Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trains and Zombie Trains

I seem to have had a posting spree this week. Two blogs I posted by accident while writing and I had to delete/amend them - that was definitely human error. But where the orangutans re-posts came from I have no idea. Hopefully the last couple of posts for Sri Lanka will come through smoothly once they are written. Here goes step one...


Having ticked Galle off our list it was time to return to Colombo. Our trip down had been a breeze, modern carriages and seats for everyone. But as the train pulled into Galle station we knew we were dealing with another kettle of fish.

The train was from the 1960s and we could see it was already full as it came to a stop. And it stayed that way for the entire 3 hour journey. We didn't nab a seat as we didn't join the scrum to get on the still moving train, as it came into station. Instead we stood for the whole trip. On the plus side we staked a position by the open door and didn't let it go, so we had good ventilation. On the negative side it was also by the toilet - but it wasn't too bad. We survived but began to worry about our train journey the next day. The 3 hours between Galle and Colombo paled into insignificance when we thought about the next days planned journey with the 6am departure, the scheduled 5 hours to Gal Oya junction where we had to change trains for the connection to Trincomalle, a scheduled wait between connecting trains of 3 hours, followed by a short 2 hours train ride to destination. So we asked about reservations at the train station, but we're told there were none available. Bother! But the ticket clerk did suggest we returned at 5:00am the next morning to see if there had been any cancellations.

1st we needed lunch and a cold drink as a reward for our hot travels. So headed to Barefoot cafe. It is hard to describe the disappointment on Andrew's face when he read the sign no alcohol sold between 2 & 5pm and he looked at his watch and it read 2:10. Luckily the waiter said he would serve him a beer so happiness was restored.

Having eaten and checked into our hotel, the concern about our train journey prompted us to go to the bus station and check out the bus options. The semi-luxury buses did NOT appeal, they didn't appear to seem to conform to our idea of luxury. It looked like our only option was our original train plan, queue theme music "one way ticket to hell and back".

So suitably mentally prepared, we fronted up at the train station the next morning and found we could reserve 2 seats for our 1st train. Yes, we had a seat and were not going to swing and sway for 5 hours holding the corner of someone's seat. Even at 5:10 in the morning the Colombo Fort station was busy.

For the eagle-eyed, Andrew is in a blue t-shirt, sitting on the seats toward the bottom left of the photo, trusty red day pack in front of him. In fact the train wasn't full, but we didn't care we had seats! The 1st leg took 6 hours and was fine, just long.

This snap of Andrew was taken before we realised a train was coming toward us and that him having his head out the window was not the smartest idea.

There had been unconfirmed reports on various travel boards there was a train that waited for the arrival of the Colombo train, even though it wasn't on any official timetable. It was described as a ghost train or a zombie train. But it was true and instead of waiting 3 hours for the next officially scheduled train we crossed the platform and were on our way to Trinco.

During the civil war the area we were going into had been a major part of the conflict zone. Railway workers had refused to do line maintenance on the line unless they had a military guard. As a result the 1.5 hour journey, in a carriage that was 1950s but very tidy, was the most volatile side to side motion of any train we had ever been on. A mother and child sat in our carriage and the baby giggled the whole time between their 2 stops as the rocking motion to her, was like being on a fun roller coaster.

But we were at destination, hours earlier than expected and the whole trip was far better than we had hoped.

And ultimately we were at the beach at Trincomalle and watching the day turn to night, our reward would be some good beach time.



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