On Boxing day 2004 the Tsunami that none of us alive at the time will ever forget made its way for Sri Lanka. By lunch time three quarters of the coastline was destroyed. It claimed the lives of over forty thousand people and made over a million more homeless. It was also the cause of the world’s worst railway crash at Telwatta as the Tsunami washed the train away and caused the death of over 2,000 people in a single punishing swipe.
Over a billion dollars worth of damage was caused and the country found itself on its knees.
I found this BBC report from Sri Lanka the day of the Tsunami, it makes for harrowing reading: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4125581.stm
The Sri Lankan government reacted by imposing the ‘100m rule’ which essentially meant that no one who lived within 100m from the coast could rebuild their homes. The land surrounding the coastline is particularly lucrative and it wasn’t long until those with money found ways around the ruling whereas those without money found themselves not only homeless but without their land.
Thankfully the international community pulled together and I have seen several things sponsored by USAid though much of the coastline has been rebuilt there still remain remnants and destruction from that fateful morning.
Though it is not possible to accurately predict an earthquake there are now warnings in place so that once an earthquake of such magnitude causes a tsunami a quick response of warnings and evacuations should kick in hopefully ensuring that such a loss of lives never happens again. Unfortunately since Tsunamis cannot be stopped lives may be saved by the destruction they cause cannot.
We left Negombo on the 10.45am bus headed toward Kandy and within minutes we had had enough. The cost was a mere 100 rupees each and the 120km journey was to take four hours. Now, only someone who has been on a bus in Sri Lanka or Indonesia will know just how painfully uncomfortable they are. The room between the seats is just wrong, you have to shimmy into the seat and are then totally unable to move for the duration you are there. The driver has obviously been told he has a day left to live and so in a rush of madness cares not for the speed at which he goes around corners on the wrong side of the road or how fast he drives along roads with thousand meter drops. In the UK he would be banned for careless driving, in Sri Lanka he is employed.
The journey was an absolute nightmare and one of the worst bus journeys I have ever taken. Though the scenery was particularly gorgeous I just couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the bus and both kids felt the same. Charlie even offered “Dad can we get off and use some of my spending money to get a taxi”
Sri Lanka is particularly good at offering travellers three things; beaches, culture and nature/wildlife. For the latter two the place most people will head to first is Kandy. At the heart of Sri Lanka I thought it was a bit snide, not attractive in any way and completely superseded by the surrounding beauty. Most places to stay are on or around Saranankara rd which is just up from the Lakeside. It is quite easy to avoid Kandy if you are heading North to Sigiriya, simply change buses at Kandy to Dambulla (2hrs) and then onward to Sigiriya (30 mins) Whilst in Kandy we looked at heading up to Sigiriya the following day and I got talking a couple of Germans who told me they had just spent the last three days up there waiting for the rain to stop. It turns out that the monsoon has come late this year and whereas it should have been and gone by now it started only two weeks ago. This was also confirmed to me the hotel manager where we were staying.
Given that the Cultural Triangle is North of Kandy and was currently getting lashed by the monsoon I had a chat with the kids and we discussed just what we wanted to do. Between us we changed our plans and got the remainder of our time in Sri Lanka sorted out.
One night in Kandy was enough and we decided to head deep into Sri Lanka and head for the village of Nuwara Eliya. Swearing never to get a bus in Sri Lanka we decided to take the train there. It left from just outside Kandy at Peradeniya Junction. The train would ditch us at Nanu Oya and then we would make the few kilometres to Nuwara Eliya ourselves. That particular train journey is also supposed to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Having been on some damn beautiful train journeys in Indonesia I was hoping for the best. At 8.50am this skanky looking tin pot 500 year old train with only 5 mini carriages pulled into the station. The train was so pack jammed people were hanging out of the windows and doors and our day instantly got worse. The 65km journey took almost 5 hours. That’s and average of 13km per hour which is about 7 miles per hour. There wasn’t a spare inch of space and it was the worst train journey I have ever been on. Charlie once again offered to pay for the taxi. The scenery was nothing short of breathtaking but the fact we had to sit in yoga like positions fighting off cramp and numbness in our limbs put a downer on the whole thing. So we have come to realise two things about Sri Lanka;
Public transport is a nightmare, it is laborious, frustrating and extremely slow and inefficient. Flitting between cities seamlessly like we had been used in India was gone, now even the smallest of trips needed half a day.
Secondly is costs, Sri Lanka is expensive. Budget places offer lower standards than elsewhere in Asia for twice, often three times or more the cost. Food is at prices comparable to the UK and tuk tuk drivers must all be millionaires for the amount they charge.
We are still loving it though, the hospitality is second to none and the scenery means you have to continuously pick your jaw up from the floor.
We finally made it to Nuwara Eliya and are staying with a family high up in the hills. It is notably cooler here at around 17 degrees and so whilst the coal fire burns the kids sit watching CBBC on satellite TV and I look out over tea plantations and at mountains being lashed by mist, the smell of our tea being cooked creates the perfect Sri Lankan atmosphere.
No doubt about it we are in paradise, I could seriously slap myself for only allowing us nine days in Sri Lanka – What on this planet was I thinking!
Anyway, we can look forward to a 5am start tomorrow morning and what should be an amazing day…