Window through Ceylon

Unlike most, I thoroughly enjoy public transport. The older and dodgier the better. I want to feel the vibrations and hear the screech as I ride the packed commuter bus in Addis Ababa or the underground in Pyongyang. I want to feel like my life is on the line, quite literally.

Besides the exhilaration, a journey on public transport is a wonderful first experience of a new country or city. There’s no better people watching stage and it’s always a great place to spark up a chin wag with a local.

A journey through Sri Lanka is unlike any journey, anywhere. Traveling the length and interior by bus or train are both to be recommended here.

Funky buses

The buses are old Leyland beasts kitted out in neon Buddhist styles blasting Sri Lankan karaoke from departure to arrival. The drivers maneuver through the narrow road as if they have 9 lives and the passengers do everything to avoid looking out onto the road in front of them. If you have some courage, no problem with personal space invasion and are short of 6 foot tall then it’s for you.

It’s via Sri Lankan railways however where the fun lasts long in the memory.

A second class ticket from Colombo to Kandy will set you back about 160 Rupees (€1) for a start. The 6 hour jaunt takes you from the coastal capital up through the green highland interior of the island to the cultural capital. It chugs away at a leisurely pace giving you ample opportunity to hang yourself out of the open door so you can capture the scene perfectly. Tea and snack sellers pass by every few minutes with a whole assortment of fresh new treats waiting to be tried.

Center of a Cyclone

From Kandy I bused south to Tangalle beach where I initially checked in for 2 nights. I arrived to find that Cyclone Ockhi had made landfall and was battering the place. Immediately I considered cutting short my stay. The area was dark and deserted. I had failed to see the upside of this however; it was just me, in beautiful Isana lodge just a stone’s throw from the beach. No one could contact me. So I booked another 3 nights and swam alone in the ocean in cyclone conditions. At night I relaxed by candlelight and beer and read the Orphan Masters Son. A classic North Korean tale.

When it was finally time to check out I made my way again by bus and train along the coast to colonial Galle and onto Colombo. All the while snaking through coastal villages that had recovered remarkably from the 2004 Tsunami. A shocking event that had devastated this most welcoming of lands.

Next time you’re on the island of Sri Lanka, be sure to take the train.

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