Lost (and found) Bag in Matara, Sri Lanka - 2012

In early 2012 we were travelling on a bus from Tangelle to Matara along the South Coast of Sri Lanka. Just before we arrived in Matara I fell asleep and, when we arrived, I jumped off the bus, grabbed our big case and walked off the bus completely forgetting my day bag on the bus. That bag had US$2,000 worth of equipment and I did get it back.

Matara's greatest Tuk Tuk Driver - Sri Lanka
Mr. Mr. Jagath helped me find my bag(If in Matara and you need a Tuk Tuk, give him a call at 077-059-9844)

Lost & Found - A History of Goodness
Ever since I have been in Asia I have been amazed at the honesty of people in returning lost items. When I first arrived in Taipei in 1998 I remember being so jet lagged that I forgot my wallet with all my money and passport on a table in a coffee shop in Taipei Main Station. The waitress, who couldn't speak English, chased after me in the early morning rush hour to return it.

And when we lived in China, Queenie forgot her wallet with all her credit cards and bank cards in the park of the community in which we lived. After a few hours of searching and having given up hope of recovering it, the community's security guard knocked on our door with an old man in tow. The old man had found the wallet, taken it for safe keeping and reported it to the security guards. Nothing was missing: all the money and all the cards were returned.

(As a cautionary tale we haven't always been that lucky: when my father visited us in 2007 he lost his wallet in Hong Kong (he believes it was pick pocketed) and we couldn't recover it. However, that has been the exception and not the rule.)

Back to Matara, Sri Lanka
This story is summarized in the video below (if you really don't feel like reading)
Once again my hope and faith in humanity was given a boost of confidence in Sri Lanka. As mentioned above, we were on the bus from Tangelle to Matara. I fell asleep just before we arrived at the bus terminal in Matara. When I had gotten onto the bus I had put my day pack in the rack above the chair. The bag contained all our electronic equipment: cameras, video camera, mobile phone, kindle, ipod and all the chargers etc. Anyway, after we arrived at the terminal Queenie woke me up suddenly and without thinking I grabbed the big case and climbed off the bus. We walked accross the road from the terminal before I realized the day pack was missing!

Unfortuntaley all the buses look similarly strange and it was really tough to figure out which bus was the one we were on as it had already moved from where we got off. I started jumping on different buses trying to figure out which bus was the right bus but couldn't find it. I asked a couple of foreigners who had been with us on the bus and they didn't know either.

I was evidently distraught when Tuk Tuk driver Mr. Jagath came to my rescue. Mr. Jagath realized something was wrong and he approached me to ask if he could help. In a somewhat panicked state I mentioned to him that I had left my bag on the bus and from then on he dashed onto the buses with me trying to help me locate it. After a while he suggested that we go to another place 2km East of the terminal to see if the bus had parked there. All this while Queenie was standing on the side of the road wondering what happened to me.
We found Queenie and got the small bus tickets that the conductor had issued to us when we paid for the trip. With that, Mr. Jagath threw me onto his Tuk Tuk and off we went down the road to look for the bus. Unfortunately the bus wasn't there. Mr. Jagath showed our tickets to one of the other conductors who suggested the bus we had been on was destined for Colombo and Mr. Jagath told me I would have to rent a car to chase the bus. We decided to return to the bus terminal and report the missing bag to the police.

When we got back to the terminal we found that the police station was locked (since it was the national independence day) so we went to the bus terminal office to discuss it with the terminal manager. They looked at my small ticket and were able to figure out which company the bus belonged to and who the owner was. They tried to call the bus owner but locating him was tough since it was a public holiday. Anyway, this was taking a while and I was getting increasingly agitated believing my bag with all my cameras and equipment was gone and Mr. Jagath kept trying to reassure me that I would get it all back.
Bus to Matara from Tangelle - Sri Lanka
The bus conductor - this picture was used to identify the bus (by Queenie)
I decided then to go back and find Queenie as we had been gone for about 50 minutes. We found her standing in the shade in the terminal waiting for us. We suggested she come to the office with us and then I remembered that she had taken some pictures on the bus. Thinking that perhaps there was something that could be used to identify the bus in one of the pictures, I took out Queenie's camera (which thankfully had been the only electronic appliance not put in my bag) and started to show the terminal manager the pictures. There was a picture of the bus conductor (which Queenie inadvertently took) and with that the managers face lit up and he told us the conductors name and exactly where the bus was parked in the terminal: It had been parked 5 meters away from where Queenie was standing.

Mr. Jagath and I raced off to the bus to try to retrieve the case: I was convinced that it was already long gone but when we found the bus, the bag had been taken out of the overhead rack and placed behind the drivers seat. Not a single item was missing. UNBELIEVABLE. After a one hour search, everything was fine and Mr. Jagath had helped me secure the bag.

Later when I spoke with Mr. Jagath, he said it wasn't the picture that helped them find the bus but rather, they had tracked down the owner of the bus who had told them where it was but both Queenie and I clearly saw how their faces lit up as soon as they saw the picture and also, as soon as the conductor was identified the manager put the phone down and directed us to the parked bus. Whatever story is true doesn't matter: the bag was recovered with everything in it and Mr. Jagath proved that there are still people in this world who will unselfishly help others (he didn't ask for any money although I insisted he take some).

Queenie said that when she saw me chase the buses I looked like Indiana Jones (she dubbed me Indiana Sharpe). But all credit to her, she remained calm and was at peace with the fact that the bag was gone and may never be recovered.

The Last Word
To be honest, I had been so sick for the week I had been in Sri Lanka that when I lost the bag I just wanted to give up. Later that day when we were sitting in the Weherahena Temple I told Queenie that that was the first time in 13 years of travelling over many miles I just wanted to be beamed up and taken home. I was just so frustrated with myself and it was really tough to accept that I had done such a stupid thing. The end result is a classic travel story, enhanced faith in the friendship and undying kindness of strangers and a recovered bag.

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