An Epic Train Journey in Sri Lanka
Yesterday, Lucy and I undertook a journey that made Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee look like they popped to the shops for some milk. One that makes the annual migration of the Sperm and Grey Whales seem positively minute. We had spent the last 10 days or so up in the Hill Country, and wanted to head back to the beach. We opted for Unawatuna as it seemed well connected.
There is one train a day that goes from Kandy, where we were, to Galle, near where we wanted to go. It leaves at 5.10am.
10 minutes past 5 in the morning.
Morning is a strong choice of word here. I guess technically that yes, it is the morning. But it's actually better to say that it leaves before dawn.
To get said train, Lucy and I had to wake up at 3.30 in order to get ourselves to the station, buy tickets (which naturally you cannot pre-book) and then get on the train.
The whole experience reminded me of when my family used to go to France by ferry. My brothers and I were awoken by our mother at what was allegedly 4 am, put into the back seat of our trusty Volvo (V70 if you must know) half asleep, swaddled in blankets and often sucking a thumb while clutching an oversized teddy bear in a vice-like grip. Dad then drove the 2 hours or so to Dover from London and then onto the ferry before we all had breakfast and finally woke up. I cannot ascertain why they thought it was necessary to put themselves through this agony. Maybe they liked the sunrise or something crazy like that. Or they both really loved France.
Anyway, I digress. After waking at 3.30am to the sound of "Set You Free" by N-Trance, jumping in the shower and trying to make as little noise as possible (so as not to wake others), we set off for Kandy train station.
Kandy is a nice place. It has some sights and stuff to do. It has a pretty important temple for Sri Lankan Buddhists which allegedly holds a tooth from the Buddha himself. There are a lovely British Garrison Cemetery and a good local market where you actually do get the "local price" you're so often promised. It also has a massive lake that smells like urine and some quite obvious homeless issues.
Round the piss-smelling lake we went, backpacks and all, arriving at Kandy train station at 4.27am. Tickets purchased and a breakfast of hoppers (kind of pancakes shaped like a bowl) with a tomato sambol (not the dance) ready, we made our way onto the train to find a seat.
Our previous train experience involving Colombo and Galle had been tough. 200+ minutes of standing on a cramped and hot train that reminds one of the central lines on a July evening was less than ideal, and I was damned if I was going to stand for this one. Luckily there were quite a few seats on our 2nd class carriage. Not really surprising given that it was before 5 in the morning.
Not sure if I've mentioned that the train was quite early - so just in case you missed it, it was still dark out.
We then trundled on to Colombo, and after about 4 hours there was the most almighty thud. We are still unsure what the thud was, but we believe that our train collided with a vehicle as it was crossing the tracks. Police came, people rushed off and back towards the incident. Safe to assume that they all wanted to see what had happened, or that we were on a train with 4000 paramedics on their way to a conference in Galle.
We finally arrived in Galle 7 hours after we left Kandy. 7 hours is a long time to be sat around. That's pretty much a full day at work, or the journey from London to Florida (ish).
Unawatuna is about 5km outside of Galle and is served by bus among other forms of transport. We stopped briefly for lunch in Galle and then headed on to Unawatuna.
We thought ahead and had booked a room at Bird House, mainly because a lot of places in Unawatuna seemed out of our budget and we didn't want to have to lug all our stuff around in the heat after spending the whole day travelling. We got to Bird House after a 30-minute walk from the bus stop. Lucy was shown upstairs to a massive room costing about £20 a night, not what we had asked for, and they said, "Someone came and we gave them your room". "What? What in all that is holy do you think you are doing?"
I lost it. The women at Bird House got the business end of an uncomfortable 11-hour trip and they didn't really know what to make of it.
It was only an hour or so later when Lucy mentioned that I may potentially have overreacted that I felt bad. But in my defence I had woken up at 3.30 am. And been involved in a train crash.
Off we went, looking for somewhere else to stay and eventually Lucy happened upon a room above a jewellery shop. It was in our budget and as close to the beach as you can get. Maximum 10 metres from the sea.
So, long story short; early wake-up, long train ride involving crash, rejection by an old Sri Lankan woman and then we made it to the beach.