Got up early to make our way to Madurai airport, knowing that it was only 12km away but also well aware that that distance could take anything up to two hours in India. After packing away our stuff and finally throwing away our socks full of holes, we went downstairs to check out. Having already priced an air conditioned car transfer to the airport, we enquired about the rough price for a TukTuk. The manager sent the bell boy out for us who came back with a TukTuk that quoted us a ridiculous price to get us to the airport. The manager looked slightly embarrassed when I said ‘no’ and explained that I knew full well it was only 12km to the airport and I wasn’t going to pay that much. Some frantic talking and hand gestures between the manager, bellboy and TukTuk driver were exchanged before we got a decent (but not cheap) price. Not sure whether he was pissed off or being creepy but the driver then spent most of the 12km staring at me in his mirrors… Arrived at the Aiport in record time – the roads were completely clear (aside from some pretty massive potholes!) and, having given ourselves an extra hour to get there, we’d arrived in 15 minutes! Also having read the tickets details stating that we had to be at the airport three hours before our scheduled departure time, we felt pretty great that we’d have time to use up our left over INR in some over priced coffee shop inside the terminal whilst we waited… Except the security guard wouldn’t let us in! Apparently the airport was closed and would open two hours before our flight was due to lead – in an hour and 45 minutes time! Had a look around the deserted airport grounds and found a wall in the shade to sit down on. Spent some time looking at the Nepal book and working out which, if any, Everest Base Camp treks we wanted to do. I went looking for the elusive ‘canteen’, only to find a shack selling tea and coffee with some fried goods. Sent Jayne off to investigate the milk hut and she returned with two packets of biscuits – our last breakfast in India!! Got the jam out of my bag and we had a feast of cashew nut biscuits and jam!! Decided to kill some more time, drinking tea and coffee at the overpriced ‘canteen’ before we got into the airport. No problems with scanning our luggage and checking in except that they have workers who lift your bag onto the scales and then take your trolley away for you – felt very unnerving not doing it myself! Had to wait 30minutes for immigration to open so we could go through to the departures lounge. The immigration person was brilliant – asked us where we had been in India. When we got to Ahmedabad (clearly a place no tourist usually ever goes), he stopped us in our round off list of towns and said ‘everywhere. You’ve been everywhere’. A quick stamp in the passport and we were airside… With no shops except for a cafe serving drinks. Headed to our gate where Jayne stole their electricity to charge her phone!! Didn’t have to wait very long until we were called to the gate and put through a second bag and person search. The woman used a hand held metal detector on me but managed to jab it really hard into my boob!! I tried not to laugh but she looked absolutely mortified and I just fell about giggling. Clearly glad that I wasn’t offended, she waved me on and was laughing heartedly as I told the story to Jayne. Got on the transfer bus that would take us to our ‘plane’… Now, I’ve been on one of these rubber band planes before but probably not in the last 20 years!! Rows of 2 seats by 2 seats for about 100 passengers with 2 propellers being the only means of getting you up in the air!! Actually felt like it was going to break as it charged up the runway and took off. Fortunately, it was a quick flight – time for a speedy food delivery service (where I managed to throw my drink of Miranda – opened – at the flight attendant) and we were in Colombo! The fastest immigration check the other side (I love e-visas), we had a sticker and a stamp in our passport and were officially in the country! Got our luggage and headed out to the arrival hall. Wanted to check with the car rental agency for when Nicola gets here but there was no one there so we went to catch the bus. Unlike India, there was a swarm of taxi drivers waiting but when we said we wanted to get the bus, they pointed us in the right direction – no bus strikes, no broken buses, no cheap prices mentioned!! Stowed our bags in the luggage compartment as requested by the man and jumped aboard. The bus was quite full so we couldn’t sit next to each other but for the price of 110LKR (about 55p) we were on an air conditioned bus driving down the express way to Colombo. Arrived at the central bus station to find that the compartment that we had stowed our bags in was now jammed shut. A few hefty tugs from us, the conductor and the bus driver were useless and we were put back on the bus and driven to the mechanics section of the bus station. Safe to say, we got our bags back but it took 6 men, a crow bar, hammer and a variety of other tool plus a lot of laughing to get the door open! Gave the guys a tip for freeing our bags which they seemed genuinely surprised with. They even told us which bus to get on next to get to our hotel. Knew we wanted to go to the train station first to sort out our transport to Kandy and to work out train times to Galle for when Nicola arrives. Got chatting to a lovely man at the train station who got us train tickets on a full train to Kandy for Friday (by letting us purchase ‘department’ tickets – not sure if it’s tourist quota tickets or train staff quota tickets!) and who also has a guesthouse in the city. He showed us some photos and we booked two nights with him (and his pool) – can’t wait! Decided to walk the 6km from the train station to our hostel – it was along the seafront for most of the way so it didn’t seem too bad. Managed to find a new drink in one of the seaside shops to try – it was the most chemically raspberry ade I’d ever tasted – Jayne loved it!! Continued walking past the huts selling shrimp fritters with the shrimp still whole and cooked right in and various cut up fruit covered in chilli. Arrived at the hostel and checked in. The manager was surprised we had walked from the train station and was really lovely and helpful. Went up to our four bed dorm and had a quick shower before heading out to get some water and find some dinner. The hostel manager had recommended a posh looking restaurant just down the road from the hostel and, too tired to wander around aimlessly, we headed in. Ordered hopper and pittu (both a Sri Lankan speciality) with cashew nut curry – it was amazing. The waiter was concerned we’d find the sauce that came with the pittu too spicy but it was barely hot! Had a traditional Sri Lankan dessert too which smelt and tasted like Christmas! Stuffed for the extravagant price of 1,584LKR (about £8), we headed back to the hostel, caught up on uploading blogs and went to bed (after fixing the air conditioning that the old guy in the bunk below Jayne had broken!!).
Wednesday 27th January 2016