It’s not the destination that counts, but the journey.

24 05 2011

– Sarah Lombardo

3:24am and the temperature has dropped to 30°C.  The weather here seems to only fluctuate a few degrees from day to night, and across the seasons.  While some of us might lament at the lack of seasons, Sri Lankans take an optimist’s view on the matter: “it’s always summer here!”

I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka almost exactly 48 hours ago, by means of a rapid series of flights on Qatar airlines.  Two amazing things happened during these 24 hours of travel: (1) all of my bags arrived in near-perfect condition at my final destination, and (2) I actually slept on the plane!  Perhaps a good 6 to 8 hours combined.  The last time this happened was nearly a decade ago on a 12-hr flight to Fiji from LA, being assisted by a sleeping pill.  This time it was simply fueled by my own exhaustion – the mad dash of 5 graduate courses crammed into a Duke semester.  After that how could anything else seem difficult?

After obtaining a $20 cell phone from the airport (easy button!), I caught the free shuttle to the bus station.  A bit of online researching revealed that I could take bus 187 to the Fort Colombo train station, from which I could catch a train to Galle for a mere 180 LKR (roughly 100 LKR = $1 USD).  I’ve been a medical/graduate student long enough to know how to hunt out the cheapest deals.  And I liked the idea of traveling of by train, being able to watch the ocean and countryside whip past while the cool breeze blew in my face.  Sounds nice, right?  Well, it turns out that in Sri Lanka no amount of blowing wind can quite hide the fact that it is hot and humid!

View from the train.

The bus ride to the train station was surprisingly comfortable. I’d managed to hop aboard an air-conditioned mini-bus and the steward had placed me in the front passenger seat.  Not exactly where I wanted to be (road accidents are the number one killer of tourists in Sri Lanka, second only to drowning), but I tried to take comfort in the divided road and growing traffic that kept our driver from speeding along.  The front seat did have its advantages, of course.  The A/C was strong, I got a great view of Colombo and its outlying suburbs as we made our way towards the center of the city, and I had plenty of opportunity to inspect the stuffed, sunglasses-wearing dogs resting on the front dash.  An interesting personal touch.

Fort Colombo train station.

Several minutes before arriving at the train station it began to pour.  Deluge, the kind that will have you soaked through in 30 seconds or less.  It turns out that May through July is the big monsoon season in Sri Lanka.  Average monthly rainfalls for May and June often exceed 3 meters.  This is more than Southern California (my home) gets in an entire year.  Way more.  Since moving to the East Coast I’ve learned to cope with the rain, but I still feel like I’m never quite prepared for it (mostly because I’m still lost regarding the selection of proper rain shoes and the rain jacket vs. umbrella question).

When the bus stopped I made a mad dash for the station, dragging and kicking my overstuffed Adidas duffle bag across several growing puddles.  Why had I packed so much?!  Did I really need a 3lb bag of assorted mini chocolates?  A yoga mat?  (Yes and yes! I can tell you today that I am quite happy to have both.  Bringing your own chocolate on international trips is ALWAYS a good idea.)

I found my way to the 2nd class counter and purchased a ticket to Galle and waited for my train to arrive.  Sitting next to me was a friendly Austrian couple also traveling to Galle, who would later help me move my many bags on and off the train.  The train trip itself went smoothly – no breakdowns, no delays, no unruly passengers.  We rode in the 2nd class cabin, a wooden, stuffy (despite the presence of 2 ancient ceiling fans), and poorly lit box lined with two-deep seats on either side.  This was substantially better than 3rd class, where the majority of riders must stand or squat of the entire distance.

2nd class cabin.

Three hours after departing Fort Colombo the train pulled into Galle station.  I couldn’t have felt more relieved.  The loud clanking of the metal sheets connecting the train cars, the smoke from the engine blowing in through the open windows, the endless bouncing and rocking, and the growing heat that made it uncomfortable to lean back against the seat – all of these plus my growing weariness (I’d been traveling for about 36hrs at this point) were all beginning to get to me.  I needed A/C, water, and a bed – stat!  Luckily Bandalu was already waiting for me with his shiny red three-wheeler when I arrived.  With a bit of shoving we managed to get my monstrosity of a bag into its small back seat.  I squeezed myself in next to it, backpack and camera bag on knees, and he whisked me off to Leijay Resort, my new home for the next 2 months.

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2 responses

25 05 2011
Joyce King

It was great reading your account of arriving in Sri Lanka; next best thing to being there (minus the humidity and rain). Look forward to following your visit.

31 05 2011
hitching

I feel like i arrived with you! Thanks for such a rich description.

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