The Negombo Bus Station. The clamour of drivers hawking the virtues of their particular routes. No orderly lines and ticket counters here - in fact, there are no lines or ticket counters period. We study the rows of brightly coloured buses in all shapes and sizes, find one that is going to Chilaw, and board. There are no timetables or schedules - when the bus is full, it leaves. No matter...all day long another is waiting to take its place. The assistant passes by, asking for end locations and accepting payments....three people traveling 51 kilometres (31 miles) is just 177 rupees ($1.38 US). As people disembark en route, the driver's assistant loudly calls 'ilaw ilaw ilaw ilaw' (short for Chilaw) to the passing throngs of people, trying to refill the bus and maximize his profits on this trip.
The road is lined with street vendors of all sorts, everything one could imagine available as we pass by....pastries, candy, fruit, shots of liquor, t-shirts, dresses, shoes, kitchen strainers, vegetables, water, pets, farm animals....
Nainamadama....a town filled with tiles factories, with their hot kilns and mounds of clay ready to be made into roofing tiles and bricks.
We pass the Coconut Research Institute, a very important and prestigious government department, with its acres and acres of coconut plantations, many of them doubling as cow pastures as they attempt to maximize the use of the land.
Cathedrals, Catholic schools, shrines, white robed nuns, uniformed school children line the entire length of this Catholic corridor, and everywhere, everywhere are leftover signs welcoming the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who visited Sri Lanka in January of this year. With 1.2 million Catholics in the country, this made worldwide news, as did the mass that was celebrated in Colombo, the capital city, with some estimates of over one million attendees.
Marawila....waiting for more riders, the intoxicating fragrance of row upon row of bakeshops fills the senses, a sharp contrast to the sweetly acrid and smoky air in Nainamadama.
To our right....ancient tanks or wevas (reservoirs), constructed up to 1700 years ago, filled with waterfowl, yellow lilies, pink lotus flowers - part of an irrigation system envisioned by King Parakrama Bahu the Great (1153-1186), who declared "Let not even a drop of rain water go to the sea without benefiting man."
To our left....mile upon mile of rice paddies and marshes, resplendent with myriad types of fowl, including three kinds of egret surrounding the cows peacefully grazing.
Madampe....vast coconut plantations, canals filled with pampas grass, fences lined with sweet smelling jasmine, Hindu temples, Buddhist stupa, shrines to the Horse God, the Roman Catholic Church of San Sebastian, a mosque complete with Ladies Prayer Room and women's clothing store pass quietly by.
Sewer construction causes a small traffic jam as motorists and pedestrians of all sorts attempt to get through. No careful city planning and pipe placement here...to build one's sewer line simply dig a trench from one's house to the sidewalk, line it with concrete blocks, lift the concrete pavers covering the sewer ditch and hope it slopes properly. Then, replace the concrete paver to turn the ditch into a sidewalk again. Block traffic while doing so.
The Madampe Bus Station....just a widened part of the road at a vacant lot where people gather to wait for their bus. We wait for more passengers. In a nearby storefront I spy women's blouses for 350 rupees ($2.74), men's dress shirts for 295 rupees ($2.30), complete children's outfits for 150 rupees ($1.17). A group of white uniformed giggling schoolgirls flee when Steve catches them staring wide-eyed at his huge scary American self.
Fully loaded once more, we return to the main road, passing vendors lining the fence outside a brightly painted blue Hindu temple surrounded by coconut groves.
Kakkapalliya....40 kilometres (24.5 miles) into our journey. An odd building that looks like a viking boat complete with Chinese dragon head and a door where the mouth should be gives us pause...it's called the Bum Boat. Mynas, egrets, and cormorants line the canal.
Chilaw at last. The driver's assistant finds a bus for us to a well known Hindu temple in Musseswaram, found in the Tamil Region. We are one day early for for the Shiva festival Sivarathri, but it cannot be helped - we have to be in Colombo tomorrow. We buy fruit for an offering - it being a Hindu temple we feel this is okay as the money goes towards feeding the poor, the offering is to be eaten by us afterwards, and Hindus believe in the sanctity of all religions and all gods/Gods. Our guide is delighted to hear Steve speaking Tamil, gives us a personal tour, explains the ceremony and the temple's shrines to us.
Afterwards Steve quickly makes friends with two of the men and a woman at the stand to buy fruit for offerings. As Tamils, they were very impressed that Steve had been to Tamilnadu and many of the shrines found in the parts of India that he has visited.
As our host takes us to meet his friend, a tuktuk driver who can take us back to Chilaw, others call out insults in Sinhala. He quickly chastises them, "They speak Sinhala so you better watch your mouth", with a shake of his head and a dismissive gesture of the hand. His friend agrees to take us back to Chilaw and stops several times along the way so we can do a little bird watching, and when asked, takes us to an eatery that he knows of, Wadiya Restaurant.
After a delightful meal of curried dal, beetroot salad, green onion salad, hot okra, rice for the three of us, and spicy fish and devilled prawns for Steve and Elanor (1100 rupees or $8.60, including three litre size bottles of water, and one small bottle of water), the quality of which was no doubt aided by the owners' surprise to hear Steve speaking Sinhalese to him, we head back to the bus station for our return journey.
Past the cows wandering the side streets of Chilaw, past the rural areas just to the south with the numerous Serene Gardens Coconut Plantations, past the rice paddies with their red-wattled lapwings, past Marawila's beautiful rivers and furniture carvers and egrets and bee eaters, past the storefronts and street vendors and beautiful houses and tropical gardens of Katunariya, Wennapuwa, Nainamadama, Waikkala, and Kochchikade....
Back to Negombo.
Fishermen in the late afternoon.
A murder of crows at breakfast.