Today, we are taking a bus to Kurunegala to do some banking at Fahim’s other bank. It’s an hour and a half to two hour bus ride there, and since Fahim wants to get back in time for mosque (12:45 pm), we get up at 5 am to catch the bus.
In case I haven’t mentioned this before, let me mention it now. Fahim sleeps very soundly. I’m jealous, I sleep light, and just about anything will wake me up. Fahim – nothing. Solid. His alarm on his phone goes off, and I have it shut off before he even twitches – and that’s considering I have to get out of bed and find his phone. I put a kibosh on him using his phone for an alarm. We use my watch now – since I’m the one who’s going to wake up anyway, I’m going to control the alarm. So, me, being the light sleeper that I am, I wake up at 4:45, try sleeping again, and give up at 4:50. I have to physically manhandle Fahim to wake him up. Damn that boy. I am so jealous.
So we’re awake, we’re out of bed, and we leave for the bus stop. It’s in downtown Colombo, so it’ll take about a half hour trishaw ride to get there. (Fahim says: It’s actually central Colombo :p) (Laurie says: And the difference is . . . ?)
This bus stop – all the buses stop there, both public and private, intercity and intracity. There are dozens upon dozens of buses there, and there are also, of course, shops – a market, if you will, of all sorts of things.
We find the bus to Kurunegala, and Fahim and I get in. It’s a private intercity bus, which means that it costs twice as much as the public intercity bus at 70 rupees ($0.70 USD), has air conditioning, and no one has to stand up. The public bus crams in as many people as they can, standing or seating, and of course no air conditioning. Thanks, I’ll pay the extra 50 cents Canadian. (Fahim says: actually there are two types of private intercity buses – the first is about half the fare and works very much like the public/government intercity bus and it’s the second type that charges more and has air conditioning and no cramming :p)
This bus is not standard North American 72 passenger roomy comfortable bus with a bathroom. Nope. Are you surprised? I’m not. And yet, there are surprises here. I’ll get to those in a minute.
The bus is wide enough for four seats side by side with no aisle. Sort of. And it’s long enough for 14 rows – although, honestly, I didn’t count, so it could be more or less. But whatever. You get the point.
Looking from the back of the bus forward, there are two fixed seats on the right side and one fixed seat on the left side. There is an aisle wide enough for another seat that folds down from the right hand aisle seat. It’s got a 1/3 back, and from what I hear, not so comfortable. Fahim and I are lucky enough to find two seats together near the back. We climb in. Our seats are over the wheel well, so I have no leg room to speak of. Fahim offers to switch places with me, but I decline – I want the window. He doesn’t care.
Fahim has already told me that the bus doesn’t run on a schedule – this is not Greyhound, after all. (Fahim says: actually, we had a private intercity service called Greyhound in Sri Lanka for a while :p) The bus runs when the bus is full, and whether that takes five minutes or an hour, they don’t care. Also, we pay when the bus is underway, not as we get on.
As people fill up the seats, I finally realize that they really do pack them in as full as they can – not only do they fill all the aisle seats, but also the front – beside and behind the driver – not a single space is empty that’s big enough to fit a seat, even though there’s even less leg room up front. I’ll get to that later.
Finally, the bus is full enough, and we leave.
It takes a while to get out of Colombo, and at first, all we’re seeing is city and more city. But eventually, it starts getting a little more sparse, as in, the shops are less dense along the highway.
On the way out of Colombo, there’s a spot of road that’s being repaved, and they put their gravel down first. Obviously, Sri Lanka’s version of gravel is much different than North America’s. Take a look at this picture.
Next thing you should know is that Sri Lanka doesn’t have highways the way Canada or the US knows highways. In Sri Lanka, it’s all city or town, although further out from Colombo, there are open fields at the side of the road – fields for growing rice, pineapple, coconuts, cashews, whatever. But along the highway, there are shops the entire way. People maximize what they can sell being on highway.
The highway is so packed with traffic and people all the way that we can only reach maximum speeds of around 70km/h. And yes, this is the highway. (Fahim says: the posted maximum speed limit is around 70 km/h outside city limits anyway :p)
I’ll talk more about the highway from the way back from Kurunegala.
