Bagan Bound Myanmar: 27 – 29.10.2013

Our first overnight bus pulled out of the bus station perfectly on time; the steward came through giving everyone clean blankets and a little hot dinner with drinks, reclining our seats and switching our lights off. There was no loud music, no tacky karaoke, no hocking or spitting, no mobile phones ringing late into the night… just quiet as the bus rolled and bounced along, Bagan bound. Something seemed strange… it was too good to be true

Our luxury bus arrived into Bagan at 6am; the sky was just starting to show signs of light in the distance and rain was already falling. We stepped out and were immediately hit by taxi drivers and hotel touters at the ready; we’d arrived into tourist territory and again we were reminded that we absolutely underestimated this country.
We declined offers of “I’ll drive you the 6km to your guest house,” “just pay me how you like give me first customer lucky money”  and “It 3km away, too far for you”  and walked the 10 minutes along the road to a guest house.Taxi drivers are funny.
It was dark when we’d arrived but in minutes of walking the sky was getting lighter and lighter; we passed tea shops and small road house restaurants already brimming with people feasting on morning noodles, rice and Burmese tea.
The main road was pretty quiet; a few bicycles and motorbikes rode by, some stray dogs and the occasional woman carrying a basket on her head, but otherwise empty and silent.
Good morning Bagan.

Looking at the wet weather and feeling pretty tired from the overnight bus, we were not sure exactly what to do on our first day here in Bagan. It didn’t take too long for our guest house owner to help us out – he was straight to the point in saying that “Relax in your room today. Full moon day, no market. Everything close today. Rainy weather all day today, no clear sky. No good for temple. No good for Mt. Popa. No good for bike. Bad weather. You should be tired after bus ride. Relax today.”
Okay sir, will do…

The first day in Bagan was pretty much a nothing day; the rain continued to fall heavily all day and left the dirt roads nothing more than a flooded muddy mess. When we did attempt to explore the town on foot, large puddles forced us to walk through the muck and flowing rivers of water – our thongs acting like suction caps and flicking dirt up our legs and backs and motorbikes spraying us as they rode past.
Hoping the following day would be better weather, we planned to explore the temple area. E-bikes (electronic bikes) are everywhere for rent in Bagan and I was super keen to get my bum on one of those bad boys and zip and zoom all over this ancient city.

The next two days in Bagan offered us much better weather and an opportunity to explore the town and spectacular ancient temples and pagodas.

We started our second day by firstly paying an early visit to the large local markets which were still muddy and wet from the previous days’ rain. Within minutes mud had flicked up our legs and backs (and all over our clean clothing) and our thongs were suctioning us to the ground, causing us to near-miss falling flat on our asses in the mud. The markets were large, sprawling and smelling strongly of raw meat; that distinct smell that all Asian wet markets seem to have. People were everywhere and as we walked through the narrow alley way we dodged sick looking dogs and small playing children. Most of our concentration was taken up in an attempt  to step over and around the blood that was trickling down the meat market tables and spilling out into the mix of mud, water and filth on the ground. Whilst the many bare footed customers didn’t seem to worry about the blood and animal matter that spattered on their skin as they trudged through the slop, I did.
We watched as whole animal carcases were skinned, sliced and cut open, organs and gizzards hooked and hung out for sale, blood collected and pig head skins shoved out on display. The sellers were posed squatting in their lungis, bare footed, cutting and chopping with massive knives that sliced through entire animals in one loud chop. They talked and laughed and smiled as they handled the chunks of raw meat and fish – it was gutted and prepped and weighed, then shoved into metal dishes for sale. We were once again amongst the fascinating, foul smelling action. On the other side of the alleyway, all sorts of colourful vegetables and fruits were being sold. We turned a corner, away from the pungent smells that were forcing me to cover my nose and mouth with my sleeve, and were suddenly no longer in the locals area – we were in the tourist section. Damn.
“Lady, you want lungi, looking is for free” “You need wood carving? Laquerware? Bell? Metal thingy? Useless item? T-shirt with strange English translation? Ugly wooden cat?….”

We didn’t stay much longer.

