I know it sounds a bit weird, but I was fascinated by road transportation in Sri Lanka – this with the caveat that my Sri Lankan experience was limited to the area around Hikkaduwa, down to Galle, and a one-day excursion to the Uda Walawe National Park. And not just the means of transportation, but how it was executed!
Yes, there were cars, vans, and trucks, but they were not the majority. The roads were filled with tuk-tuks, motorbikes, scooters, buses, bicycles, and Land Masters that towed trailers (kind of like a rototiller without the tiller).
Tuk-tuks are great 3-wheeled vehicles with the driver in front and room for 2, 3, or 4 in the back. Normally when we went out for supper with Nicola and Peter we traveled three to a tuk-tuk, but there were a few times when we took the tuk-tuk as a family – Neil, Rowan, and I with Pippa on someone’s lap. A little cozy but definitely doable.
The two-wheeled transportation I never dared to try, but we often saw people on motorbikes or bicycles carrying shopping or household goods or multiple people. Bicycles with two were common as were motorbikes with three (or even four).
In the end, though, I think the buses were our favourite way to travel. Sometimes hot, often very full, but such an experience. There are two different types of buses, the public ones (red) and the commercial ones (usually pale blue). We usually ended up on the commercial ones, slightly more expensive (by a few rupees) but with the benefit of flashing lights, music, and sometimes even music videos. The buses would stop oh so briefly at a bus stop for people to get on or off; often times someone would be just on the bottom step when the bus took off again. Both Neil and Rowan felt like locals when that happened to them.
It was how these various vehicles traveled down the road that made it very clear to me that I had no desire to pilot any sort of vehicle myself. Most of the roads – except in the larger centres – are two lanes. Drivers, however, behave really as though there are three: the left, the right, and the one down the centre. Of course, there are also bits of room on the sides of the road next to the pedestrians where bicycles and motorbikes sometimes squeeze. (And, no, there are no sidewalks; as a pedestrian you are right in the midst of it all – one time I felt the wind from a motorbike as it zipped by.) In order to warn a vehicle that they are passing, tuk-tuks, buses, cars, motorbikes all honk their horns. So the roads can be crazy, noisy, and super exciting – especially when you are trying to cross. I found it hair-raising but stimulating too, a quick intake of breath every time a bus I was in passed another bus while there were oncoming tuk-tuks on a two-lane road. Never dull.
Finally, the road speed signs – not everywhere, but I did see them around Galle. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take any pictures as I was on a bus, but I thought they were fabulous: 40km/hr for tuk-tuks and tractors; 60km/hr for buses and trucks; 70km/hr for cars, vans, and motorcycles. Confusing? Certainly. Enforced? Well, who knows…