My only thought at that moment was their parents must be very proud and God I’m getting old. But yes a credit to your country and your parents. We blocked the passageway with the bags until other kind passengers show us where to store our luggage. Luckily, because of our 5:00 am start and the fact that there were no crowds we were able to find window seats. I made myself very comfortable and as the train pulled out of the station on this epic journey up over the tops of the mountains I looked out the window and promptly fell asleep. That apparently is the only picture Róisín took of me while by contrast she took pictures of herself hanging out of the train re-enacting every instagrammer to pass this way. I’m allowing this picture because I feel it has a Monty python vibe about it and the caption should read “Its nice but!”. I did periodically wake to see women in their beautiful sarees on the plantations picking tea.
Myself fast asleep on the scenic train journey
Yes it was beautiful, siren and all those other adjectives used to romanticise hard work, low pay and subsistence living but it was also timeless, set beside a picture from 1822 to 2022 and in Kodachrome they could not be told apart. The views from the top of this mountain range was spectacular. After 6 hours we arrived in Kandy, into the hustle and bustle of a major city. We hobbled towards the exit with the cumbersome suit cases. I bought that case in India where your driver would fight you to the ground to take your bags. Moreover, he would feel highly insulted if you refused to let him carry your bags as if implying you thought he might take off cross country with it. I’m in a different country now and this bag will not be lifted off the ground until I actually standing at the rear of the vehicle. We are approached by about 10 drivers all hungry for our business. I had checked the price and the location and I knew we were being overcharged and literally being taken for a ride longer than needed to justify the cost. But I was too tired and just wanted to get to the hotel. We chatted and exchanged pleasantries as we went. The driver asked if we intended to do any tours while in the city and of course I told him I was planning to do loads. Oh but he was delighted and as he dropped us to the hotel he gave us his card and insisted we call him later to confirm pickup for the following morning. Remember I was just chatting, I, at no point agreed he would be our driver. If he had quoted a fair price at the station then the business would have been his. He was very well paid for this little trip but in the memorable words of the famous orator George Bush jr “fool me once, mea culpa". He text later and was thanked and told that we were just going to make our own way around the city.
The Blue Train to Kandy crawling through tea plantations in the mountains
The Hotel Casamara was lovely but as was becoming very familiar on our travels it had very few guests and most facilities were not open. But the service was faultless and everyone did their best to ensure we had whatever we needed. The room was in need of a refresh but still it was lovely and comfortable with a small french balcony and a view onto the streets below. All was fine until it came time to sleep and I thought it best to shut the window to ease the sound of the traffic on the road below. It was at that point that I realised that the windows were closed but its too late now to go changing rooms. Róisín hates to complain but I knew I'd lose my reason if I had to listen to that for the next few days. So after breakfast the next morning I put in my request. “No problem mam, but you won;t have a view”. Not to say we didn't have a window we did have a big picture window which looked out over some rusting corrugated rooves and onto bare block walls on the buildings opposite. I thought to myself they could do with a course in block laying here and as was said to me by an english man, I refuse to say gentleman because he wasn’t, my country men made great navies and it wasn’t meant as a compliment but perhaps he had a point when I looked at this. To qualify, everywhere has ugly, rude people but thankfully I have met more great than crap on this journey and yes Angela Davis you are among the best! We stayed within the room, really it made for interesting viewing with the cats prowling the rooftop and the locals hanging out washing, authentic and that’s what we tourists claim to be looking for keep the bugs i'Il take the rest!