Deciding we would head out to the temples, we started walking… Why not? It was about a 4km walk to the Old Bagan area and it was nice weather.
It’s hard to explain how it appeared and felt when we began to see these ancient ruins start popping up along the sides of the roads, through the over grown jungle grass and surrounded by thousands of dragon flies, but it was pretty spectacular. These 4000-odd Buddhist temples that are dotted about a massive area of land could be compared – in their own magnificent way – to the temples of Angkor Wat, and were truly stunning.
I think you are supposedly meant to pay $15 USD for a week long general entrance ticket to the temples but there was no ticket seller around anywhere and no one checking tickets, so… awesome! I checked this later with the guest house manager and he said “no one is checking so don’t buy.” Love it.

Walking along the roads and dirt tracks, we took time to move about the little temples and structures as we chose. There are so many of these marvelous structures, it’s not hard to find one that is completely empty and it was amazing to have such an area to explore by ourselves. We found one temple that, when we climbed up the dark narrow staircase, offered us a stunning view over a large area of Old Bagan and surrounding temples. Thousands of them seem to just sprout up from the greenery to give a view that is spectacular; one that no words – or my dodgy camera – can do justice…

We spent our third and final day in Bagan zooming around on bikes and exploring the temple areas. Whilst I chose a gnarly looking e-bike (a tiny bike with a massive battery on the back that whizzes along at a surprisingly fast speed), Jake chose a pedal bicycle. I tried to get him to hire an e-bike; I wanted us both to have the opportunity to speed around on one of these bad boys, seeing as we don’t get to back home, but he was eager to stay “traditional.”

Trying to negotiate the muddy, wet, pot-holey roads and the many unorganised road users – human and animal – with an e-bike was at first a little bit daunting, but before long I was speeding along at a “medium speed”… (actually a lot faster than I was expecting).
We headed out towards the area we had visited on foot yesterday, planning on travelling much further down through Old Bagan to the area where there are lots of these stunning ancient structures (although, there seem to be lots everywhere!) but, of course, Jake’s bike tyre went flat about an hour into our explorations. We’d been to just a few temples before we were forced to turn around and walk the hour or so back into town – me pushing the bike and Jake riding my e-bike at a walking pace alongside me. “Should’ve gotten an e-bike…”

Back in town, Jake selected another bicycle from the pretty dodgy selection and again we were off. We took a different road to get to some different temples – the road that runs parallel with the main road was much quieter and in a much better condition – and we had a lot of fun zooming down the flat stretches of road. We hopped from temple to temple, walking bare foot through ancient ruins and structures with murals from hundreds of years ago covering the bricks. Again, no words to describe it.

We met a young Burmese guy who was very eager to tell us where to see the best views and what temples we should go to; he was super kind but… no, we don’t actually want to buy any paintings, sorry.
Back on our bikes, we zipped over the road and up a very muddy and wet dirt path – almost getting bogged more than once along the way – towards the Buledi Stupa. Supposedly with some of the best views over the area, we climbed the several steep stairs up to a view point that literally left me awe struck. There are just so many temples… so many. Breath taking.
We stayed up for a while just trying to take in the view and the structures that dotted around us for such a far and wide distance. Shiny golden pagodas peeped through the greenery, along with the red-coloured bricks of the ancient temples and massive structures.

As the sun was setting we took in our last views of the scenery before hopping back on our bikes to head back into town before dark… but of course, we couldn’t just have a leisurely non-eventful ride back– Jake’s bum was obviously too heavy for these Asian-made bikes and he bent the actual metal bike seat pole: it just folded all of a sudden like a piece of paper crumbling. I was riding along and heard a sudden loud noise and then “shit!”…

We arrived back into Nyaung U town at peak hour where we shared the road with all sorts of people and animals and vehicles. It was dusty and chaotic and there were roosters strutting about, children playing on the road side and water spilling out from somewhere unknown… people riding on the opposite side of the road, women carrying large baskets and dishes of goods on their heads and restaurants gearing up for the evening rush. We rolled into the bike rental shop where the faces of the staff members dropped when they saw Jake’s bike… and then changed from a state of shock to a state of laughter whilst the male staff member said “too strong” and tensed his biceps. Jake went next door to the conveniently located bike repair shop and bought a new pole for 1500kyats ($1.50c)… so, not so damaging on the wallet, thank goodness.

Since we are leaving Bagan tomorrow headed for Mandalay, we spent some of the final evening cleaning up our mess: after two nights here we’ve “somehow” managed to spread our (my) belongings across the entire room. I had done some laundry that wasn’t quite dry, so had it hanging over the furniture. As I sat there amongst the mess and drying clothing in my mud-splattered trekking pants, treating a bottle of water with the steri-pen, I thought to myself… “We’re really here. We’re true backpackers…”

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Inside the Fort: Galle, Sri Lanka

Arriving in Galle after 5pm – exhausted, hot and sweaty, dirty and frustrated – having only minutes earlier been prayed upon by a sea of tuk tuk drivers ready and willing to rip us off, we arrived inside the Galle Dutch Fort.

