Navigating the Traffic and the Cops in Colombo

Driving here is not for the weak of spirit. Like so many other places around the world, the streets and roads of Colombo are wildly chaotic and dangerous to navigate especially if you’re a foreign driver. Even as a pedestrian in traffic, survival requires thought.

The featured image is more of a back street scene, but I like this one because it shows the mix of street life. Oftentimes, there are no sidewalks. And one has to be aware of gaping holes and drainage ditches, a constant hazard to watch for, especially at night.

Despite all the travel precautions taken before travel, such as vaccines and various preventative medications, your single greatest risk in a less-than-developed country has to be transport . First off, Sri Lankans drive on the left-hand side of the road so that means training your mind to look right first, and then left when crossing any road. And when navigating as a pedestrian in the really dense street traffic, the key is to avoid sudden moves or panic. The drivers see you and will adjust accordingly; you just have to have faith. They will anticipate you, but if you bolt you reduce your odds significantly. It’s like throwing a wild card; no one sees it coming and it changes the equation rapidly. Smooth and steady will get you across the street safely.

Despite it’s seeming chaos, traffic moves continuously although it seems to bump and lurch a lot. There doesn’t seem to be any clear rule as to who has the right-of-way whether we are talking about pedestrians, small vehicles or large vehicles, although might seems to prevail more often than not. Oftentimes, a stream of traffic will meet another and there is a start-stop-start-stop kind of motion until magically one of the lines gets priority and off it goes while the other line waits. Throw in the randomness of the ubiquitous motorcycle and three-wheeled vehicles known as Tuk-Tuks (seen in the featured image), and you’re starting to get the whole show. The amazing thing is that there never seems to be any road rage as we know it. I’m sure it happens, but it’s rare to see anyone get angry. I absolutely love this about Sri Lanka, and Asia in general. It’s fascinating.

But back to being a pedestrian on the streets of Sri Lanka. As I made my way across a busy street, a traffic cop waved me to come over to him. Not being a huge fan of anyone connected with the state in foreign countries, my first thought was to pretend that I didn’t see him. But he was persistent and we were fairly close and eye contact had been made. So over I went. It turned out that, Raja, as he was called, just wanted to talk and within several minutes he was asking me to help him get into Canada. I said it was difficult to get into Canada and that I didn’t have any particular connections that could help him. He’d have to apply to the Canadian Government just like everybody else. I gave him a Canadian government website, though, just so we could segue out of that part of the conversation.

He then asked my name. I said, “Gordon”. He said, “Golden”. That’s a nice name I thought but in the spirit of meaningful communication I decided to soldier-on by saying, “No, Gordon”. He then said, “ah, Nogolden”. I could see where this was going, so I gave him a non-verbal clue by shaking my head in the negative and then after a longer than normal pause, I said, “Gordon”. “Ah, Golden,” he said. I said, yes, exactly, “Golden”. And so now he has a Canadian friend by the name of Golden. I kind of like it actually. It’s more appropriate than “God” which is how I came to be known in Jamaica when I was using my shortened moniker of Gord. But that’s a whole other story.






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