From Mirissa, we decided to take a 5-hour bus to Ella, as our entry point into the Hill Country. The bus, originating in Galle, passed through Mirissa, so we knew we would be jumping onto already full bus. Our worst expectations were confirmed, but from the experience I have learnt the cardinal rules for travelling on the Sri Lankan intercity buses. Below they are summarized in three easy steps:
- Get in – you see the bus approaching on the highway. It already seems crowded, with multiple limbs hanging out of the windows and doorways. Doesn’t matter – climb in first, find foothold later. Shove huge backpacks on top of the hot engine hump right next to the driver. Push in, using elbows, arms and feet to claim and squeeze into spaces. This is done to prove to the conductor that you definitely fit on the bus, and that you shouldn’t be kicked off to wait for the next one.
- Find an anchor point – once on the bus, assess the surrounding landscape, and attempt to find an anchor point – space that will be able to provide you with support for the next 5-6 hours that you will spend standing. Seat rests, poles, back of the chairs or the shoulder of a particularly sturdy neighbour all can be used as anchor points perfect for leaning against and reducing the force of the gravitational pull on your limbs. When we got on the bus, Emma was fortunate to find a little nook immediately by the door, where she was safe from the influx and outflux of passengers and only had to contend for space with grain sacks and resting feet. Meanwhile, I was carried with the people stream down to the whirlpool vortex that is the middle of the bus. I was eventually able to secure a highly-coveted propped-up position against a seat.
- Hold your position – finding an anchor point is not worth much if you can’t defend it. Like the World War I trench warfare, the passengers defend their hard-won positions staunchly, the battle lines are clearly drawn and very little progress is seen while the bus is in motion. However, at every stop, the movement of the masses provides a chance for all standing to readjust and claim a better spot. During one such stop, I found myself displaced from my vertical perch and ended up in no man’s land squished between several ladies’ bottoms. The next 30 to 40 minutes were spent hip jousting for the prized spot near the upright bar.
P.S. When there is a bathroom and/or snack stop along the way, ignore the rules above, and try to steal a seat from those with the unlucky bladders or hunger pangs. When they return, pretend that you are sleeping and spend the rest of the ride counting your lucky stars.