Leaving Sri Lanka.

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End Mar 25, 2009

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Where I stayed
Mars Hotel

Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Thursday, February 26, 2009

A three hour drive is not necessarily a three hour drive in South Asia. Of course, by now, I realize these things, so having a 6:35 flight out of Colombo, I decided to bid a fond adieu to my friends at the Surfing Beach Guest house and flag down an A/C bus to Colombo, from which to transfer to the airport bus.
Didn't have to wait but a minute, and by 12:30 in the afternoon, I was on my way, hoping to reach the airport by 4 pm or so at the latest. Of course, what is possible at one time, may not be probable at another in these countries and there is one thing that one never counts on--Local Elections.
In Sri Lanka it seems, each town has its own time for local elections, I knew it was the season for elections, but what I didn't count on is that after making 80 or so of the 100km toward Colombo, it would be election day in Moratuwa. The streets were full of crowds, including the A2, the main highway, groups of hooligans waving different color flags for their respective candidates.
When the US has an election, people quietly line up at the polls, cast their votes, and go home to wait for the news of the result. Not so in Lanka, where everyone gets the day off, votes, and all groups think their guy won whether or not any kind of count is in. Celebrations continue through the night with all kinds of arrack being drunk, and flag waving, megaphone shouting, drunken men block the main streets, driving slowly up and down in the backs of pickup trucks or jeeps, or just walking. I would also suspect that when the next morning comes and before the heads of the revelers stop pounding, the result is still not in. Sri Lanka may be much cleaner and more organized than India, but it still ain't new york, if you know what I mean.
End result: 2 and a half hours lost sitting in traffic, though our intrepid bus driver tried every short cut through the jungle and residential areas to get around the town. Finally I reached Colombo in the bus stand at about 4:30 pm, knowing I would have to take a local bus to the airport, and that would take at least an hour or more. So, still cutting it close, but maybe not missing my flight.
"Plan B" naturally begins to take shape in one's mind on such occasions. "if I miss this plane, I most certainly miss the plane to Goa, so that opens out my possibilities, really. . " James and Andy from the guesthouse had a plan for the Andamans, so if this trip was lost or wasted, it would be only money and nothing else, and give an opportunity to join them there, flying then west to Delhi for my eventual departure from India.
So there is always opportunity in what may seem to one at first glance to be a setback. Content with giving my fate up to the four winds, I could relax my heart a bit, of course until the AC bus dropped me off at the main bus stand. Once again, in addition to shortening my life, cigarettes saved it. I had my saddlebags over my shoulder, and my guitar over the other, but when I looked for my lighter, I suddenly realized that I had left my small bag in the seat next to me, as they had hurried me off the bus. Must have been quite a sight, a tall man with guitar over his shoulder running through full rush hour traffic, cutting off rickshaws and motorbikes, chasing a bus that was stopped at the light which was just turning green.
I pounded as hard as I could on the back of the bus, and the puzzled ticket man stuck his head out. "Bag, Bag!" I shouted, and there in the midst of honking horns and held-up traffic, with the traffic cop whistling for him to go, he handed out the window my small bag, a shoulder bag containing lighter, flight information, both of my cameras, and most essential of all, my passport. Near disaster averted by needing a light for a quick smoke, and a dangerous run down the main road through traffic. Sometimes one is reminded of how easily holiday can turn to disaster, Plan C would have involved a visit to the embassy to try and get a passport reissued, also to the Indian embassy for a visa, the loss of all my filming and pictures, and a fair bit of money. Ill-fated, that bus was. .

The Colombo Airport is not directly reachable by bus. The local bus (#187)dropped me off at the bus stand in the village at 6 pm, and by the time the shuttle bus began to move it was 6:10. Tick. . . tick. . .tick. . I could feel each minute slipping away as we moved through the checkpoints at the gates to the airport. . . tick. . . tick. . .Running down the tarmac of the parking lot, up to the ticket counter, boarding pass, check bag. . .tick. . through security mercifully quick, hastily filling out my departure card, a run to the gate just as the last shuttle bus was leaving for the plane. . .Made it!! One single more minute, one lost bag, and my travel plan could have changed radically. As I have said, sometimes one is reminded of just how fragile and changeable the nature of life is, as exactly one MUST be reminded from time to time, or risk a fall down into the gaping maw of complacency.

Uneventful flight to Chennai, back to the Mars hotel, overpriced at 1600 rupees, but clean and with snappy sharply dressed staff, television and AC, and just a little time to get to sleep before waking up at 6 am to make my domestic flight to Goa.
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