Everyone warns tourists not to attempt driving in Sri Lanka; naturally, I had to try.
So when my eye caught the bungalow owner's father's set of wheels - a sorry-looking 50cc auto-gear Honda scooter - I reckoned I could work out a deal. I offered brand-new tyres and an oil change and soon we had a rental agreement.
An avid biker, I have ridden on three continents, and so I quickly got comfortable with the bike - zero acceleration when needed, brakes requiring assistance from the soles of my shoes, and a wobble like its main components were held together with twisted wire … oh, wait: they were.
It might be helpful if I learnt the local traffic rules first. So, I found a strategically placed cafe and proceeded to analyse total mayhem.
Imagine a monkey staring at a chessboard and trying to deduce the rules of play. He scratches his chin, sighs, nibbles a banana, blinks intently once or twice … but I already know how to play chess. So I jump onto the bike and I'm soon swallowed into the stream of traffic.
The street is a single lane - a single lane both ways. On this single strip of tarmac, there were several parrot-coloured trucks, a handful of buses with people hanging off the doors, an occasional car, a dozen or so three-wheeled tuk-tuks filled with entire classes of schoolchildren, an angry swarm of motorcycles and half the town population on their bicycles. The other half of the town was walking, gawking, or selling fruit, on the rough edges that serve as the pavement.
Everyone was beeping their horn. Possibly at me. I think even the pedestrians carried horns.
I realised I was playing by the wrong rules. I was trying to play chess, but the game was more like the 3D chess that Mr Spock played on Star Trek, where pieces can move 360° at any time with no prior notice. Eventually, it makes sense.
So, forget lanes. Here are the rules to 3D traffic. The goal is to stay in the very centre of the street; unless there is a bigger vehicle already there or on its way to taking that position. Then you move aside towards the road edge just enough for it to temporarily occupy the centre in your place. Simple.
As a motorbike, one of the lesser vehicles but still more powerful than bicycles, carts, and pedestrians - let's say ranking as knight or bishop - we are nudged from behind by the horns of trucks, buses, cars and three-wheelers. It is normally a gentle toot; and you do if there's room, or they run you over.
To be able to move aside, the motorcyclist, in turn, beeps the bicyclist, who can only move over as much as the carts and pedestrians allow; and so each vehicle waiting behind follows the ebb of traffic and the craggy coastline of potholes at the side of the street.
So instead of rigid lanes, with silly painted lines, the space on the street is fluidly allocated according to vehicle size and the available border of tarmac.
Now, since naturally not all these pieces can fit on the 3D chess board at the same time side by side, there has to be a system of timeshare to regulate movement.
Logically, the largest vehicles are the meanest, and they occupy centre position, so they nuzzle up to the lesser vehicle in front of them until the smaller one moves over enough for them to squeeze past.
Repeat ad infinitum, and it works like clockwork, if you just learn the rules of the game.