Our plan was to visit Nilaveli yesterday, but when we woke it was overcast and rain threatened so it was an easy call to give it a miss. Instead we went for a walk along the main road of Uppuveli and called into a local place for a breakfast that consisted of rotis, vegetable curry and dried chilli. We also shared a platter of 'shorties' eating a few dahl wadi's (deep fried dahl patties with chilli and onion) and vegetable roti's (curried potato and other veg sealed in a folded roti) Washed down with two bottles of fizzy drink it came to the grand total of Rs395 or just under £2. We still struggle to believe how much food you can get for the money, especially when the local food is so good.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, we had a few beers on the beach but mainly relaxed outside our room. Coincidentally we were approached by a man who works at our hotel if we fancied joining a trip to Pigeon Island the following day for £15 each. We thought about it for a while before deciding to go ahead. When visiting Pigeon Island National Park, you have to pay a national park fee, boat fee, snorkeling equipment fee and then the transprot to Nilaveli. £15 each, hassle free, all in seemed more than reasonable.
The only slight negative for us was the 8.30am pick up. A 7am start to eat breakfast hurt, as we have become real lazy over the last week or so. Even so we were sat on the beach fed and watered waiting for the boatman to come collect us. We waited twenty minutes until we asked our guesthouse to get in contact with the guy. Turns out he was just from a hotel further up the beach so he quickly appeared and took us that hotel. Here we sat around for a while not quite knowing what was going off. We knew we were going with another two people but noone was around. We were fitted with fins, snorkel and mask and told to wait. Then a couple appeared and nonchalantly went to eat breakfast, we assumed these were not coming with us. We were wrong, we waited another half hour for them to eat and then go collect there stuff before joining us. We (especially Chelsea, who has got particularly foul mouthed since we left the UK) were pretty fed up of waiting by this point.
Never the less, we joined up with them and got collected by one tuk tuk. This did not fit all four of us and our bags and equipment so one of us pulled the short straw (Liam) and had to go back on the guides motorbike. Unlike South East Asia, Sri Lankans like decent motorbikes. The guide had a serious Yamaha sports bike that was not really designed for two people but had two seats. Liam is a nervous passenger in a car, he likes to be in control, on a bike he is terrible. He told the guy to go slow which he seemed to pretty much ignore, especially if it was treacherous. Being a passenger on a bike is bad enough, when you have to dodge, tuk-tuks, people, carts pulled by cows, other cows just crossing the road, dogs, one hundred and fifty year old men on push bikes carrying all there possessions and buses it becomes a nightmare. Luckily Liam arrived in one piece.
We were dropped off in a very nice hotel which sits directly on Nilaveli beach. The beach is huge, and is made up of clean white sand.
We had another wait for the boat to take us to island to be attached to the motor that powered it. Pigeon Island is around 1km off shore, we could see it from the beach. It is called Pigeon Island due to the Rock Pigeons that nest there. From Nilaveli we could see two hills, and beach, separated from us by a rough sea. Once the boat was set up we had to help hurl it into the sea and then could finally climb aboard to be on our way. Off shore the water was quite rough, big waves made us leave our seats as we crashed through them. However once past half way, the closer to the island we got the calmer it became.
With a huge pull we moored the boat on the island. The coastal water was incredibly clear. When we approached shore our guide said 'Look shark, waiting for us' we thought he was pulling our leg, but stood on the coast we could see baby black tip reef sharks, only around 18 inch in length circling. We quickly became excited. We had been diving half a dozen times and not seen a shark, now we were watching them 3 feet away from dry land.
Pigeon Island is a beautiful, small island. A small white beach, peppered in old coral, is surrounded by greenery, It is extremely quiet and peaceful,
It was getting hot by now so we were eager to get in the water. Only one of other two was snorkeling so we had a quick chat and geared up. The current was stronger than in the proper season, but the visibility was excellent. It was better than any diving we had done. There were immediately tonnes of fish. We saw huge green parrotfish, bannerfish, angelfish, and triggerfish to name a few. The coral was extensive, the only problem was in some dense areas there was only a foot or less of water over the coral- this made it hard to swim across without disturbing or catching, and we both have a few scrapes on our hands and knees.
This did not take away from the experience though. Chelsea was lucky enough to see an either bigger black tip reef shark swimming about. Not quite an adult but more than double the size of the smaller ones. Liam missed it as he was at the back of the group it and left by the time he got there. The highlight though without a doubt came a few minutes later.
Our guide led us out Chelsea in front Liam behind. Suddenly he stopped and pointed, then grabbed Liam and dragged him forward. In front of us a large adult Green Turtle, minding its own business, grazing and swimming. We were only a few feet away and it was not bothered, we allowed it to swim off as to not disturb it, you could have seen Chelsea's smile from shore.
We had a break not long after that, Liam spent the time just off shore in the shallows, watching the small sharks swim around him and take bites at smaller fish. At one point he was within touching distance when Chelsea thought it would be hilarious to grab his leg. He practically jumped out of his skin and the shark darted.
Our second time in the water was just as good. We were told by our guide a 3 metre reef shark is resident to the island, unfortunately we did not get to see that. Instead we carried on over the coral admiring the fish. We took a different route the second time that took us to a rock around thirty metres of the shore. Liam lingered watching the fish, then he noticed something glimmering in the light that the fish were attracted to. He approached it and was greeted by a huge eye and head that quickly squirmed into the rock. It was an octopus, around 3 feet in length, and bright red. He called the rest of the group over, and we all waited for it to pop its head out once more.
That was the last thing we saw, the time had flown by and we were back in the boat to take us back to the mainland. We had loved every second of it. We had seen way more than we thought we would have. The turtle was an absolute highlight as were the sharks and octopus. We had a wait at Nilaveli before heading back. We shared a beer, more for Liam's sake so he cope with the motorbike ride back.
After speak to our guide it seems we could possibly be the last tour of the season to Pigeon Island. We were incredibly lucky. All the waiting at the start was well worth it. We only wish we were able to take photos underwater.