Instantly, we were taken a back by the impressive forte walls and the beautiful UNESCO heritage streets and  lane ways, lined with quaint, old-fashioned Dutch homes with intricately carved window frames, peeling paint and charming little gardens. Handicraft shops, art galleries and cafe’s are all around, and I was very much looking forward to exploring

Early morning empty streets inside the fort

Early morning empty streets inside the fort

Surveying a small area of the fort, we hoped that local touts would be quick to identify us (how could they not, with our bulging packs and disheveled looks) and show us a room somewhere – and it didn’t take long. We got a good little room for a good price, above the family room of an elderly couple who, although spoke no English, were happy to smile at us every time they saw us.

It took four face washes before the white cloth would run clean on our skin, and two hair washes before the shampoo foam was no longer a grey colour. Never before had a cold shower felt better, and with the dirt, grime and pollution that the water washed away, so did any past frustrations and stress; with that, we were ready to spend our first evening in Galle exploring the fort.

Inside Galle Fort is beautiful and intricate, with quaint little shop fronts, tea houses, antique boutiques, homes, miniature gardens and cafes. A mix of old and new can be seen there; old in the architecture and buildings, lane ways, and of course the large fort walls, and new in flashy cafés, stylish shops and refurbishments. Tuk tuk drivers line the streets – as like everywhere else in Sri Lanka, but the vibe here is relaxed and laid-back, and the salty sea air and crashing waves beyond the light house and fort walls makes this place idyllic.

Galle Fort Light House

Galle Fort Light House

Quaint Dutch House Windows

Quaint Dutch House Windows

Heritage building inside the fort

Heritage building inside the fort

Street Art

Street Art

Heritage building inside the fort

Heritage building inside the fort

A section of Galle Fort

A section of Galle Fort

We settled in very quickly, thanks to our very generous couch surfing hosts, our beautiful surroundings and copious amounts of tea!

Our first day in Galle was spent simply walking around the Fort – we explored the little handicraft and chic shops, selling exquisite teas, beautiful gem stone jewelry and hand-made all sorts. We visited the lighthouse, and walked along the historic walls of the massive Dutch fort. We passed through the streets to the ocean, and found a perfect way to wind down after hours of exploration – lots of cups of tea.

King Coconuts for sale

King Coconuts for sale

The locals here are so friendly, with big smiles on their faces, and on our second day, when we moved guest houses, we were welcomed by an incredibly generous couple who looked after us well for our short stay.

Sun down in Galle Fort is a sight to be seen, and a really wonderful experience. People are just, suddenly, everywhere – locals and foreigners, young and old, school groups, families, couples, friends – they all come out to enjoy the evening; to walk along the fort walls overlooking the crashing waves of the ocean, to play cricket in the grassy area, to eat ice creams and street foods, to swim in the shallow water, and to socialize.

An evening in the fort

An evening in the fort

We passed so many people along the fort walls at sun down, and everyone seemed to be so simply happy. We passed a group of young men – one with a drum – who were singing and clapping and moving to the drum beat as they danced along the fort walls. We joined in with them – more by force than choice – and it was wonderful to share smiles and hand shakes with the locals.

Singing,  Dancing, Drumming and Smiles

Singing, Dancing, Drumming and Smiles

Sri Lankans seem to love hand-shakes; we’re forever putting our hands into the open, outstretched palms of smiling locals… but, then they never seem to want to let go: they hold on after the initial shake and continue to hold your hand until they’ve finished talking with you. People are so friendly with each other, with us, and it feels wonderful to be so welcomed.

We got caught up in the crowd of young singing and dancing boys who all wanted to talk to the foreigners – one was apologizing and claiming “I sorry, we are a little bit drink” – at which we all burst out laughing. It ended with the large group taking photo after photo after photo of us whilst they posed in every different way they could’ve thought of. After thanking us a hundred times over, I was able to put into practice the one Sinhalese saying I know – “pachnayak ne”  (no problem) – and the response was a group of boys all squealing with delight, and so, so many more hand shakes and smiles.

...Old Mate in the pink wants a piece.

