(Flashback to June 7th, 2011)
On a public bus between Dambulla and Polonnaruwa in central Sri Lanka. It was already dark. I was sitting in the back of the dirty bus with my backpacks, exhausted from a long day of walking and exploring the fabulous Dambulla Caves and the spectacular mountaintop fortress city of Sigiriya.
The rear door attendant was standing to my left, with his skinny body half in and half out, hanging on the safety handle for dear life. He was a quiet, kind-hearted young man with a sweet smile. His job, as is standard in Asian countries, is to collect fares and control access to the rear of the bus. The bus driver, or another front attendant, would collect fares and manage the front of the bus.
The back of the bus was being whipped around each turn like a water skier, and several times I had to grab one of my backpacks as it was sliding toward the wide-open rear door and forever into the dark night.
As far as I could tell, the driver couldn’t care less about my safety, or anyone else’s. In fact, I think he actually enjoyed trying to scare passengers and oncoming motorists and everybody on the streets with his menacing dirty bus. I figured he would go home at night and park his miserable bus in his front yard and kick his dog and yell at his wife and kids. He just seemed like an angry man to me.
(Note: Click on any photo to see stunningly world-class quality and pure artistic genius)
A typical public bus in Sri Lanka. I took this photo a few days before this crazy adventure.
A Reclining Buddha in the ancient caves of Dambulla. This amazing temple/cave complex dates back to the 1st century BCE. I started my morning here.
In front of the massive rock fortress of Sigiriya, in central Sri Lanka. This was a master-planned community in approximately 450 AD, with incredible pools and moats and gardens.
The cool people lived up on top, nearly 650 feet (200 meters) above the central plains. I spent the afternoon exploring and climbing. Then I got on that crazy bus…
I honestly could not believe how fast and crazy he was driving. I seriously thought the bus would tip over or we would be in a terrible accident. Our headlights were dim, the bus was old and getting much older by the minute, and everybody on the bus had their hands on the seat-back in front of them, hanging on and staying alert. I have never been so scared on a bus. The darkening Sri Lankan roads were filled with motorcycles, people, buses, cars, dogs, and cows. It was like an obstacle course, and Captain Crazy was hell-bent on seeing how fast he could weave and dodge and rocket from Point A to Point Bonkers.
Finally, about 20 minutes into my 40 minute ride, the bus driver again took a curve too fast and slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting someone or something. The Death Star slid to the left and finally screeched to a dead stop. I never saw what we were trying to avoid hitting, and I thankfully never heard any impact (This is the kind of crap you see on the evening news where some dude (me) dies in a tragic bus crash while exploring the world.) But when we started up again, there was a loud crunching noise coming from the rear axle of the bus, just below where I was sitting.
Mister Monster had trashed his crappy bus.
He tried several times to start and stop and shift gears, but the crunching continued. Luckily, the injured Crapbucket could still move, but the driver could only limp along about half as fast as before. I made it safely to my destination and gratefully hopped off that rattletrap.
A few weeks before, I was with my Spanish buddy Jorge (‘Parra’) and his girlfriend Alicia (‘Ali’) in Burma (Myanmar) on an epic 8-hour overcrowded, non-air-conditioned public shit bus. Parra was sitting in front of me, overheating in the direct afternoon sun, being jostled by people and motorcycles and animals and babies in the aisle-ways.
Jorge was hitting his limit of patience and perseverance. I was getting sick of the crappy bus ride, but I was still not losing my stoic cool or patience. Parra turned to me and said, ‘This sucks. This is the worst bus ride I have ever been on.’ He asked me, “Alex, is this the worst one for you as well?” I laughed and said, “This one is maybe in my Top 20. Or Top 30. I have been on much, much worse.”
My dear Spanish friends, Parra (Jorge) and Ali (Alicia) at a bus station in Burma before our epic ride.
I travelled with this amazing couple for 28 days across Burma.I stayed with them and their family in Madrid later that year. Incredible people.
On our 8-hour bus ride in Burma, this scooter was jammed into the aisle way, banging into Parra’s elbow for way too long.
I have taken hundreds and hundreds of public bus rides around the world. I love public buses in developing and developed countries. The most authentic and real perspective of ordinary life I can find. Even if I had the money to take a private jeep or a plane or whatever, I usually opted for the public transportation option, as the journey for me is typically more fun than the destination. I have ridden on top of buses and trucks in the Himalayas, along some of the world’s scariest and most dangerous roads.
I’ve been on buses for over 24 hours at a time, sometimes standing in the aisles for hours and hours, waiting for an open seat. I have been in a minivan in Mongolia for 27 hours, bouncing on dirt roads with 17 people in a van that should comfortably carry 7. And I have endured marathon rides on packed buses, sharing a thinly-covered seat with puking kids and sloshing cans of gasoline and live roosters and crates of eggs, while a pig and a goat on the roof scratched and bobbled around on the curvy tropical roads of a small Indonesian island.
Well, this bus ride in Sri Lanka, even though it was only for 40 brutal minutes, is officially my ‘Bus Ride From Hell’, the crappiest bus ride ever. In the dark. Neurotically braking and accelerating and passing in the darkness. On a crappy bus on a crappy road with Crappy Captain Aggressive behind the wheel. With my backpacks trying to hop out the gaping door while I tried to keep from being catapulted as well.
I hope that this bus adventure remains my all-time worst, as I would hate to imagine the ride that could top it.
That was truly the Ride From Hell… the Sri Lankan Crazy Dirty Fast Crap Bus.
Peace & Love,
Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Lexicon
Ruler of the Little Hill People
Still Death-Free for 45 Consecutive years
Crappy Chronic Abuser of the word “Crap’
Borderline Fat, Borderline Skinny
Half Man, Half Centaur, Half Monkey, Half Nuts, Half Man Bear Pig
P.S. Nicolas Cage is still the worst, most crappiest crappy actor to ever ‘toilet up’ a perfectly good movie theater screen or DVD player. He’s simply that bad. The worst. Crap.
P.S.2. Here are a few more photos of my Sri Lankan adventures. Sri Lanka is one of my Top 10 countries for many reasons. I will write more about Sri Lanka soon…
Hanging out the door on a train ride through the seemingly-endless beautiful tea plantations of Sri Lanka.
Green, green, green, and more green. What a beautiful country.
The Mighty Fortress of Sigiriya. This is a stitch of 4 photos I took at the base of the rock. It was so big it would not fit into a normal image.
Note the carved feet at the base and the scaffolding and staircases climbing up the left side. Click it, I dare you.
A stitched photo showing some for the remnants of structures that existed on top of the Sigiriya Fortress.
These people lived up here 1900 years ago. Location, location, location.
And the views… Oh, the views.
A little head-to-knee yoga on top of Sigiriya.
One of the many gorgeous structures of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, where I (luckily) woke up the next morning after my crazy bus ride.