At three minutes past six the following morning I was banging on their doors and windows to wake them up. One man stumbled into view to ask me what the matter was. I told him of my urgency and he said he'd get the tuk-tuk ready. Instead he meandered through the house, turning on lights and trying not to look like a lost fart in a perfume factory.
My girlfriend gave up waiting for them and headed to the roadside, hoping to catch a tuk-tuk heading for the village. None came. It took our hosts twenty-five minutes to have someone ready to take us to town. Once there we rushed to the lovely old granny to collect our breakfast. She was looking a little worried, which is understandable considering how late we were. A sprint up the road brought us into the train station barely one minute before the train arrived.
The train is slow. There's no escaping that. It also has some spectaculare views and it's well worth taking once - but only once, unless you really like trains and have the time to spare.
Travelling early, we passed many pupils on their way to school. It was wonderful seeing so many children - who clearly had very little - wanting to learn. There was a brightness to life in their eyes, which mimicked the sense of general friendliness exhibited by the people we encountered.
Sadly my battery was running low, so I saved my camera for most of the trip, just taking a few select pictures. Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity for faulty English.
The downside of taking the train early in the morning is that at times much of the view will be convered in mist - but only for the first hour or two, and only in parts.
The other problem is children. They will get on and they have this annoying tendency to squeal every time the train goes into a tunnel. There were many tunnels. It would appear children are irritating in all cultures.
I got a little panicked when, after arriving in Kandy, our train reversed and began heading back the way it had come. I quickly tracked down a conductor and was informed that the train did backtrack a few stations in order to change tracks. Panic over I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the trip to Nawalapitiya.
A short (and overpriced) tuk-tuk ride took us to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. By the entrance was a foreign exchange, which made me happy, as I was in need of exchaning some money.
We entered the place and after a bit of fuss bought some tickets. We saw a sign about lockers and were hoping we could put our bags down. The guards said we could leave our bags with them. I was sceptical, but they were heavy... so I took a clandestine picture of the guard, just in case anything went missing.
Then we headed down to the river to catch the elephants having their daily bath.
Bathtime over, the elephants were marched back up to Pinnawala. One paused to rub himself against a tree.
Now came feeding time. It was wonderful to see them eating, and even more heartwarming to see the babies being bottle-fed milk later. Unfortunately it was terribly saddening to see the chains securing the elephants.
I understand there's a necessity. They want to keep people safe whilst giving them the opportunity to get close to the elephants. Even so, I think it's cruel. Babies ended up being just out of reach of their parents and restricted in the food they could reach.
A better solution would be to isolate the people and give the elephants free reign.
It would appear free reign did exist for the elephants. This is a fragment of their "open area". Naturally they are kept contained during feeding time, as it's a tourist attraction, but this is their land to live in when not being bothered by tourists.
We left Pinnawala late that evening and caught a bus into town. What was delightful about the bus were the singers in the back. They sang for hours, their songs ebbing and flowing as one whittled down and the next took off. They substituted everything for percusion instruments. Plastic bottles were tapped against window panels, perfectly mimicking the snare drum of a marching band. Hands were slapped on laps or the backs of seats. We were unsure how long it had been going on for, but it lasted for about two hours into our ride.
The bus was packed. We barely had space to fit standing up in the front and it took about an hour before we were seated. It took many hours before we got to Colombo. It's the single most unusual ride I've been on.
Sadly this is where my pictures end. Our last few days were spent running around Colombo buying things and spending the last of our money. Here are some tips which summarise the highlights.
1. Don't trust Hotel Sunshine (5a Shrubbery Gardens Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka) to keep your booking. They cancelled ours and then tried to claim that we had asked it to be cancelled. Granted they managed to sort it out, but only when someone with a little sense took over from the tall idiot at the counter.
-Also, don't give anyone a copy of your passport. The people at Hotel Sunshine asked for one, but they couldn't give us a good reason as to why.... and then didn't ask again.
2. There's a famous clothing shop called Odel. Don't go to it. It's horribly overpriced and there are no clothes that fit real men. All their trousers are "skinny" (which is apparently in fashion), which ultimately means you cannot get them over your legs.
3. In the northern part of Colombo is a large market area. You can find many things there, but don't let yourself be cheated. If you think a price is too high - walk away. You'll find at least twenty other stores selling the same things.
-I managed to find some wonderful (non-skinny) trousers here that fit perfectly and didn't cost me the legs they covered.
4. Barefoot has some lovely things, but is a tad expensive, but it has a lovely restaurant out back - if you go when it's not busy.
5. There are many fantastic fabric shops. One is right next to Barefoot and we bought both shirts and fabric from them. We bought fabric from several places and in time they will be turned into that rarest of commodity - well fitting clothing.
6. Bangkok airport is still a terrible place.