Sri Lanka – Are you serious?


Evening all
MB mentioned in one of the recent Sri Lanka blogs that he would return to the missing 24 hours of his first day in SL, following the morning walk along the beach, chats with the local fishermen & breakfast. Photos below are random shots on the day from MB’s B&B, travelling in taxi to Colombo train station and others taken whilst waiting for various trains. Read on:

Madawah

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Madawah’s son

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After breakfast MB sat chatting with the son of the lady who owned the B&B where MB had stayed, following the middle-of-the-night arrival at Colombo airport. Madhawa, the son, was nice lad and was honest in his appraisal of the capital city. Basically not a lot to see. And as MB had booked a walking tour of the city on his final day he decided not to waste precious time and would immediately head inland. SL’s second city is called Kandy (same as the incorrect word Yankee dogs use for ‘sweets’!), and that would be MB’s destination. Lots of nature and other stuff of interest for MB & his camera. Madhawa offered his taxi service to MB, a deal was done, and off MB headed to the Colombo train station in the centre of the city.

Stuff in Madawah’s house

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Sitting as passenger allowed MB to observe and shoot some of the scenes & spectacles along the journey. MB asked Madhawa to stop on a few occasions when the photo possibility merited. And after just over an hour MB arrived at the station and alighted onto a bustling third world streets around the station area. MB bought his ticket to Kandy without any drama, then wandered around the nearby markets to kill some time, awaiting the 12.30pm train. Loads of action and photo opps at every turn. Great place.

SL lads riding bicycles

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Women

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Back to the station with rucksack & camera gear awaiting arrival of train. Which duly arrived bang on the button at 12.25pm. But thousands of locals immediately rushed onto the train when it stopped, in the blink of an eye all seats had disappeared and it would be standing room only with no A/C on a very hot day for the entire 3.5 hour journey. Another train was due few hours later, with first class carriages, and suddenly that seemed like much better idea. Decision made. MB did not get on the train. But that would turn out to be one of the best & worst decisions of MB’s trip! Best because it would eventually take MB to Lipton’s Seat, and worst because of what was about to ensue.

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The reservation office for the intercity trains opened at 1.30pm. So MB & a few other backpacker Westies waited patiently on the public footpath outside the office doors. As opening time approached hoards of locals also descended and it was obvious to MB that there was going to be one God-almighty rush through this door when it opened. 1.30pm arrived, some lad in a rail uniform turned the key – and all hell broke lose.

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MB had the stupidity to allow 2 Westie females some space to enter through the doorway in front of him. The hoards saw an opening and MB found himself being pushed backwards by the marauding invaders. But MB is nothing if not resourceful, and realising that the Sri Lankans are generally a smaller race than the Irish, started to use his elbow and knee to good effect on the SL lads heads and thighs. MB’s mix of necessary brutality & foxy cunning eventually paid off as a few seconds later he squeezed through the narrow doorway and was in!

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Looking around on entry it reminded MB of the train station offices back in Ireland many years back pre computerisation. Each train line had a separate queue, and the little window at the top of the queue only dispatched tickets for that particular line. But the sign over each window only displayed the final station on the route, so if you did not know which line your destination was on there was nothing to assist your choice of which queue to join. Of course all the locals knew the lines well and smiled smugly as the Westies constantly went into the wrong queues, queued for 15 or 20 minutes only to be informed by the seller when reaching the window – “Sorry sir, you are not in the correct queue. You must go to the queue three rows down” etc etc. The Westie phrase – “Are you fu*king serious?” was being heard more and more as the Westies struggled desperately to get to grips with the unfamiliar, as they tried 2 or 3 queues only to receive the same “Sorry Sir…” message, as the poorer but wiser locals smiled beaming smiles, as the Westie circus animals provided endless entertainment.

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But MB was in control, as one might expect. Luckily Kandy was an end-of-line stop, so at least it was visibly over one of the windows, and MB got in the queue, and even indulged in some sniggering along with the locals at the ‘stupid’ Westies.

