A 3rd Class Surprise

“What do you mean you don’t know where you’re going?” is usually the wide–eyed response I hear when telling people I lack a specific travel itinerary. This summer, my answer to the destination question went something like this. “I am starting in Sri Lanka, heading to India, and perhaps spending some time in Nepal.” My only specific plans before leaving were hotel reservations for the first night in Sri Lanka (changed twice due to delays) that were booked by my bargain travel advisor whose services are actually free and include helping me to pack…(Thanks to my aunt Bones). I also had a flight arranged to get me back to India which is probably a good thing because at this point, I’m sure I would have never left Sri Lanka.

There are a few cliche reasons I could provide for traveling sans itinerary…personal freedom…a need to explore…too busy to plan…all valid and true. But more than those, you have likely experienced the disappointed feelings I recollect from traveling with a secured itinerary.

Certainly, you have deliberated over a restaurant menu and made the perfect selection only to find yourself longingly looking at another platter when the order arrives thinking “Oh, I should have ordered that!” Your painstakingly selected simple salad pales in comparison to the hot stir fry across the table. You can’t stop thinking about those exotic vegetables while mindlessly shoveling in your limpy lettuce. Every glance at the crispy veggie melange leaves you wanting a chance to “do over” your order. You feel cramped by your decision and know there is something better that you’re missing. Your only hope for happiness is a future visit to explore your missed opportunity.

Might sound dramatic, (surprise) but it’s exactly how I’ve felt when sitting on an airplane, itinerary in hand, and a seat mate says, “You must go to ___. It’s amazing,” I suffer the disappointment of their missed utopia (which suddenly becomes larger than life) mainly because I can’t have it. (Restaurant story above also can be used to describe why I doubt I’ll get married again, but I digress).

Anyway…there is a story here! While on the plane to Sri Lanka, I sat next to a doctor who was traveling to France for business. He was an older, married gentleman who had lived in Sri Lanka for four years. We had an interesting and lively conversation (that included his topic “tell me a secret” – his was so good) and when we parted ways, my next five days were loosely planned. I was ready to eat some stir fry and head to Kandy-land literally, to Kandy, Sri Lanka! He told me that it was important to get a first class train ticket so I could enjoy the beautiful mountain views.

So, as I stood in the train line, ready to splurge on first class, I anticipated the ride of my life….me, all first class and all!

But, as fate would have it, the agent’s abrupt response was “only third class seat” as he handed me a ticket and sent me on my way. As I boarded the train, I quickly learned that his idea of a “seat” might be slightly different than my idea of a seat….when I found the only open spot on the floor. I set my trusty suitcase in the space BETWEEN two train cars, took a Dramamine, and waited for 30 minutes in blaring heat for this ride of my life to begin. I wasn’t sure how long the trip would be, but I envisioned hours in this cramped (maybe 3′ x 10′) space with my five fellow traveling compadres.

I spent the first hour dozing, protecting my suitcase, holding my dress down, (note to self, do not wear dresses when traveling on train floors), and receiving curious “what’s up with her?” stares. The ride was loud and rocky, but I have fallen into a nice pattern of sleeping whenever I am still…even “sort of” still. I woke up to a breeze coming from the other side of our train “car” and a man dangling his legs into the open space. I watched for a few minutes before realizing that the moving wall that had been pounding into my back for the last hour was also a door. I had one of those Leonardo on the Titanic moments as I took off my shoes, secured my suitcase, opened the door, grabbed a rail, and almost shouted into the wind, “I’m the queen of the world!” My “between car” space came to life as others held me by the arms to make sure I wasn’t departing this train via flying side exit. I watched as racing waterfalls, palms, and an occasional cow flew by. My between-car buddies screamed stories of their upcoming family visits and walked me to my final destination. I was suddenly having fun!

Yes…my doctor friend was right, the mountain views WERE fabulous – especially from 3rd class. I am in Kandy now…ready to take on this day!

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5 Responses to A 3rd Class Surprise

  1. erinjuliah says:

    Hey Nancy! (Is it cool that I call you Nancy?)

    This sounds fantastic! When you get home, YOU HAVE TO SEE DARJEELING LIMINTED by Wes Anderson. If you’ve already seen it, you have to see it again. I hope your trip has a soundtrack that includes the Kinks! “This Time Tomorrow” by them is the song I listen to whenever I’m travelling.

    You’ve become a great role model for me, and many other people back in Westmont. Seriously. I’m trying to get to Montreal this summer, but plans keeping falling through. Hoping to study abroad in Ireland next year too.

    If you happen to see any cheap postcards, pick one up for me! I collect postcards, but don’t have any from there. No need to mail them though.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip! Keep writing!

    Erin Hastings

  2. erinjuliah says:

    Also, one of my favorite poems is Portrait of a Lady, by TS Eliot ( http://www.bartleby.com/198/2.html ) which has the lines:

    “And so you are going abroad; and when do you return?
    But that’s a useless question.
    You hardly know when you are coming back,
    You will find so much to learn.”
    My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac.

  3. Oh, Erin! I love your comments and am so proud of you! Don’t make me start taking a walk down memory lane…discussing your natural curiosity in kindergarten and all! 🙂 I will be happy to pick up postcards from every destination and I hope you will keep me updated on your future travel plans! Thanks for the poem (love it) and book/music suggestions. I will download both of them! Glad you’re along for the ride with me! 🙂

  4. HipTraveler says:

    wonderful post Nancy! I just recently returned from a trip to SE Asia. I remember riding the train to Kandy through the beautiful tea plantations : ) I was lucky to secure seats in the observation car of the train from Ella, but also remember riding my first train in Sri Lanka from Colombo south to Matara. A rather interesting and frenetic experience.

    I really like your carefree approach to travel. It’s quite inspiring!

    Keep blogging… Safe travels!

    cheers,
    ~Kelly

    p.s. I also thoroughly enjoyed your blog on volunteering in India. I haven’t been yet, but I’d like to go. I just finished reading Shantaram, and I’m currently reading a book called “Little Princes” about a traveler’s experience volunteering in a children’s orphanage in Nepal.

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