How to write lots about nothing, lesson 2.

Trip Start Jan 08, 2014
Trip End Apr 09, 2014

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The morning of the 22nd and this was it, time to move.  I had got rather comfortable in Colombo where, despite the lack of "tourist attractions" I had had a great time.  I am sure my one or two readers will be glad to get out as well.  As I think I have explained, I never make plans and I had considered about three general options.  I could head South along the West coast, North along the same coast and make for Jaffna and the extreme North which I have already indicated was on my "wishlist" or head straight up to the hill country of Kandy etc. as riding on the train with the special observation carriage on that line is another "must do" for me.  Eventually, I had decided, more of less on a whim, to head South as I have enough time to visit all the areas mentioned above.  The day before I had decided that Galle would be a nice place to have a look round (it certainly was, as you shall see) especially as it includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Fort area and I mention this for a reason.

There was a discussion a while ago on the Virtual Tourist website that I contribute to about World Heritage Sites and how many people had visited. Despite the amount of travelling I have been lucky enough to do, I was rather surprised at how few I have actually visited.  Would you believe I have never even been to Stonehenge despite having lived in Southern England for 26 years?  Incredible.  I have a good friend called DAO (not his proper name obviously but that is what we call him) whose avowed intention is to visit every country on the planet.  I know of "Munro-baggers" a Munro being a mountain over a certain height in Scotland.  Others set themselves challenges to visit X or Y countries / capitals or whatever in a day, week or month.  This has never been my way although I absolutely respect people's right to do such things and wish them well in their respective endeavours.  Chacun a son gout as I believe the French have it.  I don't do things just to tick them off a list although I did determine myself to make a greater effort to visit the WHS's.  Come on, these are places defined as being hugely important for one reason or another and I really should make the effort.  If you want to see how I am getting on, you can have a look here.

Therefore, on another fine morning, I got a tuktuk off to the Fort Station to catch the Coast Line train South.  Yes, I could have got the bus or train but i just didn't fancy it whilst humping the luggage.  Ticket purchased, I waited on platform 5 (I knew this was my platform by now) to await the arrival of the train.  There was a bit of luck involved in this.  I had gone into the information office to ask for the time of the next train and apparently it was in about three minutes.  Sod that.  Definitely not enough time to buy a ticket, drag the kit over the footbridge and board.  Ah well, no problem, I thought I would get my ticket and wait for the next train.  However, all was well, at least all was well for me if not for the punctuality figures of SL Railways as the thing was delayed by half an hour.  I wonder if the rail company here actually publish punctuality figures, now that would be an interesting read.

I knew the drill by now, it is every man for himself whilst boarding a train or bus and so I began a bit of judicious use of the elbow and so on.  Fortunately I played a bit of rugby in my younger days, although not to anything like the standard of my Father who represented Ulster back in the 1950's before his job moved him where there was no senior club and effectively ended his playing career.  I nearly ruptured another disc in my spine trying to force a quart sized kitbag into a pint sized luggage rack but I managed it eventually and took one of the last seats.  Amidst the cries of the hawkers who sold mostly peanuts, cold drinks and fresh fruit we slowly rattled our way out of Fort and onto the Coast Line.  Good stuff, I'm on the move and off to explore this fantastic country.

The journey was crowded, hot,  noisy and completely uneventful as is usual on the trains in Asia although it did offer some lovely views as the line hugs the coast (as the name suggests) for much of the way.  Two and a half hours later I was deposited in the town of Galle.  Out of the station and straight into the path of the tuk-tuk piranhas.  I had to fend off about a dozen of them.  I must have looked like easy pickings, a sweating white man with a big kitbag.  I had previously worked out that my digs were very easily walkable from the station and had a mental map of exactly where to go.  I did notice that almost none of the tuk-tuks were metered and so were absolutely set up to rip off the unwary traveller.  A few examples here might serve to indicate the kind of "conversations" I have with these guys when I get fed up of them.

"Tuk-tuk".  "Well, spotted Sir, your powers of observation do you credit."

"Tuk-tuk".  "Good Lord, is it?  There was me thinking it was a billiard table". (That one really gets them).

"Where you go?"  "For a walk".

"What you doing?"  "Tying to have a smoke in peace without being annoyed by bloody tuk-tuk drivers".

"You stay?" (meaning where do you stay).  "I might if I don't get arrested for throttling an annoying tuk-tuk driver".

And so on and so forth.  I should add that I always do this smiling broadly and deliberately turn my thick Belfast accent up about 20% to a point where even my English mates have difficulty understanding me.  There is no malice in it and I know they have no chance of understanding me.  I have even resorted at times to putting on a puzzled expression and answering them with some of the couple of dozen words of Greek that I know.  That really throws them.  One or two of the more polyglot might try a word or two of German but I doubt there is a tuk-tuk driver in the country that speaks Cypriot Greek (which I learned and is slightly different to Greek Greek) spoken with a broad Northern Irish intonation.  Works every time and they usually retreat pdq.  Yes, it is puerile but it amuses me when they get too much as they often do. 

For example, you will be walking along a line of them, perhaps outside a bus stand or wherever.  One of them, perhaps tenth in line, will have watched you decline the first nine who have solicited you and yet he still feels compelled to ask you if you want his tuk-tuk.  Why?  Because it is a different colour?  Because I like the shirt you are wearing?  God, they infuriate me but they are a useful way of getting about when you need one.  I just wish they could get it into their heads that travellers have enough intelligence to flag one down or approach one if they want one and really do not like being hassled.

Oh dear, looks like I am rambling again.  I'll put it down to too much heat walking about in the midday sun before I composed this.  Where were we?  Oh yes, Galle station and how has it taken me this many paragraphs to describe a two hour train journey where nothing happened?  This blog may just take a while.

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Jo on

I so need to learn the Sinhala for if I wanted a tuk tuk I would ask for one. I also enjoy walking & now used to the heat so it's not necessary for me to go by tuk tuk for 2km

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