Over the weeks, I’ve slagged off SL driving and road users, keeping a special infernal circle for bus drivers. Most of these strictures have been harsh but fair, I’d say, but I suppose I must redress the balance a bit. The public transport system – predominantly buses – does have its strengths. They are fairly frequent, both the town and “intercity” services, and almost everywhere anyone could reasonably want to go is served by a bus. You can travel long distances – maybe I should say “many hours” – for next to nothing, though you may well be jammed in on a plastic coated seat between a large lady with lots of shopping on one side and a man who resolutely refuses to acknowledge that he is taking far more than his fair share on your other. Us Brits tend to like to have our personal space, but you need to be prepared to give that up if you’re in SL! Oh, and the window probably won’t slide open either.
There is no shortage of entertainment on the buses, either – whether you want it or not. Almost every bus is equipped with an LCD TV bolted to the ceiling at the front (more than once, I’ve cracked my head on one getting off the bus) with speakers often placed along the luggage rack to ensure everyone gets the benefit. The videos are invariably local pop singers, sometimes just filmed live at concerts, at other times accompanied by professionally-produced videos generally featuring moody young men staring into the middle distance and wistful or “ballsy” young women giving them a hard time. Scooters generally appear as well. I often try to make out if the flashing Buddhas do so in sync with the music or if it’s just a trick of the lights.
On longer journeys, a singer or musician may get on at one stop, perform for quarter of an hour or so, attempt to collect money and then hop off again, presumably to do their set on a return bus. When these strolling minstrels come on, the driver generally turns down the recorded music and the singers don’t seem to be charged a fare. At bus stations, both long and short distance buses are a target for various itinerant sellers of fruit or “short eats”, who push their way down the steadily-filling corridor shouting their wares. There are also folk who come on selling “Speak Better English” books and various other publications: I have no idea what the latter are as they’re in Sinhala, as are the sales pitches.
I miss a lot by not speaking, let alone reading, the local language, but I think I can now differentiate between Sinhala and Tamil scripts – I’m not ready to sit the test yet, though. But I’ve more or less given up even trying to learn any vocabulary as the words go in one ear and out the other. The odd one sticks: I now know the Sinhala for the old Glesga bus conductress’s cry of “Come Oan, Get Aff!”: it’s (and please forgive the transliteration / spelling) “By-nah, by-nah, by-nah”, repeated two or three times at full volume. Once disembarkation and embarkation are completed but not necessarily in that order, the cry of “Ary-ary” (the general word for “OK”) is shouted and the bus pulls away from the side of the road, if it ever completely stopped in the first place.
I’m excited already about my bus trip to Tangalle tomorrow (Thu).
I’ve had some difficulty booking accommodation as so many of the places the Rough Guide recommends seem to be fully booked and I drew the line – before Sonia drew it for me! – at paying up to $1000 per night to stay in the “utterly captivating…stylishly understated low impact design…” Amanwella. My preferred choice was unavailable as were choices number 2 & 3…, so I’ve settled for “Green Garden Cabanas” at about $50 per night. The Guide doesn’t say whether the GGC has wifi, though most places do. I suspect I’ll miss out the whale-watching as it’s pretty pricey, but birds, turtles and rock temples are likely to be on the agenda, with the odd giant Buddha thrown in as well.
GGC apparently is “just a couple of minutes’ walk from a neat little beach in a bay below”, so that sounds nice as well.
A few minutes after booking GGC, someone from choice number 1 rang back to say there was in fact space there, so the plan may change again…