A Girl’s Best Friend

Those of you smarter than me – probly most of youse – will know that Martin Wickramsinghe was SL’s leading writer of the 20th century. At a time when Sinhala was under threat from English, he wrote lots of books – novels, short stories, works on anthropology, local culture, Buddhism etc. in Sinhala. No, I didn’t know either.

There is a museum centred round him and the local culture near here, in his native Koggala, which I visited today and it was very good. It consists of a number of buildings spread over a rural site with well-curated objects such as agricultural, artisanal, transport and domestic items as well as stuff specifically related to the man himself. It made an interesting trip.

Koggala was more or less flattened by the SLs themselves in WW2 so an Air Force base could be built to protect against a threatened Japanese attack, therefore there’s not much of interest apart from the museum. However, there is the vastly big, recently-built and hugely expensive Fortress Hotel. According to the guide book, its main claim to fame seems to be the “World’s Most Expensive Dessert”, which includes a real diamond and retails at $14000 (yes, fourteen thousand US dollars). Naturally, I was tempted but I valued my personal safety higher than that and didn’t fancy telling Sonia I’d succumbed, so I walked past on the other side of the street and contented myself with the local version of a Cornetto.

Soon after I got back, Sera arrived with my table and chair. I think he was actually planning some locally-made wooden thing, but due to the time delay, I’ve ended up with a sturdy plastic table and matching chair. This will make a huge difference as I can use the laptop much more easily and will be able to fill in the evenings better. Sorry, but the blogs will be probably get longer…

I know I keep going on about it, but the standard of driving here really is atrocious. It’s easy to joke about it, but buses pass buses which are themselves passing tuk-tuks on blind corners, horns a-blaring. It’s high speed dodgems at times. Motorcyclists sometimes wear helmets, pillion passengers occasionally do. Safety conscious motorcyclists wedge their mobile phones between their ear and the helmet, whilst the more cavalier just hold their phones and use them as they ride. Bus drivers can be seen chatting on their phones whilst carrying out manoeuvres which would get them banned for life in the UK. Driving is a version of the game “chicken”: if you’re passing something on a bend and a vehicle appears coming the other way, it’s duelling horns until someone blinks. A vehicle in front is a challenge and overtaking has to be attempted, however futile the effort. I’ve already described tuk-tuks, with all the power of a dozy three-legged donkey, winding their elastic band up tight and going hell-for-leather to pass a bus and running alongside it for some considerable distance until a head-on collision has to be averted.

Bus drivers tear up to an obstruction and slam on the brakes at the last second. Seated passengers are thrown forward and bang their heads on the seat in front whilst those standing are liable to fall like dominoes, or wrench their arms out of their sockets if they’re hanging on firmly. The buses have a front and back door, so when the vehicle gets too crowded for the conductor to make his way down the aisle, he will hop out one door, sprint round to the other and get back in. Needless to say, neither door actually closes in day-to-day use.

The general level of servicing seems poor. A bus I was in today was so over-laden that something metallic scraped along the road every time we took a left hand bend. Fan belts scream as the bus takes off and brakes do much the same when it stops. Clouds of evil black diesel smoke puff out of the exhausts and billow out across the road.

The other day I was in a bus at the stance, waiting for it to depart and the driver spent at least ten minutes holding it on the clutch. The ground was flat, but he’d let the clutch bite until the bus moved forward a foot or so, let it roll back and then do it again. Goodness knows what that did to the engine and clutch plates.

Just outside the Galle bus station is a big roundbout. The approach to a roundabout seems to be based on “might makes right”: the road markings are ignored and the buses – in fact all road users who think they’ll get away with it – just barge onto it and the traffic already on either has to stop or navigate round the intruder. Needless to say, horns blare continually.

There are more motorbikes than cars here though motorcycling must be a very dangerous activity: many a time I’ve seen riders being cut off at a roundabout and almost being batted by a bus’s rear end onto the central reservation. On the way back today I saw a Westerner on one of those recumbent bikes, cycling along the main coastal road: he had a little flag sticking up at the back like an aerial but was certainly taking his life in his hands: fumes, dodgy driving, potholes, unobservant motorists, careless pedestrians, take your pick. There’s no way you’d get me on one of those out here!

I also bumped into Sylvia in the bus station: I don’t know if she’d come into town on her motorbike or not but I had a bus to catch so we didn’t chat for long. She was her usual cheery, talkative self.

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One response to “A Girl’s Best Friend

  1. Pingback: Island Hopping | dougmerrick

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