[Travel Diary] The Partytrain from Hatton to Haputale

There are certain things in life that never get boring: concerts, pique-niques, sunsets… Another one to add to this list: The open door train rides in Sri Lanka. Each ride is a new adventure and my ride from Hatton to Haputale might just have been my favourite experience in Sri Lanka so far.

 

After getting up at 1:30 am (which is when I would usually go to bed on a weekday…) after just a few hours of sleep and walking up (and down!) the 5.000 steps to Adam’s Peak in order to watch the beautiful sunrise, I was pretty tired and looked more than forward to just listening to some music and taking a nap on the train. This was not meant to be, as – of course – the train was as crowded as ususal and I didn’t even get to secure my favourite spot in the open door: The VIP spot was already occupied by two local teenage girls. They told me that they got off even after my stop, so I was mentally preparing myself to not sittting down at all for the next four hours. A pretty painful thought, considering my legs felt like pudding after the hike.

Luckily, however, I soon became BFF with the girls, since they – like most young girls I met here – were pretty intrigued by a white girl travelling on her own and seemed keen to practice their English as well. They quickly invited me to squeeze in with them and while we chatted about school, boys and the usual girlie stuff, their dads, uncles and some other guys came along and started to make music.

One of the guys had a bongo, while another one was improvising with an empty water-container and two empty bottles of water and a third one had a songbook. Soon a handful of guys and just as many kids were squeezing into the doorway (which I guess is not larger than two or three square meters) and we were all singing, dancing and clapping hands for the next three hours.

By the time my stop was approaching, we were all dancing, with even more kids and even some local women joining our improvised party. Within minutes, total strangers became friends and we shared cookies, water and happiness. My fatigue was soon forgotten and I felt so alive and happy during the entire trainride. I was truely touched by this experience and was more than sad when I had to get off the train. There might even have been a little tear hiding in the corner of my eyes. 

What a lucky girl I am!! Every situation always gets better with music and there couldn’t have been a better soundtrack for this scenic trainride across the Sri Lankan hill country, driving along the beautiful tea plantations and waterfalls.

(PS: Sorry for the pool quality of the videos. I just had my shittyold iPhone at hand but I hope you still get an idea of just how awesome this adventure was.)

[Travel Diary] First day in Sri Lanka

How I enjoyed my freedom in Sri Lanka. Because everything you want is on the other side of fear…

Sunset in Matara
No place I’d rather be

While I knew that those three days in Bangkok would not be very challenging, I had/have a lot of respect when it comes to solo female travelling in Sri Lanka. After all, I have read pretty mixed reviews regarding security on public transport and female traveling by themselves in general.

I arrived late at Colombo airport yesterday and spent the night in a guesthouse next to the airport. Their airport shuttle was the first thing to make me feel uneasy, driving through sandy, badly-lit streets in the middle of nowhere for a ride that took longer than I expected (since according to Google Maps the place was really just next to the airport) – even though I knew nothing would happen, as the taxi was provided by the guesthouse. And while the place itself looked really nice with its gorgeous garden, swimming pool and BBQ and the receptionist was really, really kind, I barely slept – my head being filled with lots of doubts and questions, surrounded by unfamiliar animal noises (roosters, geckos, stray dogs, frogs…) and my body itching from a million mosquito bites.

But me being me, I decided to do things either all the way or not at all. So taking the bus or a private driver (which I briefly considered) were really not an option. After all, I had been looking forward to this train ride for so many weeks. The next morning, after just three hours of sleep, I packed up my backpack again, was picked up by my taxi at 8 am and headed to Fort Station in Colombo. Destination: The train heading south to Matara.

Colombo Fort Train Station
Colombo Fort Train Station

I didn’t have time to have breakfast at the hotel, but was hoping to find some café at the airport where I could grab a coffee and a bite to eat. After all, this is Sri Lanka’s main train station. But nope, my hopes for caffein were shattered just as quick. No café as far as the eye could see. Damn it! And I was hoping for some coffee so badly! So I grabbed some kind of filled pastry and went to the women-only waiting room.

Because while I had been in the country for less than twelve hours and was already asked about my husband a dozen times, I figured out I was better off among the ladies. And right I was: I feel that there is some sort of solidarity and helpfullness among women in this country – and I like it! Because #girlpower and stuff. This was also confirmed once I got on the train: As expected, it was packed, but a woman who shared a bench with her small son kindly offered that I squeeze in with them.

The same goes for fellow backpackers: Everybody smiles at or greets each other, helps each other heeving backpacks up the luggage rack (aka guys heeving up my backpack, as I still have zero to non muscles in my arms…). So my doubts about security were soon forgotten. And well, what can I say: I am so happy that I didn’t listen to those girls on the forums who adviced to take the bus rather than the train, as it was apparently safer: I had the time of my life!

The ticket for this adventurous three five hour train ride costs only 230 rupees (1,50€ – vs. about 150€ for a taxi for the same distance) and the view as you drive along the coast is just priceless. The bluest of oceans alternating with the greenest of vegetations, with some colourful villages in between, combined with the retro sound of the old train as it makes its way across the country, the smell of the fresh fruit and pastries sold by locals at every stop, the scary toilet (a really big hole in the ground)… I am so very glad I made this experience!

