After my arrival in Sri Lanka I was determined to experience as much of this beautiful country as possible. Today was to be a day of perseverance, adventures and bruises. The day dawned bright and beautiful and the average temperature in February seems to be 30-35c at which is ideal for me. My aching arthritis in my joints is gradually dissipating and my energy levels are rising after the cold, damp British weather.
Lucky took me into Makandura village this morning, nestled in amongst the jungle area behind the temple we had visited the day before, to meet a lady, Kusum Hearath, who used to work for the hotel for 16 years. She is now running her own local shop in retirement which serves all sorts of things you might need in a hurry. Again, the hospitality shone out as she would not let me go before giving me a ginger tea drink accompanied by a sweet called Jaggery (made from pure cane sugar as far as I could tell).
Wandering, bus hopping and courage – perseverance is the key
Afterwards we wandered along the village streets (there are 1500 residents here) and again I noticed the wide mixture of homes. Some were large, some small, some new, some old, some abandoned and some well cared for. All roads here seem to lead eventually back to the main road and, with a sudden twinkle in his eye, Lucky turned to me and said, “are you up for a new experience?”.
“Of course,” was my reply. He then pointed out a gaily painted bus heading down the road towards us “get ready to jump” were his grinning words. Everything happened so fast, buses here don’t stop, you literally jump on to them via the open doors as they continue hurtling down the road (albeit slowing down a bit while you jump). Jump I did and entered a unique world of transport. With musical beats, air rushing through the open windows and doors and smiling passengers, it was fun, and I felt exhilarated. A little way down the road we had to repeat the jumping exercise to get off while the bus careered on.
Walking back along the main road towards the hotel we passed random shed stalls and shacks all providing a complete mishmash of goods. Groceries, phone cards, laptops, tyres, house goods, building materials, we stopped off at an aquarium to look at the fish you can buy for ponds. Further on we dropped into a barber’s shop (shed) who is a friend of Lucky’s and, as it transpired, is also a locally famous musician with a group called Back to Back.
It’s just like…riding a bike, perseverance tested
After a brief rest in the air conditioning I then ventured out with Amila and Ranjan on bicycles to follow an 8km ride through the proper jungle. I haven’t ridden a bike for at least 18 years and after only a tentative, wobbly circuit of the hotel driveway we were off. This involved the first 1km being pedalled on the main road with all the traffic. I have not been that deep down scared for a long time and grimly gritted my teeth and pedalled on trying to avoid wobbling into the path of the oncoming traffic. My grit and perseverance seemed to desert me as we turned off the main road onto a single-track road, I think the relief caused me to lose concentration. I promptly fell off to my left into the verge winding myself with an elbow into my ribs. As Amila and Ranjan rushed to pick me up several vehicles and motorbikes stopped with concerned occupants checking on my welfare. A refreshing change to how it may have been dealt with at home.
Amila called back to the hotel where Lucky offered to send a tuk-tuk to pick me up and bring me back. ‘Don’t you dare’ was my reply doing the British stiff upper lip thing and remembering the phrase ‘if you fall off get straight back on the bike’. I remembered that perseverance was a quality I advocated, so I had better show some myself! I went to remount; however, the fall had knocked my confidence and I found my left foot would not lift off the ground to start with. When I did manage this I could not, for some reason, negotiate left hand turns or corners. Right hand turns were fine, it was just left hand turns that had become a problem.
Amila took pity on me and, while Ranjan pushed my bike as well as his own for me, I walked the next part through the single file dirt pathway into the deeper part of the jungle. As we left all signs of civilisation behind the air filled with the calls of parakeets, owls and other jungle birds. It grew more humid, hotter and quieter and the sweat was literally pouring off me. A great way to lose weight I thought. The scenery was beautiful and the sense of isolation in a strange way comforting as we walked past large termite mounds and ancient gnarled vines the width of a man’s thigh. A truly beautiful country.
We eventually stumbled across a coconut processing area where they husk and extract every part of the coconut manually with traditional tools. We loitered for a while watching and then moved on.
Once we found a concrete road again I got back on the cycle, refusing to let it beat me. Concrete turned back into dirt track, but I persevered and found I could turn corners again and even dealt with holes and undulations in the track as well as the bumpy boulder patches that appeared.
By the time we got back to the hotel I had not fallen off again, only stopping when my joints were shrieking with pain to let them die down again before pushing on. My perseverance had paid off and I felt pretty good about myself. We were met by a relieved Lucky who looked as if he may have been crying with worry!
And so, as dusk falls, I am rubbing tiger balm into my bruised ribs, am looking forward to my next meal and then the new adventures that may unfold tomorrow.