In Kurunegala, we saw buddhist monks. What I didn’t know is that they wear robes of all sorts of colors – here, they’re wearing burgundy – also saw some wearing rich orange. (Fahim says: There is actually some info that I didn’t tell Laurie :p The monks were originally actually supposed to wear clothing taken from dead bodies – white cloth used to wrap the bodies – and then to disinfect them using saffron – hence the yellow colouring. Now of course, they simply buy saffron coloured cloth for their robes and in the course of time, the colouring has tended to veer away from the original saffron hue and wander a bit up and down the colour spectrum :p)
I’ve mentioned butchered English before. Here’s another fine example: weedicide. (Fahim says: Hey, it gets the idea across better than herbicide – which sounds like a murder in the "Love Bug" anyway :p)
Coconut groves – outside of Colombo, most people have one or two coconut trees in their yard so they don’t have to buy coconut. Regular coconut – as in, what we can buy in North American grocery stores – is used for coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut meat for cooking in curries. (Fahim says: the coconut water in the regular coconut is rarely used – except for drinking when the coconut is young) King coconut is a whole other variety, orange husk, and it’s used for drinking coconut water and for eating coconut meat out of hand.
Along the side of the road, there are Buddhist temples, along with statues of Catholic Saints which look like Roman soldiers. There are also trees that have been enshrined because Buddha received enlightenment under the tree. (Fahim says: She’s talking about the Bo tree :p) I’ve seen several now – along the highway, in Colombo. I wondered, and I finally asked Fahim.
Dummies hang from buildings under construction to ward off the evil eye. My first thought was of hanging Guy Fawkes in effigy, but that, I doubt, has any meaning here. Hanging the dummy works because your eye is automatically drawn to the dummy. We saw quite a few, and it took several tries before we got a decent pic of one. What can we say? The bus was moving at the time.
Along the highway, there are pockets where these places are known for specific goods. Ie wicker ware, pineapple, coconut, king coconut (large orange ones), cashews. Fahim kept pointing them out to me – we’d see pockets where there were a dozen or more certain types of shops in a row, like wickerware.
Another thing I’ve noticed here – there are a lot of "Hotel & Bakery"’s. I don’t mean a lot of hotels and a lot of bakeries. I mean a lot of places that are labelled "Hotel and Bakery". I guess the theory is that if you need to sleep, well, ya gotta eat, too. (Fahim says: Hotel in Sri Lanka does not always have the same meaning as in North America. A hotel is usually a place to eat at rather than sleep at :p All the Hotel & Bakery combo places are actually places where you can eat and buy bread too <vbg> And Laurie is sitting here beside me and whining that I didn’t tell her that and I should say so in here .. so there :p) In North America, we’re used to a lot of hotels that also have restaurants. That’s standard. Here, the standard is Hotel and Bakery.
On the way back from Kurunegala, the bus was nearly full. We ended up catching the same bus back as we had on the way to – our business here didn’t take very long. There were no seats together, and Fahim asked me if I wanted to wait for the next bus. One guy who was sitting by himself on a double got up and offered the seat to us. We accepted. Fahim tells me that the only reason it was offered was because I was white. Apparently, that has its advantages.
So we sat down, and remember how I whined about no leg room when we sat over the wheel hub? I’d have gladly had that seat back. These seats were about a foot off the floor, so our knees were practically in our cheekbones. And there was no way to stretch out – the driver was right in front of us, and his section was blocked off. So this was literally no leg room. This bus was completely full on the way back, and I got a perfect view of just how packed they can be. If there’s room for a seat, folddown or otherwise, it’s put in. They take absolutely every possible square inch and pack everything in as tightly as they can.
While we’re waiting to leave, people come on to the bus selling things – like lottery tickets, guidebooks or maps I think, water, whatever. At this point I was thirsty, so I asked Fahim to buy me a bottle of water. The seal was still on it, but of course, it was bottled in Sri Lanka by a Sri Lankan company, which means that the water could have been bottled directly out of the taps, not distilled or boiled or anything. Yeah.
What can I say? I was thirsty and needed something to drink. So I took a chance.