This is a Saturday, but that’s the least of the differences.
Today we don’t have our biking duds. No gloves. No helmet! Bikes with no gears. And not even a paved road.
Our last morning in Sri Lanka Daddy and I are going for a bike ride outside the Ulagalla resort before the long drive to the Colombo.
We’ve got a little map and guide to help us.
Some things are usual for a bike ride—“watch out for that rock!”—but many are different.
Bicycles are for transportation here, not recreation.
First we head out along the tank. A “tank” here is an artificial lake, a reservoir really. There are a lot of them in the dry part of Sri Lanka. Everything is green as can be. A neon blue kingfisher is easy to see even though he’s far away. A giant male peacock sits high up in a tree.
Watch out for monitors–giant lizards—and mongoose on the road. No crocodiles here, the guide promises, though the bats are intriguing. Look up at certain trees and what you think might be a giant seedpod or nest, is in fact a resting bat—12 to 15 inch wingspan when flying.
We stop fairly often, to look at this tree or that irrigation system or examine this bird with the binoculars. People working their fields or gardens wave at us. Most of the dogs ignore us, but not all.
We stop at the local Buddhist temple. I’m wincing on the rocks on my bare feet, but this is such a sweet little temple—one monk—that somehow feels much holier than the giant crowded temple we visited in Anuradhapura.
Why are my shoes be disrespectful—Daddy’s and his tender feet are back with the bikes—but it is perfectly fine for the two men over there to service their motorbike on the temple grounds? Such are the mysteries of religion and culture.
Back to the bikes and then we ride to our last stop, a local family home. These folks seem so poor to us—their house doesn’t even look like it has a door–but they are happy and proud. They have NINE cows. One calf is 20 days old, the tinier calf is just three days old. “Usually I clean the stalls at nine every morning,” the farmer apologizes through the interpreter, “but I was busy this morning.” He sells his milk to a collective.
He shows the big vats for the rice and grain that he grows. The grinding stone is in fact two stones right together. Toothbrushes are in a container nailed to a tree. He proudly shows us his vegetable garden and then, sadly, his mango tree.
The big tree has been broken off at the trunk, so recently the leaves are still green.
A wild elephant did it.
Elephants are a real hazard for villagers here. They come in at night and do what elephants do. Some of the wealthier villages have electrified fences to keep elephants out.
A little popcorn, fixed by the farmer’s wife—he grew it of course—and then it’s back on our bikes for the hotel.
We’ve been out for two hours, about the duration of a usual bike ride at home. But our map doesn’t have any distance markers and of course we’ve made several stops.
“How far do you think we rode?” Daddy asks.
“Five miles?” I say.
He’s the mathematician, but then again, we don’t have our fancy odometers from home.
“Five miles.” That’s my story.
Five miles. Elephants. Lizards. Peacocks. Bats.
Just a normal bike ride.