Haputale

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
1
11
16
Trip End Apr 23, 2010


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Where I stayed
Sri Lak View Guest House

Flag of Sri Lanka  , Central,
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

06 April

What a day! (I know this because the day is already over as I write this - I'm happy to say.)

Yesterday evening I did most of my morning routines (showering, washing underwear, eating breakfast) so that I could have an early departure from my hotel to the bus station to catch the bus to Haputale this morning.  (As you might recall, there should be a train at 9:30 but the lady at my hotel reception called the train station for me and she told me that there would in fact be no such train.)

So after having breakfast and packing, I was ready to leave the hotel at 8:15.  As I was passing through the lobby on my way out, I met an Englishman of my age and similar name (Sandy) who was checking out of the hotel as well - with the intention of taking the very same train that I had wished to take but was told did not exist.  He told me that he had been to the train station yesterday for the sole and specific purpose of checking whether there was a 9:30 train - and he saw the train with his own eyes.  This was enough to make me change my plans on the spot, so I decided to join him and take a chance on the train.  (Your sense of foreboding should be shouting out to you by now, saying, "No, Randy - don't go for the train.  It's a trap.  Stick with your plan of taking the bus.")

Just outside the front gate of the hotel, we tried negotiating a fair price with a tuk tuk to the train station some 9 km away in Nanu Oya.  The price the driver quoted seemed excessive (although it turned out that it wasn't) so we started walking towards the bus station with the intention of taking a bus to Nanu Oya.  Before we walked two steps, an almost empty bus to Nanu Oya passed and we flagged it down.  The cost of the bus was 18 rupees vs. 500 for the tuk tuk.  It was looking like it was going to be my lucky day.  ("No, Randy, this is just another trick - to make you THINK it's your lucky day!")

We arrived at the train station at 8:45, a full 45 minutes before the scheduled departure of our train.  At the ticket window we were told that our train was delayed by an hour and a half - until 11:00.  This was a tolerable delay and anyway, we were at the train station, so what could we do but wait?  Our alternative would have been to return all the way to Nuwara Eliya to take a bus to Haputale.  At 10:30 we were told that the delay was until 11:30.  And finally, we were informed that the 9:30 train would not be coming at all.  We naively assumed that the 12:30 train would come on time.  The 12:30 train didn't arrive until 13:30, making our total waiting time at the station for our one and a half hour train ride . . . nearly FIVE hours!

We foreigners (the Englishman, Sandy, and I met two Aussies - a father and son team, Vincent and Sam - on the bus to the station as well as one Frenchman and his lovely four year old daughter Jade), banded together to watch each other's bags and generally entertain each other to help the time pass until our train finally came.

I was the only one of our group to disembark in Haputale while the rest continued on to Ella.  I headed straight for the most highly recommended guesthouse in town, the Sri Lak View, where I had made a reservation by phone a week ago.  The room I was given was nice, but I preferred the room next door, which was a little larger.  I left the room briefly to clarify some things with the reception and when I returned to my room, I found that I was only able to put my key a little bit into the lock - but that I was still able to unlock my door.  Then I got to thinking that if only the first inch of my key could unlock my door, then perhaps the first inch of other people's keys could unlock my door as well.  So I went to try my key in the room next door - the smaller room that I had been given first.  And, to my shock, my key was able to unlock that door.   By now I was thinking that all the rooms at the hotel could be opened by all the keys, so I went around trying the other rooms in my wing of the hotel.  The first door I tried was already unlocked so I opened it to lock it and try my key on it.  As I opened the door, a young man inside said, "Excuse me?"  His unspoken words were, "What the heck are you doing in my room?"  I didn't think it would be a good idea to tell him that I thought that our keys could open each otherr's doors.  So I went down the hall to the next room and was pleased to find at least one room that my key couldn't open.  I'm not worried about whether I can open other people's doors because I'm not a thief.  But I am considerably more worried about the prospect of other guests of the hotel having access to my room - where I keep all of my travel gear while I'm out of the room.

So I went to report my finding to the hotel manager - who told me, while waggling his head (if you can picture it - along with the Indianesque accent):  "Yes, those two rooms are having the same lock." - followed by more head bobbing.  You mean you KNEW about this and you didn't do anything about it?  Duh!  What were you thinking?  What a breach of security this represents!  Granted, it is unlikely that guests will try their keys in rooms other than their own, but it can happen - by accident - as it happened with me.

