Sri Lanka 24 hours: tragedy to comedy

A jolt as the train stops suddenly on a steel bridge of uncertain age wakes me from my torpor in this humid weather, the rusty cast iron bridge alongside does not fill me with confidence, or the comments from our fellow passengers about not swimming in the river due to crocodiles. Humm let’s get off the bridge. As the minutes tick by, it becomes apparent that something has happened, what we are not sure, then word filters through the train: someone is dead, an accident, no, sadly suicide, a 23 year old young man just stepped in front of our train. The body collected at the back of the train and we move slowly to the next station a few hundred metres away. Many passengers had headed to the back of the train and one young man had taken photos which he was showing to anyone who interested. Passengers gather on the platform to look, comments such as ‘bad person’ or ‘it’s usually the girls, haha’ are said to us by the man who was sitting behind us, now standing on the platform outside Anne’s open window. Is this a frequent occurrence? I cannot judge how different cultures and religions react to such events as this, perhaps here the Buddhist reincarnation plays a part in the apparent indifference to the tragedy. A whistle, the train schedule is resumed, no police examination, we are off again.

As we pull out of the station, we pass two men carrying a stretcher with the poor man’s body just outside our train window, all the more poignant for Anne, having lost her brother to suicide 18 years ago. This tragedy is yet to touch this young man’s family and friends, his life passed no more than 15 minutes ago. Will they react with as much indifference as those around us? Having stood at Gallipoli and seen thousands of lives ended prematurely and having wondered what each might have achieved in love and life, we are filled with sadness at a loss of life before the fullness of time. I write this couple of paragraphs within half an hour of the suicide as we, on the train, continue on with the normality of our lives…

Our train stopped after fatally striking a 23 year old boy, Sri Lanka

Our title has two elements, the tragedy you have read and our struggle with thoughts and emotions as the train rattled on towards Colombo and the comedy you need to see below:

All this took place in the space of one hour on the same train. Life goes on regardless of our personal circumstances and feelings and sometimes, it’s better from an emotional viewpoint to be swept up and ride the wave of life.

A little difficult to revert to ‘normal’ writing mode, Sri Lanka was the next logical stop on our acclimation return to Brisbane and our 97th country to be visited. With only two full days and a vast and intriguing country in front of us, we needed to be very selective. I wanted to see more than just Colombo but what: rivers, mountains, game parks all interesting but too far away. We chose Galle, about 110 km. / 70 ml. south, a port first used over two Millenia ago exporting cinnamon, visited by the famous Chinese admiral Zheng He, then a fortified city, started by the Portuguese, upgraded by the Dutch and finally occupied by the British as part of the global European empire competition that took place over the world for a number of centuries , a bit like the European Soccer Championships today. Winner takes all.

There is a railway line connecting the two cities which runs along the coast at some points which I understood made for interesting viewing. As we wait for our train at Colombo Fort station, one of Colombo’s two main railway stations the sights are one for UK train buffs, the stations, signage and jobs are a throwback to an era long past, down to the cardboard train tickets, 180 rupees or about £0.90. / US $1.20 for a second class ticket to travel over 110km. 70 ml. Trains are all diesel both DMU and locomotive drawn. The old UK problem of ‘Slam door’ trains has been resolved here, the doors do not close, helps with the ventilation as well. Our Galle bound train pulls in, the locomotive was built in Varanasi by Indian Railways, a place we visited in 2014 on RTW1.
Our engine pulls eight old carriages out of the station in a cloud of unburnt diesel fumes. The rhythmic thump of the engine and the coal like smell has one almost imagining a steam loco up front. All the equipment is aged, some more than others, I suspect that any increased passenger capacity comes due to not retiring older equipment. The track does indeed run by the ocean as we travel southward passing through small towns and villages, houses built close up to the railway tracks. The coal smell is replaced by sea and then drying fish as we progress.

Our train to Galle, Sri Lanka

Spotted on a train in Sri Lanka

Galle Fort turns out to be, yes you guessed it, another UNESCO world heritage site to add to the collection, and it is surrounded by a dutch style walls reminiscent of Cape Town castle, same era of course, buildings have both Dutch and English heritage. While a smorgasbord of sightseeing awaits us, we are looking forward to going home, the journey is over and we want to go home, I fell more like sleeping than exploring, so Anne wanders the walled city. Enjoy the photo collection that Anne has created of our visit.

