RTW Day 71 – Negombo
27th April 2018
We have booked flights to Colombo via Singapore but our first plane has been cancelled, meaning an earlier flight and a 9 hour layover in Singapore. One last attempt to liberate our laundry – thankfully it is open. She looks as relieved to get her hands on our dollars as we are to get our clothes back. Then off to the airport for our first flight.
We are seated separately because the plane is full of school groups. I sit next to an Australian teacher accompanying students who have been doing voluntary work. He tells me how they have taken disabled kids swimming, brought gifts for orphans and sung with blind children. It makes my sightseeing followed by cocktails feel rather shallow.
Passengers transiting Singapore are offered a free 2 ½ hour city tour. So we sign up and set off for some sightseeing. Unfortunately, just as we leave, it starts raining. This means that, on grounds of health and safety, the scheduled stops are cancelled. So we drive round Singapore for a couple of hours, peering out of the bus window through the rain.
Once deposited back at the airport, we buy dinner. I opt for something I know won’t contain nuts and play safe with a burger. Meanwhile the old man buys a noodle dish followed by a ‘durian iced parang’. It’s a hideous looking and smelling mound of unnatural coloured foodstuffs.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, we board our second flight, arriving in Sri Lanka after midnight. By the time we reach our hotel; Sea Port, in Negombo it’s past 1 am and we’ve been travelling for 19 hours.
The hotel is disgusting. The a/c doesn’t work, so the room temperature is 31 degrees. The bathroom is filthy and there is brown stuff (the old man tries to convince me it’s cement but we both know otherwise) running down the wall. Worst of all is the smell. The room smells of damp and mould and the bed and bedding stink. In fact the room is so damp, the bedding is actually wet.
There are no staff, only a security guard asleep by the front door and we have no WiFi. So we lie on the damp, smelly bed where I manage 2 hours 45 minutes of sleep until we can make alternative arrangements.
RTW Day 72 – Colombo
Colombo 28th April 2018
We get up from our damp, smelly bed in our hot, smelly room at 7 am, access WiFi and book another hotel. After a full and frank exchange of views with the receptionist about the state of the hotel, we check out and take a taxi to Colombo. By 11 am, we are checked in, showered and settle down for a couple of hours more sleep in clean beds in the very pleasant Fairway Hotel. We wake to a message from Booking.com saying that Sea Port registered us as a ‘no show’ which means we can’t even post a bad review of our horrible experience.
We get up and go for a walk following Lonely Planet’s suggestion for a ‘short stroll’. First point, a spot on the seafront to view pelicans perched on poles. It’s actually a huge construction site with no wildlife in sight. As one local puts it; ‘The Chinese have bought the water’.
On to the old lighthouse; here a man with a rifle tells us we can’t take photos because we’re near the naval base. Finally, Sambodhi Chaitiya; a shrine built on huge concrete legs so it is visible offshore.
Theoretically we have walked 3 sides of a square so it should be a short walk back to the hotel. However, the road passes police headquarters and another man with a rifle won’t let us pass. I can’t face the long walk back so try begging and pointing out how sweaty I am. The guard takes pity and lets us through.
We buy a pitcher of beer to cool down and our first Sri Lankan curry, which is incredibly hot. Then it’s time to pack for tomorrow’s rail extravaganza.
RTW Day 73 – Nuwara Eliya
29th April 2018
One last adventure before we begin our journey home is a train trip to the Hill Country. It consists of a 6 hour journey and a 13 degree difference in temperature.
We go to the station for our 9.45 train. The rolling stock looks like it belongs in a museum. However, at 9.46 a whistle blows, and we’re off. One minute behind schedule – how often can Southern Rail manage that?
We have tickets in Observation Class, which is supposed to offer a good view, but the seats are facing backwards, so looking out of the window for too long makes me dizzy.