After unsuccessfully trying to find another suitable room for me, the manager agreed to change the
lock on my room.  While he did this, I had a late lunch consisting of three white bread sandwiches filled with one very thin fried egg.  (I mean, one egg spread over three sandwiches.  Not very filling.)  While this was taking place, the call to prayer went off in the mosque behind my room.  I hadn't noticed the mosque before and the guide book certainly didn't mention it (probably out of political correctness, thank you very much.)  Not that it would have made much difference because there is no other nice guesthouse in the town.  I asked the manager at what time the first call to prayer occurs each morning. Five o'clock!  And the mosque is right outside my window!  I still don't understand how such a thing can be allowed - that some people have the right to wake up everybody (at such an unGODLY hour - how ironic), including the ones who are not members of their religion.  Why can't muslims just request a wake-up call, and have someone either call them on their phone - or go and knock on their door at prayer time.  To disturb everybody in order to wake up some people is just an unacceptable violation of the right to peace and quiet - and that from the religion of peace!  What a surprise!  (I'm being sarcastic here, as Homer Simpson would point out after such a statement.)

Anyway, I don't have a good feeling about this town and I'm already planning my departure.  That being said, the view off my balcony is spectacular - and I'm guaranteed of being awake early to appreciate it.

I took a walk to the train station to ask when the morning train to Ella would depart tomorrow.  The stationmaster told me 11:35.  This was the same train that I was supposed to have been on today so I asked the guy if the train would be canceled tomorrow as it was today.  He said that today and tomorrow are unrelated as today's train was canceled due to an engine failure - and the engine has been fixed/replaced, so there should be no cancellation tomorrow. (At first I understood him to have said an "Indian failure" and I thought, "Yeah, go ahead and blame this on the Indians.")  Anyway, the point of all this is that, as it turns out, the woman at the front desk of my hotel was right about the 9:30 train not running today.  Furthermore, the train station people in Nanu Oya also knew that the train wasn't coming - but they didn't  tell us - prefering instead to string us along with reports of "delays".  That's one of the most frustrating things about traveling in "developing" countries.  It's so difficult to get accurate information about things such as transport.  And without accurate information, it is impossible to make the right choices.  To that we have to add the Asian habit of not wanting to convey disappointing news.  They'd rather tell you what they think you want to hear (that the train is coming and it's on time) rather than the truth (that the train is not even coming at all today.).  The fact is that the truth, while sometimes painful, is infinitely more useful to know because one can make plans around it.

I then took a walk up to another hotel that is mentioned in the guide book - the one that was recommended by the Czech couple I had met in NE.  The hotel was nice, but it was located far away from the town - and it was almost triple the price of my current place.  To be fair, the guide book does describe it as being overpriced.  They wanted almost 50 dollars for the room and two meals.  When I told the front desk guy that this was too expensive, he replied that "Ha - in America you can't even get a cup of coffee for that!"  It's been a few years since I've been to America, but if coffee is going for fifty bucks a cup, then I won't be going back anytime soon either.  But anyway, what does the cost of a cup of coffee in America have to do with what a hotel room should cost in Haputale, Sri Lanka?

On my way back to the hotel I had a brief walk around the little town of Haputale.  And I can unequivocally say that it is a little dump.  The only redeeming factor is the lovely surrounding countryside.  (Photographic evidence again provided.)

Back at the hotel I got into a conversation with a New Zealand couple who are here on vacation from a job in Dubai.  They were able to give a a lot of insight into what is happening there these days, and it's not all good.  Essentially the current generation of spoiled young Dubaiers want to have the educated, white foreigners evicted from the country because they think they can do better without the likes of them/us.  They don't mind keeping the brown slave laborers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as these people know their place.  (At the bottom of the totem pole.)  Unfortunately, your average Emirati is spoiled and incompetent, which does not bode well for their idea of self management.

With the Kiwi couple, we had dinner together in the hotel, along with an Australian / German couple we met in the hotel restaurant.  Over dinner we exchanged travel stories.  It turns out that this German/Aussie couple were in my favorite place in India - Bundi - ten years ago - way before it was discovered by tourists.  And they said they were treated like royalty there at the time - just because the locals were so happy to have foreign visitors.  Bundi is still a great place, but it has of course changed quite a bit in the intervening years.
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Comments

Paul on

69 cents for any size McDonald's excellent coffee (way better than Starbucks). $40 for a very satisfactory motel room with breakfast. Next time tell them given the different state of development of the two countries, that you estimate the real cost for their room to be $10!!!!!!

bangkokrandy
bangkokrandy on

Paul,

Ha - I knew I could count on one of my American friends to give me the real skinny on prices over there in the developed world. Next time why don't you come with me. Then you can tell those slick Sri Lankan hotel front desk guys where to stick it when they come up with their reasons for why a room should cost more in Sri Lanka than in America.

Randy

Art on

Wow - we are on it today. A response and a reply in one day !!

Here in LA ayou can still get a cup of Joe at Phillipes Diner for 10 cents - yes that's one thin dime, and they are thin these days.

It is an original deli near the downtown LA Train Station. A french dip sandwich is about $5.95.

Tell that to the fleabag guy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy trials

Craig on

Surely it would have made sense to sleep in and catch the later train in the first place? This holiday seems to have too many early starts...

Lek on

What's happened on 7-19th, the stories have not been up-to-date, write write write write, can't wait to read.

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