“Flashpacking” is a loosely defined, upmarket variant of backpacking. We are more than happy to take on that moniker for a lot of our approach to travel. With flashpacking, you can have really extreme variation in the budget for different aspects of your travel. The driving considerations are just fun, comfort, and safety. One area that we’re seeing the contrast in budget quite a bit is in going really, really cheap with our overland travel and staying in pretty nice 4-5 star places. The dichotomy can be pretty entertaining…
We caught a ride yesterday through the mountains out of Nuwara Eliya to catch our train in Nanu Oya. We had gotten 3rd class tickets when we’d arrived three days ago at Nanu Oya, as they were already sold out of 2nd class tickets. Suffice it to say that there is a world of difference between 2nd and 3rd class. There are small benches instead of proper seats, and they face each other in a very, shall we say, cozy type of manner. Well, when we shuffled over to our reserved seats, there was a large observant Islamic family (one man and multiple woman of all ages) taking up both sides, including one older woman in one of our seats. We’ve traveled by train enough to know this: you don’t play musical seats. It doesn’t matter what seats are empty now, if you’re gonna be on a long ride, things are gonna change. If someone is in your seat, they’ve got to go, they’re gonna be checking your ticket multiple times, especially if you’re a foreigner, so get your assigned seat and hunker down. That being said, these particular ladies in all black and full headdresses where none too happy being displaced by us. It didn’t exactly start the train ride out very nice, as we were right in the middle of this large family. I just kept my mouth shut and let Martha address any of the women, and figured I’d address the husband if need be, which is really the extent of my ability to be culturally appropriate in that circumstance. It was a long train ride though, and apparently our combined skills in culturally competent diplomacy were sufficient. Before long, we were all getting along swimmingly, sharing snacks and Martha showing them pictures on her phone. It almost seemed like they might have even been a little sad to see us go when we got off in Kandy.
Once in Kandy (raining of course), we caught a tuk tuk to a guesthouse we had booked. It was located in a quiet but convenient area, but that was about all that was redeeming about it. That’s the problem with online reviews though, one person’s dream stay is another person’s nightmare. A lot of people gave this place really excellent reviews. From what we saw upon arrival, we can only assume most of those people are the type that lug around far bigger backpacks than ours (Oh, and probably also the type that wear genie pants). The main points for us though: complete lack of security, all doors and windows open, TONS of mosquitos, and finally (this is the really unacceptable part) minimally functioning Internet. We looked the place over and flashpacked our butts right across town to a 5-star hotel on the river. Of course, we rolled up in a broke down tuk tuk, weaving between Mercedes and BMWs. It’s a pretty classy way to make an entrance. Martha seems to enjoy these kind of entrances in particular. We did the same thing at Heritance Tea Factory: everybody else coming up in chauffeured tour sedans and we sputtered up the mountain in a tuk tuk. Love it.
So, today we caught a couple of the sites around Kandy, namely the Pinnawala elephant sanctuary and Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth). I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the elephant sanctuary beforehand, I must admit. There’s something a little depressing about elephants to me, I’m not sure what it is. They just seem like deeply sad creatures. Also, somehow, when it comes to exploiting animals for the entertainment of tourists, elephants just don’t have the same appeal for me as, say, big cats like tigers, lions, cheetah, etc. But in Sri Lanka, elephants are kind of a thing, so we figured…. Why not? Martha admitted later she was actually really looking forward to the elephants. We both had a really good time though. We got to bottle feed some baby elephants and they had a number of babies out where you could interact with them pretty freely, and the babies were really friendly. Nearly getting in the middle of a stampede of elephants, twice no less, also probably added to the entertainment value of the experience. As for the temple of the tooth, well, not a lot to say. It was a bit claustrophobic. Once they had everybody crammed into this area in the temple where the tooth of Buddha is under a big gold bell, they kept banging on all these drums and people were putting flowers all over the place and they drug it out for a really long time before letting anybody walk by. A western girl got a little dramatic and sat down crying and acting lightheaded, bringing further shame upon us weak-willed westerners. I felt a little sorry for her boyfriend trying to placate her.
Anyhow, that’s the update for now. We couldn’t resist the temptation of Pizza Hut for dinner tonight. We were hoping the “Deviled Chicken” and “Spicy Chicken Tandoori” pizzas here in Sri Lanka might deliver some spice. Alas, they did not. Tomorrow, we’re taking a pretty long day trip north to Dambulla caves and Sigiriya temple complex.