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But MB’s come-uppance was just around the corner. After 15 minutes of calm patient queueing MB had almost reached Nirvana (the window), with only one local guy now in front of him. And that is when MB spotted the postage-stamp size hand written sign over the window – “All tickets to Kandy are sold. The train is full“. WTF thought MB , surely some local is taking the Mick and this can not possibly be true, and at least some 1st class tickets are still unsold.

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Within moments MB is at the window. “First class ticket to Kandy please” said MB. “Sorry Sir, but all tickets are sold. Please read the sign“. “Are you serious” said MB, “it took MB thirty minutes of queueing to get to geographical position whereby your sign was readable my friend. Surely you have some first class tickets remaining?” “Sorry Sir, but all tickets are sold. Please read the sign” said the SL parrot behind the window. “Jesus help me“, muttered MB under his breath, seeking divine intervention that he knew would not arrive, and knowing with certainty that the parrot had well and truly whipped him. MB mooched away from the window wondering what he would now do and where he could possibly go for the remainder of the trip. Time was quickly passing, MB was now in afternoon of Day Nr 1 of a 5 day trip with all plans scuppered!

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Bingo!” shouted MB, so loudly that all the SL lads looked in his direction thinking he was bit crazy. MB remembered reading about ‘Liptons Seat‘ on trip adviser day or two before he left Dubai, so that was now where he would head. Inshallah. And MB also remembered reading the name of the nearest train station to Lipton’s Seat, someplace called ‘Hap-uu-tal-e’. So MB asked a few rail lads where this town was and which queue he must join to buy a ticket. “Sorry Sir, there is no such town” said SL rail lad Nr 1, and Nr 2 and Nr 3. “Are you fu*king serious” said MB to the SL lads, by now in slightly deranged state. “Where can MB buy a train map” said MB, thinking logically momentarily, “and MB can then show you where the town is“. “Sorry Sir, we do not have train maps in Sri Lanka” replied all the SL lads in unison. “Are you fu*king serious” said MB for the God-only-knows how many times.

MB taking it all in, waiting for yet another train

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Then MB had brainwave. Maybe, just maybe, these train lad idiots had heard of Lipton’s Seat! “Hap-uu-tal-e is near Lipton’s Seat I want to go to Lipton’s Seat” said MB. The lights came on immediately in the eyes of all the SL lads. “Ah Sir, Lipton’s Seat – you will want to go to Hap-uu-tal-e“. “Are you fu*king serious” shouted MB like a complete idiot, “That’s what MB has been saying for last 30 minutes!“. “You will need to join the queue for the last window Sir, the train leaves at 8pm tonight” said the least fearful of the SL train lads. “Are you f*cking serious” said a by now withered MB, “8PM means a 6 hour wait. Jesus help MB”.

The train line along Colombo sea front

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MB joined the queue, and happened to be next to an Australian lady who was now joining her fourth queue in attempt to get ticket for her destination. She was in even more deranged state than MB and was barking madly at locals as they tried to queue-jump the line ahead of her. The ticket to Hap-uu-tal-ee was handed to MB, & MB paid his cash for the 1st class ticket which assured MB a bed to sleep on. MB knew that that Hap-uu-tal-e was slightly further distance than Kandy from the capital, but as he walked away from the window, turned and asked the ticket lad how long the journey would take, expecting approximately 4 hours to be the reply. “10 Hours Sir” replied ticket lad. “What?” said MB, “are you fu*king serious? 10 hours? How can it take 10 hours?” said the completely bewildered MB. “It stops at all the stations Sir and will arrive at 6am” said SL lad. “Jesus Christ” said MB as he uttered final prayer before exiting the office.

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Much walking around the streets, eating somosa & tea for sustenance over next 6 hours, and eventually boarded the train just before 8pm. Found his 1st Class bed/bottom bunk – some worn leather stapled over some well flattened foam onto an uneven timber base – which came through the foam at all the critical anatomical locations – neck, spine, kidneys, etc. An SL lad snored on the bunk overhead, and MB listened to the rhythm of the snores & the train on the tracks – for ten long sleepless hours.

SL lad pondering life

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Ten hours later MB alighted at Hap-uu-tal-e. One Mr Ali appeared at the train station gate like God himself, offering MB accommodation – with hot water. “Are you serious?” said MB!

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