Playing cricket outside Galle Fort walls

Galle, Sri Lanka

Home in Galle, Sri Lanka

Art deco, Galle

City wall and mosque, Galle, Sri Lanka

Dutch Reformed church, Galle

Fort entrance, Galle

Galle, Sri Lanka

Playing cricket in the Magister Square, Galle

Street sign, Galle

Waiting to sell the last tuna fish of the day, Galle

Arangawan, the sweet tuna fish seller, Galle

Had a great chat with Saman, Galle

Galle coast, Sri Lanka

We all love watching a stunning sunset, Galle

Fishing boats, Galle

Early morning fish market, Galle

School girls, Galle

Train timetable, Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle, Sri Lanka

Although we have one more stop in Singapore to see our friends and our godsons before getting home to Brisbane, this feels like the end of the road. We celebrate with a Sri Lankan dinner at the ‘Ministry of Crab’ – guess what we had for dinner. It was superb and a great way to celebrate the end of RTW2.

– Anthony

First stop

Oooo that hot, steamy, salty air that hits us as we get off the plane feels good. It feels and smells like holidays. We are quickly greeted by hotel staff at the airport and taken to our transfer vehicle:

We’re here!!

Yes, we’re in the Maldives!

This is an exciting way to get to your hotel:

Leaving Malé airport for our hotel

Not a bad first glimpse of our island

Flying back to Brisbane from Europe with the inevitable jetlag from the 10 hour difference has steadily got harder for us to recover from over the years so we decided to include a stopover longer than the overnighter we’ve done on occasions.

Not only was the flash speedboat, rather than a ‘rustic’ old boat which I expected, a lovely surprise, the garden bungalow I booked was upgraded to this:

Not sure why we got this incredible upgrade, but we are extremely grateful – thank you Kurumba Resort.

Our own numbered recliners

The beach and garden

Kurumba Resort website photo

Perfect spot to read a book

Lovely spot for a couple of days!!

Enjoying this rest

Our pool at night

So here we are in the Maldives with the only decisions we have to make being whether to eat, swim, swim in the pool or the sea, read or sleep, swim with the reef shark or get out of the water. The 1 metre long shark appearing in 50cm deep water just in front of us was all my fault: Anthony did tell me I should not have hummed the Jaws movie song!! He was right!

This place is truly amazing: the food is superb and we have only eaten at the cafe so far, not at any of the 7 restaurants. And although the resort is currently 95% occupied, we hardly ever see anyone. This is a once in a lifetime experience for us and we are loving it. It will be back to canned tuna and crackers or baked beans on toast when we get home and that’s fine.

Goodnight from the Maldives

So over and out until … the next stop over. This should be easier for you to guess where that will be!

– Anne

Wrapping up and starting to head home

Over a week has passed since engines off, no more morning helmet visor cleaning for Anne, it all seems a little surreal. I have adapted to driving a wider vehicle although I still cannot understand why cars continue to drive on my side of the road flashing their lights as they head straight towards me, puzzling.

How are we adjusting some people have asked: not too badly, we both still miss being on Streak and Storm from time to time, but that journey was not open ended and is finished. We move on, what to, I am not sure, we will need a little time to get home and think about the future – home still needs painting, our seven month absence will not have fixed that. We have decided that we will just pick a ‘white’ paint from the forty or so shades on offer, then comes the problem of which brush to choose.

As Anne mentioned in her last blog entry, this will be our last long haul motorcycle trip. While we achieved our objective of circumnavigating the globe for a second time, we now want to explore at a slower pace with focus on a particular region or culture. While it is a departure from our previous two adventures, we both came to a realisation that while we were forced to move on due to time or visa constraint, we would in future like to travel at a more leisurely pace and explore those small villages, open spaces and intriguing laneways that were always beckoning us as we rode by. Quite what and where is still to be debated, along with mode of transport, no more flying for Steak and Storm: you may not realise it, but they have been on 8 separate flights. Streak and Storm will be Europe based in future, which is still a huge and largely unexplored region for us. We still may decide to part with them but that is a decision for the future.

