Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
16Trip End Apr 23, 2010
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Finally got out of bed at 8:30 after a pretty bad night's sleep. Aside from the 5:00 prayer call from the nearby mosque, I also had a nightmare. In the dream, I was at an airport in America somewhere, trying to check in for a flight with Delta Airlines. (It was a very detailed dream.) But the check-in staff refused to process me - until after everybody else was taken care of. So finally, just one minute before departure, they checked me in. I noticed that on my boarding card was written the message "Delay this passenger until the end." I thought, "AHA! So they delayed me on purpose! Just as I had suspected!" I believe that this dream was caused by a story that the Aussie guy Hugh told at dinner last night about a time in Pushkar, India when a waiter in a restaurant refused to serve him - no matter how many times he asked to order – and for no apparent reason. His was the real nightmare as he was apparently very hungry at the time
I spent the first couple hours of this day writing up the adventures of yesterday - as a way of getting it out of my system. I also decided that I MUST leave Haputale today, so I walked over to the train station to ask, not IF the morning freight train was going to be late but rather, by how much would it be late. The station master told me it was running about 45 minutes behind schedule but it was definitely running today. The train was expected at 12:45 rather than the scheduled 11:25.
So I went back to my hotel, had breakfast in my room, packed up, checked out (the hotel manager was somewhat disappointed by my early departure as I had intended to stay for four or five days - so I blamed it on the mosque so as not to make him feel too bad about all the other things that I didn't like about the town). Since I was ready to go at 11:30, I walked over to the station to wait for the train although I knew that it would be at least 45 minutes late. It is better to wait at the train station than to wait in my room.
At the train station I met a very nice "English" couple
After just one station all of the soldiers disembarked and the train was nearly empty. I then met a clean-cut 25-year old chap who looked like he was waiting to get into a conversation with me. It turned out that he had just gotten back from America - where he spent the last four years studying at West Point - America's prestigious military academy. What a surprise! He was out of uniform because he was on leave. A very intelligent fellow he was and we had a nice conversation as well. He claimed to have really enjoyed his time in America.
For the last segment of the ride, I was more or less forced into a conversation with a kind of wormy looking guy who wanted me to find him a job in America
By the time we arrived at Ella, it was after three in the afternoon - and it was raining. So I put on my rain jacket (for which it was too hot here - unlike Nuwara Eliya, which is much cooler - especially when it rains), and I walked a few minutes to one of the guest houses recommended by my guide book. The owners of the guest house were not home, but there were two older English couples staying there. They invited me in. They were occupying two of the three rooms of the guest house and told me to take the empty room, which had a key in the lock. So I locked my bag in the room and went out looking for food as I was starving by then, not having had lunch
On my way to get something to eat, I met a Czech girl who is currently working in Afghanistan, the brave soul. She didn't have a guidebook for Sri Lanka so I invited her to walk back with me to my guesthouse to get mine. While we were at my guesthouse, I mentioned to her that I would join her on a search of guesthouses. My thinking was that since the owners of my guesthouse were not home, I didn't really have a firm commitment to stay there. I didn't know how much the room cost (when I asked the English couple they pretended not to know - which I took as an indication that they expected that I would pay more than they were paying so they didn't want to reveal their price) and I didn't even know for sure that it was available, so I thought it best that I at least consider the possibility that I might have to find another room.
Well, the English couples overheard my suggestion to the Czech girl that I look at other rooms, and they said to me that they thought it was a bit "cheeky" for me to leave my bags in a locked room at one guesthouse while looking for another. What they didn't consider is that I could not make a final decision about the guest house as the owners were not there, which was certainly not my fault. Anyway, one of the Englishmen told me to just take my bags with me and get out
So I went out with the Czech girl (Tereza) looking at guesthouses - but not too seriously as I felt pretty sure that I already had a place to stay. I ended up having lunch with Tereza and eventually made my way back to the guest house where my bags were stored. As I was walking up the stairs to the guest house, one of the nosy Englishmen came running down the stairs excitedly - to tell me that I would have to leave the guest house - because someone else had taken the room I had put my bags in. Apparently, he told the guest house owner the story about this cheeky guy who had the nerve to put his bags in the room while going out to search for another room. Of course he didn't tell her the things I would have said in my defence. (He wanted to protect the poor local against the exploitative foreigner, I suppose.)
So, in the freshly re-started rain, I had to set out once again in search of accommodation. Since I was no longer tired or hungry, I easily found a much nicer place, where I planted myself for the time being.
I spent the rest of the day looking around the town trying to orientate myself and having a small dinner of daal at my hotel
My new room, while much nicer than the one that I was run out of, is on the main road in the center of town and therefore a bit noisy - at night from traffic and barking dogs - and during the day from construction noise. (Both this guesthouse, the Ella Holiday Inn, as well as the one next door, are expanding.) I was awakened by the traffic noise at 3:30 and eventually fell back asleep, finally getting up at 8:30.
