On Wednesday, I had to get from Anuradhapura in the middle of Sri Lanka to Trincomalee on the East coast. Whilst my friends (well, I might not call them my friends anymore, after they let me walk around Mihintale with toilet paper stuck to my face) (how the toilet paper got there is a different story) anyhow, whilst they were continuing their journey comfortably in their a/c car with driver (to meet up with me again 2 days later), my mode of transport was the public bus.
I can’t do better than to quote Rough Guide: “Bus travel in Sri Lanka is almost uniformly uncomfortable and frequently nerve-racking as well, given the gung-ho driving styles of some drivers. The average Sri Lankan bus journey is a stop-start affair: stomach-tightening bursts of speed alternate with periods of creeping slowness, all played out to an accompaniment of honking horns, blaring Sinhala pop music and the awful noises of mechanical protest as the long-suffering bus careers around yet another corner with every panel rattling – before the inevitable slamming-on of brakes sends everyone lurching forward in their seats. The rear seats are the best place to sit, both because there’s usually enough legroom to stow luggage comfortably under the seat, and because you won’t have a very clear view of whatever craziness the driver is attempting.”
So, I bravely boarded the bus in A., and shared the rear seat with a very nice Australian couple – who added that rear seats were also very good to catch some much needed breeze from the open rear door, as long as you tolerated all the dust that was also getting in – plus, during the course of the journey, various Sri Lankans who were happy to see tourists not staring out from a private car, but sitting in their middle and sharing their life for a few moments.
Here a video of the bus leaving the depot, you can see it best in full screen mode:
The bus journey for the 100 kilometers cost only 180 rupees – that’s ca. 1 Euro (to compare: a Tuk Tuk for 2 kilometers costs around the same price). While this is dirt cheap, it may also explain why the public buses are in the dilapidated state they are in.
To begin with, the bus journey was fully as described above – and while you may not see the craziness from the rear seat, you feel the crazy speed and see the bus leaning sideways when careening around the curves or speeding by other cars on the road (those buses are brutal, I tell you). It is scary and feels absolutely like being on a roller coaster, and I seriously re-considered my life choices while hanging on for dear life. Then the bus slowed down – fortunately or unfortunately, the road to Trincomalee hasn’t really been built yet, so for the next 3 hours or so we bumped over roads in construction and hit every single hump and hole in the road. And here I can add to Rough Guide’s advice: Do NOT take the rear seat if traveling over roads in construction – you will bounce up and down and hop and jump on that rear seat like crazy. I swear – once my rear lifted off about 1 foot and crashed down again – the Sri Lankans found the agonized shrieks by us Westerners hilarious. I saw one single warning sign of „Hump“ and couldn’t stop laughing for the next 100 bounces.
Also – do NOT take the rear seat when it’s raining – with the breeze we also had a cold shower and that comfortably stored luggage got soaked.
After 4 hours we bounced our way into Trincomalee, dusty, tired, dirty, aching with slight whiplash syndrom – and I found that I didn’t envy my friends in the a/c car one bit, and wouldn’t have wanted to miss this crazy journey.