Abu Dhabi airport is swanky and large but, when it comes down to it, a pretty tedious place to spend a lot of time and I was there from 8:15 until we took off a bit late at 2:15. There’s only so long you can maintain even a simulation of interest in expensive watches, over-priced whiskies and the like.
The Abu Dhabi – Colombo leg is shorter than the first stage and I settled down to watch “Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children”, but can’t say I was enthralled and gave up fairly soon. I did doze a bit with tracks from Etihad’s selection of classic rock albums in my ears, but I was pretty knackered by the time we landed in Colombo.
The whole visa / baggage / customs / foreign exchange thing went surprisingly well: I had convinced myself, wrongly, that my case would not appear on the carousel and, although it did keep me waiting rather longer than necessary, I was delightedly relieved when it did. The thought of fending off importunate tuk-tuk drivers whilst trying to negotiate me and my case a fair price on a bus into town was all a bit much, so I used the services of the official station taxi service and Lionel was soon whisking me down the Expressway.
When I first booked my flights, the AUH-CMB leg was supposed to depart (and arrive) about 3 hours earlier than it was eventually rescheduled for and I chose it because I reckoned I’d get to Galle that day. After Etihad informed me of the change, I booked a place in Colombo: City Beds – The Regent. The later part of the name indicates the business is situated in the Regent Building, a rather dilapidated block beside a roundabout. The door into City Beds is off the street and from the outside you might think twice about staying there. However, inside was great: basic but well-furnished and equipped rooms with en suite shower etc. With the whole place being near the station, it was an ideal place for a night. I may go back there in 3 or 4 weeks’ time when I have to get my visa extended.
After the obligatory shower, I went out to explore with the specific goal of finding the railway station. The roundabout outside had at least four arms and I tried three of them, walking down each for 10minutes (the station is “5 minutes” away) and eventually gave up. The room was warm but not so hot as to need the air conditioning. Despite being fairly close to the roundabout, my room wasn’t overly noisy and I slept like a sleepy thing.
zzz… zzz… zzz… zzz… zzz…
Over a cup of tea this morning, consultation with an Australian couple clarified the hotel desk attendant’s helpful wave and dodgy English, so I went down to the station, checked up on times and bought a second class ticket to Galle. Only fools buy a third class ticket and then sit in a second class carriage!
Back at the station very early for the 10:30 train, there were already hundreds waiting and I staked my place on the platform. A local guy came along and, in pidgin English, directed us foreigners up the platform if we wanted the second class carriages. It wasn’t clear whether he was some guy trying to be helpful, an un-uniformed station employee or simply a local with a grudge who like to mislead foreigners. A few of us self-consciously took his advice and shuffled a few steps along the platform, only to be encouraged with shouts of “Two” and arm-waving. A few brave souls held their ground.
Back in Scotland, it’s easy to forget how hot it feels out here: just standing waiting for a train makes me break out in a sweat. That’s not a complaint: I like it hot and am quite willing to put up with a bit of “too hot” to get some “hot”. Of course, you do acclimatise, learn to slow down, stop wearing shoes, socks, long trousers and long-sleeved shirt.
I don’t know how this happened…
The train stopped with a carriage door right in front of me and we white tourists at the appointed place let the train empty of locals before getting on – I was third through the door and all the seats were gone. I decided standing near the door was a better option than in the corridor, but as luck would have it, I chose possibly the only carriage in Sri Lanka where on a dry day there was a steady trickle of water out of the ceiling. From the occasional glance as some poor suffering soul was forced to use the toilet, the facilities seemed to include a nice stainless(!!!) steel bowl but smelled no better than others I have experienced. I settled down in the open doorway, sitting on my case and enjoying the breeze whilst I tried to dodge the drips. Every time we stopped there seemed to be a motorbike with its engine backfiring just outside the train, though I never managed to see it.
About halfway through the two hour journey, a seat became available and I escaped the drips. However, out of the frying pan…, the motorbike mystery was solved as the noise was actually the ceiling fan in the carriage, drowned out by the engine noise when I sat in the doorway, but now positioned just above my head. More or less where the drip had been.
My old friend – the SL mobile with its two number 5 keys – let me down with some official message suggesting that my SIM would need something done to it, possibly due to the long gap since I last used the phone. To my amazement, my promise to let Sera know which train I was on was not thwarted as my UK mobile leapt into action and my collection from the station and subsequent whisking to Sera’s place were effected with minimum hassle. I even got the tuk-tuk driver to wait whilst I went shopping. (Pineapple, water, cashews and toothpaste. I’ve been advised by Mrs M that I should eat cashews rather than peanuts: I’ll give it a go, but definitely prefer peanuts, especially the Jumbo Peanuts you sometimes see here.)
What a lovely warm welcome: my door decorated with “Welcome Mr Doug” spelled out in coloured letters. My room is a bit larger than what I had last year, though similarly equipped. The big difference is Internet access: last year’s forays into Sera’s house for a daily dose of connectivity are no more: not only is there wi-fi throughout the block, but the router is in my room! The grounds outside have been considerably improved, with little raised lawns outside the rooms, more plantings forming a circular driveway and green floodlighting of the palms. The kitchen, at a glance, seems well equipped with a large modern fridge and a two ring cooker. They now employ a boy for part time hours: I’m not clear what he does but no doubt time will tell and so will I. Of course, other things will have to be different this year. Last time I was the first and only guest and staying for over two months in a venture that was still being built around me. I was treated like one of the family. Tonight, I think all the rooms are taken: there’s a group of three French folk who leave tomorrow and the rest seem to be Sri Lankans possibly connected with the Galle Literary Festival (GLF) which is on this weekend.
I nipped over the road to see the school and bumped into one or two teachers, but Rick, the Head, wasn’t there. The GLF are using some of the school for their events.
I noticed the jackfruit tree was bearing fruit again and then became aware of the monkeys coming down to raid them, filling their cheeks and disappearing into the trees clutching chunks.