Friday, Day 7 and following our final breakfast at Castle Hill Bungalow, Kandy, we are finally off on a train ride to Nuwara Eliya. At the train station in Kandy, Charlotte decides it will be a fabulous idea to have a few nibbles for the journey. It’s due to take 4 hours to climb into the mountains on this Tea Train (with a top speed of around 32kph), but as we are already 15 minutes late starting off and no one seems remotely concerned, there’s plenty of time to check the food items on offer at the station shop.
She returns with two lightly spiced vegetable triangles and two sweet pancakes. Ideal comestibles for a long and arduous train ride. An hour into our travels and we are sampling the treats.
Five eye watering minutes later and my Scovilled mouth has just about numbed down to an acceptable level of red hot stinging after one bite of the supposedly lightly spiced triangle, 2 litres of water and a lemon puff dredged from the flotsam jetsam that is always in the depths of Charlotte’s bag! How that innocent looking triangle can pass as food is a total mystery to me. Gasping, I look at Charlotte who is ploughing on through her triangle, tears streaming from her eyes.
I’ll save mine for a little later… like when I’m starving… and even then I might take a rain check on it. Radioactive half-life of far too long! In the end I gave it a miss. Life is too short to burn!
“Come and hang out of the train and take a selfie” quips Charlotte, as I’m sat sitting, shivering in the air-conditioned First-Class carriage.
Now before you all get too excited with the notion that this Tea Train is something equivalent to the Orient Express and we are travelling in the lap of luxury with staff waiting on our every need, the cost of this one-way ticket on this single track line to the tea plantations in the hills was 9$ each. The train was rammed full of people and the only noticeable difference between First and Third class were doors and windows. In First-Class, these were sealed against the external heat and wildlife whereas in Second-Class you could open the doors and windows (no aircon), and Third-Class, no aircon, no doors, no glass, but lots of chickens and goats and assorted livestock though… Maybe a slight exaggeration there, but you get the idea… One fabulous thing to note here is that rather than turn the whole train round at the final destination, at the end of the line, you could spin the double seats completely round to face the other direction thereby everyone avoiding the sitting backwards issue! What a great piece of engineering.
In answer to Charlotte and not wanting to miss out on the apparent opportunity of a lifetime to hang out of a train carriage, risking life and limb, I staggered to where she was between carriages in a highly excited, windblown state of exuberance, hanging out of the train and throughly enjoying herself. I looked out. I looked down.
And there was my mistake. Looking down from a moving train, no matter how fast or slow it was going, was always going to set off my vertigo. I clung like a shipwrecked sailor to the wreckage of my inner strength, as my hand clenched like a steel vice around the handle bolted to the external side of the carriage. Wow, is this making me feel sick! I didn’t hang around long enough for Charlotte to take a photo of me, but instead scuttled back to the safe confines of First Class!
Leaping nimbly (blatant exaggeration) from the train with our suitcases at Nuwara Eliya’s station, Nanu-Oya, it became abundantly clear to Charlotte and me that in future, any travel undertaken by us to this type of destination requires a totally different style of baggage. Out will be the shirts and jackets (I even didn’t take a tie with me this time) and also out are the hard shell suitcases. In will be rucksacks and rolled, quick-dry clothing on a small scale. Lugging our clobber around these last few days has, to put it mildly, been preposterous, bordering on pretentious, so in future we will learn the error of our ways and travel light. Far, far lighter. Rough Guide or Lonely Planet style.
We have a 3 wheeler tuktuk to take us from the train station to the guest house. That’s if the driver and I manage to bump start it. See Daniel putting his shoulder to the tuktuk. See Daniel heaving at it to get it rolling. See Charlotte’s tears of laughter that followed. You couldn’t make it up, except that it really just happened.
Huge suitcases stashed on the back seat and floor, Charlotte squeezes in, closely followed by meself. If we each turn sideways we sort of fit. Luckily it’s not too far to go now. The road snakes higher into the mountains. This is tea plantation land.
We are almost there and our driver is now asking us for directions. Always a good thing to know that even the local hasn’t a clue where he’s going.
Finally he safely deposits us at our ‘home from home’ (as the welcoming owner described it – he obviously has no idea who we are or where we live), we take a quick rest before meeting the co-founder of Tea Leaf Trust which is the Charity we are here to engage with over the next few days.
Following Meeting 1 we return to our accommodation for the evening whereupon a massive mountain storm knocks the power off. The owner rushes around handing out emergency battery powered lights which gives an impression of this not being the first inconvenience of this nature. He assures us that normality will be restored very soon. We all know what that means… Goodnight lovely people, see you on the other side.
Saturday, Day 8 isn’t even dawning. The power has been restored. It’s 00h45 and Charlotte is tapping away on the laptop in preparation for today’s meeting.
This island has a (totally tropical) thirst-type-taste for information and knowledge in its quest for self improvement. Individual, charitable and corporate.
More meetings today and working on governance and job roles. My, this is fun stuff. What’s not so fun is that I appear to have similar symptoms to a touch of sunstroke or possibly even altitude sickness or maybe a chill. I’ve come over all feverish and shivery yet I’m burning up and bright red.
We are down to our last two headache pills. I just asked Charlotte where the pharmacy is and apparently it is right next to the cake shop! What a sublime, convenient coincidence that is eh?!! Cake anyone?
