Last night my host suggested a drive to the sea, and perhaps a walk along a beach. We, his daughter, two nieces and I, were chauffeured through the myriad streets in air-conditioned comfort. The three young women sat in the back, and like most young people, were soon indulging in their own conversations interspersed with laughter. I confess I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but the sound of their voices was like pleasant music to my ears. Funny how such sounds are international, crossing all languages and removing all barriers – even surmounting the time barrier, as I found myself remembering a similar situation happening in my own youth, now some sixty years distant.
I have to admit that all my fifty-plus years of driving experience in several countries would not equip me with the skill required to drive on the roads of Sri Lanka where driving in the cities, towns and even villages, is something of a free-for-all with cyclists, motor-cyclists , and vehicle drivers, vying with each other for their place on the road. Among all these road-users are the intrepid driver/riders of the three-wheeled motorised tri-shaws: motor-cycles with a hooded body extending over the driver and passengers who ride on an upholstered bench-seat behind him while he negotiates his way, using handlebars rather than a steering wheel which gives him enviable maneuverability, and the ability to turn on a sixpence. I suspect this is a cause of some envy among more conventional drivers who have to obey the conventions and execute that dreaded by learner drivers, three-point-turn using forward and reverse gears in order to change direction, as well as wait for a suitable space in which to perform.
Drivers aim their vehicles and toot their horns to let the driver in front know of their wish to overtake, it’s then a contest to see who intimidates whom into some kind of submission. But it is all done with cavalier panache and good humour, a sort of undisciplined weaving in and out from lane to lane that would leave the traffic-police of UK scratching their heads; the French gendarmes waving in frenetic fury; and cause mild apoplexy to their highly disciplined Swiss or German counterparts.
Sufficient to say, we always get to our destination. Last night was no exception, and I saw the sun set over the Indian Ocean while watching rolling waves chase each other before falling and crashing as white-horses on the sandy beach. I could have done without the three gargantuan bites enjoyed at my expense by some minute blood-sucking insect, but would definitely say the end justified the means.