The Hang of Things
.. Many people regard the act of getting from A to B as basically a hassle. OK: a complete chore! They only wish to get to their destination fast. My dear wife can be like this, but I am different. I enjoy the p r o c e s s of travel itself; although, as you may see from this account, at times it is full of uncertainties. When Basho decides to record the fleas biting and the horse pissing by his pillow, I sense he felt so, too.
…… Loitering hungrily
…… Towards the end of Ramadan –
…… A town of meat and fruit.
.. As long as we were with our dignified, quiet-eyed driver, Mr. Gunapala, we were ‘in the know’. We do not speak Singhalese (the language of Ceylon). He reminded us that in just a few more days Ramadan would end. As we passed through Akurana on the climb towards Kandy, the ambience on the high street seemed to be one of a n t i c i p a t i o n. Akurana, a Moslem corner in a largely Buddhist world. Yes, neighbouring Kandy even boasts a temple housing a holy relic of the Buddha’s very own tooth. (Where are the others, I’d like to ask).
.. Although, as a young degree-bound vagabond, I had once stayed there quite happily for a day or two (thirty-five years ago), this time my experience of Kandy was almost entirely of its Bus Station – with a short, aborted foray to the Train Station for light relief.
.. Gunapala had slightly miscalculated the likelihood of us being able to jump on a bus to Nuwara Eliya1, a mere “two to three hours up the highland road”. A room in the Tea Bush Hotel had long ago been booked. In Kandy, Mr. G’s services would end and we would say goodbye. The last bus had left, however, twenty minutes before, and our traipsing forlornly, rucksacks shouldered, backwards and forwards, left and right (there was no train either), had attracted the attention of every tuk-tuk2 driver in town. We were beset by drivers offering the hairpin, nighttime climb all the way to the hill station in the clouds for 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees, or thereabouts – affordable, but… it was due to rain, to get cold, and we thought of the fumes, the danger and the noise… and declined them all, including the one with curly hair and an honest smile, who had seemed for a while to have had karma on his side.
.. Eventually, with our cellphone now out of juice, unable to cancel our N.E. room, on a muddy, unlit roadside in nearby Peradeniya, as the rain came pattering down, we negotiated (through Gunapala) with two men in a clapped-out Nissan van to drive us across the incognito highlands and try to find our hotel. Trouble was: the vehicle seemed to have two gearboxes, and the gangly, very young driver failed to find any notch at all three or four times in the first few miles… resulting in the van regularly breaking down. The two men discussed ways and means. For sure, it was not their vehicle.
.. After half an hour, though, everyone – us included – seemed to get the hang of things, and an easier silence, found somewhere deep in the thudding recesses of an over-straining engine, permeated through and joined our own inward acceptance of fate. We now dozed, waiting without language for some sign we might be nearing our destination… on the verge of myth.
…… Through tired eyes
…… One valley, full
…… Of pearl-like lights.
1 the highest town in Sri Lanka
2 motorbike taxi