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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Kandy Konnection

A few segments of papaya fruit for breakie and we were hurtling along to Fort, the central district in Colombo, to visit the Kandy man. After a wee chat with Linton and briefly dropping into an internet cafe, which appeared to be run on-the-side in an office by some workers while their boss was away (complete with ongoing electronics soldering beside you!), we were on our way to Kandyland.

Kandy is Sri Lanka's second largest modern city and in historical times was a stronghold of Sinhalese culture and, for a time, was the country's capital. The city lies in the heart of the 'Hill Country' and remained largely inaccessible until the British completed construction of a railway line linking the city with Colombo in 1867. Kandy's most treasured building is probably the Temple of the Tooth which houses the legendary Buddha's Tooth, believed to be an orignal tooth retrieved from the ashes of the cremated body of the Buddha himself.

As luck would have it we managed to get a spot in Willy Wonka's Amazing Glass Elevator, otherwise known as the Observation Carriage. This is the trailing carriage of the train with the back facing wall being more or less completely made of glass. As the seats are all arranged in this direction we were able to spend the entire journey gazing through the window at the spectacular jungle-esque landscape sailing by.

We hurtled by everything from trackside homes to small signs reading 'Danger Weak Sleepers - Max 15 kmph'. The only thing missing was Jeff Goldblum muttering something about dinosaurs and frogs.

Apocolombo Now

'Goooood Morning Viiieettt-Naaaammmm!!' - Johnny Harris
'...' - Me
'Where are you going?' - Johnny Harris
'Oh, we're heading up river, to the north, looking for Colonel Kurtz' - Me

Yup, that's how I'd like to remember my wake up call this morning, of course I didn't think of the fourth line until several hours later after a strong cup of brew!

We'd bumped into the (infamous) Johnny Harris, a sailing beach hobo of sorts who basically used to be in the navy but now sails about looking for the good life.

After a wee natter with him we rambled along the train tracks to the next station which seems to be the way the locals stroll around all the time. Our next stop was 'Barefoot', a funky mishmash of Sri Lankan culture and a nice cafe to boot. Or so according to the Rough Guide. Unfortunately it turned out to feel like a made to order 'funky' tourist place that everyone will drop into because it's mentioned in the RG. In fact it's the only spot that we've met any other tourists so far and feels like it's made for tourists to feel comfy in (think Kaffe Moka).

A quick caffeine top up later and we were dangling from the train doors to book our trip to Kandy and do a wee bit of Geocaching around Colombo. The trouble is, as we soon realised, that Geocaching around the city means following the roads to wherever they take you (usually into a speeding Tuk Tuk!).

Several close Tuk *u*ks on and with the skies darkening we found the building, a fancy old colonial hotel complete with period dressed attendants. Well worth the few hours we spent rambling around the city and I can really recommend Geocaching as a funky way to explore a new place.

Then back for some chow and a look at the extreme Baywatch setup they have on the beach where the lifeguards have to jump over a spiky fence before making the rescue!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

After chancing our arms and managing to sneak our 'slightly' over-sized rucksacks through Dublin airport, we eventually got nabbed at Heathrow and had to check-in what turned out to be a 15kg bag and perhaps the longest opening sentence for a blog entry ever!

Being my first flight in a long time on a non Ryanair plane, a 747 I guess, it was an altogether rather fancy affair with TV screens on the back of the seat rests with video games and movies to watch. So even-though I entered a caffenated Zombie mode there was plenty to do and some really excellent food (tasty curries for din dins and breakie too!).

After landing and grabbing our bags (at which point we noticed that Myra's funky keychain had been pinched enroute - I guess those Carrolls' mini Lephrechauns are even more valuable than we'd thought!) we entered the Sri Lankan version of 'Death Race 2000' a.k.a. Public Transport!

Now although Dave Gargan had warned me before leaving that neither the chicken nor the egg managed to make it across the road in Sri Lanka, I foolishly only laughed a little and straightened my J-Walking crown. Two minutes into the bus journey the crown was handed over to the driver and I prepared to fish out a fresh pair of boxers as we zoomed down the cluttered streets weaving in and out of the more-or-less on coming traffic (think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

Along with the driver is an assistant conductor who basically holds onto whomever wishes to hop off and checks if the inside lane is clear before 'helping' them down over the three foot drop. The more experienced locals opt for the delicate 'Tuck and Roll' departure technique which looks like it could well be on the Extreme sports channel before too long.

The next stop was the train station where we met Linton, a rather helpful local railway/tourist assistant, who more-or-less completely sorted out our travels on Sri Lanka not to mention some accomadation for the evening and pointed us in the right direction to collect our tickets for part two of the 'Death Race 2000' tournament - 'The Night Train'!

... which wasn't actually too bad but was great fun to see. The whole railway network seems to consist of the orignal British set of trains from back in the colonial days. The doors are usually left open for the entire journey and people just jump on from both sides of the track and clamber onboard or cling to the outside. We'll hopefully have a few photos to show you in a few days time.