View from inside the train door
We went wandering around the streets and made our way to the temple which was just around the corner from our hotel. Kandy has a beautiful botanical garden that has to be seen to be believed, so having googled its location we went looking for a tuk tuk. I had checked the price on Grab (asian Uber app) so had a good idea of what I should be paying but rather than book on the app I always prefer to ask the closest driver to me. Our hunt began at the gates of the temple and as we clearly looked like tourists fresh off the boat and clueless, the first guy quotes a ridiculous price which was laughed at and declined. So we wandered down some side streets and put some distance between the temple and ourselves. I had noticed of late if in one of the taxi locations a price was quoted no other driver dared take the fare for less didn't matter how desperate they looked. So wandering a few streets away came upon a different taxi rank and being asked where we want to go, they also said what I was prepared to pay. The owner nodded agreement and called a young driver over to man the vehicle. He was lovely and very friendly and as we left the city on the journey to the gardens he pulls in at the side of the road to negotiate a tour. I took no offense at his actions but understood he was desperate for work. I declined all offers of tours and just asked if he would continue on his way to our destination. He told us of his wife and two children. About his mother who worked as a flower seller and just about every detail he could think of to keep conversation going. When we got to the gardens he said he would wait for us, but I disagreed and said I was more than happy for him to drive us back to the city at the same price he had brought us out but he didn't have to wait we would call him when we were done. He was really desperate for our fare, back to the point that he refused to take payment and insisted I would pay him on the return journey. I must have a very honest face because no amount of cajoling would make him take payment. He said he would visit with his mother while were inside which I told him was fine but I was not paying for the wait and that if he got the opportunity of a fare he should take it. We would call when done and would wait for his return. He was happy, the fare clearly meant a lot to him so I stopped arguing. Off we went into the most extraordinary garden I have ever been to in my life and I have been to many gardens. We only had two hours and truly had no idea how big this place was when we planned the afternoon as I could have happily spent the day there. The gardens stretched for miles and acres were separated into different sections. It was a gardener's paradise and all I could think of was how much my late mother-in-law would have loved every inch of this place. In my minds eye I could see Olive and Brendan strolling, laughing and joking and stopping every so often at the sight of some exotic plant that caught her eye. Quick look over her shoulder to see if anyone was about before picking a shoot like a great illusionist; now you see it and now you don’t. Like the Queen mother now with black leather handbag clutched under her arm as she routes about for her collection of plastic bags already prepared with damp tissue paper to preserve to cutting until she returned to her potting shed. That woman could grow anything and she was so generous with her knowledge. So I walked that garden with my mother-in-law, my father-in-law and my own lovely father and it was like having them back again if only for a little while. Ah what beautiful things memories are. My own mother isn't well and in her advanced years, sometimes her memory lapses forgetting my father is no longer with us. But I think what joy to have magic moments where even for a short time you can relive that the love of your life is still with you and your most crushing loss never happened. What utter bliss and if I get to that stage in my life please don’t feel compelled to tell me the truth. Allow me this joy if even for a short time. Please, please girls “tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”. In my head I left them there smiling, chatting and admiring the location and thanked them for their visit, just in my head folks.
Day out to Kandy Botanical Gardens
We had to leave the Botanical garden as it was closing. But what a fabulous place! The young Buddhist monks strolling with their iPhone clearly having difficulty cutting ties with the material world. But who am I to critic as its not too long since young Irish men found the priesthood as their only way of accessing education. Perhaps they’ll find their path to life, what and wherever that may be. The avenue of crazy trees like something from a Salvador Dali painting and the fruit bats as big as flying foxes starting to take flight for the evening I thought it best to head for the exit. When we got out of the park we called our driver and had half expected him to be waiting for us as we hadn’t paid him for the outward trip but no he had faith we wouldn’t do a runner. We jump into his tuk tuk and off we headed back to the city. He had spent the afternoon with his mother telling her about the lovely Irish ladies he had met and asked if we could stop at her flower stall to say hello. I half wondered if his Mam has “Ah you fool of a boy. Why didn't you take the money when she offered it to you. You won't see those two again. They’ll be in the first tuk tuk at the gate, mark my words boy”. So way met a slightly embarrassed lady at her flower stall said our hellos and our goodbyes and off we went. This young man had a wife and a baby boy. He didn't own the tuk tuk but worked for the taxi rank. I have met many such young men on my travels and its tragic to think there is no way of moving forward or up the ladder, there is no ladder. When you have no assets there is no steep up. Where I will always try to get a WhatsApp number so that I can give direct recommendations to my Irish friends and family who at some point will travel here, the middle man always runs the show so more work same pay.
