Where I find myself (Sri Lanka)

We ride a strange new highway that alternates between beautiful empty tarmac, rolling dream of clear road with no traffic. And every few kilometres it stops abruptly where a house hasn’t given up its rights for the road and becomes a mud track winding around a tiny little property, then becomes a road again.

Every road we ride is threaded with people who come to their doorways to wave, shout good morning, smile. In hundreds of encounters as we ride across this country, ridiculous rich westerners in a poor country, almost everyone unleashes a huge smile. Children are luminous. Women giggle and smile shared acknowledgement that we are silly and working hard. Men shovelling gravel for a living smile and shout go go go! People cheer like we are in a formal race. Drivers toot lightly to let us know they are swerving around us on the narrow roads. The warmest country I’ve ever been in.

*

I get really tired of dahl.


It does not digest well in the heat before an afternoon ride.

*

There are scarecrows on building sites. I ask Nishan why and he says it is because people become envious seeing other people’s new houses and these are placed there so people do not wish ill luck, to remind them the owners are people.


The country is highly functional and relatively prosperous and clean, but wildly inefficient. Every fancy hotel has throngs of men milling about (rarely women), but simple requests like tea, picking up bags, laundry involve a lot of nodding and walking away. There is a lot of training in formal tasks (pouring water very precisely) but inability to provide anything else.

The most vivid moment is my arrival at the first hotel at 230 am where the clerk keeps telling me to take a seat while he “contacts my colleagues” and wakes up another woman from my group to tell her he “has a woman for her.” It takes 20 minutes to convince him that neither of us is sharing a room and that at 230 am, the only thing anyone needs is their bed, not a greeting of new colleagues. 

We had tickets to take a really scenic train ride through the mountains but when we boarded the train our seats had been double sold. We toured the tea factory the day after a holiday when there was no tea. 

*

Riding I have seen half a dozen wild peacocks, one wild elephant, monitor lizards, mongooses and many many monkeys.

*

When we ride through towns and briefly lose our group, people on street corners point to show us the direction our friends went in.

*

At Baker’s Falls at Horton’s Plains, Buddhist nuns and monks carry selfie sticks. 


*

Riding through tangled chaotic Bandarawela, I thread my way through busses, tuktuks, trucks, motorbikes and cars as an unexpected Buddhist call to prayer flows through the entire town and a long procession of people streams toward the temple. I’m in instinctive, unthinking flow with the traffic and the sound of prayer carries me.

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