The only downside: Both my camera and my GoPro died pretty early on and I couldn’t film as much as I was hoping to (I am still trying to figure out my battery-for-electronic-devices situation on the road…) – so this certainly won’t be the last time I am taking a train here…

After taking a TukTuk to my guesthouse in Matara (I think I did pretty well in negotiating with the guy, as he was a though one), I was greeted by Buddhika, the young owner. He was so friendly, welcoming and proud of his recently opened place that I felt at home right away (that he welcomed me with a fresh and yummy coconut was another big plus…). After a quick rest and some tea (TEA!!!! FTW!!!! Those who know me know that I am a big sucker for tea, so I couldn’t be happier to enjoy my first brew of local Cylon), I headed across the street with Buddhika’s sister and his niece for a walk on the beach.

His niece is 16, seemed to be quite happy to get a chance to practice her English and was probably a bit impressed by me having lived in Paris and now travelling by myself. Her aunt went back home soon after, and the girl, who is very clever and surprisingly open, and me enjoyed a lovely chat while watching the most stunning sunset I have ever seen (not kidding!). My favourite quote of our conversation: “I don’t even know if I want to get married. I want to enjoy my freedom!”.

Enjoying my freedom! There couldn’t have been better words to describe this perfect moment, coming from this lovely 16 year old Sri Lankan schoolgirl!! This was the cherry to the icing of this amazing day. Well ok, the dinner (potato curry and salad), prepared by Buddhika’s mum and other sister was pretty awesome too…

As this long day is coming to an end, I am also getting used to the local fauna and no longer feel perturbated by those two fat geckos who keep observing me as I type this. On the same page, I am also very thankful that I didn’t have to deal with tourista so far (French for: disorder of the digestive tract caused by foreign food…), even though I brought loads of medications and using them would make my backpack less heavy…

Anyways, it’s 10pm on a Saturday night a I couldn’t be happier about going to sleep now. Time to catch up some sleep in order to be fresh for the next adventure, as I will head to the surf/yoga camp tomorrow! Stay tuned for news on how that goes (reminder: I am a total nube to both surfing and yoga)…

[Travel Preparations] Sri Lanka & Myanmar – 6 days to go!

Holy Shit! In less than a week, I will already be chilling at the rooftop pool in Bangkok! While I am eager for my trip to start, I also feel pretty stressed out at the moment – less about the trip itself (I don’t even have time to really think about it), rather than about packing up all my stuff and somehow shipping it from Paris to Austria and spending some last quality moments for a while with my friends.

Travel Praparations Myanmar Sri Lanka

Regarding the trip: I have all my visas and major flights sorted, got all my vaccinations and medications to take on the trip, have hopefully bought all the gear I need and feel pretty much ready to start. Six days till takeoff!

My route:

31.03. Bangkok

I decided to fly to Bangkok first for numerous reasons. First of all, it was the cheapest option. Second, everyone I know who went there absolutely loved it. And I also thought it might be a good idea to have some sort of “soft” arrival, while getting accustomed to the climate and taking some days off just to chill.

03.04. Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, I will spend my first week in a surf and yoga camp. We will see how that goes, given I have absolutely no experience in surfing NOR in yoga… But the place looks like heaven on earth and I seriously CAN NOT WAIT to get there. I will also be in Sri Lanka for their New Year’s celebrations, and am pretty excited to experience this big event.

29.04. Myanmar

I know that I wanted to travel to two countries while on this trip, but for a long time couldn’t really decide between Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. I was not really sure if Myanmar – having opened its borders for tourism only a few years ago – was such a good place to go, being a girl and all by myself. But the more research I did and the more I talked to friends about it, the more I knew that I just HAVE to go there now. I can’t wait!!

21.05. Vienna
I will be heading back to Austria in order to spend the summer surrounded by friends and family. Because after all, summer in Austria is not such a bad idea: chilling at the Museumsquartier, swimming at the Donauinsel, sipping on lots of Hugos and Aperol Spritz, attending open air concerts, eating lots of the best ice cream outside of Italy… Having been an expat for around five years, I am now seriously excited about spending a longer period of time with my friends and family and enjoying a carefree summer.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-03-25 um 12.54.46

[Travel Preparations] Getting excited about Sri Lanka

This week, I finally booked the first flight for my upcoming trip to Asia: ONE WAY TO BANGKOK, BABY! My original plan was to fly to Colombo directly. However, Paris > Bangkok > Colombo was just the same prize as Paris > Colombo, minus a super boring six-hour layover in Dubai. So changing my schedule a bit was not a difficult decision to make, especially as I only heard great things about Bangkok.

After a few days in Bangkok, I will finally head to Sri Lanka, where I already booked this FANTASTIC looking surf/yoga retreat!!

talalla surf

This place looks like heaven on earth and the mere thought of being there in less than fifty days is motivation enough to get all the boring stuff sorted over the next few weeks. After all, I still have to figure out how to move my stuff from Paris to Austria, take care of all the Visas, prepare three more classes for Uni etc.

So while I was trying to figure out how to get there from Colombo, I came across these transportation options offered by Sri Lankan Railways:

Sri Lanka Trains

I am beyond excited about this train ride along the Sri Lankan coast – but also hope that I won’t end up in a ventilated box with all the other chicks and/or encounter too many nasty accompanied fish…

Also, I will make sure to listen to this song while on the train :)

PS: I also bought a lot of travel gear this week and am planning on doing a proper post on it soon, so make sure to stop by soon again!

(Photo credits: Talalla)