With an early train from Kandy to Haputale to catch, we were forced to quickly adjust to Sri Lankan time: waking up early and subsequently doing everything else, from eating to sleeping, earlier too. This was no hardship to me, as it makes so much more sense to do so than follow the typical North American or European schedule of waking up well after sunrise and sleeping well after sunset. It’s more natural to live with the sun. Just think what happens to your sleep pattern when you go camping. And don’t even get me started the ridiculous habits of Argentinians and the like, with their midnight dinners. I digress. Back to Sri Lanka:
We managed to get a cheap tuk-tuk to the train station from our guesthouse: a 30 minute ride for 200 rupees. We attribute this to pure confusion. He couldn’t say a thing in English, and we couldn’t in his. Somehow this made him give in and give what must be closer to a local rate than we can normally finagle. When it came to tuk-tuk driving, this guy was a natural; he was at one with his machine; Every shake or jostle his tuk-tuk made, his body made in unison. And he was ripping up the concrete, going at speeds no tuk-tuk has seen before. In some Zen-like state of focus, he repeatedly mumbled “Canada” to himself the whole trip. It was quite the ride. From Kandy we ended up taking the train not directly to Haputale as planned, but to Nanu Oya because the railway powers that be decided not to send the early train all the way along the line. This allowed us to spend a couple of hours in Nuwara Eliya, a popular getaway in the hills for Sri Lankans and tourists alike. There were some nice English-looking buildings and parks, but we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything by not staying there longer.
After another short and beautiful train ride, we arrived at Haputale. The town is located high up on the ridge of a mountain (or hill for people from truly mountainous places) with beautiful views to the plains below on both sides. Alas, we were unable to quietly enjoy the views because multiple guesthouse owners and their henchman accosted us immediately upon disembarking from the train. We ended up going with one guy to a place that had favorable reviews online, the White Home. He said it was only ten minutes away, so we said we’d just walk. Hesitating, he agreed — and decided to leave his tuk-tuk behind and walk along with us in order to avoid the risk of losing our business to other leeches along the way. Not surprisingly, the “ten minute” walk turned out to be closer to thirty. This was most likely not because the guy intentionally lied to us about it being ten minutes, but because he’d never done the walk himself before, despite living there his whole life. Men and their tuk-tuks here are inseparable. The guesthouse was nice enough, with a fantastic eastern view from our room as the piece de resistance, so we agreed to stay. After settling in, giving us some welcome tea and snack and teaching Kim a sambol recipe, the extremely friendly family that ran the place made us a great tasting meal (Rice and curry, as if there was any other option).
They awkwardly stood around and watched Kim and I as we ate, though when we asked them how to eat with our hands in the Sri Lankan way, they made their eldest son sit down and eat with us to show us the proper technique. Hand eating is done by mushing together a bite-full of food on the edge of your plate, making a spoon out of the four fingers in your right hand, and using the thumb to push the food off the tips of the fingers and into your mouth. The advanced practitioners do so without even looking at their food. Soon enough, my technique was refined enough to get the seal of approval from the family and I vowed to never use utensils again while in Sri Lanka. Kim was not so inclined, perhaps because her fingers taste funny.
- Take the train whenever possible: More legroom, no crazy swerving, honking, and sudden braking, and nicer scenery compared to the bus. It’s not A/C, but with all the windows and even doors left open, for us it was delightfully fresh.
- To reserve or not to reserve: You can pay more than twice the price to get a seat in the reserved cabin, or risk it and get seats in the normal cabin and hope there are seats available. The best bet is to ask the ticket seller at the station how many reserved spots are available. If the reserved cabin is not very full, you can be pretty comfortable in saving on un-reserved tickets and risking it. To be safe, instead of waiting with the others in the station, wait by the tracks so you can be the first to board, and thus the first to get a seat.
- Invariably “100 meters” to a Sri Lankan is more like 250m, and “10 minutes” is 30. This only applies to walking. With buses and tuk-tuks, they are generally quite accurate, if not even on the conservative side.
- Why don’t Western countries use bidets, or as I prefer to call them, “ass hoses” more often? Every time I travel to Asia, it’s a delight to be able to clean my butt with a stream of fresh water instead of having to stick my fingers and some paper up there. What’s more, think of all the waste from toilet paper we’d avoid. The toilet paper lobbyists must be strong; that’s the only explanation I can think of for preventing such a win-win improvement to the world of anal sanitation.