I walked up the street to a place recommended in my guide book to have, for the first time on my trip, a "traditional Sri Lankan" breakfast. It was awful. Totally tasteless. I'm still not sure if this was a real Sri Lankan breakfast or just something being passed off as one. But it was a real disappointment given how high my expectations were based on what I had read about how delicious a Sri Lankan breakfast should be. I then went back to my room to eat some bread and cheese and an apple to somewhat compensate for the useless local so-called breakfast.
Then I went searching for a better place to stay - somewhere a bit quieter and with a view. There's little point being in a place known for its spectacular view if you can't see the view. And my current hotel just has a view of a neighbor's back yard. Eventually I found another place with a very good view and very friendly owners, so I agreed to go there tomorrow morning.
I then went back to my current room to take advantage of its nice, modern bathroom / shower. After I cleaned up myself, I washed my clothes in the very nice, water-holding sink. (Most sinks don't actually hold water - at least not for very long.)
After the same satisfying lunch that I had yesterday at the Dream Café, I had a nap. Feeling well rested for the first time, I decided to go for a nice, long walk. On this walk, I came across an amazing guest house ("Mountain Heavens") with a SPECTACULAR view. It's one of those places that, when you see it, you don't have to hesitate to decide if you want to stay there. So I booked the best room in the place at what will be my most expensive hotel on this trip (thirty bucks a night), and I plan to stay there until I have to leave this town.
Related to that, my Aussie friend Gregory, who lives in Thailand, and who went to India with me last November, will be meeting up with me here in Ella early next week. After a day or two together here, we'll make our way over to the coast because a friend of his who will be joining him is interested in surfing. Eventually, we'll all make our way back to the airport together for our return flight to Bangkok in the early morning hours of the 19th of this month.
I had a pretty amazing dinner of rice and around eight different vegetables at one of the highly recommended guest house restaurants in town. While I was eating, a foreign man came up to me and warned me to be careful because somebody was out to get me. My first thought was that he was referring to those English farts with whom I had the run in over that guest house.
A few minutes later I ran into some Aussie friends (Vincent and Sam, whom I befriended back at the Nanu Oya train station during our long wait there) and told them the story of the guy who warned me about danger coming my way. They told me not to worry as they knew the guy who had warned me and they're pretty sure that he is paranoid schizophrenic. (They had run into him earlier and he accused one of them of being a terrorist.) This made me feel a whole lot better knowing that he is paranoid and that most probably nobody is after me
This was one of those days on which I really didn't do much to speak of. After breakfast, I went to the first guest house that I had promised to move to and told them that I had found another one that I preferred. It's always a delicate matter to say something like that without insulting people and I thought about not going back at all. But if the shoe had been on the other foot, as the saying goes, I would have wanted to know. That way they won't keep the room for me and can give it to someone else instead.
Then I took a tuk tuk to the new place and basically stayed home reading and enjoying the view before having dinner in the guest house. I'm glad that I had made arrangements to eat at the guest house because by dinner time it was raining torrentially and I wouldn't have wanted to walk back into town - in the dark - to get something to eat
Woke up this morning with an itch to go to town for some shopping, so after breakfast I hopped the 9:47 train to Bandarawela, the nearest larger town. I was there in 40 minutes and, after being in this village for a few days, the place seemed really bustling. There were people shoulder to shoulder everywhere - bumping into each other, so crowded that it was difficult to walk. This is probably due to the fact that it is the last Saturday for shopping before the big three-day New Year's holiday that is coming up in a few days. The town even had a shopping mall, although there was nothing there that I had any use for.
I ended up just going to the supermarket for my usual Sri Lankan supermarket purchases: some Happy Cow cheese; some cashew nuts; and some Tide laundry detergent. I figured I would have a better choice of fruits and vegetables there, but the place was so hectic that I didn't feel comfortable making my purchases there.
The 12:30 train back to Ella was the same goods train that I had ridden before
I also met a group of a half a dozen fat, ugly German lesbians (I live in Thailand - I can tell). Since I had ridden this train a couple of times before, I tried to give them advance notice of upcoming scenic attractions. Instead, though, they were looking at me - probably the lot of them wishing for the first time that they had not gone lesbian.
After a short stop just shy of Ella - just to prevent us from actually arriving on time, we finally pulled into Ella Hauptbahnhof at 13:30 and I headed straight into town for my lunch and fruit and vegetable shopping.
Back in the room afterwards, I finished my penultimate book of the trip, Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure". I can recommend this book if you want to feel better about your life
In one funny passage near the end of the book, Jude and his woman Arabella were living together in a boarding house. The owner of the boarding house was beginning to suspect that they might not be married and he was on the verge of throwing them out because of that. Then he overheard them arguing and Arabella threw a shoe at Jude's head. This shoe throwing was enough to convince the boarding house owner that they were in fact married, so he let them stay. Ha. Some things never change.
I was about to start my fifth and final book of the trip (Dante's "Inferno"), but, since I was the only guest in the hotel restaurant tonight, the young manager sat down with me and we had a chat while I was eating. He's a very nice guy who recently graduated from university with a degree in political science and statistics. And, like many Sri Lankans, as I discovered in Nuwara Eliya, it is his ambition to eventually get a job with the government. He told me that the owner of the guest house where I am staying is a politician - and he ran for parliament in the election two days ago. He didn't win, but at least he didn't come in last.