We have spent the time since our return catching up with some family and friends in a little bit of a whirlwind over the past 10 days, there is just not enough time to see everyone and we hope those we missed will understand and we will try and meet next time. Sorry. We were glad to see everyone was well and enjoying life and most passed the 2slowspeeds blog Q&A session. Yes we do really monitor who is reading the blog, just kidding, although if you want to appear knowledgeable, do not, as one nameless person we spoke to a couple of months back when we are in Azerbaijan, say ‘I thought you were back in Australia’, it gives the game away.

Our journey home will take 9 days: we decided to take the opportunity to break what we are finding more and more is a tiring journey for us both that leaves us jet lagged for up to a week once home. We, well I thought that it would be fun to keep our destinations a surprise for our followers, and family for that matter. Anne thought it a little strange, but went along with it to humour me, my thought was a extra for our followers, although it does not involve motorcycles or 4×4’s. It also takes us to a couple of destinations we have not visited before. We only have a couple of days in each place, but it will give us a sampler of the chosen locations.

Our flight leaves Heathrow and in less than half a day we have this view as we descend to land.

Like all good serials, we leave our viewers wondering what comes next.

– Anthony

We did it!!!

Yes, we did it and it feels great!! Our 2nd round the world trip on the same motorcycles, Streak and Storm, in 6 months this time, from east to west, is now complete: 30,300kms or 19,000 miles plus 2 flights, 5 ferry rides and 2 truck rides, 22 countries visited on this trip, 11 new countries, making it 95 countries in total for us over the years. And we celebrated a couple of milestones on the road: 43 years since we met and my 60th birthday.

We did it!!!

Why did we do this trip again?! Well, it was a choice between painting the house or going on another bike trip. There was no hesitation on our part. After Anthony drew up 3 routes of varying length and duration, we both picked the same one: the longest one, another round the world. There were friends in a number of countries we made on our last round the world trip who we dearly wanted to see again. It was also the most challenging route, for the timeframe – can we go around the world during a northern hemisphere summer? and for the terrain – crossing Mongolia with its renowned stunning scenery but difficult roads. Why so fast? We didn’t want to be away another 15 months – 6 months seemed to be about right and we saw it like an endurance challenge, a marathon, or ultra-marathon if you will, one that would challenge us both physically and mentally. Well, the timeframe challenge ended up forcing two major route changes along the way. Right at the start of the trip, we had to abandon our plan to ride to Alaska due to a long late winter. We spent a couple of months basically seeking less freezing weather and heading further and further south in the US. Then we gave up the indefinite wait in Kazakhstan to hear whether Turkmenistan would grant us a transit visa which meant we could not return to Iran to visit the many friends we made last time. That was gutting. And the terrain proved to be more challenging, hence one pickup ride in Mongolia, and the timeframe too, due to visa constraints, hence the 2nd pickup ride. Yes, the ride was at times physically and mentally tough but also so much fun and so rewarding!!! Renewing friendships and making new ones a huge part of that enjoyment. So we made it around the world from east to west in 6 months as we had hoped!!! And safely!! And we feel good.

Both bikes performed fantastically well overall: Streak’s four problems got fixed in Tajikistan and is still running with a secret ‘Tajik fix’ and both Streak and Storm got a new battery in Turkey. Heidenau Scout K60 tyres were fitted in Vancouver and lasted 20,000 kms.

As for us, we have enjoyed the whole journey, loved the people we met and new friendships made, saw some fantastic places, experienced so many unforgettable moments, discovered places we’d love to return to, supported each other during the tougher parts, learned more about ourselves, and best of all, can confirm once again that based on our experience, the world over, the vast majority of people are good, kind, generous and helpful.

As we close this chapter, we know how we would like to travel next!!! While we had a fantastic trip, we were so often sorry to have to move on. Too often, we ran out of time to spend a couple of more days somewhere to catch up with friends on the road – that was disappointing. 6 months was too short really. But at least we know where we’d love to return to such as the Caucasus. And while we saw stunning scenery and many fabulous ancient sites, as always, it is the time we spent with people that stays with us. We would love to spend longer in one place, wandering the smaller lanes and smaller villages with lesser known sights, at a much slower pace and at a time of the year that isn’t either too boiling hot or freezing to camp – I may have to work on Anthony for the camping part though!! Our pace will change radically. But for now, Streeak and Storm return to their storage place in southern UK.