…Old Mate in the pink wants a piece…can you guess which one is a little bit drink?

When we haven’t been exploring the fort, we’ve either been in the bustling, busy New Town area, taking small day trips to near-by coastal beach towns, or drinking cup after cup after cup of tea.

In new town, once you exit the walls of the fort, things are much more happening and lively; where you can easily get caught up in a whirl wind of people and traffic, beeping horns and touters, food vendors, lottery tickets and market stalls.
We found the old Dutch Markets where colourful vegetables are sold (and cheeky cows munch on stray egg plants), the fish mongers selling their massive tunas and other daily catches, and the fruit market area where we’ve been buying bunches of bananas and rambutans on a daily basis.

New Town bustle

New Town bustle

A cheeky cow sneaks an eggplant or six

A cheeky cow sneaks an eggplant or six

Back in the fort, we spend a happy couple of hours at the start, of end – or both – of each day drinking pots of tea at “our local haunt.” The owner of the café knows us already as his regulars; we sit down and he doesn’t even have to ask – he just says “I’ll get you a pot of tea” with a huge smile on his face. We can easily spend hours watching the passers by, and the frequent, but short lived, massive downpours of sudden rain.

Close to Galle city, easily reached by bus, we’ve been taking small half-day and day trips to beautiful beaches with wild, crashing waves. The places have been as equally fun to say, as they have been to actually visit. Hikkaduwa, Welligama, Koggala, Mirissa and Unawatuna; all little beach towns with palm trees hanging over the sand and waves and roti shops catering to western taste buds.

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Along the stretch of coast, on the road from Galle to Welligama, stilts jut out of the ocean with fishermen perched, somewhat precariously, on tiny seats. The ‘season’ for the fishermen is not so good at the moment we’re told – the oceans are rough and wild, the waves big and the rain heavy. We were lucky enough to see a handful of fishermen amongst many more empty stilts, and the sight of them alone is really fascinating. The stilts are passed on from generation to generation, and there is an absolute art to their trade – including making sure no foreigner captures a photograph of them without handing over a wad of cash.

Empty stilts

Empty stilts…

The weather in Galle has been on and off rain; enormous down pours that last just a little while, but dump massive amounts of water. Last night the rain was heavier than I’ve ever seen, and within minutes the water was flooding the roads and gushing down the streets.

Our mornings and evenings for the past three days have been spent with our couch surfing hosts (if you don’t yet know what Couch Surfing is, google.com it and get on it – it’s amazing!) who have been incredibly generous in making sure we are extremely well looked after, and just as well fed. On our last evening they requested pizza, and we were only too happy to cook for them. Finding the appropriate ingredients for western dishes, and furthermore, cooking in a foreign kitchen was a bit of a challenge – but we hope our pizza made them happy; it was a lot of fun to make! It’s been a fantastic experience to share the home of a local family, and we will miss our Sri Lankan family when we depart Galle tomorrow morning, with our sights set on Colombo.

We’ve been in Galle longer than the average tourist generally stays here; but then again, we don’t consider ourselves tourists – we’re travelers. Hours just spent watching and ‘being’, has meant that some of the locals have started to get to know us – they wave to us and come up to say hello. Being involved in Couch Surfing has meant we are not so much looked upon as tourists, but instead another friendly face in the fort.
It’s true – we could’ve left days ago, but we’ve been happy to mull about and explore a little longer, and Galle, and it’s people, have truly been a highlight destination during our in Sri Lanka.

Galle Fort Clock Tower

Galle Fort Clock Tower

A taste of Sri Lankan Kandy

The bus ride from Polonnaruwa to Kandy was spent packed in with a hundred-odd people who loved to stare at us, one chicken, no air conditioning and an overly horn-happy driver with a serious need for speed. Hurtling around narrow bends and built up areas, dodging people, animals and a ton of other road vehicles, we laughed nervously until we rolled into Kandy. We’d arrived in the cultural capital.

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The skies are a little more mysterious here – as if they couldn’t decide whether or not to rain – and the weather is cooler here; it’s a lovely change.

The scenery over the central lake and up above the hills is spectacular and green: tiny houses and buildings jut out and mist covers the distant mountains. This place is stunning.

A good looking view

A good looking view

The busy city centre is a sight worth seeing: women dress in brightly coloured flowing saris, people stream everywhere, and the central area is jam packed full of people and buses and other road users – one enormous chaotic traffic flow.

