Saturday, September 17, 2005

Safety Lesson #1

[Editor's Note: I realize that loved ones are reading this, but, I'm still going to be honest (mostly) with what i post here.. even if it could potentially worry you. Sorry.]

As I said before, Colombo was not the most pleasant place in the world - noisy, dirty, traffic congested, and so I wanted to get out as soon as possible. After consulting my travel guide, I learned that there was an "express" train (2.15 hours) down the coast to Gaul at 17:45. However, it seems that my cellphone clock was incorrect (I always assumed they got their time from cellphone towers, but it apears mine doesn't), and so I missed this train. Thus, I waited for the 7:30 train.

One upside of this, was that I got to the station early enough to guarantee myself the first seat on the train. 30 minutes later, as the train departed, it was packed to the rafters with commuters heading home. Unfortunately, this train was not an express train, and would be making 17 stops between Colombo and Gaul, finally arriving just before Midnight.

As each stop went by, the train shifted away from the sardine can atmosphere to a more casual environment, in which one could stretch their legs. Throughou the journey (as in most other places thus far here), people were anxious to talk to me (Sir, what is your name, country, where are you going, job, etc). As I was riding in second class (and not the crummy 3rd class), I sat next to mostly middle class folks, including one chap who I later learned was a Justice of the Peace - a handy business card that might get me out of trouble later.

3 hours into the journey, my 2nd class cabin contained just 2 gentlemen, who I had been talking to, and myself. These gentlemen seemed to be rather worried, especially when a number of shifty looking individuals entered the cart, and sat down across from me. What I learned later, was that this train was in fact the final train of the evening, the postal train, and a location of frequent robberies.

The technique of choice amongst safety minded Sri Lankans is to shift to the front of the train as the crowds thin, thus maintaning safety in numbers. However, I didn't know about this technique, and couldn't quite figure out what was happening. In fact, after such a packed train 3 hours before, I was quite happy to have the extra space to stretch.

After the dangerous looking guys switched to another carriage (after eyeing my bags, and me multiple times), my train compartment parnters informed me that they were staying in my carriage - solely - to protect me. They insisted that it was their duty to look after me, as I had come all this way to visit their country.

In the end, I arrived at Galle, at midnight, where the owner of my guesthouse met me at the station, talked to the 2 chaps, and translated everything they had told him...

Lesson Learned: Don't take the last train of the evening, and don't sit in a train carriage by yourself.

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