The bus journey is a riot of sights and vignettes of life in Sri Lanka.
Storks flying over paddies and picking for grubs
Lazy dogs defying the traffic, lying in the road and licking their sores
The occasional cow wandering down the middle of the road
Betel chewing, red spitting old boys in sarongs, wrapping roasted peanuts in cones of recycled old school books, replete with the red ticks from the teacher.
Lime green clad cops shouldering machine guns. Statues of recent heroes with machine guns, crude, like the functional rather than decorative painted Buddhas in from of the temples.
Matara has a statue of what looks like a Gurkha soldier also with gun slung around neck, it’s arms are dangling off, neglected and ignored.
Lotto sellers with big boards, tickets bulldog clipped on, come on and off, walking through the bus shouting out their wares.
Around. Harampola there is serious investment and development. I later learn this is the home province of the president. I see his poster everywhere, variations of the same theme. A benign distant smile, a sad am moustache, cloaked in a long white shirt, serene, finished off with a red scarf. The long shots show him striding forward with confidence, and focus. There is a big new highway. With little traffic. A pristine conference centre. An international airport and a new hospital in construction.
The bus itself. Well, fortunately being the first to get on, I have a seat all the way. I sit at the front with a great view of the driver and all of his decorations. Incense sticks are alight by my seat. The engine box is covered with a plastic quilted cover, fenced off by a chrome rail with ornate chrome flowers. A small gold dish on the dash, instruments covers by a thick plastic sheet, containing white lotus petals. His steering wheel is warped with a red and gold sarong. Above the windscreen is a boxed illuminated row of shiva, Ganesh statues. Garlands of red and pink flowers hanging loosely around them. I guess to ward off the very real threat of crashing on these crazy roads, where buses push tuk tuks to the verge and overtake everything in sight.there are rashness the slow down cautionary photos of crushed buses reveal. His other form of protection is the ubiquitous blare of his horn, sounded whenever he chooses to pass. This means get out of the way.
Orange coconut sellers using their rough blades to hack them apart at their roadside stalls. Dusty drink stalls. Grandmothers sitting vacantly behind crates of empty returned bottles. Skinny fey looking boys standing one leg bent, hand on hips, in brightly coloured striped shorts.
I’m the only white guy on the bus. Next to me sits a guy of I guess the same age in a blue and gold sarong. He pokes me in the arm. Aboard clamber women with kids, babes with arms wrapped round their necks. It’s standing room only for much of the journey. Gap toothed men, betel stained stubled faces.
Institutions: functional Buddhist temples, uninspiring Buddhas, simple white chellis. A white mosque, an Assembly of God. Numerous posters offering maths, chemistry, English elocution classes. A Montessori school, st Thomas school. Open prison work camp. What is that?
Posters warning of heroin and the consequences of trafficking it.
Shell of an old bus abandoned and overgrown by roadside.