Feeling good – we have just completed our 2nd Round trip on motorcycles!

Thank you to our numerous Gardian Angels and to all our followers for your comments and private messages and encouragement, it always meant so much to us, our connection back to home, family and friends. It is time we did that painting at home now!

– Anne

Nearing the end of the journey

We are back in France, well the far southern part at least, the last country on our 2nd RTW motorcycle trip. It is almost over, in less than a week we will be waiting to board a ferry to England. It all seems a little surreal, we have spent almost six months travelling generally westward seeing and experiencing so much and now we will race through the last week ignoring the signs for interesting and intriguing places. We are out of time, the temperature is dropping, leaves are gaining their autumnal tints and it’s time for us finish our journey.

We leave Dubrovnik to sunshine as usual, following the coast road (D8) to Donja Podstrana – there is a name for you but the weather forecasts see rain fronts crossing the continent over the coming week, so our aim will be to try and minimise our exposure while still keeping to our timetable.

Dalmatian Coast

Dalmatian Coast

Dalmatian Coast

Dalmatian Coast

We leave Donja Podstrana and the coast and head inland to the main motorway. The scenery changes in only few miles, is less arid and shows a gentler side to Croatia, small villages, intriguing winding roads. Yet another place to come back to and explore – the list keeps growing, we must stop looking or we will have years of traveling just in this part of the world.

Time to leave our motel at Donja Podstrana, Croatia

We cross into Slovinia, our last new country on this journey and last border crossing until the UK as we are in the Schengen area late in the afternoon and spend a night in a small hotel/guest house.

The next morning sees a magical mist covered landscape heading north, yes added that to the list as well.

Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia

Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia

Prestranek, Slovenia

Vipava, Slovenia

Vipava, Slovenia

Morning light in Borgo Ticino, NW of Milan, Italy

Italy was crossed with our destination, Montauroux, a small hilltop village west of Grasse, where we were based from January to May 2014 and did a significant amount of planning for RTW version 1.

Riding up to Montauroux, Provence

Heading into Montauroux

As we ride up the hill towards Montauroux, we recognise all the old sights, winding our way into the square, we are relieved, nothing seems to have changed. We park outside the ‘Brasserie du Clos’ where we would walk to each morning for coffee to watch the world go by, and more often than not in the evening for Pizza and a surprisingly good rosé wine on tap. We had got to know the proprietor Albert quite well. Over three years later, would he still be there or have sold and moved on? He is there and remembers us, he still has a post card we sent from Uzbekistan in 2014. Another great reconnection on this trip.

Back in Montauroux for coffee

We wander the town, reminding ourselves of those little things that fade from the memory,

View of Montauroux seen by us every day when we lived here

Cat flap in Montauroux

Lunch at the ‘Brasserie du Clos’ talking with Albert, it was great to see him again. We will keep in touch in future. Merci Albert pour le déjeuner, à la prochaine!

Anne and Albert in Montauroux

Our next stop is in Aix, chosen from a number of similar interesting places around the same distance from Montauroux, we know that Anne has an Aunt in the region, but where? Aix of course! We spend a couple of hours catching up with someone Anne had not seen in over 25 years.

Lodève, France

Heading down towards Lunas, France

Onwards to Lunas in the Occitanie region, created in 2016, where we catch up with the last friends before finishing this trip. Phillip and Judith we met in 2009 in India where we were all part of an organised group riding through Darjeeling and Bhutan on Royal Enfield motorcycles, our first overseas motorcycle adventure and look where that led us!!

Knights Templar village of La Couvertoirade

Knights Templar village of La Couvertoirade

Rooftops in Knights Templar village of La Couvertoirade

We spend a couple of days enjoying their company and hospitality and the last of the warm sunshine before heading off into the rain and back to UK, the trip almost over…

Anne, Phillip and Judith in the sunshine, Lunas

– Anthony