Monday, March 5, 2012

Our first Road Trip

We just got back from our first Sri Lankan road trip, or as we call it in the Intrigue family, ADVENTURE! As anyone who has ever attempted a road trip with three small children knows, this was no small undertaking. Add on the fact that we are currently leasing a Daihatsu Terios and packing the car becomes an adventure in itself. A Terios may sound like a breakfast cereal, but it is a small SUV that seats five. On a regular day, Amelia Earhart’s booster doesn’t fit in the back and she has to settle for a lap belt-don’t judge unless you’ve lived in Sri Lanka, Judgy McJudgerton. I mean it. For one thing, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten out of third gear, for another, there are no carseat laws here, or even helmet laws that seem to be enforced, as evidenced by seeing a parent and three kids riding a motorcycle, a common sight around here. Also, don’t think it doesn’t bother me, but cars here are ungodly expensive, even used, and we just don’t have several TENS of thousands of dollars in cash waiting to be thrown away on a not so gently used 1982 minivan. So, you can sympathize or you can judge, but if you’re judging, kindly keep it to yourself.

Anyway, we piled everything in the car, tightly packing so much stuff around the Little Adventurers that they wouldn’t be able to move, much less poke each other, for at least the first 20 minutes. The International Man of Intrigue dumped a log book, the Lonely Planet guide, a handful of maps, and his old (non-talking, non-direction giving) Garmin in my lap and proclaimed me Chief Navigator. I wondered if this was the best idea, considering I had just tried to get in the wrong side of the vehicle. Darn right side steering wheel and left side driving!

It seemed like we had barely watched the gates shut behind us and turned off of our street when we were lost taking a detour. We were driving through parts of Colombo I’m not sure any westerners had ever ventured near. I’m pretty sure as people saw us they were thinking, “White people?!? There goes the neighborhood!” The problem with being lost taking a detour through Colombo was that driving here is less than boring. While there is a method to the madness, at first glance, it can seem like there are no driving laws at all. Two lanes painted on the road can mean three driving lanes. Drivers will drive on the wrong side of the street if it will get them around a car that is driving slower than they are, then come to a dead stop in front of that car to make a right turn. The powers that be will change the direction of a one way street, or make a two way into a one way seemingly on a whim. In short, it’s crazy.

The major problem with being lost taking a detour before we even got out of Colombo was that traffic got crazy. The International Man of Intrigue had a death grip on the steering wheel and I was wearing out my imaginary passenger break. I kept screaming things like, “BUS!” and “There’s a guy walking with his scissors point up!” Cars zipped around us with abandon. Motorcyclists in their standard black windbreakers we dubbed Lankans Only Jackets wove in and out of traffic. We tried to figure out where we were in a town where maps are sketchy and roads change names whenever they feel like it. We dodged busses. Busses in Sri Lanka are terrifying. Did anyone have the game Simpsons Road Rage for Playstation 2? Those busses were modeled after Sri Lankan ones, I’m sure. If you didn’t have the game, let’s just say all busses are homicidal and driven by a not entirely sober person. Red busses are the worst. Soon any form of danger had me screaming “RED BUS!” The absolute worst moment came when we found ourselves with a bus on either side of us and they were both jockeying for the position where our car happened to be located. I’m pretty sure the laws of physics state that one bus can’t occupy the space occupied by a Terios, let alone TWO FREAKING BUSSES! One bus was two inches from our right bumper and closing in. The other was two inches from our left and closing in. The International Man of Intrigue swore. I swore. I screamed. He honked. The Little Adventurers kept poking each other in the back seat, oblivious. By some miracle I in no small part contribute to the two St. Benedict Medals in the car and our guardian angels, the busses returned to their own lanes and we came out alive. I was shaking and almost started crying when it happened: an improper emotional response. Apparently I was so completely stressed that some wire crossed in my brain and instead of crying, I started laughing hysterically. I laughed and laughed. The International Man of Intrigue looked worried but he was too busy driving to do anything about it. This was around the point we figured out where we were, but things were still crazy. I screamed “That van is going to t-bone us!” as a van decided his red light was optional. The International Man of Intrigue asked, “Tebow?” as he obligingly slammed on the horn and accelerator simultaneously. I thanked him and said if we got out alive, we should all consider Tebowing for a while.

Now that we were found, we high-tailed it out of the city at a brisk 40 km per hour. That translates to about 25 miles per hour for you non-metric speaking people. Luckily, our destination was a mere 60 km away. For some reason, the laws of motion do not apply to Sri Lankan “highways”, so that meant we were about a half a day’s drive away. This gave us plenty of time to take stock of our driving injuries thus far. Turns out the International Man of Intrigue had developed a blister from gripping the wheel too hard and my leg muscles were twitching from trying to shove my feet through the floorboard. Other than that, we were fine, so we enjoyed looking around at the surroundings. A KIK Cola billboard proclaimed, “Lankan to the Last Drop” and I proclaimed, “So is her headband and matching plastic earrings.” We saw a business that advertised itself to be “Volunteer Caterers.” What the heck does that mean? They cater for free? They only cater for volunteers? They are from Tennessee? We also got to stop to take the Little Explorers potty on a fairly regular basis. Lucky for us, you can’t just pop in somewhere and use their facilities. For one thing, there’s a good chance they don’t HAVE facilities, or the ones they have aren’t “western style”. For another, they just don’t let you do that here. Luckily, we have the coolest travel potty ever made. If you have small children, you need it. Look here. As we drove, we also realized that each town seemed to specialize in selling something: ceramic tiles in one, clay pots in another, inflatable kids’ toys in another, and one seeming to specialize in Lankans Only Jackets. So that’s where they come from…

Finally, after hours of driving, we turned off of the main road toward the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. That’s when I saw the most shocking thing I’d seen all day. Two women in saris were walking along the roadside. They held leashes in their hands. The leashes were attached to PORCUPINES. I SWEAR TO YOU, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. These women were walking porcupines on a leash. Large porcupines. I still can’t get over it. And with that, I’m going to end this chapter of our trip. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of the Intrigue family as we do exciting things like eat lunch and visit orphaned elephants.

1 comment:

  1. can't wait to see some pics and read more about your trip!