Galle to Tangalle
Hearing it takes forever to get anywhere in Sri Lanka I decide to spend the night in Galle. It doesn’t take long to get there on the new expressway and I arrive by noon. At my guesthouse early there is no problem, the room is ready, and I take a short “horizontal” nap before wandering about the city. On the peninsula at the south end of town, a ten minute walk from my hotel, is the Galle Fort, one of many remnants of the British Empire. It’s an impressive fortification covering a vast acreage, a small city in itself with a sea wall surrounding its entirety. Locals and tourists abound, as do small restaurants and guesthouses. I discover the roti vendors and nosh on a variety of spicy delights over the course of the day so that by dinnertime I’m not hungry. I walk in what passes for an evening cool, but the sidewalks pretty much roll up by 7 here so I retire early.
I’m up early to check out of my guest house, and head for the local bus. The owner of informs me that I don’t have to walk to the bus station, rather all I need do is head to the main road at the bottom of the hill and flag a bus going to Matara. The first bus comes along and I raise my hand. It slows, I prepare to get on. As I walk toward the door the bus keeps moving and the attendant tells me to get on in the back, but it never entirely stops. This takes me by surprise and I, with pack on back and camera bag in hand don’t want to risk being spilled either into or out of the bus, so I decline to jump on. No worries, in another five minutes along comes another. This one actually “stops,” but only long enough for me to step up into the back before it lurches forward, my grab reflex put to the test
We roll, or rather, careen along the coast road, stopping whenever someone wants on or off. It’s 45 kilometers to Matara. In that time well over a hundred people will enter and exit the bus. We pass villages where fish dry in the sun, men sit on fishing stilts rising from the surf, palm trees sway, and colorful boats bob among white caps. Sri Lankan music crackles over randomly places speakers. After a while the volume and throbbing drum and bass take their toll. I put in my earplugs. A young girl and boy peer from their mothers’ laps. We exchange smiles in a game of peek-a-boo. The bus attendant pushes his way through people sitting and standing and collects his fares. Seventy five rupees (57 cents) for my ride. The wind from the open windows evaporates sweat and the ride is surprisingly bearable.
In Matara I wait less than half an hour for the bus to Tangalle, my final destination. The bus arrives empty. I have a pick of seats and find one near the front, just behind the rows marked “Reserved for Clergy” and “Reserved for Pregnant Women.” As the bus fills I am aware of having a backpack and fortunately in this particular bus the aisle is wide so there is room for it, though I am still uncomfortable, taking up an extra space. Off again our new bus driver maneuvers even more erratically than the last, the bus groaning and whining as he grinds through the gears, alternatingly flooring the gas and stomping the breaks. The aisle thickens and thins through countless stops, the road leaves the coast, the music blares, the wind gets hotter, and I am happy that Tangalle is less than forty kilometers distant. The passengers bear the passage of time with a quiet calm and the attendant takes another 65 Rupees.