Once out of Colombo we start to climb, a total of 1889 metres in total. The scenery is stunning but the journey is like something from a nightmare. We are crammed into a sweltering hot compartment with no refreshments; we drink all our water within the first two hours. There are lots of children, jumping from seat to seat, many have plastic horns which they blow constantly. We wind our way onwards never seeming to get any closer to our destination and there are several unexplained delays.
By the time we reach our destination, Nanu-Oya, over 7 hours later, and an hour behind schedule, I am tired, thirsty, grumpy and have a thumping headache.
Our hotel; The Tea Leaf Hotel, has sent a car to collect us. It’s a lovely boutique establishment in the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, overlooking a tea plantation.
On arrival we are served drinks and a very tasty Sri Lankan curry. Then we retire for the night.
RTW Day 74 – Nuwara Eliya
30th April 2018
A day to explore Nuwara Eliya. By the time we finish breakfast it’s 9 am and a blissfully cool 20 degrees. We walk to the tea plantation at the end of the road; Pedro Tea Estate. They have been producing tea here since 1885. We are spotted by two dogs, who decide to accompany us.
We take a guided tour of the tea factory. There’s no production taking place because it’s Full Moon, which is a public holiday. However, we are shown how the process works, finishing with a cup of homegrown tea.
We continue to Lovers Leap waterfall. We take a wrong turn (thanks to Google Maps) so it is a longer, significantly steeper walk than it should be. But it is a Sri Lankan holiday so we meet some very friendly locals along the way.
In the afternoon we take a Tuk Tuk into town and have lunch at Indian Summer; a restaurant overlooking Lake Gregory. The food is very good. Trip Advisor reviews complained about the small portions and the restaurant seems to have taken this to heart as they produce a veritable mountain of food. Even the old man has to admit defeat and leave some uneaten.
We walk back along the lake towards town. It’s heaving with people walking, picnicking, taking boat rides. There’s a carnival atmosphere with stalls and pony rides and bouncy castles and ice cream Tuk Tuks.
We decide to take a Tuk Tuk back to our hotel. After consulting a friend, the driver claims he knows where he’s going and sets off in the wrong direction. The old man insists he must know a shortcut – I’m convinced he’s lost. 15 minutes of white knuckle driving later, he flags down another Tuk Tuk and asks the driver for directions. The other driver doesn’t know either. The old man hands him my iPhone, he passes it to his passenger and promptly drives off! Luckily, this was an accident and they bring it back. We retrace our route for another 15 minutes of crazy driving, then the driver flags down another Tuk Tuk driver who knows where to go. There is an exchange of views (mainly mine) and we transfer to the other vehicle and make it back to our hotel in one piece, if a little stressed.
RTW Day 75 – Kandy
1st May 2018
We are breaking our return journey with an overnight stop in Kandy. This time we take the express train, or ‘Blue Train’. It is a modern Chinese train with an air conditioned first class carriage. It’s quicker, more comfortable and we face the direction of travel. But it doesn’t have openable windows so it’s not so good for viewing the scenery as we descend towards Kandy.
The difference in altitude is 1400 metres in today’s journey. So, whereas we chugged slowly uphill two days ago, our return involves hurtling downhill at breakneck speed. It is a relief to reach our destination as a selection of small children have swung from the seats and parcel shelf for much of the journey.
We reach Kandy around lunch time. We check into our hotel; Ozo Hotel, and head straight to the rooftop pool to cool down. It has a great view over Lake Kandy which we enjoy whilst sitting on sun loungers drinking beer (due to a religious festival, alcohol sales have been prohibited for the previous two days).
Then we walk along the lake to Kandy Garden Café for some authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. We order Kottu; we’re not sure what this is – we’re told it’s a sort of bread. It is, in fact, eggs, onion and vegetables cooked on a griddle, then bread is added and shredded into the mixture. The old man orders a mixed Kottu which contains all manner of extra ingredients; meat, seafood, sausage, cheese – it’s all in there.
We walk back along the lake, observing the the huge amount of wildlife that inhabit it; so far we’ve seen birds, fish, turtles, monkeys, bats, chipmunks, even a huge monitor lizard.
