I had a tough choice. I could either wander about an interesting city where I had never been or I could take a train ride, two hours out and two hours back, to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The city was Colombo, Sri Lanka (in school we learned it as Ceylon) and the train ride would take us to a pachyderm Orphanage just short of Kandy (which is currently under a state of emergency because of communal violence between Buddhists and Moslems.) I chose the train.
It was the right choice if for no other reason it got rid of an annoying ear worm. On St. Patrick’s Day the “Crow’s Nest” was bathed in green light, the tables had green centerpieces, shimmering green Mylar shamrocks garlanded the chairs, shiny gold coins were scattered everywhere and the band was playing – Volare.
Volare is the song I love to hate. It brings back memories of a third world bus trip on a winding mountain road where the driver had a short tape loop on which Volare kept coming up, over and over, like the curse of “It’s a Small World After All.” Volare triggers memories of dust, diesel and vomit. It is not a good earworm to have on a moving ship, even one sailing through the Equatorial doldrums.
The train line crosses the river were the film “Bridge Over the River Kawi” was shot. Blessedly I have a new earworm. It entails a lot of whistling but it keeps my stomach calm.
The train chugs along towards the old royal capital of Kandy, home of one of the Buddha’s eye teeth. The orphanage is about 2/3 of the way there through scenic countryside. I loved the bustle of the train station. The train itself, “The Viceroy,” named in honor of Lord Louis Mountbatten who had his World War II headquarters in Colombo, was a joy. The two passenger coaches are both 57 years old, wood paneled and, amazingly, air conditioned. The dining car between them is not air conditioned. No one used it although it did have a fully stocked bar. A baggage car and diesel locomotive complete the compliment. Both coming and going stewards serve hot Ceylon tea. Each station we rumbled through has its own shrine. The seats were comfy with plenty of leg room. This is not the type of sub-continent rail travel I’m accustomed to.