The driver dropped us to the hotel and I asked him to give me a price for a day's driving and to make a plan for tomorrow. He was over the moon and I was happy it took so little effort from me to make his day. He picked us up at 11 am to start the tour he had planned the next morning. First stop was the Ayurveda medicine garden.
Salvador Dali trees in the Botanical Gardens
Out of the city we went again in the trusting care of our driver. After about a twenty minute drive he pulls up at the side of the road and directs us to a small gateway and a series of steps running down the side of the hill. It suddenly dawns on me that we are not at what I expected to be a garden featuring medicinal plants although it had those. No money is made here only when you buy a product. So our driver leaves us and goes to sit under a lean-to with guides and other drivers and Roisín and I are handed over to our medicinal guide who walks us through the grounds stopping ever so often to point out a particular plant, tree, or flower So taking into account our age dynamic, Roisín in her twenties and me hitting sixty, I quickly realised our guide was gifted in the art of product placement. “So this plant here” he says “have you noticed how all the women have beautiful hair! Well the reason for that is that they wash their hair with shampoo made from this plant” Interesting I thought, so I have crap hair. “This plant here helps with weight loss”. So I’m fat. Jesus how much more can my confidence take? Well as it turns out it's limitless. When he hit on menopause I just burst out laughing and begged for mercy. To which he introduced me to fertility plants, so now he thinks I look ancient. I wasn’t feeling the best that morning and as the day was progressing I was starting to feel worst and needed to get back to the hotel in double quick time. I figure for what was ailing me any concoction here was likely to make it worse. We very quickly, after a bathroom visit, bought the lush hair shampoo and asked the driver to take us back to the hotel hoping I'd make it without any loss of dignity. Our poor driver was very confused and worried his choice of destination was the cause of the rapid retreat and having explained without actually explaining we arrived back at our hotel. The driver kept apologising and I did my best to assure him the change of plan was not caused by anything he had done. He seemed even more confused when I paid him the full amount as agreed and I do hope he pocketed the surplus and only gave the boss the cost of a twenty minute fare. Or is that dishonest! I'll let you be the judge of that, comments in the box! I returned to the hotel and did improve in an hour or so. It was our last night in Kandy so we ventured forth to explore the Kandy lake around the corner from the hotel and beside the temple of the tooth. Baffled as to how that temple got it's name I wonder do lots of dentists visit there? It was getting onto dark but the lake had a continuous path around its 19 hectres and it had plenty of joggers and walkers so I figured it was safe enough. Its around a two mile walk to get back to the star point. As I have said it was a lovely evening on a well light path until we reached about three quarters around when we come on some road works. The lights were gone and it was impossible to see obstacles on the road. We could see the temple so the homeward stretch was so close I couldn’t face turning back. The alternative path would send us up some dark alleyways and I was tired but I do try not to be stupid. There seemed to be a lot going on at the temple so I figured we would hover a while and hope someone else would find themselves at the same impasse. You send out a prayer and they do get answered. Along comes this gentleman carrying a briefcase and he is followed by a large group of young girls all carrying boxes and heading for the temple. They seemed in total awe of this man and he was no rock star but he had some real authority about him. I asked if he would mind if we walked with him and the girls seemed shocked that we even dared to speak with such a man. He did not answer but smiled and walked on not saying we couldn’t walk with them. The girls were whispering between each other and looking back over their shoulders every now and then. I guessed we must have broken some ritual or other but I hope they forgave us as ignorant tourists. We got back to the path and our saviors walked into the back entrance of the temple, not accessible to anyone other than monks so I guess he must have been someone. We got to the entrance of the temple and sat for a while watching everyone both men, women and children, all dressed in white and carrying offerings, enter and make their way down the long avenue. It was fascinating more so because I had not a clue as to what was going on but that only gives my head room to imagine. My imagination tells me we met a Guru, a man of worldly wisdom and a knowledge of the heavens and for a moment Róisín and I walked a path with him. Reality would be a let down because there’s no beating that. We return to our hotel and book a taxi for the next leg of our journey. Tune in next week!
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.