Tuesday June 23, 2015 (Asia, Sri Lanka)
We’ve now had a full day to get ourselves set up here in Sri Lanka. We’re staying at the Lanka Hostel Colombo (only two months old!), and it’s been fantastic. The staff are incredibly helpful and have really made us feel at home here.
Sri Lanka is already a welcome treat. The traffic is less “honk-y”, the streets are cleaner, the buildings are better maintained, the restaurants are more numerous and varied. So far it’s been a bit pricier as well, but it feels like an upgrade from our last couple of places in India. The people have been kind also, so we’re really enjoying ourselves thus far.
I had a lot of worries about the weather, but it’s been beautiful! The temperature is more like a sauna than either of us would like (and the humidity is way up there), but it’s not raining nearly as much as I thought it would. I’m not sure if we’re just getting extraordinarily lucky, but we’ll take it!
We were really thinking Sri Lanka and India would have a bunch of similarities, but they seem incredibly different so far. Here’s a little story that may illustrate some contrasts between the way things seem to run in each country:
We had to buy a place ticket from Madurai, India to get ourselves here. SpiceJet, a discount Indian carrier, had the best rates. I figure we’d do even better to book directly from their website, so I head over there and get to work. It’s quite a lengthy process inputting all of the data on the passengers, dates, etc. Probably takes me a good five minutes to get to the payment area. And hey, there’s an option for Non-Indian Issued Credit/Debit card, so I go for that. Perfect! I click on it and try to pay… and I get a popup saying “Please reference this transaction number” (with no accompanying transaction number) and an error message saying the “Operation cannot complete at this time”. I try again. Same message. I switch browsers, which necessitates me entering all of our info again. Same message. I tweet to SpiceJet to see why I can’t pay with my credit card. They tweet back saying “The site is operating correctly, please try again”. I do so. It fails again. I write them and tell them “Your website may be functioning correctly, but your credit card payment sure isn’t”. They ask me to write their customer service people with a screenshot showing what’s happening. Two days later customer service responds and tells me “The website is functioning correctly, please try again”. I do so. Same error message. I’ve now filled in this freaking thing at least ten times and failed every time. The price has also gone up at this point now, also. So now I’m paying more because they won’t let me give them my money. I respond to customer service and tell them I can’t pay with my international credit card. They tell me: “We don’t accept international credit cards”. THEN WHY DO YOU HAVE THE OPTION ON YOUR WEBSITE? I yell this in my brain at the top of my lungs. I end up having to spend an extra 30 CAD to book through a European company who’s willing to take my money for the same SpiceJet ticket. This sucks.
So that’s the Indian purchasing experience. Now for the airport.
We show up at beautiful Madurai airport. It’s actually really new and fancy looking. We try to get to the check-in counter. No. Check-in is not open yet. Please wait. So we wait for thirty minutes until they will let us walk to the check-in counter. This is bizarre enough already. Now we’re checked in and expecting to go through security. Oh, it looks like we have to go through Customs first. Fine. Except they’re also not open. We wait for fifteen minutes for them to let us into the next “section”. We make it through. And up some stairs to the security area. Which is not open yet. We wait another ten minutes for them to start letting people through security. Then we get to the gate. But you’re not allowed in until they’re ready, and you wait for that too. You get the idea. It’s just this constant shaking of the head. Why won’t you just let me go all the way through like everywhere else?!
We arrive at Colombo Bandaranaike airport after a bit of a bumpy ride in a turboprop aircraft. We breeze through immigration and are handed… what’s this? A SIM card! It’s valid for thirty days – the same length as their tourist visa! It’s tied into the immigration system so that when you leave, it’s automatically deactivated! It comes with credit so you can dial people up right away! You can refill it online (with a credit card) and get a data plan that works throughout the country! Everything is just RIGHT! What a brilliant welcome to a country. Way to go, Sri Lanka.
Now for our time here in Colombo. Our hostel is right by a nice little river/canal. It’s cleaner than any waterway we encountered in South India: well done Colombo. We headed up to the Fort Railway Station to get our trip and trains organized for the remainder of our time here. We’ve opted for a train + car and driver for a five night/six day excursion. It’ll take us to a bunch of places we were wanting to hit without the hassle of booking a hundred buses along the way. Obviously it’s more expensive, but it still falls within our budget and should be a great way to experience the country.
After getting all of that business sorted out, we just went for a quick wander around town. One particular highlight was encountering a train going along the underpass below us. A group of young guys in the train saw my camera and called up to get their picture taken. I happily obliged, then noticed that the guy requesting the picture gave me the finger when I took it. Classy job, buddy. You’re goin’ on the blog anyway, my friend! We followed that up with a walk down to Galle Face Beach. Again we were really impressed with the general cleanliness of the whole area: it’s really well taken care of. We hope the rest of the country is just as impressive!
Tomorrow we have a 5am wakeup to start our cross-country trip. Depending on Internet access, it may be a little while before you hear from us again. Rest assured we will be documenting as best we can.