Wind blasted through the open door as my feet dangled above the railway tracks. Before me stretched the Indian Ocean, the palm trees lining its shore bucked violently as we roared past.
This was the train to Hikkaduwa, a wild ride down Sri Lanka’s gorgeous southwest coast. It had begun in Negombo, where we’d bought tickets for 210 rupees and then waited two hours at the leafy station. The jungle’s calm was shattered as a dirty locomotive rolled into view.
We took the train south to Colombo’s Fort Railway Station. The carriage seemed to have a revolving door, at every station a horde of beggars came aboard. It was impossible to hear my friend over the noise of drums banging and coin jars rattling.
Then at one stop silence descended as a blind boy ambled on and played the flute. It was heart-wrenching watching him grope around the rocking carriage. Everyone reached into their pockets.
An hour later we were in Colombo and waiting for the train to Hikkaduwa. Secure in the knowledge that our tickets had allocated seats, we were totally unprepared for the mad rush as the train arrived. People sprinted and barged others out of the way as they scrambled aboard.
Too slow on the uptake, I ended up sitting on the floor, trying not fall off the train as it trundled through Colombo’s outskirts. We passed through shantytowns with houses built inches from the tracks. Soon the buildings melted away and we were in open country, riding down Sri Lanka’s beautiful coast.
I smelt the salt spray as the train outran the waves crashing onto the shore. It was surreal seeing the beach whip past — I felt I could almost reach out and touch it. This wasn’t the seat I’d purchased, but it felt like the best in the house.