RTW Day 76 – Kandy
2nd May 2018
Our train to Colombo is at 3 pm, so we have breakfast before visiting the Temple of the Tooth. Breakfast is in fact a source of great excitement; there is cheese on the buffet. I have been craving cheese for some considerable time.
We walk into town round Lake Kandy to the temple, where one of Buddha’s teeth is housed in a series of six golden caskets. The queue to view it is enormous, plus it’s full of devotees dressed in white. It feels wrong to impose on their pilgrimage to gawk, so we just wander round the edges.
We enter a shrine which is rectangular and has Buddhas on all four sides, which throws me into a cultural panic. I have been told it’s rude to turn your back on Buddha, so how to act when they’re all around you?
We leave the temple and have a difference of opinion on how return to the hotel. The old man wants to continue round the lake so we have completed a full circuit. It’s 32 degrees and going back the way we came is 20 minutes shorter. It sounds like a no brainer to me. So, we part company and I walk the short way while he goes the long way round.
Just time for a swim and a beer to cool us down before braving the scrum and heat of Sri Lankan rail travel one last time. First, a Tuk Tuk to the station; this involves an interesting manoeuvre where we drive the wrong way round a roundabout, almost running over a policeman.
We are in Observation Class again but this time it’s a modern, comfortable, air conditioned carriage. It’s actually quite pleasant, there’s no need to try to keep cool by sticking your head out of the window and hoping you don’t get decapitated in the process.
It’s only a 2½ hour journey but it feels much longer. Primarily because I’m sitting next to two small children whose parents feed them some hideously fluorescent fizzy drink which makes them so hyperactive they spend the entire journey shrieking and throwing nuts at each other.
Once back in Colombo we go for dinner, followed by drinks. The old man has a pint of lager and two pints of Lion Stout at 8.8% alcohol. To be honest, he becomes a bit of a mess, but he makes it back upstairs to bed where he hiccups himself to sleep.
RTW Day 77 – Colombo
3rd May 2018
Today we begin our long journey home, but not until much later; we don’t need to leave for the airport until 9.30 pm. First a day in hot, dirty, polluted Colombo. We decide to pay for another night at the hotel so we don’t have to check out until the evening.
After breakfast, we plan a walk along Galle Face Green. It’s a British style seaside prom. There’s even a memorial from its opening by Sir Henry Ward in 1859 where it is ‘recommended to his successors in the interest of the ladies and children of Colombo’. Poor Henry would be turning in his grave if he could see it now; it’s a filthy mess of garbage and sewage and makes me long for the pristine beach of Bournemouth.
Next we head for Beira Lake, in theory. In practice, the old man has counted that it’s 4th on the left on the map, but upon walking, he only counts the major roads. So we massively overshoot and have to double back. It’s very hot, so the extra walking is not appreciated.
The lake is pretty (if you can look past the line of rubbish around the edge) and has two islands; one is contains a Buddhist Temple; Seema Malakaya Meditation Centre and the other is a park.
We take a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel (thankfully our last of the trip). Again, the driver has no clue where he is going and we stop four times while he flags people down for directions.
We pause for a while in the Dutch Bar for a pitcher of beer to cool down and rehydrate. Then it’s back to our hotel for an $80 (the cost of a late checkout) nap.
The hotel has a cultural show on Thursdays in the road outside. It’s a selection of dances and martial arts performed to the rhythm of drums. It’s both entertaining and mesmerising. Added interest stems from watching cars trying to weave past the performers in the street. We watch until our taxi almost arrives to take us to the airport – I can see it stuck behind two men having a musical sword fight.
Colombo airport is being renovated during the day, so flights only operate at night. It feels strange to arrive at an airport in the middle of the night and it to be so busy. It’s our 12th flight and we haven’t been asked to show airline tickets once before today, when we have to show them at two security points to even gain access to the airport. Luckily, I find copies from the depths of our luggage and we are allowed in. Then there’s just two more security points and emigration between us and a plane out of here.