One of the main things to do round these parts is a snorkelling or diving trip to Pigeon Island which sits about a bumpy 25 minute boat ride away.
My diving days are now behind me and with me hounding the other two we booked in with one of the numerous beach huts to go at 8:30 for a mornings snorkelling trip.
As is the way with us, we arrived a prompt and courteous 10 minutes early and then duly waited almost an hour for the others on the trip to arrive and for the boat to be readied. I spent the time dosing on a massive double decker sunlounger type thing, Zoe played with a puppy (which she seems to constantly attract out of nowhere) and Sue got more and more anxious about the trip ahead. I didn’t know that till later on otherwise I would have roused myself from daydreaming to attempt to placate her.
The ride out was pretty comfortable with nothing dramatic in regards to waves or scenery to look at. We had hoped that a dolphin or two might have appeared but alas flipper and friends couldn’t be seen.
Pigeon island is a small island, which doesn’t have any pigeons on it and which since the 2004 tsunami is heavily covered in dead coral. Think of a nice beach and replace all the sand with coral of various shapes and sizes but all feet crunchingly painful to walk on.
We had seen plenty of reviews which claimed that it is very crowded with tourists and that it was pretty out of control in regards to ensuring that those there could actually enjoy it compared to ramming more rupee paying tourists on to it.
As we arrived there were already 10 plus similar boats to ours moored up and the ‘beach’ was already fairly covered with folks in and around the water. During our time it was a constant stream of boats arriving and leaving but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and the main areas you could snorkel in didn’t seem that congested once you got past the locals.
Sri Lankan folks seem to enjoy paddling on the shores fully dressed – jeans / skirts / suit trousers; it doesn’t matter they just wade right on in to waist height. Like they are surprised to have ended up on a beach, after a boat trip to a beach, without bothering to pack any swimwear.
Amongst all the reviews I hadn’t seen any mention of jelly fish at all. However as soon as you put your head under all you could see to start with was thousands of tiny jellyfish. Literally thousands of them, no bigger than a shot glass, all together harmlessly being annoying.
The only way to describe it was like swimming in a pool of tiny water balloons or loads of translucent jelly which hadn’t quite set yet. It was an extremely strange sensation to feel them all over your face and during every stroke you could feel handfuls of them being moved out of the way.
It was apt that this was the most jellyfish I had ever seen and it surpassed those at Ironman Wales, which was exactly 4 years to the day.
Zoe’s reaction was to freak out massively and no amount of calming her down would get her to stay in the water, so in the entire time we were on the 4hr snorkelling trip she spent about 5 minutes in the actual water. She did make a wonderful coral based drum kit which made an impressive sound and she seemed to enjoy looking at the fish close to shore including baby sharks happily swimming past.
Sue on the other hand ploughed on through the jellyfish brigade to where the tourists and jelly’s thinned our alittle as the water got deeper and other forms of sea life got more prevalent.
I was massively proud of her for doing so as outwardly at least she gave no signs of discomfort.
She also spotted the first turtle again – for someone so visibly challenged she sure does have a knack of spotting camouflaged turtles under the water.
We soon found a fair number of them at various levels, happily munching on coral and generally not being phased by the occasional idiot like me who swam down for a closer look.
They are such majestic animals and we spent ages just observing them as they went about what I assume is a fairly typical Friday morning for them; bit of food, bit of a swim, bit of a float to the surface, bit of a float back down, ignore the tourists, chase a fish etc.
For me it was anything but and it definitely surpassed the previous encounters earlier in the trip and is probably the most fun I have had in water since I took part in the lilo world championships many years ago.
Sue also located some black tip reef sharks menacingly swimming around us and even though they aren’t interested in humans they still give me the initial panicked feeling of being on the menu for lunch.
The return boat trip was alittle bumpier due to the weather changing and when we beached the boat it was raining fairly consistently so we headed back down the beach to the hotel for a nice cold beer and a shower.
We knew today was the full moon celebration and having experienced a few of them in Thailand we were expecting a proper beach party to be the order of the night.
Upon my request of a beer from the hotel I almost cried and was fairly devastated to be told that on a full moon day in Sri Lanka, by law, no alcohol is aloud to be sold at all.
The friendly hotel manager said he would sort us a couple of beers out on the quiet as long as we had them in the room, which we did, before we headed out dejected for some food down by the beach.
We ended up in a beach bar come restaurant type place called Fernando’s which had a typically hippie attitude to life. Thus when I asked about the drink situation I was told that you could get one without much hassle as long as they poured it into silver goblet type things instead of giving you the bottle like normal.
I could have kissed the portly, hairy Sri Lankan man.
Needless to say we took full advantage and for the first time in Sri Lanka had some ‘proper’ drinks which included sampling the local Arrack which is made from fermented coconut flower sap and tastes a lot nicer than it sounds.
As a result I was asleep before nine and woke the next morning with a foggy head for the first time in awhile, probably as a result of too much swimming…..