Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
Trip End Apr 23, 2010

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Where I stayed
Something Moon Hotel

Flag of Sri Lanka  , Western,
Monday, April 19, 2010

18 April

We eventually decided to take the 13:45 train to Colombo, which would allow us to have a leisurely lunch before heading to the train station.  Christopher arrived at our guest house right on time at the agreed upon 11:00.  The three of us then walked over to the pizza restaurant that we had read about in the guide book.  At first we couldn't find it so we thought it might be closed, which would have put a real wrench in our plans.  A few more steps up the road, though, and there it was.

The pizzas were okay - all things considered.  (i.e. - made without a proper pizza oven).  The crusts were a bit lame, but the toppings were fine.  The end result was a tolerable pizza that was much more filling than the curry and rice dishes we had been having hitherto.  I tried to compliment the chef by telling her that I thought the pizzas were as good as they could be under the circumstances, but Christopher didn't find my comment to be much of a compliment.  Oh, well - what could I say?  Should I have lied?  That wouldn't have helped.

After lunch we walked the short distance to the train station and saw a very long queue for tickets.  At the same time, we saw some comfortable looking air-conditioned mini-buses with "Galle to Colombo" written on them.  Given that our train was about an hour away from departing, we looked for the place from which these comfortable buses departed.  We couldn't find it.  Nor could anybody else tell us where it was.  Of course at this time another one of those toothless touts came along and tried to get us into a private van at a high price so that he could get a commission.  In the end we decided to take our chance on the train.

I managed to get myself to the front of a newly opened ticket queue and bought tickets for the three of us.  We then asked which train we should get on and we were led to one at Track 4.  This train was already stuffed to the gills nearly an hour before the scheduled departure.  When the train left in front of our noses while we were standing there,  we assumed that it wasn't our train because trains seldom if ever leave early.

We were then directed to another train a few platforms over, and with a bit of hurrying and pushing little old ladies out of the way, I was able to secure three seats for our party.  After sitting there watching the train fill up for about a half an hour, people started getting up and leaving the train for one on the next track over.  Eventually it turned into a Chinese fire drill - and we felt like we had little choice but to join in.  So we ran over to the next train and again managed to grab seats for ourselves.

Eventually, all three of the trains that we had seen and / or been on were linked up into one very long train.  Everything was set for our departure - except for one minor detail:  We didn't have an engine!  While we waited, I sweated so profusely that I was totally soaked, through and through.  I think it was the most I've ever sweated in my life.  While we were sweating, we started having a debate between ourselves about how long we should wait for an engine past the official departure time before abandoning the idea of going by train.  Christopher suggested one minute.  I was a bit more vague, thinking that with a full train that an engine would eventually materialize.  And since we were seated on a train that we knew was going to our destination, I really felt that we should stay put and wait for an engine, in spite of the almost unbearably oppressive heat.

About an hour after the scheduled departure time, and nearly two hours after we first arrived onto the train, we departed Galle.  The scenery along the way was generally very lush.  In other parts, we were right up alongside the sea - about as close as a train can be to the ocean without actually being in it.  This is the same train that was swamped during the great tsunami of 2004 - killing hundreds of passengers, and seeing how close it runs to the water, it's easy to understand why it got washed away.

By early evening, we arrived at Colombo's Fort Station and were once again greeted by touts who wanted to take us to wherever we wanted to go.  At first our plan was to get ourselves to Negombo, about 45 minutes north of the airport, and check into a hotel there to shower and relax before heading for the airport for our 2 a.m. flight.  But since we arrived in Colombo so late, we opted for Plan B, which was to stay in the village of Katunayake, right next to the airport.  So through a middleman, we were able to arrange a van to Katunayake for 2,000 rupees.

When we got to Katunayake, we didn't know exactly where we were going but we figured there must be a hotel there where we could stay for five or six hours until our midnight departure for the airport.  After driving up and down both of the streets in the village, we finally found a very nice place in the back of nowhere where we seemed to be the only guests.  The name of the establishment escapes me, but it had the word "Moon" in it (as the second word in the name.)  The first word was something unusual.  Anyway, the room was 2,400 rupees and it was one of the nicer ones I had in Sri Lanka.

Gregory and Christopher went for dinner while I had a shower and a lie down.  I had such a headache that I couldn't get out of bed.  When Gregory and Christopher got back from dinner I wasn't yet ready to eat so Gregory shared the bed with me while Christopher tried to sleep on a sofa just outside of the room.  By about 22:00, I went to dinner and gave Christopher my place in the bed.  When I arrived at the hotel restaurant, the guy from the reception was there cleaning up.  He told me that the cook had gone home already and there would be no more meals served today.  That might have been a disaster except that I happened to have a can of tuna and some crackers that I carry with me for just such emergencies.  So I went back to the room and got my food and ate it on the sofa on which Christopher was lying down earlier.

I then went for a walk to the center of the village and bought a bottle of water before returning to the hotel.  The round trip took me about 35 minutes.  When I got back at 23:30, the hotel receptionist was gone and the front door of the hotel was locked.  So I shouted up to our room and Christopher came down and opened the door and let me in.  As it turns out, the receptionist was having his shower and getting ready for bed.

At about midnight we got in our taxi and drove the short distance to the airport.  We were actually close enough to the airport that we could have walked.  In fact, on my earlier walk I covered a distance greater than that to the airport.  But with our bags to carry, we opted for a very comfortable car to take us to the airport for 500 rupees. 

Staying in Katunayake rather than Negombo, where most people go, is a viable option for travelers - and one that the guide books should at least mention - since Katunayake is right next to the airport and much more convenient to reach than Negombo.  In fact, should I ever go to Sri Lanka again, next time I'll just walk over to the hotel from the airport and spend my first night there before heading on to Kandy or wherever else I might want to go.

19 April

During our pre-departure processing, Gregory demonstrated a great deal of the chutzpah for which his Jewish ancestors are known (or "balls", as we Gentiles call it):  The check-in queues were enormously long as our big plane was filled to capacity.  No problem for Gregory:  He just waltzed over to the Business Class check-in counter, which was empty at the time, and got us all processed in about five minutes.

We then faced the same long queues at the Immigration counter.  No problem for Gregory.  He got us all through the Diplomat and Airline Crew's counter.  Ha.  And since we were carrying all of our bags, we needed ample overhead space in the plane.  So when it came time to board, they called for the back rows to board first, as they usually do.  But although we were seated near the front of the plane, we walked right through - with Gregory showing his boarding card - face down!  I'm laughing just thinking about it.

And wait, it's not over yet:  When we arrived in Thailand, the immigration queues for foreigners were very long.  So what did Gregory do?  Of course he tried to go through a counter for Thai passport holders.  This is where his luck ended, although he said he usually gets away with this when he's traveling with his Thai wife.  Still, three out of four is not bad - and the one failure didn't cost anything.  The whole thing was a real lesson to me.

Since Christopher and I live in the same part of Bangkok, we shared a taxi home while Gregory went off to his home in the other direction, thus ending a very pleasant trip.
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