This morning, when I went to settle up, the guy at reception got down a folder marked 63 and I pointed out I was in 64, as it said on my room key. He then asked me how much my room was! I should have said “10 rupees” but simply replied, “You tell me”. When he came up with a price, I showed him my copy of my planning file on the Kindle and he revised downwards. He tried to charge me for 10 beers, which was greatly excessive: perhaps the French guy, the Swiss chap and I had consumed 10 amongst us but I wasn’t going to foot the complete bill. I said something along those lines and he again revised downwards. I don’t think there was any dishonesty intended, but they really couldn’t organise a prayer chant in a monastery!
Good news, bad news…
Despite dire warnings we got seats on the train. They were in third class. The seats were cushioned, not wooden slats. The train left 50 minutes late.
My GPS shows the route and distance either by road or straight line: there is no railway option. (After all, I can’t get lost on the train and couldn’t do anything about if the train driver was sent the wrong way at the points.) The result is that “distance remaining” is kind of meaningless. The railway sometimes follows the road but at other times it takes huge hill-avoiding loops. Half an hour into our journey, the remaining distance had changed from a modest thirty five km to a disappointing sixty-something. A bit like myself.
Estimates of the journey time varied from three hours to four and a half. After two and a half, we still had – according to the GPS – over 20km to go, but the real number was anyone’s guess…
The train journey took about three and a half hours and was uneventful except I was beginning to think my two fellow travellers had got left behind. In a longish wait at a station en route they want to stretch their legs leaving me to guard their two large rucksacks and two smaller day bags. The train moved and three quarters of an hour later they still hadn’t returned. I was beginning to think I’d have to take all their bags to Ella police station whilst the local guy next to me, apparently not an English speaker, kept trying to point out they were missing when they reappeared, unconcerned. Oh the casualness of youth.
I left them at the station and grabbed a tuk-tuk to drive me up the long steep hill to Ambiente, my stopover for the night. Superb views over Ella and of Little Adam’s Peak etc. My room is in a bungalow with two bedrooms and shared communal lounge and terrasse.
A shower was called for and I knew there was hot water. What I didn’t know was that the cold water would run out just after I had soaped myself ALL over. The water was now far too hot to bear bare, so I was in something of a pickle. The sink’s cold tap was also dry and I drew the line at rinsing myself with the water In the toilet cistern! A combination of letting small amounts of hot cool in the sink and using the shower head at arm’s length more or less solved the problem.
I was about to walk down into the village when a tuk-tuk driver whose vehicle was parked in the grounds offered me a lift and I accepted. The only thing was he already had two passengers who were photographing the view. This German couple graciously allowed me to share the vehicle into town and I arranged with the driver, after consultation with the tourist police about bus times to Tissa, that he will pick me up at noon tomorrow.
After that, I decided to do Little Adam’s Peak, a trifling couple of kilometres each way and no great effort to climb. The path wandered through tea plantations and, although the last section was stepped a la big brother, it wad a very pleasant stroll with no more than couple of dozen others doing the same as me.
On the top, I spotted a pair of spectacles lying on the ground and asked a young woman who was just starting the descent if they were hers. They weren’t but we ended up walking down together. She was (and probably still is) a Russian – perhaps a failed shot-putter – on her sixth visit to SL. I asked her why she kept coming back and she explained she was interested in the way such a small island could have so many climates and ecosystems. When not in SL, she appears to work in an underground shopping mall in Red Square. Having reached the road down to Ella, Svetlana (just guessing!) suddenly confessed she’d no idea where her hotel was. We headed into a cafe where she got directions (we’d already walked past it – my conversation must have been so sparkling she hadn’t noticed). We said goodbye and she headed back the way we’d just come, whilst I got chatting to a German lad who had come to SL with his Ecuadorian girlfriend (not present at that time).
Some of youse probably think I’m antisocial and in some ways I am, but I do enjoy these chats with people along the way. During the time since I left Galle about a week ago, I’ve fallen out with two French girls (YMCA) and chatted to a whole range of folk, sometimes in clearly enunciated English, sometimes in halting French, even once in Spanish. We have often had to read between lines, guess at the intended sense, elucidate with gestures etc. Oh and I also swore vehemently at a tourist – nationality unknown – who slammed his elbow into my face when barging onto a train. I have generally tried to avoid occasional loud English voices vouchsafing opinions on SL for all to hear. I have plenty of my own opinions – you’ve probably noticed that I’m not unwilling to share them, even uninvited – but a little tact and awareness that the others in the train / bus / restaurant may also speak English doesn’t go amiss. Hark at me, eh!
Call me a fool, but I’ve ordered pepper steak, chips and salad for dinner. I’m encouraged by the fact the guy in the kitchen asked me how I’d like it done and I’ve said “rare”. I’ll let you know how it goes.
All the guidebooks and all the locals will tell you that Ella is just like an English village. I honestly can’t see the likeness. I’m not knocking Ella: it’s in a beautiful location and certainly has charm, with superb scenery and a pleasant temperate climate, but like an English village? Pull the other one!
The weather has closed in: the cloud is low and the view – so spectacular five minutes ago – has completely vanished, distant thunder is rumbling, big lazy raindrops are falling but it’s dry on the covered veranda. Years ago, in another (English-teaching) life, a colleague used to give “Life inside a ping pong ball” as a punishment exercise. You could research that topic right here and now, if you had a mind to.
I’m assured the cold water is back on, so I’m off to rinse my important little places. Steak is not bad at all: not top notch, but definitely beef an definitely fried.