“ඇයි ඔයා මෙච්චර ලොකු ගමනකට ඉස්සල්ලා මෙ වගේ භයානක ගමනක් දාගත්තෙ?” (“Why are you taking such a risky trip right before the biggest trip of your life?”) asked my mom.“මම මාස ගනක් තිස්සේ මෙ ගමන ගැන සිතූවා. මට තැම මෙක කරන්න ඕනෙ.”( “I have been thinking about this trip for months now and I want to do it”) I replied.
I had been waiting for months for the Czech visa to be approved. I didn’t look like it will work. I was forcing myself to try and move on. After spending all that time at home, I wanted to get away, at least for a while. At that time, my friend Julia was travelling around Sri Lanka and I thought about joining her for a bit. Eventually I settled on meeting her for a trip to Worlds’ end (a famous viewpoint in Sri Lanka) and basing myself in Nuwara Eliya.
Then out of the blue, the visa was approved. Suddenly I found myself booking a flight to CZ in 2 weeks. It was overwhelming but I still felt like doing this. My parents, especially my mom, saw this as a risky thing to do. Paradoxically they were more afraid of me travelling 150KM in SL than travelling thousands of kilometers to Europe. She tried to dissuade me but I stood firm.
From the Colombo fort railway station, I took the overnight “night mail” train like I did a year ago to get to Ella. The train was very loud that time but I still managed to get some sleep. This time I was not so lucky. Not only was the train louder than ever but a group of guys decided to sing along to the lively beat of a bongo drum. It was something that many Sri Lankan groups did on trips and my family did the same on our annual trips. It was a lot of fun. But as I was trying to sleep, this was not helping. But the train was as loud as they were so it didn’t make a big difference.
9 hours later, the train pulled into Ohiya and I jumped off. When I was planning the trip, I looked for public transport connections between Ohiya and Horton plains (the reserve which contained World’s end). I couldn’t find any so I planned to take a three wheeler. What I failed to consider was that the train would arrive at 6AM when no one was out. I was stuck in Ohiya. On top of that, it was cold. It was around 15C and I was freezing. I had to find warmth. I looked around the platform and I noticed a waiting room. Perfect. When I peaked in, I saw a group inside already. Damn it. It was going to be awkward for me to barge in there. But I just couldn’t take the cold anymore so I pushed the door open and walked in.
Immediately, all eyes were on me. There was around 15 people sitting on the benches inside. “එලිය මාර සීතලයි” (“It is very cold out there”) I said. “ඔව්, සීතල තමයි” (“Yes it is cold”) agreed the gentleman sitting in front of the group. He asked me where I was headed and he said that they were heading the same way too. He then asked whether I was travelling alone and seemed surprised when I said yes. Most people in Sri Lanka travelled in groups so he wasn’t expecting my answer. We kept on talking. He told me how he was the coach of the group. I had walked in on a group of modeling students on a class trip. When I asked him how he planned to get to Horton plains, he said they had arranged for a vehicle to take them there. When I told him I still hadn’t figured out how to get there, he generously offered to give me a lift.
Slowly the rest of the group started talking to me too while we waited for their vehicle to arrive. By that time the sun was out and a street shop nearby was starting to open, so the guys decided to go for a cup of tea. I joined them and spent the rest of the time chatting to them or watching them taking photos in many poses around the platform. They were modeling students after all. I also discovered that one of the girls in that group lived just down the street from my childhood home. You truly do meet your neighbors in the most unexpected places.
Finally their vehicle arrived and for the first time, I realized what it really was. It was a black pickup truck with a roof over the back. They were planning to get in the back. I was skeptical. It didn’t look like there was enough space for all of them, let alone with me as an extra so I tried to back out. However after shuffling to and fro, most of us managed to squeeze inside while the rest hung over the back. It gave me a glimpse of what it would feel like to be a smuggled refugee as we rode together on a trip that created a ripple effect into my time in CZ.