Burma and still super cheap.
Sri Lanka may be a small island but it still took us most of the day to get across it. When we arrived in Nilaveli the place felt like a bit of a ghost town, we knew it was going to be quiet but we hadn't realised that most of the people there had moved south due to it being the end of the season. Lots of the dive shops had packed up also but luckily we came across Ypsylon Divers who offered to take us to Pigeon Island.
The day before this though we went across to see what the island was like and try our hand at Snorkelling. We both prefer snorkelling as it offers you more freedom and allows you to go at your own pace. OK so you can't go as deep as scuba diving but you get to spend a lot more time in the water. Pigeon Island was an incredible place to snorkel, the reef surrounds the small island and is actually in great condition.
This is probably due to Sri Lanka's troubled past, it's only in the last couple of years that tourists have started coming to the Sri Lanka and the north in large numbers. This is all set to change though, we witnessed a large number of local tourists walking on the coral even though there we numerous signs telling them not to. This will surely have a negative effect on the reef and marine life in the area.
For the time being though the water was teeming with various fish. And after diving and snorkelling around the world and not seeing any sharks the waters here were full of them. Any they were big too! The first time we saw a big 1.5m long black tip reef shark coming straight for us was quite a shock. For it to turn away at the last minute was a real relief, we knew they weren't dangerous but when you see so many of them in the water together they're a real sight to behold. We also saw a baby shark swimming in the shallows so you knew they were happy.
They weren't the only things in the water though, we weren't sure if it was because of the stormy weather but the water was full of literally millions of tiny jellyfish. The smallest weren't capable of stinging yet but there were swarms of larger ones that could. There were times when all you could see and feel were jellyfish and we came away was lots of red itchy marks covering our bodies. Luckily as long as you didn't itch them they soon disappeared but this was easier said than done especially for Tim who is prone to mad fits of scratching, especially in his sleep!
The next days diving didn't involve jellyfish though as they tend to stay near the surface. Unfortunately it also didn't live up to the day before. The visibility was poor, again down to the stormy weather and the selection of fish wasn't as varied. The highlight of the dive had to be a Moray Eel who was swimming through the water as opposed to hiding amongst rocks. Seeing it's long body gracefully weave through the water was amazing. I've put footage from the two days snorkelling and diving in a video which you can see here.
It had been a great couple of days but our beach time had come to an end. We were heading inland to the the ancient rock city of Sigiria for more insight into Sri Lanka's incredible past.