I can't recall exactly how long these swan boat things have been prowling on Beira lake but it must be over a year, maybe closer to two years. Either way I've had a strange fascination with them since I first set eyes on the chaps.
Each time I've been past the lake I've gazed at them and harboured a growing desire to go out on one. The very first time I spotted them I immediately thought that some bright spark had found a use for old VW Beetle bodies, they looked so similar in shape. I developed a need to prove or disprove the Beetle theory, to find out if they were old Beetle bodies or if the shape was just a similar one. You can see what I mean can't you?
On top of that I wanted to go out on one, to drift around the clean (?) waters of the lake while listening to the backdrop of the Colombo traffic and to feel slightly weird riding around in such a tacky and artificial creation with the beauty of Geoffrey Bawa's temple in the background. The idiosyncratically Sri Lankan juxtaposition of the two things has captured me for a while.
My problem was one of how to engineer a ride. My visual research indicated that they're usually out on the lake during the late afternoon before sundown and occupied by people with young kids or young romancing couples.
What to do? Young children I don't have and, with the best will in the world, I don't think myself and C would win any prizes if we were to attempt to portray a young and romantic holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes type of couple. Besides, I'd mentioned the swans to C several times and she never quite shared my enthusiasm. That's women for you I guess.
If I were to go out on my own I'd attract lots of those stares, the kind I often get here when I go out to eat on my own, and probably get arrested, so that option was eliminated. Therefore I was left with A and K as my main hope, well, my only hope.
It was a gamble. At their current ages of fourteen and sixteen I never know if they'll be bored stiff because something's too childish for them or because it's too adult for their liking. It's always one or the other, except when it's not.
We were staying on Slave Island so passed the swans a few times a day during our travels and I pointed them out to the girls at the first opportunity. To my surprise they weren't totally averse to the concept and, after about a week or continual enthusiasm nurturing and the most unsubtle of hinting, we grabbed a tri shaw and found ourselves standing by the lake late one afternoon.
It was just myself and the two girls and it becamse apparent that I was by far the most excited about the whole idea. To be fair the girls were quite into the concept too and we paid our fee and boarded the huge and rather lifelike swan.
Until that point I didn't know what type of propulsion was involved and I saw straight away that they're those pedelo things. There's a steering wheel in the middle of the thing and a seat on each side with pedals. So two people pedal and one sits in the middle and steers.
We were told quite sternly that we had half an hour out on the lake and so set off. K and I were doing the pedalling and A steered. The plan was to do ten minutes of steering each. As K and me pedalled A steered our particular swan (no 9 I think) towards the island. We went round the island in an anti clockwise direction, waving to a few other swan people and heading towards the pedestrian bridge thing.
As all of this was going on I was trying to examine the swan's body to figure out if the resemblance to a Beetle was just a similarity or if it was far more sinister than that. You'll be interested to know that I've concluded it's just coincidence, the swan's body is bigger and shaped just a bit differently. Shame though.
As we approached the bridge I had a last minute nervous thought; that it would be typically Lankan if they had made the swan's neck too tall to fit under the lowest section of the bridge. I envisaged a resounding smack as the poor swan's head hit the underside of the bridge, then I'd have to try to explain it to the staff and god knows how the lack of head might affect the swan's sea lakeworthiness.
It was a nerve tingling few minutes as we made it under the bridge and I realised my fears were unfounded. In my defence I think the clearance between the top of Mr Swan's head and the bridge was only about three or four feet, pretty close by some people's standards.
K and I were a bit knackered from the pedalling, it was hot, not because I'm unfit or anything, and I thought that, in the excitement and fervour, I might have overlooked the time and we were probably near the end of our half hour. I checked my watch to find that we'd only been pedalling for five minutes.
We pedalled on, swapping around at the pre agreed ten minute point. My excitement stayed up at dangerously high levels and the girls ended up loving it too. There was something liberating and childish about it.
At one point we raced against another swan, losing the race but only because I let it happen. K also figured out that we could go backwards so we spent some time experimenting with that, cruising around and attempting to steer while looking out of the back window.
Our time was up and we headed back to shore, disembarked and left, all three of us were tired and happy.
It's a funny old thing you know. The whole holiday was a highlight for me, to spend time with the girls in Sri Lanka with C as well is more or less my idea of perfection, only missing a drum kit or two. But this swan trip is something that makes me smile a bit extra every time I think of it. It was the three of us regressing a bit, forgetting about work, school, angst and stress and just being kids having pure and unadulterated fun.
Since we got back I've made the girls promise that we go on a swan next time too.
They'll probably hate it.
But I'll love it!