I slept great last night! I checked out of the hotel with a bit of drama about me wanting to use a credit card (which they said I could use when I checked in), and left my luggage at the hotel. I grabbed a tuk tuk to the botanical gardens, paid the entry fee for foreigners, and wandered in. The grounds are kept up quite well, and the have a large variety of species. I'm sure that if I were a plant person, I'd go nuts over everything they have there, but as I'm not, I just enjoyed the greenery. There were plenty of visually interesting species- I just don't know enough to have a reaction deeper than "pretty!" or "neato." I found the canonball trees particularly interesting, as I don't think I'd seen much like that before. I also enjoyed some of the odd-looking flowers.
After all the hustle, bustle, noise and pollution of the city, it was incredibly refreshing to wander such a green area, especially through the woods. There were moments where I was only aware of the existence of one or two other humans on the planet. Then, there were moments where the hum of the maintenance crew's motors or the whirr of the electric golf carts carrying tourists around or even just some loud Italians broke any sense of serenity. Despite these interruptions, birds, bats, and other animals twittered away, somewhat restoring the peace. I had a great walk, but towards the end, the crowds grew, and I took that as a sign for me to return to the city. I was low on cash, and not totally sure how much I'd need for the remainder, as some of the prices in my LP were out of date. I knew I'd need batteries soon, so I decided that a grocery store lunch was the ticket, since I could use my card there. I ended up with an odd assortment of junk food, cheese product, woodapple yogurt, and an exciting banana. One thing I'd noticed about the banana sellers here is that they sell quite the variety. Unlike most of the world, cavendish isn't king here. The bananas range from tiny, to medium, to red, and even the grocery store carried 4 varieties. The tiny one I got was much chewier in texture than a Cavendish, and not nearly as starchy. The seeds were more pronounced, although not particularly a problem. After grabbing my luggage from the hotel- literally nobody was there and anybody could have taken it- I ate all of my purchases while waiting at the train station. The Kandy train station is much nicer than the one in Colombo. There is a larger quantity of seating available (relative to the busy-ness). They have a special bathroom just for tourists, which I'm assuming is much cleaner than a general public bathroom. And the ticket guy was somewhat more helpful. When the train arrived, I was dismayed to realize that my second class ticket (highest class available, but still dirt cheap) wasn't going to actually get me space. The seats were all occupied before the train even pulled in, and the standing room was pretty packed as well. I faced a situation not so different than the third class train ride I accidentally took the other day. I got a spot relatively close to the door, so it was breezy. And then the people around me started to sing. Some guy had a drum and he and his friends were singing what I can only assume are the Sri Lankan version of camp songs. At it was a bit annoying, but after a bit, I was glad they were there to entertain me. The music wasn't that different than the music from the show last night, and I was listening for free. Well, the cost of a selfie. I seriously have taken more selfies to oblige random strangers on this trip than I've taken on my own phone for myself. Meanwhile, gorgeous mountain jungle scenery passed by. The ride was through some extremely lush and verdant territory. I would love to come back and hike some of this sometime. After over an hour of standing and listening to the musicians, moving out of the way for people trying to enter the bathroom, and watching guys with baskets of food try to hawk them on the train, the train arrived in Rambukkana, my stop. Surprisingly, no other tourists got off here. There was nobody obvious to split a tuk tuk to Pinnawala with, so I had to pay the 500 rupees all by myself. Before I went though, I made sure to check the train schedule with the very useful guy behind the counter, and buy my ticket, just in case. Then, off to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I was a bit conflicted about visiting it since I had heard that their goals had shifted. They had been started as a place to rehab orphaned elephants, but now some people claim that they're in it more for the money than the elephants. However, it's my understanding that they do still take in babies who need homes, and I;m ok that they use tourism as a way to fund the place. As long as they're not keeping them in cruel conditions, I'm not sure I have a problem with them having the elphants earn their keep. When I arrived, the elephants were playing in the river. A sprinkler kept them wet from the top, and the river was keeping them cool from the bottom. A simple chain was all that was separating the elephants from the tourists, and occasionally not even that. While there were signs everywhere saying not to feed or touch them, there were also touts offering bananas to feed them. When an elephant would cross the chain or somebody would feed them, the mahouts were extremely slow to react. Most people were smart enough to back away, but there were a few who had to be told to move on occasion. The elephants may be highly accustomed to humans, but they're still wild animals deserving of respect. When it was time to move some of the herd, they cleared the people out of the way, and then sadly started chaining some of the elephants. They weren't circus-chained, and I'm guessing it's more of a mental thing than physical, since the chains didn't really go anywhere, but it's still a sign that wild animals are being asked to do something outside their nature. The elephants paraded back to the compound, some with mahouts on their backs. Their path was surrounded on all sides with shops selling tourist items, which took a bit from the experience, but it was still exciting to see. I did take a second to stop in one of the poo paper shops. They collect the elephant dung and turn it into paper. Nuff said. Back at the compound, some elephants were being showered with a hose and were playing like kids in a sprinkler. Others were eating. Again, many were chained, but this time the chains were attached to a ring cemented into the ground. Some elephants were ok with this, but others were tugging on their chains. The best analogy I can think of is if you took your kids to Pizza Hut and plopped a variety of pizzas in front of them. Some would sit and eat and be happy. Others would want to hop out of their seats and run around the restaurant, or see/steal what others were eating. Maybe it's justified to keep them like that, maybe it's stunting their curiosity. I don't know. I was absolutely mesmerized by the elephants eating. One squashed a whole watermelon with one bite. Another used the fence as a tool to hold a log up at an angle so that he could stomp on the middle and break it in two. Others simply played with their food, waving it around and rustling through their piles. I could have stayed and watched even longer, but the rest of the elephants came back, and it was time for me to catch my train. I could not afford to miss the train back to Colombo, as I had a plane to catch. I started standing on this train as well, but eventually somebody put their kid on their lap to make room for me to sit. I was very appreciative. I returned to Colombo, and managed to make my way to the bus area. I was even oriented well enough that when I asked a guy to double-check myself and he told me the other direction, I was smart enough to get a second opinion before going to far out of my way. I made it to the stop and was waiting for the 187 bus to the airport. A bus marked 187 came by and almost didn't stop for me. I flagged it down, and said "Airport." The driver said no and moved on. What?!? I thought 187 was to the airport. I checked with some guys around me and they said that 187 is to the airport, but not all of them. Who knows how long it would be before another came by. So, when a Tuktuk guy asked me if I wanted a Tuktuk to the airport, then offered me a price less than what LP suggested it should be, I took him up on the offer. That was a smart move. On the way, we passed at least 4 187 buses that were stuck in traffic. It could have taken me hours to get to the airport on the bus. It still took quite some time given the short distance that it was. However, I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was there early enough that they hadn't opened the check-in gate. If I had luggage to check, I would have been stuck sitting in the airport with very few services. Since I had only my backpack, I was able to go right through and get to the area with the shops and restaurants. There still wasn't a ton open, but at least I was able to grab a bite to eat and finish off most of my Sri Lankan Rupees.