With me drugged up on some pills we make it to the golf club veranda seconds before the 2pm monsoon hits with a vengeance. In this part of the country and at this time of the year, you really don’t need to wear a watch at all. Sunrise at 6am, sunset at 6pm, monsoon at 2pm. The rest of the time is simply in-between. Time for a cup of Ceylon tea. And why not! Well, as we aren’t actually members of this fine golf club, there’s no way we should just walk in here, sit down and ask for tea for two. In fact, they’ve just asked us for the third time whether we are members and I’ve fudged around the answer saying that we were here yesterday and are waiting for our friend to arrive who knows you all… the tea is nice though. Our imaginary friend who is/was/might be a member had better arrive soon or else we could be feeling the sharp pointy end of a highly polished Nuwara Eliya Golf Club manager’s shoe, as our ice for skating on is getting rather thin as it is now 3.30pm and we are dragging out this pot of tea somewhat.
We’ve just been asked whether it’s time for a G&T. That’ll extend the ability to remain seated for a while longer. It’s far harder to kick someone out if they’re sat sitting. The next time I happen to darken their doors I shall use the immortal line that has got me everywhere a pass or membership hasn’t been readily available or quickly forgeable which is “Do you not know who I am?” That tends to take the wind right out of their sails at the fear of offending someone so important they haven’t even risen to the heady heights of knowing who it is they are asking to prove their identity!
Finally Tim Pare from Tea Leaf Trust arrives and we crack on with the business of the day. By 6pm I am flagging so Charlotte continues in my absence while I head back to a darkened room for some much needed shuteye. I’m supposed to meet them in half an hour for dinner but that would mean leaving now and as I’ve just got into bed I think I’ll give it a miss.
Sunday, Day 9 and for the first time this trip we haven’t been woken by singing, chanting and drum banging Buddhist monks at 5am. Disturbingly quiet except for the frogs and dogs that roam these parts.
Today is our third night in this home from home room, after which we are moving rooms to accommodate new arrivals.
Curry for breakfast has been interesting for the last two days. You might think with my delicate constitution such a diet would wreak havoc. However, add to the curry the watermelon, papaya and bananas, with a side of yoghurt and I’ve had no I’ll effects whatsoever in that below stairs department. Joy is unconfined. I’ve finally found a regime that works and doesn’t necessitate leaving a loo roll in the fridge overnight!
Monday, Day 10. I awake bathed in a lathering pool of sweat. If a non-swimmer wasn’t wearing armbands, at this precise moment, we would be dealing with a drowning. Quite fortunate then that I can swim. As I break the surface of consciousness, I realise that the fluidity around me is cold. I ask Charlotte for a cuddle to warm me up. She reaches a hand over from the far side of the football pitch that masquerades as our sleeping quarters, touches me and recoils in horror at the moist contact. I have to ask her to remove my T-shirt as it has become hermetically sealed to my torso. I raise my arms for removal of the offending item and then launch it weakly in the direction of the wash bag at the foot of the bed.
Wash bags on an extended trip such as this will become, after a few days of 34° and glowing gayfully or, as in my case, sweating out every salt and electrolytic enzyme known to man, a sackful of deep dread. As you move from place to place, you still have to carry this offending cesspit of stench and moist undergarments with you wherever you go.
I’m sure we can all conjure up to mind the young backpackers returning to their native lands following extended sojourns in foreign climes, where it looks like all they own is one pair of sandals, thin three quarter length khaki linen trousers, coupled with a tie-dyed shirt, beaded necklaces and bracelets and topped by a head of matted, dreadlocked hair that hasn’t seen sight of a comb or brush in the last six months, with not a scrap of dirty washing needing to be done, save burning of the clothes they’re standing up in followed by a thorough hosing down outside in the yard prior to crossing the threshold of any establishment where cleanliness is remotely anywhere slightly next to godliness.
In our case though, we have a bag. Should it be hanging from a corner of our rucksack in the fresh air and away from any clean clothes we have remaining? Quite possibly, had we thought more like gap-year students touring a tropical island in the sun! As it happens, instead, we have the two formal hard shell suitcases that we have to drag from village to village, hotel to guesthouse, making us the most noticeable, standing out like sore thumb, white-skinned-out-of-their-comfort-zone ageing foreigners, this side of wherever it is we are now, with a dirty clothes sack secreted in far too close proximity to what remains of our clean garments.
In future, should we ever undertake this sort of adventure again, we will be ditching the multiple shorts, trousers, shirts, formal jackets (although I must point out that looking smart is a necessary prerequisite of the English chap abroad), plethora of socks and undershanks, and instead, travel light.
The only drawback I can currently see to this, having been in Kandy and the surrounding area for a week, then catching the mountain tea transportation train to Nuwara Eliya, is the difference in not only the climate but also the altitude. That alone necessitates differing levels of required clothing. From three quarter length linen trousers and tie-dyed t-shirts, to needing fleeces and jeans and (for me) an oxygen mask to go anywhere or do anything!
Lucky then that this part of the world has so many 3 wheeler tuktuks to whisk you from the Grand Hotel to the Golf Club, to upper mountain homes to meet the lovely people here, ‘to infinity and beyond’. These drivers are worth every penny as they negotiate the roads (potholes), traffic and pedestrians that make their job resemble the Runaway Train ride at Euro Disney!
In tomorrow’s final instalment, we will be working with the Tea Leaf Trust Charity Central Team. Look out for the Daily Dribble Travel Blog to Sri Lanka, when both Charlotte and I…
Carry on regardless!
Foodie Photos… Make your own lunch day and plop it on a lily leaf plate…