Saturday, 8 May 2010

Saturday, in which Clive sits on a Woman's Leg

Yesterday, Saturday, I'd been invited over to Galle by a couple I met on my first day here - Alan and Jo, retired English teachers who were volunteering their years of experience at schools near Unawatuna Beach.  Galle is 62km from Tangalle and, it turns out, it's not a pleasant journey.  It didn't help that I was tired due to a sleepless night from feeling sick and a headache.

I managed to get a seat on a bus at Tangalle just because that's where the bus empties.  It was a real stop-start journey, with much braking and accelerating as we picked up more and more passengers. But after about 20km we were involved in an accident.  It had been raining heavily and a braking lorry aquaplaned across the road right in front of us. Actually I'm surprised that there aren't more accidents judging by the speed people go at with their near-bald tyres. I was watching out the front window, trying not to be travel sick, and saw it all happening in slow motion.  Our driver did his best to avoid it but there was a load thump and judder as the truck hit our front bumper on the nearside and slewed past us.  A cyclist only just managed to jump out of the way as the lorry ground to a halt - there were no injuries, thankfully. Where it stopped, I was level with the lorry driver's cab and could see everything in it - including the box of switches and wires on the passenger's seat.  I presume that this was the dashboard.  You could see it was all bodged together with bits of sticky tape and the cab itself had been welded and patched in countless places.  Alan later told me that Sri Lanka is a nation of breakers and repairers, and I can well believe it!

We blocked the road for 15 minutes while nothing much seemed to happen until the bus suddenly emptied.  I've seen far worse damage on working buses in India but this one was going nowhere until the police arrived.  The conductor arranged to reimburse everyone and, as luck would have it, after our guy decided he could pull off the road to allow the queues to move, another bus came along immediately.  I changed at Matara and managed to cram onto an overfull bus to Galle.

I'd decided to travel early so that I could visit a Mobitel outlet to arrange mobile internet and thought I might even have some time for sightseeing.  As it was, it took a lot longer than I'd expected (it always does!) so then I had to rush off to Jo and Alan's for lunch.  After an enjoyable afternoon, it was time to leave.  I caught a bus which ended up being about as crowded as you can get.  The rows of seats in all of these buses are arranged as three plus two so the narrow aisles are packed with people standing arse to arse.  The conductor and folk trying to get off find themselves half-suspended between others, and have to heave themselves over bodies and limbs.  A window seat in a row of three miraculously became free beside me but getting to it meant I had to be pushed in by the old guy at the aisle and had to momentarily sit on the leg of the woman passenger in the middle.  It was most jolly!

Both journeys to and from Galle took 3 and a half hours.  It's not something I'll undertake lightly again.

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