Day 76 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. I leave for my tour to the Pinawella Elephant Sanctuary at 8:00 AM. The sky is mostly cloudy and temperatures are in the upper 80's at departure time. It is supposed to be about a 15 minute bus ride to the train station, and then about a two and one half hour train ride by private train followed by a 15 minute bus transfer to the park.
The Colombo train station is very busy, there are at least 10 platforms and we wait over one and one half hours for an available platform for our train. Probably a train arrives or leaves about every minute or so and as expected scheduled passenger traffic has priority over private trains. Motive power is mostly Chinese with a some Indian locomotives. The track is not welded rail, but is in excellent condition with concrete ties. Part of the delay is caused by a failure of part of the signal system, and trains are being controlled by flagmen stationed at strategic locations for the first 10 miles or so. I only see one freight train, consisting mostly of automotive gasoline tankers, and that was sitting on a siding.
The regular passenger trains are packed with people hanging out the side of the trains at the entry platforms. Cars are all open windowed and look pretty rough with lots of rust, peeling paint, and some broken windows.
Our buses, after dropping us at the train station, travel ahead to meet the train and take us the final 5 or 6 miles to the sanctuary. Yesterday the same buses drove from Colombo to Hambantota, a distance of over 100 miles, to do tours offered in Hambantota. Just an indication of the limited infrastructure in Sri Lanka.
Our private train consists of very old coaches restored to some of their original elegance and with the addition of some air conditioning, a much appreciated surprise, and free Internet. We are served tea, coffee, and soft drinks. I don't know how fast our train traveled, but it was much faster than many of the restricted speeds signs I saw along the way. The engineer managed to cut over 30 percent from the scheduled transit time.
The Sanctuary has over 100 elephants. Visitors may interact with them and have pictures taken. Rides are not an option here. A few are restrained by fences or leg chains, but the majority roam free unless being handled for bathing or hand feeding. Our buffet lunch was at a hotel overlooking the river and the elephants playing and being bathed by their handlers. We return to the ship about 5:45, only a few minutes late, thanks to our engineer. The bus drops us off within 10 feet of the gangway.
A passenger that has been having some eye problems went to the local hospital for treatment today after 3 attempts by the ships doctor produced no results. She learned that she has an relatively common eye infection and was given a prescription and several procedures to control it. The other advise was to change doctors as the three prescriptions that had been prescribed were not only ineffective, but probably made the infection worse.
Several of the Lido staff had some time off and took one of the 3 wheel motor bike TukTuk taxis into town. Unfortunately they were robbed by the driver of about $40. This is always a risk when traveling, and just demonstrates it can happen to anyone despite their best precautions.
We are staying in Colombo overnight tonight with the only entertainment being a movie in the theater. My tour tomorrow doesn't leave until 11:00, so I do not need to set an alarm.