The train hummed in the background as Lewis and I made our way down the platform, practically tripping over our tired feet. What a journey! I had thoroughly enjoyed every minute staring out of my train window and taking in the beauty of Sri Lanka. I had never been anywhere like it before. It was so lush and tropical but the thing that really hit me the most was the culture. Oh, the culture! Sri Lanka just oozes culture and I wanted to fully embrace it. But for now, I needed food.
Organised as I am, I had arranged a life from Kandy station. Our hosts at our AirBnB for tonight had asked us if we'd like a lift to which I happily accepted and for a mere £2, what could go wrong? If we hopped in a tuk-tuk it wouldn't be any cheaper and our host would know the exact location of the villa, saving us having to scramble around down narrow roads searching for it.
I glanced at the message on my phone. It read 'Peter will be waiting for you in a red car.' Great. So we just needed to look out for the red car. As we exited the station, I scanned for the car. Fortunately, most cars in Sri Lanka are either white or grey so Peter's car stood out like a sore thumb - literally (you know red like a sore thumb? I'm hilarious). We trotted over to greet Peter.
Like everyone we had met in Sri Lanka, Peter was very welcoming and friendly. He immediately offered to put our bags away and was keen to speak to us throughout the whole journey. Best of all, he even asked if we'd eaten! When I told him he hadn't he looked surprised and I couldn't blame him. Half 2 in the afternoon is a very late time to have lunch. Peter told us that he knew of a great place where we could get street-food, very close to the villa. That sounded perfect!
Chicken and rice street-food
We arrived at the food stall and I nearly salivated at the look of all the food. How was I possibly going to choose?
"Do you like spicy?" Peter asked.
"Yes, I love spicy!" I couldn't have sounded more excited.
I was happy when Peter then proceeded to order for us. I'm unsure exactly what curry we got but I know that it was chicken and rice. Sri Lankans call all curry 'curry and rice' but there are so many curries that they do!
I watched as the food was prepared and we couldn't help but smile as a young boy working there accidentally caused a curry explosion. I don't know quite how it happened but in a flash curry burst in his face and on the wall behind him. He took it good-naturedly and even laughed at himself.
We were handed our food in plastic bags. Like, the food was literally just in a plastic bag. I was amazed it didn't spill everywhere. Food in hand, we returned to the car where we continued our journey to the villa.
Our AirBnB in Kandy
All of our accommodation for this Sri Lanka trip was booked through Airbnb. I never went for the most grand places but instead searched by highest rated and of course, location. It just so happened that with this AirBnB, we were practically the only one's staying there so we had the entire villa to ourselves. With 5 bedrooms, it can normally take quite a few guests, so you can imagine what space we found ourselves with.
The villa was perched on the edge of the 'Mahaweli Ganga' river, just outside of central Kandy. We deliberately booked somewhere a little further out of the town for not just peace, but to be surrounded by nature. Nature is definitely my thing.
Mahaweli Ganga literally translates to 'Great Sandy River'. It is in fact the longest river in Sri Lanka and is normally a green-blue colour. However, after heavy rains across Sri Lanka, we didn't get to witness the beauty of it. On this day the was brown with churned up mud from the rains.
We were greeted at the villa by a women, sister to the villa's owner. The owner lived in Europe now so she managed the property alongside Peter as well as her husband. It was wonderful to meet her and at once we were offered some tea by Peter.
My stomach growled, reminding me how hungry I was. With no time to lose, we unwrapped out food which actually spilled out awkwardly onto the table. I was too hungry to complain. I took my first bite. Oh, it was good and it was actually hot. Normally when I ask for food spicy, I never actually receive spicy food but in this instance my mouth was burning. With only a hot tea to wash it down, I'd have to withstand the heat which wasn't helped by the boiling afternoon air. Well, we did ask for it spicy!
Chatting to the villa's owners in the gardens beside the river
The view across the river (Mahaweli Ganga)
Whilst we were eating, Peter started telling us about all the wonderful things we could do around Kandy before asking us what we had planned for the afternoon. I felt a little guilty having to announce that we would be staying at the villa before venturing out for some dinner that evening. Everyone in Sri Lanka seemed so proud of their towns and wanted the tourists to explore and make the most of it.
On every trip we always seem to have a wobble. When the housekeepers left us to ourselves, it was time for one.
The same issue keeps occurring. Fast travel just isn't quite for me. Or perhaps I haven't quite got the balance right with fast travel. By the time we had reached our villa in Kandy and eaten our lunch, it was getting on for the evening. We had experienced a full day of travelling and now all I wanted to do was curl up and rest. The fact that we had yet another full day of travel the next day made me feel slightly disheartened, but not more than Lewis who was almost sleeping on his feet. The thought of an 8 hour train ride the next day nearly made him cry - well not really but he looked pained.
In fact, it got so bad that we thought about reconsidering the next full day of travel. We were exhausted and hadn't had the chance to explore anywhere yet. We'd been to Negombo, Colombo and now Kandy but virtually seen none of it. Is this what travelling is meant to be like? I read articles online where people visit different places every day but how do they do that? It's especially hard when you have to spend time thinking about filming and photography as well. Once I'd flown the drone down the river, the sun was practically set.
