Although I was generally unprepared for my trip to Sri Lanka, as in I kind of just showed up and assumed I’d figure it all out as I went along, I managed to pull things together quickly. I fell into a habit of reading travel blogs pertaining to my plans a day or two before I actually executed them. This came in handy, as the blogs were recently written and therefore more up to date than most travel books. After giving Colombo a fighting chance, passing a day and a half between the parks, museums and chaotic bizarre I was ready to head south.
Thanks to a few different blogs I had been reading I decided that the train was my best option traveling to Galle, but more importantly that I should board at Maradana rather than Colombo Fort, as this is where the trains originate and are often full immediately. My friendly guesthouse owner told me the same as I was leaving so I knew I was on the right track. A quick (friendly) tuk tuk ride dropped me at the station and within minutes I had my ticket bought and was waiting on the platform, with a crowd of locals but no other foreigners in sight. I paid the extra 80 rupees (50 cents) for 2nd class, assuming it might be just a bit more comfortable, unfortunately however there are no reserved seats on these trains, so it’s a fight to see who can get on first.
Not sure where each class boarded the train I crawled out of my shell and asked someone, to which I was told that I was in the right spot, “Just wait there, the train will come after a few minutes”.
After a bit more waiting, sweat dripping down my back and lots of stares later, a train pulled up and people started running. I couldn't’ figure out what they were after, but soon realized it was 3rd class passengers and the 2nd class cars had pulled up in front of us. After the running though everyone stopped, no one was getting on the train, but I had no idea why, surely this was ours. Nope, this was just a random train that decided to park itself on our tracks and although I was disappointed we weren’t getting on I was glad that it at least confirmed I was in the right spot, to board for 2nd class.
After the empty train pulled away the announcement came on for our train, so when the next one pulled up I knew it was ours. With all the sweat, standing and staring I was ready to be on the way, but that appreciation soon turned to dismay as I noticed this train was not laid out like the previous, and I was standing in the midst of 3rd class cars only. Running to the 2nd class section with a few others I knew that I’d be too late, and sure enough by the time I boarded all seats were full which meant I’d be standing for the foreseeable future. On the bright side though I was next to a luggage rack and ceiling fan, so it didn’t suck uncontrollably.
I was trying to look on the bright side of it all, that is until I remembered that we’d soon be stopping at Colombo Fort station, at which point loads of people would be getting on, and of course none would be getting off. As we pulled up I saw the lines of people waiting and knew this was about to become a cozy ride.
I tucked into my small patch of train and hoped for the best, soon surrounded by a flock of foreigners and a multitude of backpacks. I made a small assist, more for my comfort than theirs, in pointing out the luggage rack, but after that it was back to me, myself and I. Honestly I’m not an antisocial person, quite the opposite actually, but on this particular day I had no interest in making new friends.
I dug into the book I was reading and standing really wasn’t all so bad, you just had to remember to hold on at times, Sri Lankin trains are not the smoothest of rides. Thankfully after a few more stops people began getting off, which meant a little more breathing room for the rest of us. One of the foreigners was a loud, possibly drunk, older Australian, who felt it necessary to talk, even when no one was listening. Somehow I got pulled into a conversation with him and two of the train officials, which to be fair, was rather entertaining. I came to learn that he loves this country and comes once a year to teach hockey, “[He] would rather teach cricket, but there are too many good cricket players in this country so hockey it is, although if he taught cricket he would teach them the right way.” Thankfully the two guards had a good sense of humor and played along with his remarks, I’m fairly certain though that every laugh was at him and not with.
As we approached Galle the train grew more and more barren so I eventually acquired a seat, and although it was only for a short time, it was greatly enjoyed.
To be quite honest I have no idea where my desire to travel to this country originated, but it festered and grew for nearly 3 years. In a sense it's a cleaner, safer, smaller India and having always had that country on my radar it seemed like the perfect test drive.