Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
16Trip End Apr 23, 2010
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What a day! (I know this because the day is already over as I write this - I'm happy to say.)
Yesterday evening I did most of my morning routines (showering, washing underwear, eating breakfast) so that I could have an early departure from my hotel to the bus station to catch the bus to Haputale this morning. (As you might recall, there should be a train at 9:30 but the lady at my hotel reception called the train station for me and she told me that there would in fact be no such train.)
So after having breakfast and packing, I was ready to leave the hotel at 8:15. As I was passing through the lobby on my way out, I met an Englishman of my age and similar name (Sandy) who was checking out of the hotel as well - with the intention of taking the very same train that I had wished to take but was told did not exist
Just outside the front gate of the hotel, we tried negotiating a fair price with a tuk tuk to the train station some 9 km away in Nanu Oya. The price the driver quoted seemed excessive (although it turned out that it wasn't) so we started walking towards the bus station with the intention of taking a bus to Nanu Oya. Before we walked two steps, an almost empty bus to Nanu Oya passed and we flagged it down. The cost of the bus was 18 rupees vs. 500 for the tuk tuk. It was looking like it was going to be my lucky day. ("No, Randy, this is just another trick - to make you THINK it's your lucky day!")
We arrived at the train station at 8:45, a full 45 minutes before the scheduled departure of our train. At the ticket window we were told that our train was delayed by an hour and a half - until 11:00. This was a tolerable delay and anyway, we were at the train station, so what could we do but wait? Our alternative would have been to return all the way to Nuwara Eliya to take a bus to Haputale. At 10:30 we were told that the delay was until 11:30. And finally, we were informed that the 9:30 train would not be coming at all. We naively assumed that the 12:30 train would come on time. The 12:30 train didn't arrive until 13:30, making our total waiting time at the station for our one and a half hour train ride
We foreigners (the Englishman, Sandy, and I met two Aussies - a father and son team, Vincent and Sam - on the bus to the station as well as one Frenchman and his lovely four year old daughter Jade), banded together to watch each other's bags and generally entertain each other to help the time pass until our train finally came.
I was the only one of our group to disembark in Haputale while the rest continued on to Ella. I headed straight for the most highly recommended guesthouse in town, the Sri Lak View, where I had made a reservation by phone a week ago. The room I was given was nice, but I preferred the room next door, which was a little larger. I left the room briefly to clarify some things with the reception and when I returned to my room, I found that I was only able to put my key a little bit into the lock - but that I was still able to unlock my door. Then I got to thinking that if only the first inch of my key could unlock my door, then perhaps the first inch of other people's keys could unlock my door as well. So I went to try my key in the room next door - the smaller room that I had been given first. And, to my shock, my key was able to unlock that door. By now I was thinking that all the rooms at the hotel could be opened by all the keys, so I went around trying the other rooms in my wing of the hotel
So I went to report my finding to the hotel manager - who told me, while waggling his head (if you can picture it - along with the Indianesque accent): "Yes, those two rooms are having the same lock." - followed by more head bobbing. You mean you KNEW about this and you didn't do anything about it? Duh! What were you thinking? What a breach of security this represents! Granted, it is unlikely that guests will try their keys in rooms other than their own, but it can happen - by accident - as it happened with me.
After unsuccessfully trying to find another suitable room for me, the manager agreed to change the
lock on my room
Anyway, I don't have a good feeling about this town and I'm already planning my departure. That being said, the view off my balcony is spectacular - and I'm guaranteed of being awake early to appreciate it
I took a walk to the train station to ask when the morning train to Ella would depart tomorrow. The stationmaster told me 11:35. This was the same train that I was supposed to have been on today so I asked the guy if the train would be canceled tomorrow as it was today. He said that today and tomorrow are unrelated as today's train was canceled due to an engine failure - and the engine has been fixed/replaced, so there should be no cancellation tomorrow. (At first I understood him to have said an "Indian failure" and I thought, "Yeah, go ahead and blame this on the Indians.") Anyway, the point of all this is that, as it turns out, the woman at the front desk of my hotel was right about the 9:30 train not running today. Furthermore, the train station people in Nanu Oya also knew that the train wasn't coming - but they didn't tell us - prefering instead to string us along with reports of "delays". That's one of the most frustrating things about traveling in "developing" countries. It's so difficult to get accurate information about things such as transport. And without accurate information, it is impossible to make the right choices. To that we have to add the Asian habit of not wanting to convey disappointing news. They'd rather tell you what they think you want to hear (that the train is coming and it's on time) rather than the truth (that the train is not even coming at all today.)
I then took a walk up to another hotel that is mentioned in the guide book - the one that was recommended by the Czech couple I had met in NE. The hotel was nice, but it was located far away from the town - and it was almost triple the price of my current place. To be fair, the guide book does describe it as being overpriced. They wanted almost 50 dollars for the room and two meals. When I told the front desk guy that this was too expensive, he replied that "Ha - in America you can't even get a cup of coffee for that!" It's been a few years since I've been to America, but if coffee is going for fifty bucks a cup, then I won't be going back anytime soon either. But anyway, what does the cost of a cup of coffee in America have to do with what a hotel room should cost in Haputale, Sri Lanka?
On my way back to the hotel I had a brief walk around the little town of Haputale. And I can unequivocally say that it is a little dump. The only redeeming factor is the lovely surrounding countryside. (Photographic evidence again provided.)
Back at the hotel I got into a conversation with a New Zealand couple who are here on vacation from a job in Dubai
With the Kiwi couple, we had dinner together in the hotel, along with an Australian / German couple we met in the hotel restaurant. Over dinner we exchanged travel stories. It turns out that this German/Aussie couple were in my favorite place in India - Bundi - ten years ago - way before it was discovered by tourists. And they said they were treated like royalty there at the time - just because the locals were so happy to have foreign visitors. Bundi is still a great place, but it has of course changed quite a bit in the intervening years.