Updated: Mar 18, 2019
So when the bus pulled into the Kandy bus station I literally thought, “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore” and stared in disbelief! There must have been (I’m not exaggerating) 50+ busses all pointed in different directions with a cacophony of horns honking, drivers yelling and people stepping off the bus and into the collage of confusion. I was the LAST to get off the bus as I couldn’t quite get up the courage to walk into the chaos! The 6 hour bus ride from Bentota left at 5:45am and cost 260 rupees which is less than $1.50.
Once I arrived, I read the directions from my home stay family and was instructed to get on the local bus to Katugasthota Road. For gods sake, I couldn’t pronounce it nor read any of the sign boards on the busses as they were is Sinhala! LOL!! So... I started asking for help, and one kindly gent got off a bus and helped me find the right one. I had to ask for help finding that same bus in the middle of that mess over the course of several days over and over again - lol!! Lucky for me, people are mostly kind all over the world...
And the bus ride from my home stay to Kandy City Center was 15 rupees - less than 8 cents.
I spent a couple of days being a tourist and then was told about a train ride that has been dubbed one of the most beautiful in the world - Kandy to Ella. I had gone to the train station the day before to buy a ticket as I heard that tickets might be a little hard to secure; the attendant told me tickets go on sale an hour before departure and not before. SO, I was at the train station by 8am the next morning and found only a queue of 2 people, bought my ticket and felt pretty pleased with myself! I people watched for 45 minutes and then noticed the throngs of tour groups pouring into the station; it began to fill and in hindsight, I’m pretty sure they have no limit on the number of open tickets that are sold... Harbinger.
The train arrived and the human mass surged towards the cars which were marked with numbers: 1 (first class), 2 reserved, 2 (open seating) and 3 (open seating). The only ticket available that morning was an unreserved 2nd class ticket, and I stood in line at a 2nd class car after circling a few open doors surrounded by people trying figure out how to get on board. I was tapped on the should by a train attendant and directed down to 3rd class.
As I walked, I saw that ALL of the cars were full of people standing - for a 6 hour train ride.... I boarded the train and was the last person to squeeze into the space that connects two train cars. I had a sense of what a cattle car must feel like! There were 28 of us in that tiny space, and I motioned the attendant and asked if he thought I would be able to get a seat. He assured me that people will be getting off at the next several stops and that I should be able to find a seat. The Germans around me and I grinned and rolled our eyes. I grabbed the door firmly on both sides and braced myself as the train slowly lurched forward.
At the first stop, 5 people got off and 15 people got on. OMG!
It was getting more cramped. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to stand for the whole train ride and consciously shifted my weight from foot to foot, bent my knees, shifted my weight from my heels to toes and that was in the first 30 minutes. Holy shit. 5.5 hours to go....
Even in the cramped quarters, the mood was light, jokes were being cracked and we tourists were making the best of it by making up stories of how we will describe this experience to our friends. Bags were rearranged to make room, and I was asked if I felt safe as I was standing next to the open door! My legs were in that strong stance position and my back braced against a a stranger. All was good.
I was a little bummed that there would be no pictures on this train ride as I needed to pay attention and hang on...
About an hour into the trip we stopped yet again, and I leaned my head out the door to have a look around and noticed a Sri Lankan sitting with his legs dangling out the door. I thought, “Why not” and plopped my butt on the floor of the train and let my legs hang out the door. I got a high five by a 37 year old Polish woman who said I just got upgraded to a first class seat! LOL! As I turned to look at her, I pointed to the butt in my face and we both laughed. The whole trip just made a turn for the better!!
The grass lightly whipped my knuckles and shins as we passed through the lush country side and chugged up that mountain. Paulina, the young Polish woman came and sat beside me - beaming. She said that sitting with her legs out the door on this particular trip was something she had dreamed about.
This is the essence of traveling that give me joy— real human connection.
We talked for hours and I learned that she loves to break rules, shared her phobia of water and I shared my fear of heights; an hour later she put her arm across the doorway as the mountainside felt like it was rolling underneath my feet. Aaahhhhhhh!! Another Polish woman behind me stroked my arm and told me to breath as my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest!!
We saw hectares of terraced mountainside full of tea bushes, rice fields, and I blew ashes off my arm that had whipped in from open fires along side the tracks. Paulina shared with me that she had just gotten into a fight with her friends. I had gotten to know her well enough to ask a simple question: Will it matter in 5 years? I suggested that she had a choice to either be right or come from a place of love.
It ended up being a 7 hour train trip, and one that I shan’t forget for awhile....
Paulina WhatsApped me after we parted and said she had apologized. All was/is good...