Friday, October 9, 2015

Point Pedro Physical and Social

The lane we're staying on, First Cross Street, is a swayback downhill from the beach, which we're close to, to a midpoint between here and the bus stand. After its lowest point it moves uphill past the Fish Market and a few small stores, one of which blares music all morning, on to the Central Bus Station, called the "bus stand" here. 

The bus stand is not a perfect square but streets radiate off it as if it were. The Bank of Ceylon is through a gate like portal on one corner. At the far corner from our entry into the bus stand and market is Pathrakali Kovil Lane, which dips straight down into the curved narrow streets of the old city. 

All I saw at the entrance to this lane was the kovil itself but Janet, who has been noticing the many open-air tailors, noticed that there were several tailors just inside the lane. 

Was old Point Pedro walked and gated? The entry to Pathrakali Kovil Lane is so narrow and curved you might think so. Another street, along the library, has a well-constructed portal, maybe built by the Dutch, that suggests an urban composition that's not so obvious in other Sri Lankan towns. 

Point Pedro was hard hit by the. 2004 tsunami. It's not difficult to see that the central market, around which streets radiate, was built higher than the rest of town and some distance from the sea. It's basically on a hill. Was this where the ancient settlement was established? How long ago?

We walked out of town on the main road headed south-southwest. It was an interesting amalgam of shops and buildings until the road widened and started roaring with trucks. We backtracked a bit and turned east on an unmarked road. 

It felt like we had gone far enough, and Janet felt fresh in the not-too-harsh sun, for us to go a bit farther. We were on a very quiet country lane in the far suburbs of Point Pedro and the road was easy to take. As we pushed east I decided to try for Vallipuram, 5km southeast of town, where a large kovil complex provided a good goal. 

Believe it or not we made it there, first stopping at a crossroads once marked but now unintelligible. Up there (and this was high ground again) was a kovil devoted to Hanuman, the monkey god. At least out in front there he was, caged in two different cages, regally covered with rolled betel leaves. Is he the mens' god?

Here we turned south again, clueless except that the signpost had indicated, weakly, that Point Pedro was in the opposite direction. Past plantations of same-age palmyras, past sand dunes and scrub on our left, with the sea just the other side of their golden tops, past low-lying rice fields, fallow now. Finally a sign indicated the way to the kovil, one of whose structures we could just make out at the top of the trees. 

A week of celebrations ended a few days ago and the grounds were covered in trash. Flies everywhere made the idea of stopping for a drink at one of the two or three tiny stands less than exciting. At the kovil entrance a beggar accosted us. The "grounds" themselves, fenced in, did not reveal any exciting structures. And we had used up our exploration energy on the walk over. So we decided to wait for a bus. We had seen a few on the road heading in the opposite direction to Point Pedro. 

The air grew still and thick, the flies worse than ever. The stifling sky was neither bright nor dark but there were no shadows. A drop or two of rain fell. A shopkeeper invited is in for shelter. He told us a bus would come at 11:30. We waited until almost noon and there was the bus. Practically empty where others had been full. 

We each got a window seat as the bus roared past sights we had taken in on our walk. No more passengers got on or off. Almost into town, across from a hardware store, the bus stopped and the conductor got out. That was about a ten minute wait, with only one other passenger and the driver on board. As we rolled into town at the bus stand I offered the conductor payment, which he hadn't collected. He nodded that the ride was free so we got down into town. 

After buying water and some snacks we started down the First Cross Street, where rain was picking up. Just passing our hosts' place they waved and smiled, probably relieved that the foreigners were accounted for and safe from the rain. 

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