Sunday, 15 May 2016

Welcome to The Jungle

Breakfast in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is like India's much cooler little sister. As soon as we arrived in Colombo the similarities between the two countries were clear (basically the same food but with different names), but there was also a cooler, stylish and more modern edge to Sri Lanka. For a start, the women were wearing jeans and skirts that showed a touch of knee! Hurrah, bye bye snowsuit!

We are having to hit Sri Lanka a little quicker than India (we have just 27 days due to their visa regulations and also a tighter budget as the accommodation here is limited and expensive), meaning we've already spent a lot of our time on the island's public transport, which is so easy to navigate and super cheap; another breathe of fresh air after India.

First, we had to say goodbye to luxury (Spencer literally had to drag me out of the amazing hotel in Colombo we'd been treated to, I just didn't want to leave). Then jump on a train heading along the coast from Mount Lavinia to Fort Colombo, which cost us just 2p each (Southern Rail take note)! We then caught another train that took us to Kandy, the nation's cultural capital in the Hill Country.

Travelling in Sri Lanka
The views from the train definitely lived up to expectations!

As soon as we got to Mount Lavinia station I was desperate for a wee. Dashing off to the toilets, toilet paper in hand, I had a slight panic when the tourist toilet had an "out of order" sign and a hefty padlock on the door. I wandered around searching for the female toilets which didn't seem to exist (maybe female Sri Lankans just pee in the bushes?) until a local man enthusiastically ushered me around the corner to the very shabby and rundown male toilets. I was very grateful, not minding a quick nip into the gents even if the smell was making my eyes water until the guy insisted on following me in and filling the bucket of water used to flush the loo up for me.

Freaking out knowing that he was just outside and struggling to find a way to lock the unusable toilet door (still unsure if he was just being super helpful or a little weird), there was no chance of relieving myself. I gave up, thanked the man for his "assistance" and sped off pretty quickly to the safety of the other platform, only to discover he'd followed me and was asking Spencer for money for helping his apparently incapable girlfriend use the loo, his intentions now very clear.

Thankfully our train pulled up, with men, women, boys and babies hanging out the doorways, giggling to themselves as Spencer and I tried hauling our huge backpacks onto the busy train whilst attempting to take up as little room as possible.

Buying train tickets and working out the platforms in Sri Lanka is really easy, especially as Sri Lankans are very helpful and everyone has a million dollar smile to offer you, no matter the time of day or situation. The hardest part, however, is trying to bag a seat or even fit yourself on the train. Because they never sell out of tickets these are some of the busiest trains I've seen, and of course, I spent the next 10 minutes fretting to Spencer that we weren't going to fit ourselves on, let alone our huge backpacks too!

Determined not to spend the whole train journey standing and fighting for space I left Spencer, locked my eyes on two spare seats and ignored everything else. Before the train even stopped locals were jumping off and between carriages to grab a spare seat. Like an American football player (my huge backpack actually ended up helping me a lot here) I pushed my way onto the train and ran for the two seats I'd spotted. People were pushing me from behind and I think my toe got broken but I couldn't care less about my painful toe or how wet my top had become from sweating because I'd managed to grab two of the best seats in the house! If you've read the book "Shantaram" it was much like the scene where Prabaker gets beaten up for saving two seats on a train in India... in my eyes anyway.

Train in Sri Lanka
Me looking seriously chuffed with my first-class window seat.

Everything went smoothly from then on (apart from Spencer having a guy squish his very large and very sweaty belly in his face for a good 40 minutes of the journey). I was comfy in my well-earned window seat and the views were incredible like everyone says.

I knew our luck wouldn't last too long and not to my surprise the bloody train full to the brim of tired and sweaty people broke down. Which by the way is apparently a very rare occurrence in Sri Lanka... typical!

The pathetic train fans cut out, as did the lights, and because we broke down right in the middle of the jungle the humidity was unbearable and the cockroaches came out to play too (I'm very quickly getting used to the bug life here; I also had a lizard jump on my lap on a bus to Dambulla)! After two hours of sweating and squirming every time some kind of bug ran over my bare feet, the train started moving again and I really had nothing to complain about once I realised the whole journey cost us just £1 each.

Broken down train in Sri Lanka

Pulling into Kandy three hours later than we were due to arrive, we didn't have the energy or patience to haggle the waiting tuk-tuk drivers (who also very stubborn, like in India) or even change hostels after a disastrous first half an hour of walking into the place. But that's a whole different story to tell another time...

Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka
The final destination totally made up for the train journey though; Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka.

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