I am referring to my liking for gum boots, hiking boots and the likes. The picture below shows various species of them in my collection.
Of these, I am partial to gum boots for my wilderness walking.
The main reason for this is to protect myself from snake bites. We have 5 deadly-poisonous inland snakes and several other venomous snakes, which can cause “considerable discomfort”—to put it mildly. In Sri Lanka the annual death rate due to snake bite envenoming is one of the highest in the world with 6 deaths out of a population of 100,000. In 2008 alone, there were 33,000 snake bites in this country. This number comes from reports generated through hospitals, and do not take into account of patients resorting to traditional type of treatment. So the actual figures should be higher.
My secondary reasons for preferring wellies, as gum boots are affectionately called, are to enable me to cross shallow streams without getting my feet wet (and without removing shoes, argh!), and to keep off leeches (note, you have to wear them with leech socks).
Wellies have a bad reputation for being cumbersome and downright uncomfortable. This explains why most people dislike them. This was true for me too. With time, however, I have got used to them. As I use them heavily these days, their wear and tear is high. And I find myself in a difficult position when I have to replace them in this country. As I like to try them before purchasing, ordering them online is not a viable option for me.
Despite being a rubber producing country (and not to mention us topping the list of deaths due to snake envenomation), the types of gum boots made in Sri Lanka (in Arpico and DSI) are not designed for field naturalists like us in my opinion. .
I will explain.
1. Most of them are too short —Apart from increasing exposure to snake strikes, this "shortcoming" make them unsuitable for crossing shallow streams especially in rain forests here. Gum boots got to be at least 15-17 inches tall to make them suitable for people like us.
2. The lower back (back quarter) of most of the boots in the market are too rigid making them less flexible. This part of the boot needs to be flexible to alleviate discomfort during walking.
3. Sole is 'wrong'. This causes leg pain during longer walks. Makers should really do some sole-searching, and take a look at international brands to correct their basic design flaws.
When I want to go gum boot shopping, I have just one choice. That is to visit the Malwatte Road in Colombo Fort. When you enter it from the railway station side, the shops on the left side sell the wrong type of product, explained above. The ones suitable for people like us are available at the more doggy shoe stands on the right. An that is where I rightly go shopping!
These vendors get quality “imported” ones delivered to them in small quantities from various “informal channels” especially with the Colombo Harbour also being not too far away. The prices are generally reasonable here and there is a lot of room for bargaining. Last week, I was quoted Rs. 2,500 for an “Auda” safety gum boot. With fifteen minutes of creative negotiations, I walked away with it, paying just 1,650 bucks.
I hope people at DSI and Arpico will address the shortcomings mentioned here, and improve their existing product range. After all, there is a good target market, if they did their market research right.
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