I tend to get anxious about stupid things. This is one of the reasons I need to occasionally throw myself off of the proverbial high-dive and fly halfway around the world: to prove to my over-analyzing self that sometimes it's okay to just let go and be open to what goes down.
I get stressed that I won't get a decent seat at happy hour. One can likely imagine my anxiety at boarding a 6.5 hour train ride without a reserved seat. In a foreign country.
But I did it. Burdened with what I'd like to call "the travelers' turtle" (big backpack on my back and smaller one on my front), I left my hotel in Kandy early this morning. The hotel manager was a kind older man who had made sure that I got a decent meal after my arrival last night. He made sure to tell me that he looked after solo female travelers and then, much to my chagrin, was sure to tell me a horror story or two. So when my tuk tuk driver this morning mentioned that there was bad traffic and he'd take a shortcut, then told me he was going to take me to a "viewpoint", I was pretty much sure I was about to disappear.
But I didn't. I'm guessing you've figured that out.
And when the clunky blue train rolled into the station and about a hundred similarly-clad tourists with a few locals smattering in pushed to board and find a seat, I quickly realized that a seat wasn't to be had...and that wasn't the worst thing that could happen.
An older Sri Lankan gentleman and his wife were seated near where I stood. With his wife's urging, he helped me load my bags to the overhead racks. She was plating and passing some delicious smelling something to others in rows all around. Directly behind the couple sat two teenage girls, grinning at me.
Soon after, as the conductor's whistle sounded and the rhythmic clickety-clack of the wheels and the pronounced sway of the train began, I'd been befriended by the whole lot. The girls had scooted over and invited me to share their seat. Crackers and tea had been passed. Selfies were taken and social media usernames shared. And I was reminded in the most glorious way that sometimes, discovering the goodness of people by accident is far better than a reserved seat.
The train made its slow climb out of Kandy and into the hill country, men carrying baskets of fruits or "short eats" made their way through the swaying car. Various treats were shared. One foreign berry was passed my way. I took a bite; it was bitter. They all laughed. From my right, one girl's father handed me another berry - after he'd rolled it around in his hands, squishing it a bit. Then everyone watched while I tried again, and smiled. This fruit was tricky.
One relative was especially funny - an older skinny man with a crooked smile and a white t-shirt that proudly proclaimed in giant hot pink letters, one syllable topping the next, that he was a "PARTY GIRL". But he began to sleep, and when the rain came down, one girl would stick her hand out of the window, let it cool, then press it against my face whilst grinning from ear to ear.
Because I was one cheek in the aisle, I wasn't able to get photos of the incredible, misty vistas. One of the girls took my camera and snapped a few shots, and occasionally I'd simply stick it out the window, press the shutter and hope for the best. One such time I captured a lovely young girl, dressed in her starched whites for school, umbrella overhead. I was breathless when I pulled the camera back in the train and saw what I'd captured.
After many mist-shrouded tea plantations, stops with the now-familiar sound of the conductor's whistle, and villages had been passed, it was time for the girls and their family to disembark. One had moved forward to nap with her mother, and so it was the other girl who hugged me, kissing me on each cheek, and wishing me a safe journey. I leaned out of the train and waved farewell, faith renewed.
So, to my dearest friend Jennie back home, with whom I was messaging this morning, thank you for reminding me to let the adventure happen.