Pidgeon Island – with animals bigger than birds

“The sea is too rough to go out”, the guy from the beach hotel explained after we checked in. That really dissapointed me, because a trip to Pidgeon Island was actually the reason why I wanted to stop in Nilaveli. Often the world looks different after a night of sleep. And so it was: The next morning the captains of the small boats along the seafront declared the water to be calm enough. So we went out.

sea cow

Pidgeon Island is a small ocean treasure just one kilometer off the shore. It is surrounded by a corral reaf – which in many parts is badly damaged. Not so much by the climate change, it seemed. But by landing boats and the snorkeling tourists who – as far as I could see on that day – were more often standing around and trampeling on the corals than actually lying in the water and looking.

dead corals

more dead corals

Even though visibility wasn’t at it’s best – rain season and rough sea – I was impressed by the variety of fish I saw. Some species I had already known from the Red Sea, others were totally new to me.

All went weel. Until the shark came. It circled me. I was frightened. Then I tried to calm myself down: No, it actually isn’t 1,5 meter long, that’s only the water that makes it look bigger than it actually is. No, it won’t bite, they hardly ever do. No, it’s not a white shark.

But it looked like one! As slow as possible (not very slow, actually) I paddled to the shore. My heart was beating loudly. I always thought I can face danger quite rationally. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case with sharks. I knew that there are only around one hundred shark attacks reported worldwide each year. And only a handful of people die.

landing place

After a couple of minutes I made myself go into the water again. I went back to the same place where I encountered fear. I looked. But instead of seeing the shark, I saw two of them – the second one being even bigger than the first. Needless to say I again tried to get out of the water as fast as possible.

The lifeguards told me there’s 20 sharks living around the island. But not white ones, as I thought, but only reef sharks. So I gave it one last try, because the guards had also told me about turtles and I was longing to see a turle since many years. But instead of a turle’s shell I saw shark fins again. This time the bigger one came so close I thought I could touch it. And I saw a baby swimming at it’s side. But anyway: I had enough and went out for the last time.

withstanding the waves

showing no fear

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Fleeing the beach

I’m just not the beach type of person. At least not one that sprawls on the sand for days, the only stress being to turn the pages of a book. So I hired a bicycle – what else? – and explored the surroundings.

my bike for a day

Unfortunately the beach road from Negombo to Colombo runs behind a big dune most of the time, bereaving me of nice views. People’s houses line up along the road on that tight stretch of land between the sea and a lagoon, so I got to know all kind of living arrangements in that area. And also where locals go once they die:

beach cementery

 

the crow and the wave

The burial place seemed to be pretty christian on that predominantely buddhist island. I also saw only two temples and one mosque on my route, but at least ten churches. Plus: tons of nativity sets. They literally lined the roads. Most of them elaborate, on a special platform, with real gras grown on it. And almost always the crib figurines had to climb up a steep road to baby Jesus. Would really like to know why.

crip 1

 

crip 2

And – being me – I had to read every sign I saw (most of the time I really could do so, because next to Singhala and Tamil they were also written in English). Most of them weren’t so different from what I knew. But the tsunami sign made me wonder: Where to go on a 15 kilometer long stretch of land, pancake flat and wedged between the sea and a lagoon?

crip 3

Also noteworthy: The canals the dutch built in this area – not that there already was enough water around. And instead of the random windmill, there’s always a palm tree in sight.

dutch canal

 

water

I also started to make contact with the animals that live in Sri Lanka. And I started to notice: There is alway something that flies around me, bites me, crawls over me, looks at me or flees from me.

butterfly

 

muuh

No relaxation at the beach

My first “Happy New Year” went to the concierge. While people around me ignited fireworks, cheered and hugged or kissed each other, I filled in a lengthy form at this hotel somewhere in Sri Lanka. I wondered why they needed my date of birth, grumbled because I still didn’t know my passport number and scribbled a signature I barely recognised as mine, so angry have I been for not sitting somewhere nice at midnight.

I still had hopes the room overlooked a nice beach and I could listen for the next hours to the waves rolling in while drinking the whiskey I just had purchased in the Duty Free Shop. But instead of an isolated stretch of sand I found a major party location at the seafront – which I could only see when standing at the right point of my balcony.

So I fetched the bottle and went out on the sand. I managed to sit down so close to the waves that they nearly drowned out the cheap dance music from the three beach discos around me. Then I called up some dear people via skype – thankfully I had enough wits to buy a local SIM card at the airport.

But even though I was fully occupied with talking, groups of youngsters constantly came up to me and wanted to chat. And I’m not talking about some nice “hey, how are you” chat, but some “do you want to fuck with me” chat. They were annoying, persistent and intrusive. Even after several “no!”s and “go away!” from my side, they wouldn’t piss off.

“I want to be alone”, I told them. One guy replied: “So why did you come to Sri Lanka then?” Well, I started to ask me the same question. I just flew in from India, where I had intensly covered rapes, sexual violence and the protests against it. And here in Sri Lanka it didn’t seem to be better. In fact, I felt worse.

Three of them even touched me. One at the back, one at the thigh and one at the breasts. After doing so, they ran away, laughing and joking.

Negombo Beach

 

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