Monday, February 11, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 5

I'm running a couple of days behind posting these updates. Sorry, but Colombo has been hectic. I'll get them all up eventually.)

So let's take a moment to reconsider drivers in Sri Lanka. On my first day in country, during our mad dash from Colombo to Kandy in the pre-dawn hours, I might have been a bit harsh. Exhaustion and culture shock may have played some role in that first impression. Certainly I was concerned that Dups might have arranged a lunatic to drive us in some sort of passive-aggressive way to do me and Lori in before the wedding (and meeting Jenna) to spare himself any horrors that we might inflict on him.

But after spending a few days with our driver, Rukman, and spending more time watching how he does what he does, I'm having to reevaluate things a bit. Oh, don't get me wrong, if he tried half the stuff he has over the last few days any police force in North America would have pulled him over, fined him to within an inch of his life, taken his licence and probably thrown him in jail for good measure.

But in the Sri Lankan context of things, he's actually a pretty good driver. He understands that when driving you're having a conversation with the other people in the road, which tends to be very different than North America, where courtesy is one of those rarities and can just as often get you in trouble. North American drivers are very much in it for themselves and screw everyone else on the road. Trying to drive like a North American in Sri Lanka would get you killed in about five minutes.

On this day, we began our mad dash from Anduradhapura to Colombo. Nuala had to get into the city at a reasonable hour for a sari fitting (she's the maid of honour). Dups had warned us the traffic was more horrific than normal so we were on the road by 7:45 am. The distance between the two cities is a little more than 200 km. It's like driving from St. John's to Terra Nova National Park. I could easily do that in less than two hours, assuming traffic and weather weren't really bad.

It took us six hours.

There are any number of factors for that. Our van is of...indeterminate age and not the fastest thing on the road (Nuala noted we were always travelling at 55 km/h, even if we weren't moving). While there is a lot of new pavement, there's also a lot of road construction happening. And yes, the traffic was impressive, especially as we got closer to Colombo.

So I had some time to observe things. The scenery is, of course, amazing. But after awhile I started paying more attention to how Rukman got us to Colombo alive.

There is a communication between everyone on the road. Horns are not used as profanity, as they are in North America, but as a way of communication your intention and your opinion. Rukman would frequently toot the horn when passing a vehicle to let them know he was overtaking them. Sometimes they would toot back suggesting that given the approaching transport truck, this was not a good idea (there are a lot of twists and turn in Sri Lankan roads. The vehicle ahead often have a precious few extra feet of view) and Rukman would back off.

However, when he was passing, even if there was a car or bus coming, the vehicle we were passing normally slowed down and gently veered to the left a bit, giving us a precious few extra feet to dive back into our lane of traffic. And when we were being passed, he would do the same thing.

This played itself out dozens of times over those six hours. There's also the recognition that the bigger you are, the more you own the road. So we were about middle of the pack in terms of respect/priority. We were ahead of motorcycles and tuk tuks (three-wheel bikes/ATVs often used as cabs), but obviously behind buses and trucks.

There was only about five times or so that I saw Rukman pull moves where I deeply questioned his sanity. But normally the Sri Lankan urge to not see people die prevailed. Even when they saw someone doing something deeply stupid. We had a truck in front of us dragging a large flatbed behind it for a good chunk of the trip. It was only the courtesy of the other drivers on the road that kept a truly horrific accident from happening, because he was driving like a lunatic.

It's not a system that would work everywhere, but it works well for this culture.

We did manage to make it into Colombo in one piece and got Nuala to the seamstress on time-ish. Afterwards it was a little power shopping for a suit for for the wedding and then eventually plunking down into our latest hotel. Last night involved a walk down to the beach to hook up with the happy couple and a few friends for some food (spectacular once again) and a few drinks. Everybody stumbled back to their respective rooms around 12:30. A long day, but a pretty happy one.

Assorted Bits
Who says advertising doesn't work. The thing that I've seen the most advertising for in this country, by a mile, is not for Coke or Pepsi or McDonalds or even Lion Beer. No, it's been for cream crackers. Two kinds in particular are waging a cream cracker war for the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans - Super Cream Crackers and Smart Cream Crackers. They're on billboards and store fronts everywhere. I finally broke down and bought some Smart Cream Crackers yesterday. They're nice and all, but I'm not sure if they're worth quite the amount of money being spent on advertising.
There was an epic thunder and lightening storm in Colombo last night. Perhaps for people down in southern Canada who are used to such things, it was no big deal. But it was the first one I've seen in ages and it was deeply impressive.
I've added another ocean to my list of ones I've been in. I now have the Indian Ocean. I thought that meant I had the set, but I was told last night there's the Southern Ocean, which is new, I think. It might take awhile to get that one.

1 comment:

John, Perth AU said...

The Southern Ocean is more oceanographic than geographic. The ocean south of Australia, South America, and Africa (that is, around Antarctica) all runs together. Weather and features there tend to run around "forever" and not leak into the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian oceans. The "Roaring Forties" and the "Furious Fifties" names come from times of old. The only place that calls itself a "boundary" of the Southern Ocean is Cape Leeuwin, south of Perth AU (where I am). If you want to say you've been on the Southern Ocean, that's the place to do it.