The buses get so close to you – and other vehicles – that you fear they’re about to collide, and people are packed in like sardines where ever they seem to go – on or off the bus.
There seems to be a few official bus stations, but instead the buses just seem to move about everywhere with no order – it’s as if sometimes they’re stopping here, sometimes they’re stopping there, and at other times, they’re not running at all. Regardless, where ever you go, it’s more than likely you’ll be surrounded by a cloud of petrol fumes and listen to the constant honking of several loud horns.

Traffic police stream the traffic, bringing pedestrians to a halt so that drivers can move, and again, so that people can walk safely – although sneaky tuk tuks try to pass through.

The Green Light

The Green Light

Street vendors are selling their goods where ever seems to suit – a woman selling cleaning products and sponges stands in a park, a shoe fixer sets up station on the busy walk way, and the bubble seller blows bubbles at you as you walk along the side walk.

They'll give you good price, very cheap, local price.

They’ll give you good price, very cheap, local price.

In the fresh produce markets, it’s hard to focus – too many things to see are happening at once and there is such a wide array of colourful fresh products; it’s hard to resist buying them even though we’ve got no where to cook them! The vendors give a quick wink at us as we walk through, then continue weighing on antique-looking scales and shoving egg plants and snake beans into tiny bags.

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We did happen to stumble on a cheeky fish monger who kept posing for us, insisting we photograph him. Of course, how could we resist when he whipped out the bloodied tuna head?

Here's Mr. Fishmonger's 5 minutes of fame

Here’s Mr. Fishmonger’s 5 minutes of fame

Of course, Kandy is a real tourist area – it’s famous dot on the Sri Lankan map lures the tourists in – therefore, there are always going to be those praying upon those who are a little more naïve, and it became a bit of a hassle to keep the pestering at bay, unlike the other areas we’d seen in Sri Lanka.

The tourists seem to move in droves here – we’re like pack animals – all hiding behind each other with our Lonely Planet guide books and mosquito repellant. 5pm comes and we’re all rolling down our pant-legs and rubbing citronella and Deet into our skin. And if you’re looking for the tourists areas – look no further than the 5:30pm nightly cultural dance show, where Kandyan dancing and drumming displays are commercialized yet rather enjoyable!

There are cafes here! Places to just sit, drink and enjoy! There is also a reasonable choice of restaurants! – something we’ve been missing a little in the other places we visited.

Dahl and Roti

Dahl and Roti

As for culture, we pretty much managed to avoid it here – not particularly by choice – but, well, it was more difficult to find than I thought it would be in the “cultural capital.” Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that we decided not to visit the two “top recommendation for tourists” – the sacred Temple of the Tooth and the Botanic Gardens.

Instead, we spent our time simply wandering about – we explored the markets for hours, ate some good food, visited a tea factory, learned about various spices, cooked Sri Lankan food with our home-stay hosts, took a tuk tuk up a mountain to the famous tea museum which ended up being closed, and walked around the large, beautiful lake.

Little markets

Little markets

...Get in your cot!

…Get in your cot!

Yay! Tea!

Yay! Tea!

Home-cooked curry

Home-cooked curry

Kandy Lake

Kandy Lake

Kandy was a lovely place to visit; it was good to just simply stroll and explore, but for now, we’re ready to move on and see something new and different. Tomorrow its off to Ella on the train – observation carriage all the way – to soak up the incredible scenery and tea plantations. I’m ready for another cuppa and some hill-country hikes, so let’s see what our next destination has to offer!

Sri Lanka: Big Smiles, Honking Horns and Curry!

My first impressions of Sri Lanka?
I’d have to say the big, big smiles.

Big smiles with red-stained teeth, covering the faces of the gorgeous people here. The women in bright, bold patterned outfits, and the men in their traditional skirts. Bicycles – lots of bicycles: sharing the road with trishaws and cars, buses and tractors, chickens, cows, dogs, goats, cats, people, motorbikes and more. The roads are filled with the obligatory Asian hectic traffic, which I seem to be able to best describe as “organised chaos.”
It’s busy here. And it’s hot: really hot – humid and sticky and wonderful.

We flew in to Colombo, Sri Lanka in the early morning, and headed to our accommodation in the beach city of Negombo. Holding on to the handles as our trishaw turned and darted and weaved through the traffic, we had to smile. We’re here – we are finally in Sri Lanka!

