Sri Lanka started well. We got out of the airport, walked straight onto the local bus and after one hour and 56 rupees, we were at Colombo Fort Station trying to organise our trains. It was here where we started noticing the differences between Sri Lanka and India. Getting trains in India is a breeze, well it had been for us. Sri Lanka was whole different kettle of
fish trains. Other than a couple of first class private carriages on specific journeys, you have to go to a station and hope there is a seat free. We managed to get a sleeper birth to Trincomalee, in the Nort East, for the following week and another train back from Anuradhapura, towards the North West, a few days after that. We would just have to work out the parts in the middle ourselves. We tried to get a train the next morning to Haputale in the Hill Country but it was fully booked. It was advised to arrive at 5am the following morning to see if there were any cancellations.
We left the station towards our backpackers, Bed, on the recommended 103 bus. A police officer waved the bus down and we jumped on. A few minutes in, the ticket collector asked where were were going. After a discussion with the other passengers in Sinahlese, one came and said in English that the bus did not go to Park Road. We got off, found another policemen and rickshaw driver who waved down another bus and told us to get on. When we drove back past Colombo Fort Station we gave up, got off and hired an auto rickshaw.
Driving through Colombo, amongst the shaded and wide colonial streets, was the next indication of a new country – and something we had not seen for a while – clean streets. We arrived at the new and brilliant, Bed, which is situated down a quiet street, perpendicular to the bus stop (back to back with 103 buses). We were pointed in the direction of food but nowhere was selling it. Noticeable change #3 – the prices were so much more expensive than what we had been used to. We ended up opting for some of our, now diminishing, supplies of cow face soup, a couple of beers and a bottle of wine, while chatting with the other travellers.
A few hours sleep and we were back on the road to try our luck at obtaining tickets for the train to Haputale. I was third in line and there must have been some cancellations as we got our cardboard ticket and headed to the platform. The train arrived and there was pandemonium. The train was still coming to a stop as swarms of people ran to the coaches, throwing bags over scores of seats. A scene not to dissimilar to when the Germans secure their sun beds at a resort by throwing a towel on it, somehow, at a time when no one witnesses them doing it??
Anyway, I got on the wrong carriage as I thought they were connected so by the time I got to Sarah, I had to stand alongside the other hundred people who couldn’t fit on. Lucky there was those cancellations! It was a hard going five hours but the scenery was spectacular and it was helped by the small bits of food wrapped in homework that we were able to purchase. At Kandy, most passenger left, only to be replaced by a new bunch of seat-hungry souls, but we managed to get a seat together for one of the best train journeys so far. The temperature dropped as we climbed high into the mountains but there was no way anyone would shut a window as we looked out over the tea plantations, rocky crests as the sun rays strained through clouds, lighting up the lakes below.
We arrived into Haputale with a name of a guesthouse to walk to. Although only a ten minute walk, they were already at the station to try and beat their competitors to the weary tourists. We got a basic room next to the restaurant that overlooked the southern plains of Sri Lanka, ordered a beer and some lunch while each waiter would annoyingly interrupt you to see what you wanted to do and how they had a friend who could drive you to each different spot. We ignored them until we heard other couples wanting to do the same as us, but it was not possible. Apparently, the 7 seater van could only take four people? We organised a rickshaw driver instead and at 5:00 am we woke to the cold mountain air and travelled one hour to Horton Plains National Park.
We arrived at the same time as the other group, who patiently waited while we paid for our two tickets, taxes, group fee, and what would eventually be some beers for the guard as he swapped our notes around to rip us off. We confronted him, took the thousand rupees that was our change and informed him of his mistake. Then he went crazy. He walked out of the office, shut the gate, popped in his crazy eyes before threatening to take a pop at me. We argued for ages but in the end, it was us vs him and we were wasting time, so left it with him to find a manager.
There was no manager there so we wandered into the park towards the main view point – Worlds End. It’s a view, the park is nice, but it ain’t worth the total entry cost of £40 for 2 people. To make it worse, we found the manager, wrote a complaint as he sat laughing at us, this time, making us pop in our angry eyes. We should have followed our original plan and headed onward to Ella where there are incredible views and walks amongst the tea plantations – for free – and by all accounts, much better.
We went back to the hotel where we were again annoyed by the waiters about their friends taxi services while we ate a traditional Sri Lankan dish Rice and Curry. We had high expectations for this type of meal, and we know it fluctuates constantly over the country but it wasn’t amazing. You get rice and half a dozen satellites of different curries that seem to be cooked at different times, resulting in one nice curry and 5 cold dishes. Maybe we were just annoyed at being ripped off, or more importantly, that our beer was hot, but we organised a car through the only person we liked in Haputale and booked it for the next day to get us the hell out.