Thursday, April 2, 2015

2015 March 5: River Baths

On March 5 Elanor and I went on a road trip with the Relief Society, the women's group in my church, to a place called Kithulgala, a small town in the heart of the wet zone rain forest in western Sri Lanka. 

It is where the movie ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ was filmed. 

It is also famous for its white water rafting...

...and is a popular place for Sri Lankans to take a bath.

Most houses here, the ones in larger towns and cities anyway, have a shower in the bathroom. But in the smaller villages, especially in very rural and traditional areas, there is no indoor plumbing. It's common to see wells and the Sri Lankan form of outhouse. It's also common to see semi-circular enclosures in yards, about five feet high, where people clean themselves using a large tub of water. Instead of getting into the water, you dip some out, get yourself wet, lather up, then use more water to rinse off. This keeps the water in the tub clean for the next person to use.

Which is why river baths are so popular.

We met at the church as the sun rose...

and over the next hour as we waited for some late comers and our bus, I was able to snap some great bird pics of a red-wattled lapwing who was confusedly fishing in a rainy puddle in the paved church parking lot,...

a white throated kingfisher sitting in one of the oldest trees in Negombo - at over 150 years old, it was saved when our church was built on the lot just a few years ago,...

 and this pond heron sitting on some wires.

I also saw house crows, koels, common mynas, cattle egrets, cormorants, barn swallows, great egrets, pale bellied flowerpeckers, purple rumped sunbirds and rock doves as we waited.

Finally, at about 7:20 we were ready to go, with breakfast, lunch, and an overfull bus load of women, children, and three men. With members spread from outside Negombo all the way to Chilaw, we also stopped along the way to pick up a few more people. As we passed by the airport, I saw a hawk circling overhead, and lesser whistling ducks swimming in the airport pond.

After we passed through Nittambuwa, we stopped at a little roadside pull-off for breakfast - spicy onions and fresh bread. Most women had brought their own recipe of the onions, so there was a lot of comparing of notes as each was sampled. We had a wonderful view of cattle and water buffalo in the fields below, and could see the branches of the trees swinging as monkeys hopped about.

A white-breasted drongo watched as we ate. 

After a few more hours, we arrived at Kithulgala.

We had a great time splashing about in the water, especially Elanor.

Then, time to relax as we listened to groups of men and boys playing instruments and singing in the middle of the river, on little islands, and on the shore.

After everyone had finished playing in the water and soaping up from head to toe before rinsing off, we headed back to our bus for some lunch, a pot luck of all sorts of Sri Lankan food. As it was a holiday, we ate in the shade on the steps of some nearby stores.

Completely refreshed, we began the long ride back to Negombo. Things were going wonderfully, and after about two hours we stopped to stretch our legs. I watched a little cricket being played. 

Then joined everyone in the shade of some trees, where we played a trivia game and had some snacks. Pretty soon, we saw this purple leaf monkey watching us from the nearby roof. 


And then it started to rain. When I say rain, I mean downpour. The skies opened and everything was drenched. I'm told it was a pre-rainy season rain. (You can see what I mean if you click on the coloured letters here.) We scrambled back into the bus and headed west again. Pretty soon, the rain had stopped and the roads had dried, so we were making good time despite the many road construction projects we passed.

That is, until we got a flat tire.

And like many things here, we discovered some problems - our bus had a spare tire, but no tools to remove the original tire and replace it with the new one, or a jack to lift the bus so that the tire could be replaced in the first place.

Thankfully, there was another bus stopped nearby, so our driver went to borrow their tools.

They didn't have any either.

Nor did the bus or the motorcycle or the car that stopped.

Finally, after several trips to houses we had passed and many conversations with passersby, the correct tools were found, and the flat could be changed.

In the meantime, the children had some fun playing in the nearby sandpit. 

And the women enjoyed the spectacular sunset. 

Until it started to pour again.

With only one home nearby, the owner generously allowed an entire over-packed bus load of women and children to take shelter under his carport and the eaves of his house. Lightening flashed and thunder boomed directly overhead, as rain fell in sheets so thick you could not see the field just beyond the modest home.

As soon as our driver had finished changing the tire - the poor man changed the tire in the middle of this storm - we ran in small groups back to the bus, between flashes of lightening, and quickly boarded, eager to be on our way. A few more hours, and we arrived back in Negombo.

Exhausted. Hungry. Sun burnt.

And feeling completely satisfied with such a wonderful day.