The scream of braking, bald tyres accompanied by the blaring of the palmed horn gave me a split second warning to brace myself for another possible impact. Happily, though, our van lurched to a stop and there we were! Jammed between several tuk tuks, two buses, ancient trucks and a people mover made using some kind of agricultural engine with a cart attached!

It was just another day travelling by van on Sri Lanka’s crazily populated roads!

Going on a road trip in Sri Lanka, especially in or around its towns or cities is not for the nervous or faint hearted. Nerves of steel and a sense of adventure and fun are absolutely essential if you’re not to end up a quivering wreck.

Setting out early morning with our hired driver who was way down our list of acceptable vehicles and driving attitude and needing to arrive in Colombo, eighty five kilometres away, by one o’clock we were able to swing and sway happily along the first fifteen kilometres of the very familiar bends of our narrow and and bendy mountain road.

Then came the busy town with its dusty streets, made even narrower with makeshift stalls, in full weekly pola mode. People, many struggling with full shopping bags, crisscrossed the road at whim, tuk tuks squeezed in and out of stalled trucks, vans and cars. Our driver horned his demand to get through while we soaked in the busy, colourful and noisy sight of the usually sleepy town.

Eventually the horn won and we were on the main road to Colombo, travelling along at around at feeling-like-a hundred-kilometres-per hour but in reality thirty five kilometres. Once, with the essential full time palm-on-the-horn, our crazy driver took on a line of five vehicles, lurching to the front of the line in the face of an oncoming bus with a truck hidden at its rear. Even for me, accustomed to the craziness of Sri Lankan traffic, this move was way past daring and had my heart thumping. I’m sure my curly hair stood up like a porcupine’s quills!

Traffic jams on Colombo roads create great social engagement opportunities!

“Your country?” enquired a young boy, squashed in a tuk tuk with his mother and sister.

“ Hello! What’s your name?” asked another.

“ What happened to your tuk tuk?” we enquired of a man in a tuk tuk towing another tuk tuk.

“ Brake broken!” he answered.

“Thank goodness he is getting it fixed,” I thought, remembering the trip around Nuwara Eliya and the Hill Country we once did, not knowing that the car’s handbrake wasn’t working.

“Amma! I’ll bring you some sear fish,” laughed the happy guy on the phone. Then to me, “Big block, isn’t it?”

Sure! It was a big block! Forty five minutes to go less than a kilometre! Needless to say we did not arrive in Colombo in time for our engagement.

“What to do?” as they say in Sri Lanka.

“ Let’s have some lunch!” was the unanimous decision!

[ Google maps or Google Earth is great for finding distances between places however note that the times quoted just don’t work in Sri Lanka. An estimate of two and a half times that quoted is usually right.]