We decided that the best thing we could do was sleep and decide on our action plan in the morning. We'd aim to get the train tomorrow morning, with another 6am start, but if we really felt knackered, we'd knock the plan on the head. It was a brutal decision. Both Lewis and I had been so excited about the train from Kandy to Ella. We'd been talking about it for weeks. I'd actually never seen him so excited for an adventure before. Now, because of my stupid planning, it may not even happen. I wanted to wail in despair. Why do I never learn? This is exactly what happened in Namibia and now we're in the same situation. I'd genuinely tried to make this trip slower and miss things out but I just seem to have this annoying desire to stretch myself too far. Never again, I vowed.
Now we were left with another issue on our hands. We were alone in a villa without food or anyone to offer to cook for us. We had to go out to eat somewhere. It was dark outside, the internet was terrible and we had no idea where the nearest restaurant was. Peter had said it was only up the road but in which direction and how far is that?
My belly rumbled. We were going to have to look for it. It would be our only hope of eating tonight.
We left the villa. It was pitch-black outside except for occasional flicker of light from someone's house. We became accustomed to the lullaby of crickets and in the distance, the muffled barking of dogs. We had no idea where we were going or how we were going to get there. I had a hunch that we should go right out of the villa as that's where we came from and it should lead back to the main road where there's bound to be restaurants.
We began to head off in that direction, walking in eerie silence through the darkness. Other than the thudding of our footsteps, the humid night air was quiet except for the chorus of crickets, almost a murmur in the background now. My stomach growled again, reminding us exactly what were doing. The things we do for food, huh?
We came to a junction and I decided we should go left. I was essentially retracing the tracks of the red car that had driven us to the villa. I still had no idea really what we were going to find.
We passed an animal, crouching in the dark. At least, I thought it was an animal. Its black pelt was melting into the shadows, making it practically invisible apart from the slow movement of a head turning. I guessed it must have been a dog, seeing as they were normally all over the roads.
We continued on where we became caught in a beam of light from a nearby street-light. Suddenly, from only a few feet ahead of us came a flurry of aggressive barking and snarling. My heart beat hard inside my chest as the gruff cries caught me off guard. My eyes flashed weakly in the dark, trying to focus on the culprit of the sound. Alas, I could see nothing. I could just hear manic growling which seemed to be edging closer with every heartbeat.
Shit, I thought. Is it coming towards us? The growling and barking seemed to echo from the shadows which surrounded us. In every direction more dogs would join in on the barking, communicating to one another that there was a potential threat. The worst part was that I couldn't see them but I could sense that they were all around us and judging by the sounds, they were close too. I could just picture them, tails erect, ears pinned back against their skulls as they flashed their pearly fangs. Their message was clear. Don't come here.
"Let's go back." I conceded, trying to hide the tremor from my voice.
It was hard enough trying to find this restaurant in the dark on our own, but with aggressive and potentially rabid dogs yelling at us, the task became virtually impossible. If we were confident that the restaurant was this way and was close, we perhaps would have continued. But this situation seemed too risky.
We turned to head back, only to halt in our tracks as we made out the form of a large dog standing in the middle of the road, its head lowered and its tail motionless behind it. Concealed by shadow, it was impossible to tell if it was being aggressive.
Just then, a light flickered out of the corner of my eye and a women came out of her house. The commotion must have got her attention. Perfect! I could have sighed with relief. I decided that we could talk to her and find out where the restaurant is and the dogs also may no longer see us as a threat if we were bonding with the residents.
Unfortunately, she couldn't speak a word of English. Thus we couldn't hold a conversation with her, although I could sense she was keen to help. I suppose the only thing we could do now was give up and head back to the villa. I turned back to the dog in the road which had now at least retreated to one side, though it kept shooting us wary glances as the barking persisted around us.
We took our chances and walked around it, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. I was disappointed when it approached us with the sharp jerking movements of an aggressive canine. We managed to pass it and it didn't try to follow us. Making sure not to run or seem hurried, we made our way back to the villa which, it turns out, we had barely left.
We went hungry that night. With no food or other people in the villa, we were pretty much stranded. I suppose we could have called a tuk-tuk but we had no idea where we wanted to go and after the trauma with the dogs, we were feeling rather dejected and shaken. It seemed to have drained all our remaining energy away and now all we wanted to do was curl up and rest.
Sadly, we couldn't even find solitude in the night. The barking never did cease. Our ears were ringing with the yelping, screaming and growling of numerous stray dogs. The noise was almost like something out of a dream. It was surreal. Judging by the sounds, it didn't sound like all the dogs were getting on. Was that the cry of a dog in pain? Was that a growl of aggression? I just wanted to sleep but the hours slipped by and the night was still alive with canine arguments.
When at last the barking quieted, it was deep into the night and I knew at the very best, we were only going to get a couple of hours sleep that night. Our alarm would disturb us at 6am.