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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Most visitors to Sri Lanka depend on the tiny three-wheeled motorcycle called a tuk-tuk for short trip around town. They are common in south Asia and a few can be found in other cities around the globe.

The name might come from the sound of the little engine, which gets about 80 miles per gallon of gasoline. Top speed is around 35 to 40 mph, but trust me it seems much faster. Many drivers operate the tuk-tuk while barefoot.

Two people can comfortably fit on the bench seat behind the driver, three can squeeze in but it is not unusual to see a family of four or five in one. There is a canvas roof and side curtains that roll down in the rain.

Riding in a tuk-tuk is a mix between electrifying and terrifying. After agreeing on a price, never get in before doing this; the driver takes off with a roar, weaving around buses, darting between trucks and cars, and narrowly missing pedestrians as well as other tuk-tuks.

There are two constants; lane changes and horn honking.

Once while riding with a driver who never used his horn, I asked why.

"It broken," he replied.

At intersections where good sense would call for a four-way stop, the tiny tuk-tuks roar through nar-rowly missing others doing the same on the cross street. Surprisingly, perhaps miraculously there is not carnage, in my 10 visits to Sri Lanka I have only seen one accident where people were injured, and two or three minor fender benders.

Sri Lanka also has a rail network it has low fares, along with slow and uncomfortable service. Com-muter trains in and out of Colombo are so crowded that people literally hang out the doors while the train is moving.

The one place where I suggest a train is to Kandy.

The Intercity Express leaves Colombo at 7 a.m. for the 2.5 hour trip, the train has a 24 seat observation car, old but comfortable, with reclining seats, the kind found in 1947 DC-3s, You must have a reservation and they must be purchased in person up to 10 days before you leave, at the Colombo rail station 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The train returns at 3 p.m. round trip just $7 (U.S.).

It is one of the most scenic train rides in the world; it snakes from sea level into the lush green countryside climbing some 1,500 feet. The ride provides breathtaking views and includes more than a dozen tunnels. Seats in the "Observation Saloon" face the rear of the train and the car is outfitted with large windows, the side windows open to make it easy to take pictures.

WILLIAM RECKTENWALD is the journalist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's School of Journalism.

 

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