Just as school finished today it started raining. I got back across the road to base without getting wet, but no sooner was I inside than the heavens opened: torrential rain, thunder very close at hand on all sides and sheet lightning pulsing in the sky. Although I was in need of lunch I tried to wait it out but at about 2:30 decided I had to get going. In the hour or so that had passed conditions under foot had changed beyond recognition. I always think of Galle as being pretty flat but it’s not really and the road between me and TGS was flooded with rivers of brown water coursing onto the tarmac from the wee hill the school is on. Crossing the road I was up to my ankles and today was no day for stubbornly insisting on waiting for the bus, so I accepted the first tuk-tuk offer I got despite the shelter of my golfing umbrella.
It was quite a journey: in places the driver struggled to keep going and on a couple of occasions the engine cut out altogether as we ploughed through the flooding and dodged other traffic. Pedestrians stood in small knots under shop awnings, dodging the wake of vehicles. The dogs looked more woebegone than usual. Motorcyclists, still often three to a vehicle and soaked into the bargain, puttered slowly through the floods presumably hoping not to hit an unseen pothole. Everybody tried to hug the middle of the road where the tarmac could still be discerned and the water was shallowest. In “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” there’s a conversation along these lines:
“Hurry up the World’s going to end.
I thought we were supposed to lie down with a paperbag over our heads or something…
You can if you like.
Will it help?
Sri Lankan parents should be required to study this before encouraging their children to put a plastic bag over their heads in the rain. It might keep your hair dry, but will certainly direct lots of water down the back of your neck and it won’t act as a substitute crash helmet on a motorbike, though I suppose it might help to keep the bits together.
We were the nearest to an accident I’ve been so far when, rounding a corner not far from where I sat sipping Arrack Sours recently, we were nearly creamed between an oncoming four by four and a stone embankment. Even my driver turned pale and looked back in shock, saying something probably indelicate in Sinhala.
Tuk-tuks are normally open at the back: sure, there’s a roof but the sides are normally open, allowing a pleasant breeze and a view of what’s going on, the latter not always a reassuring feature. Today, most of the vehicles had their curtains drawn to protect passengers from the rain and wake induced flooding. It was almost like travelling incognito in a blacked-out stretch limo. Well, OK, it wasn’t much like it, I suppose.
Down at the Fort, I asked to be dropped off at Anura’s for a bite to eat and we dodged more significant lochans in the road to that end. The less well-protected shopkeepers were sweeping out water and one very downmarket place was ankle deep inside.
Of course, I know full well that even in the UK there is far worse flooding with much greater damage caused to housing, workplaces and infrastructure. But what struck me here was the suddenness of it: at midday it was dry and sunny. Barely two hours later the rain had been sufficiently torrential that we had flooding completely unaided by overflowing rivers or tidal movements.
I’m accustomed to being served by one of Anura’s daughters, a young lassie who works in her school uniform, so wasn’t surprised when she asked me my order. I started with an EGB (Ginger Beer), but discovered too late that for some reason food was “off”: she did explain something about her parents which I failed to understand. If I’d known in time I’d just have walked on but now I was saddled with my EGB: very enjoyable but I was already wondering if I was going to be too late for lunch somewhere else as it was at least 3pm.
It was still chucking it down – warm but very wet – so I headed into the first place I found: Fortalezza, a cut above Anura’s in menu, style and price. This is a rather attractively designed restaurant – I think I posted some photos last year – built round a slightly sunken open courtyard. The courtyard was now paddling pool depth in water and filling fast as the rain cascaded off the roof tiles and poured onto the ground. At the corners of the courtyard, where roof angles changed, there were gushing waterfalls that might well have knocked you off your feet. The only way of accessing the toilets, smart as they are, is by crossing the courtyard and the staff had laid out upturned bottle crates to make stepping stones which hugged the walls for some shelter from the over-hanging roof. The water was lapping at the tops of the crates and the rain still lashed down, the thunder still shook the building and the lightning still flickered every few seconds. The power went off a few times, but that didn’t seem a major problem, at least not to the diners. The thunder was probably the loudest and most sustained I’ve experienced.
After a reasonable lunch, though dearer than I’d intended and not significantly better than Anura’s, I was glad to note the force of the rain had diminished, though the special lighting and sound effects were still switched on. I squelched back to the bus station, airily dismissing importunate tuk-tuk drivers and buying one or two essentials (milk, pineapple etc.) in P&J, then got the bus back. I narrowly missed a bus just driving away from the stance, but that was actually a benefit as another rolled in immediately and I was the first on, grabbing a seat at the front. When I looked round soon before we left the stance, the bus was jam-packed with hot wet Sri Lankans, so I had indeed been lucky.
With Sera’s family away at their wedding, Amjit is in charge. He seems to have two friends staying: a pleasant young couple who float about but don’t seem to distract him from his work. Whilst I was making a coffee in the communal kitchen, Amjit called me over to look at the fridge top which I’ve been using as a shelf for my coffee jar, tea bags and cornflakes: it was teeming with ants, the little brutes. I had thought the top of the fridge a fairly safe place and there had been no formic foraging parties when I had my mango-coated corn flakes, but Amjit reckons they like the honey-flavoured variety I’m trying now. To my irritation, some of the “bugaran beagan” (pardon my Gaelic and its spelling) had managed to scale the upright packet, shimmy down the inside, wiggle their way through the opening in the rolled up inner foil bag and then got stuck. So tomorrow’s breakfast will not be completely vegetarian in all probability. Hopefully the extra protein will go well with the iron shakti.