A quiet street in Negombo

A quiet street in Negombo

We spent our first day in Negombo, where we walked into the town, through the bustling and lively (and fish smelling) fish market to the city centre. It was exciting, but intimidating. We didn’t see one other tourist, and people everywhere around us were openly staring and laughing at these two very white foreigners. People were leaning out of their passing trishaws to get a better look at us, and the eyes following us were something we are not used to.

Negombo Fish Market

Negombo Fish Market

The hectic sprawl of Negombo city was bustling with life – so much colour and noise, people and traffic!
We spent a while wondering around Negombo looking for a bank that would accept our foreign cards – it took us 8 or 9 different banks before we found one that worked. Relief.
One thing is for sure – we now know that Sri Lanka has a large range of banks, should you wish to open an account.

We spent our first night in a little restaurant near our accommodation, enjoying Sri Lanka’s Lion Beer and traditional rice and curry. Sri Lankan curries are great fun – they come with all these little dishes in separate bowls, making for a real experience as you taste each one, trying to work out what it is.

Lion Beer and Vegetarian Curry

Lion Beer and Curry

On our second day, after sharing a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast with another Melbournian couple (Em was adventurous and ordered banana pancakes) we prepared for a day of travel, as we made our way inland from Negombo to Anuradhapura, an ancient city with sprawling ruins that was once Sri Lanka’s capital.

The bus rides there (two two-and-a-half hour rides) were a very new and, well, let’s say ‘different’ experience.
The first leg of the journey, Negombo to Kurunegala, was pretty standard – a dodgy looking bus that sped over the pot holes and unsealed roads at staggering speeds, dodging whatever was in it’s path. We took over the back seat of the bus so our big packs would fit – luggage storage doesn’t exist here on busses, apparently – and bounced our way into Kurunegala.

Kurunegala bus station is something else – something I can’t even put into words, although, I’ll try my best.
It is a station packed full of, surprise surprise, busses. But not just a few busses – lots, and lots, and then some more – all fighting for space and room to reverse and turn and move in. Horns honk constantly, as people mull everywhere. The smell of petrol fumes was overpowering, but the sights before us were just oh so wonderfully hectic! Finding a bathroom, first off, was an experience, as every person stared us up and down as we walked through the halls. Local touters and restaurant owners tried waving us down, “come lady, sir! Come madame, sit, sit, here, you come!”

To find our bus to Anuradhapura, a little man was kind enough to show us where to go. We waved his hand for us to follow, then marched us right on through and into the centre of the station, in front of and behind moving busses, through small gaps between vehicles, through groups of people and petrol fumes…
Then, when we managed to board the bus alive and take our seats on bus 57 to Anuradhapura, another little  man was kind enough to inform us “no A C.” (air conditioning)… Oh yes, the ride was about to get very interesting – and hot.

Before the bus started rolling, the “music of the station” as I decided to name it, began to ‘play’. As the bus engine hummed and shook, passenger after passenger kept boarding our bus. The humming engine and the footsteps of people provided the hum and pulse of the song. Constant honking of horns around us provided a beat. And the melody came from the many vendors who boarded our already jam packed bus, yelling out their sales pitches in the exact same tones over and over. Pop corn vendors, snack vendors, cold drink vendors, hot food vendors, fried food and short eat vendors… and then the picture book vendor and the gold jewelry vendor moved about, squishing through the bodies and touting their goods. What a sight and sound – we had to smile and laugh.

The following two and a half hours was a bum-numbingly, uncomfortably good time (We’re keeping things positive).
As we bumped and bounced and swayed in our tiny seats, every seat and space in the aisle of the bus was jam packed with passengers – I felt so sorry for the ticket fee collector who had to squeeze and shove his way through the crowd. Jam packed does not even begin to describe it: we were packed in so tightly, at times I wondered how any more people could actually fit in! People were leaning over me, on me, and around me. There is no such thing as personal space when it comes to travelling on a public bus, it would seem. If I didn’t have someone’s crotch rubbing on my shoulder, I had a stomach pressing against me, or someone standing on my feet, or staring at me from a few centimeters away, or breathing heavily on me… But still, it was all an experience – an uncomfortable at times but positive one – and we laughed and smiled our way through it; it was really a lot of fun.

And as the monsoon rain arrived and night closed in, and the bus driver continued to honk his horn and dodge and dive and weave, we looked forward to what we’d find in the ancient city we were about to arrive in: we could not be happier to be here in Sri Lanka.