Monday, August 2, 2010

Who Needs Wonderland?

Who needs Wonderland when the trip to Sri Lanka was such a wild ride and we'll talk about the streets of Colombo later.

When last I posted I was sitting in Hong Kong International hoping that weather permitted a timely departure from that airport to the next port of call in Singapore before arrival in Colombo. Alas, it was not to be. We never boarded the plane until two hours after the scheduled dedparture - of course there was no announcement from the airline apologising for the delay rather the exchange between myself and the personnel at the gate went something like this:

R: Excuse me, is the flight delayed?
Airline: Yes, because of the bad weather.
R: Of course, but what does that mean for those of us continuing on to Colombo
A: Oh, that flight was already delayed. It won't be arriving in Colombo until around 5 tomorrow morning.
R: (highly dejected) Oh...thank you

Accepting now my fate I waited patiently until we did finally board the plane to leave Hong Kong only to be told once we were on board they had discovered something wrong with the plane, the part was in the hangar and it would take approximately one hour to fix the issue...of course it took closer to two hours but at least the issue was discovered on the ground rather than in the air and we could leave.

But no...that would be far too simple a resolution to this story. At this point the flight manager informs the already cranky cabin of passengers that the crew had an early start to the day (No, kidding) and that they were out of duty hours but that the standby crew was en route and as soon as they arrived to relieve the present crew we would be able to leave.

Some forty five minutes later a new pilot announces that he is speaking with the company to see if they can get clearance to leave the airport tonight because the flight has lost it's place in the departure queue. Ultimately, some five and one half hours later than scheduled we were headed to Singapore.

We landed in Singapore and were instructed to deplane as there were two hours before the scheduled flight to Colombo...the plus we were to resume our original seats once we re-boarded. The downside...the gentleman seated next to me smelt of the strangest combination of dust and spices.

Well, being the busy bee that I am, I tried to think of how I could be productive with the two hours and noting all the free wireless signs I pulled out my laptop to send mother a quick note - she must be terribly worried by now (regardless of which time zone you were in this was long past scheduled arrival time). After connecting to the wireless I was greeted with a notice that said = "Blah Blah Blah Credit Card Information. Blah Blah Blah Internet cost $6/half an hour". Now I'm not the brightest cookie in the jar but last time I checked free meant without charge.

Anywhoosie, eventually I arrive in Colombo. At 4.40 am local time - 2 hours behind Hong Kong and 10.5 ahead of Barbados and Canada. After an eternity in the line I successfully cleared immigration but you would not believe what I saw as I rounded the corner and headed towards the baggage claim.

Yes, it was duty free but rather than trinkets and alcohol there were instead washers and dryers for sale, in fact an entire laundry list of large household appliances. I quickly did a 360 and surveyed my surroundings to see if it was at all possible for me to have made a completely wrong turn in the the 6 ft between where I presently stood and the immigration desk...Uhm, nope this was the right place because 100m ahead I saw the sign pointing to baggage claim. Well, to each his own I guess.

I descended the escalator and collected my belongings the two days of travel weighing very heavily on me. I headed out of the airport and rather that the quiet that one expects of an airport arrival hall at 5.30am I was greeted by a sea of people. The airport was alive and there was not a single inch of free space as people thronged the waiting area to greet loved ones. I focused on the sign bearing my name and headed toward my driver. We embarked upon a one hour journey to Colombo that regardless of my exhaustion prevented sleep from coming in the back seat of this taxi.

Did you know that one can seat a family of four on the back of a motor cycle? I didn't. I also did not know exactly how many vehicles can sit side by side across a TWO lane road before that fateful drive into Colombo. The pedestrians tempting fate were the absolute topping on this journey as they crossed the road with nary a thought to the peril that they were in as drivers executed this ballet which involved rather than slowing down nimbly darting around them. I am convinced I saw people within inches of losing their lives several times on that short journey and somehow was more perturbed by the occurrence than they were.

A power nap at the hotel where I would stay until I made the journey to Badulla and I boarded a tuk tuk with Wagma (Program Supervisor for Students Without Borders) to the WUSC office. Did I mention I had now been travelling for almost 48hrs straight (minor details right?).

The tuk tuk ride was another experience which urges one to set things straight with the Creator. The buses drive as though they are motorcycles expecting to fit any size gap; the motorcycles drive as though they are buses in the centre of the road and expecting to be given wide berth and the right of way at all times and tuk tuk drivers alternate between embracing both views of their small three wheeled vehicles and at times manage to simultaneously entertain them.

So yeah, who needs wonderland when you never know what gap your driver is going to attempt to fit next? When you regularly share a coat of paint with a variety of vehicles as you watch the road whizz by from the open sides of this nimble tuk tuk? Behemoth is the same everyday but boarding a vehicle in Sri Lanka is everyday a brand new set of possibilities.


1 comment:

  1. Watch your step!

    Washers and dryers is definitely a new one for me. Random...