Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Welcome to Sri Lanka!


I knew trying to get from Gallipoli, Turkey to Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka wasn't going to be a quick little walk to the corner shop to pick up milk and bread especially when you travel via Dubai.

But, this little mission was just another reason why for me, the distance it takes to get to the next destination often doesn't matter. Instead, for me, it's about the regret I may have if I never take the opportunity to do it when it’s made possible.

All long journeys often come with a few good stories. At the time, you don't quite see the funny side and then a few days later, your telling it for the 5th time to someone else, you start laughing and all of a sudden you’re in hysterics.

I felt like I was on the final leg in getting to Sabiha Gökçen airport (Turkey) on Sunday evening. My bum still felt  dead weight after the 6-hour bus ride from Gallipoli. But that didn’t matter, I was almost there. Until a lorry truck exploded into flames on the E80 highway and all traffic was diverted. At a makeshift bus shelter I watched and listened to the fire cripple the lorry, than noticed a woman sitting nearby me inspecting her daughters head for what I assumed was a head lice check.

For all those who have done a transit in Dubai you’ll agree that people watching here is fascinating. Amongst the throng of Sri Lankans stood 3 Kiwis (randomly, I had two other ex-Londoners on my flight to Colombo) waiting for our passports to be checked as all the locals looked on at us.

This crowd waiting to board the flight, and their choice of dress echoed a country that is made of varying religions. 

I couldn’t help watch a young woman covered from head to toe and wearing black gloves struggling with overweight carry on luggage as her husband nonchalantly strolled behind with a yawn.  I wanted to say to her, ‘Hey would you like a hand,’ but held back as it just didn’t seem right.

Arriving into Sri Lanka as a solo traveller and being a female was always going to be an interesting experiment. Especially when your flight lands in Colombo at 1am. After saying my goodbyes to the other Kiwis, I was ready to face any sleepy eyed males keen on offering a ‘cheep hotel’ or the standard ‘where you from, I have good friend there?’ conversation starter. So walking into the Arrivals halls I felt ready for defeat.

Instead I was greeted with silence.

No shouting. No ‘Helloooo’s’ and ‘How are yous?’ Just a swarm of hands holding signs and one with my name on it.

Long overnight bus rides are killer. You never sleep. Or do you see the end coming any sooner.  Luckily for me I was to be transported in a air conditioned van and I stupidly assumed that meant I’d be getting some sleep and then waking up to hear the sound of the Indian Ocean in Arugam Bay.

That thought was quickly pushed aside when we accelerated over our first bump and my head slammed onto the roof of the van. This repeated for the remaining 6-hours only stopping when the driver pulled over to enjoy his final meal before fasting began and then making his first prayer for the new day.

Keeping to cultural rules, I avoided engaging too much conversation with the driver. Instead just small chat covering off the usual questions of curiosity, and that is especially the ‘Why are you here alone? Where is your husband?’

It was only after the 3rd tailgate and dodgy overtake that I found my tongue and let him know that perhaps he had better slow down (just slightly).

I don’t think this really sunk in until the brakes were slammed, the left wing mirror was no longer attached to the van, instead scattered in parts on the side of the road, a huge dent and cracks in the windscreen and a very angry truck driver walking over towards us. By now, we also had the driver’s friend sitting in the front seat (who had been picked up half way in the journey for the ride to the coast). He politely turned to me, raising his hands in disbelief and said with a smile, ‘Oh accidents happen.’

By this stage my driver was already in a heated conversation with the truck driver and a policeman on a motorbike had pulled over and was attempting (and failing) to keep order.

I need to stop here to say, that I did try  to capture this all on camera as words can only half attempt to describe the scene. However, I was in such shock that we were all unscathed considering what we had smacked into was a very large truck, carrying a heavy and overloaded timber.

Arms were waving from all sides and everyone looked very angry. It seemed that my driver was trying to throw as much blame as possible onto the truck driver (who clearly wasn’t at fault). Soon all anger seemed to disappear, laughter taking place. If only I knew what was being said.

It was only later, after checking into my accommodation that the Manager apologised for the disruption during my travelling that morning. I started to talk about the truck overloaded with timber and the dodgy driving but was cut off as the Manager explained how terrible it was that someone had hit the van while parked in Colombo Airport and knocked the wing mirror off, dented the side of the van and cracked the windscreen.

Welcome to Sri Lanka!

Toodle pip x 

Tuk Tuk 6am transport to the waves.

Sunset over A Bay.