Gabe and I are on our way to Kandy together, but we both booked our train ticket and hostel seperately – because we hadn’t met yet when I already booked. We say goodbye at the train station of Colombo, but we tell each other we’ll keep in touch when we arrive in Kandy.
In the train, I eat a samosa – again – for lunch. During the ride, the only thing I do is looking out the window. The rice paddies and passing through the jungle are incredible experiences I believe, for I’ve never seen this before. The small train stations we pass by are adding an impacting atmosphere to the journey as well.
I feel like my adventure is actually only starting now. Staying in the capital was fun, but as a westerner, it’s not as big of a culture shock. The rest of the country is where you really get to know Sri Lanka for what it is and what the country has to offer. Be that as it may: I’m visiting the second biggest city of the country, so this is still not the rural area of the country.
The train ride is a smooth one, although there was one narrow part along a large mountain, with an abyss to our right that seemed to be deep as forever. If you don’t like heights, I wouldn’t recommend watching too long – the view is great though.
Back in the old days…
One hour and thirty minutes later, I arrive in Kandy. As I get off the platform, there’s a phenomenon here that strikes me immediately when I have to go to the toilet. I hadn’t seen it yet in Colombo, but here I saw something quite shocking in play. There are small signs next to the door, which read “Only for foreigners”.
Now, you might say this doesn’t have to mean anything. In theory, everything seems fine and it feels like a service for tourists. You might think: “the hospitality of Sri Lankan people here is great.” But what lies underneath the surface, is an astounding one and it calls back to some ancient memories I thought didn’t exist anymore in modern times.
But here it was, because what happens? Almost all of the tourists are western people and a lot of western people are white. If you sit down on a bench for a while and look at this, you’ll see segregation at play. It’s like watching the United States of the sixties. Later on, I’d even walk into a bar with a couple of fellow travellers, where we’d find segregation as well: the ‘tourists’ get to sit on the terrace, the ‘locals’ stay inside. This is actually the first culture shock I’d pass by, and it doesn’t even seem to be a characteristic of Sri Lankan culture at all. It really strikes me that this happens in a country with a people that seems too nice to put institutionalized racism into society. And yet, there it was.
My first time getting ripped off in Sri Lanka
When I walk out the train station, taxi drivers and tuktuk drivers are waiting for me. “My friend!”, they all seem to really like me, I thought. But I reject them all, because I thought for a moment that my hostel was walking distance. Turns out it was, but not when carrying one backpack on my back and another on my belly. I discovered this by looking at my navigation – Maps.me – right after. Just as I want to return to the group of drivers, one taxi driver comes up to me. He’s got a nice car with air conditioning and he talks me into going with him. I’m overpaying him, but at this point, I’m still really gullible.
When we arrive, I discover he’s not so friendly either. He curses at a kid who’s opening the gate too slow for him. I didn’t notice this when I was in the car because of the language barrier, but later on, my host would explain that to me. Luckily, the driver gave me his business card, for if I’d ever want to get ripped off again, I guess. I gave it to my host, who in return, made an angry phone call to the man.
My host has other business to attend to, so the hostel lobby is completely empty. I have some time for my own and decide to check out the roof top. The view is pretty and I decide to lay down in the hammock for a while.
I’m still tired from the night before and the train ride didn’t give me a lot of rest either. I use my time to write in my diary and I check out what sights I could behold in this town.
Getting acquainted with new guests
A couple of hours later, I’m woken up by some new guests entering the building. They’re talking, but they can’t check in yet, because the host is still gone. I figured I’d join them, tell them I’d go out for dinner, hoping they’re starving as well. Turns out I was right.
They’re called Rachel and Josh, both from Great Brittain, but emigrated to New Zealand. He’s a carpenter, she’s a, how she calls it, ‘stop-and-go gal’ – which means she works in traffic, she explains to me. They’re two extremely lovable characters and they both seem to be the creative types – she finished acting school and he can draw incredible well, especially some sort of mushroom character.
They’re the most fun to hang around with, I discover. After we eat, we get some drinks and it gets even more fun. We also meet with Gabe and someone he met at the hostel, unexpectedly. The five of us have great, deep conversations about world politics and – again – ways to change the world for the better. But the dynamics in these conversations were huge, because when Rachel tells me “On Ibiza, I once did cocaine with the singer of the band Madness”, let’s just say, I wasn’t surprised.
We return to our hostel later and we decide we’ll meet up the next morning to wander about Kandy together. Back at the hostel, we meet two British stoners as well: Will and Algy. We all want to see the Buddha statue on top of the hill, a bar called Helga’s Folley and the famous Tooth Relic Temple. Gabe’ll be there too – but that’s something for the next blogpost.