It had been a great trip so far. Admittedly the 3am drive down left a bit to be desired but the two dives on the mystery wreck were mind blowing. An eagle ray soared past us as we hovered over the wreck and huge trevalley moved in the shadows as we swam into the ghostly ship lying scatted on the bottom and hordes of snappers swirled above us, a solid mass of fish. I’m still not sure how this was but the air from our tanks tasted of strawberries and the dives were simply world class.
As the sun set on the beach at Kayankerni we exultantly discussed our evidence on what the ship could be, the length indicated a World War II wreck but there was still much to be done the next day to further uncover the mystery. It was then that we made our fatal mistake. We decided that nothing would cap the day better than a couple of beers. Thus fortified with this foolish idea we proceeded to Oddamaivadi to get some beer. Over the Kayankerni bridge as we rattled along the road that was under construction we heard a thud. Shortly followed by a warning light on dashboard and the death rattle of the engine seizing up.
The deadly section of the diversion road
Rather befuddled we sat in the car for a few minutes before deciding to move it to the side of the road in case a passing combine harvester gave us a gentle tap on the back in the approaching gloom. It was then that we started to meet the inhabitants. As I pushed the Swift to the side of the road (it’s a surprisingly light car) a motorcycle spluttered to a stop and our Guardian Angel turned up to assist, heavily disguised of course as a mustachioed and saronged old man, GB Kahn. While DJ and I stood bewildered he in quick succession organized a truck to tow us to the nearest garage.
The garage, actually a large field with a shack, turned out to be the haunt of Sudu Malli, the black as night mechanic who soulfully advised us to get a new filter and he would try his best the next day. As we had reached the limit of what we could do for the night we arranged a tuk to get back to base and a jovial character by the name of Ali picked us up.
As we proceeded to buy a couple of beer bottles (to console ourselves) Ali with great gusto started talking. And he didn’t stop. His stories were various and colourful. He started off with tales of how he used to run goods for the LTTE and the army, until both were pissed off with him and he had to move to Colombo. There it turned out he was arrested for dealing marijuana and he regaled us with how he used to escape rape on a daily basis, including unwanted specifications of how the victims were chosen as they used rudimentary toilets.
Ali continued to talk and swig beer from a can while we drove on. He took a short but terrifying detour to show us a field where he as involved in a land dispute. For a second we thought we were going to be have a sticky end somewhere in a lost field. Ali continued to talk, now he was telling us about his experiences with ghosts on the road. We later learned that he loved to smoke up..which probably explains the ghosts. He also told us he transports corpses in his tuk, a sort of open air hearse. We were reassured to hear however that he washes his tuk regularly in the lagoon.
Ali was even full of political soundbites, a particularly witty statement was, mamma Thambi, appi nari, ogollong Sinhala, sinhayao…koti thang malla. Which for political correctness left a bit to be desired.
It was with a sinking feeling that we realized Ali had no intention on leaving us when we got to the bungalow. Instead he helped himself to a bottle of beer, regaled us with a story on circumcision and proceeded to show us how his belly dances. I cannot make this shit up. Apparently it was because he was quite diligent with his yoga…yoga I say again. Then just before he left he showed us another one of his life skills, twisting his ear up and keeping it balled up. He then serenaded us with a short tune before bumpily heading off into the night leaving us speechless and not a little traumatized.
The next morning dawned bright and early. The promise of a hot day was kept as instead of diving as we had hoped, we travelled around Oddamavadai, this time with a mercifully silent trishaw driver, in search of a petrol filter. Tracking one down finally in the shop of the town’s other crazy mechanic, Meegamuwa Kolla, whom we later learned had a ‘wire in his head’ (i.e. was batshit crazy) we had Sudu Malli install this and we crossed our fingers.
Three wheeler with our dive gear inside
No luck as the engine was rock solid. Which then brought us to the tricky part of how the hell we were going to get a Suzuki Swift back to Colombo.
Luckily there turned out there was a truck, Anoja was her name that needed to get to Colombo and had space in her innards for the Swift. Of course this being Sri Lanka nothing was quite that simple. The truck needed repairs to its clutch. And the driver had to come from Batticaloa with the parts. Thus we sat in the smallest patch of shade in all of Batticaloa while we waited for Saadi the driver and his unnamed squint eyed assistant to turn up. Once they turned up they and Sudu Malli dug around in the bowels of the truck until finally it seemed it was all fixed.
The next step was to find rope and we were told there was a rope shop close to the garage. We proceeded out of Sudu Mallis and turned left and walked 500 meters in the baking sun with no rope shop in sight. In response to our enquiries, we were told the shop was towards Sudu Malli’s Garage. We alked another 500 meters past the garage with the same result and the same response to our queries about the mysterious rope shop. Needless to say we were less than amused to find the shop smack dab in front of the garage, cleverly disguised as a fishing supplies shop.
Entering the shop we asked the chap behind the counter whether we could purchase some rope. He gave us a nervous glance and ran out of the shop. DJ and I looked at each perplexed, we were probably sweaty and a bit smelly but hardly that objectionable. The mystery was solved a few minutes later as the man came bag dragging a boy whose role it was to interprete, as he only spoke Tamil.
Rope procured, we were secured to Anoja’s behind and she then proceeded to take us for a slow tow to a service station so we could load the car into her innards.
Dragged through town
The rather innovative process that was explained to us on how this was to be achieved was to put the car up on a hydraulic jack, back the truck up and then push the car in. Of course the first service station refused to let us do this, so we proceeded back into town, the townspeople regarding us with interest and possibly a sense of déjà vu as we trundled past them again, this time heading to Meegamuwa Kolla's service station. Suffice to say the plan of how to get the car into the truck was not quite as easy as it sounded but much sweating and pushing and jousting, not me of course, I was too busy taking photographs, we finally got the car in.
Wrestling the car into Anoja
All that was left was the drive back to Colombo. We squeezed into the back of Anoja’s cabin where there was just enough leg space to give us hope but not enough to allow for a comfortable ride. For one brief, terrifying moment Saadi played some South Indian tunes at full blast, before catching our looks and interpreting them as meaning that we would happily kill him and his assistant and drive the damn truck back to Colombo if he continued with the music.
In blessed silence we proceeded towards Colombo, a 9 hour odyssey where I learned something interesting. Transport trucks do not have anything in terms of suspension so you could feel every single jolt from the road. Needless to say by the end of the trip I had reached a level of pain that I had not thought possible.
So there it is, strawberry flavoured air, giant trevalley, a crazy tuk driver, even crazier mechanics and a temperamental truck called Anoja. A truly once in a lifetime way to end a brief east coast season for 2011.