stormy seas and jungle trails
My head retreated to the shelter of the wall twice as fast as it had curiously revealed itself to the lashing gale. I sat for a while satiating my hunger with bananas sheltered in an abandoned restaurant as slowly the rain and wind gusting in from the sea eased. I considered the tropical seasons and concluded that here on the east coast of Thailand the rain season has yet to finish. During tropical downpours the only real decision a cyclist has to make – once he has decided to ride on – is whether to don a jacked and be hot and wet or carry on without a jacket and be cold and wet, I checked the temperature, it was 22 degrees. it amused me to think that in the UK by the time the temperature reaches 22 degrees the island is festooned with milk bottle white legs and beer bellies and the nation is bemoaning the unbearable heat. I slipped on my non breathable non waterproof Gore Tex jacked and opted for hot and wet, I was chilly.
The purpose of this ride is to go over the route for the new Redspokes Winter Escape Tour (which incidentally dear reader has been cunningly planned to coincide with the dry season). This particular section I know has some tricky navigation and this is something I wished to address. Thailand is a country with a fine network of roads and a distinct lack of detailed maps to ease the wayfarer’s route through them. This makes things both tricky and ultimately rewarding when trying to plot a route through un-chartered territory. Like Magellan searching for the fabled East-West Passage I know there is a route from south to north without hitting the Asia Highway or splashing through the Gulf of Thailand. I know this to be true because I have done it before. The trouble is that one trail through a banana plantation looks much like another, much as – as soon became apparent – one route through a palm-oil plantation bears striking similarities to any other. So my day proved to be one of discovery and excitement. The discoveries were several fold; I discovered that most trails that snake off enticingly into a sea of verdant vegetation end, some kilometres further on, at a palm oil farm. I learned that palm oil farmers are a jovial bunch of folk keen to share their beer with lost cyclists. I discovered that my conviction regarding asking Thais for directions is correct. The Thai’s idea of travelling is to board the highest quality bus they can afford and draw the curtain at the window against which they proceed to slump and slumber for the whole journey to the dulcet tones of a Hollywood movie heavy in both physical and audible violence. So when one asks a Thai for directions they cannot grasp the concept that there may be a route other than the one the bus takes. At one stage whilst navigating a path through a particularly lovely stretch of rustic plantation I became quite excited. I was heading north in a zig-zaggy sort of a manner and, pointing in the direction I was travelling, people would say “Sawi, dai dai”, I was heading in the right direction. This was great, the trail was lovely, a red hard packed dirt trail through palm trees. Trained monkeys swung through the trees collecting coconuts as their masters looked on. From time to time I would have to lift my bike over a tree blown down in a recent storm. Occasionally there would be gap in the forest and in the distance, across a roof of palm stretching out for several kilometres I would catch a glimpse of sea. By jove I had cracked it, I had found the fabled North South Passage. The natives would encourage me, pointing forwards and sounding encouraging as I stopped to check the way. And then I came to a turn. I looked right, I was sure I recognised the scene before me; I must remember it from back in April when I found the way through from north to south, I looked left, that must be the way, I looked right again, it certainly looked familiar, had I seen it in April? Ah, duh, no, I had seen it half an hour ago; the ever helpful Thais had been sending me in a circle back towards the main road, and the bus!
But it was a great day and in the end I did find the way through and as it turns out it is not far at all on a hard packed unsealed trail. The excursions were thoroughly enjoyable and ultimately productive. I arrived at my destination after dark with still a section from yesterday to go over. I am convinced there is a way to completely miss a slightly busier few kilometres and today my mission is to back track and find it. Time to get on.