Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 11: Riding the Pink Rocket

On day 11 I visited Tucta, the unofficial, "village ambassador" tucta
was a Thai woman in her 50s, who along with her husband, Porn
(pronounced without the "r") ran the local Internet/copy shop, booked
taxis, rented motorcycles, and owned a large portion of the village.
Tucta also spoke a lot of English, so she helped out the local
"Farang" (Thai slang for foreigners) in getting situated.

Will had spoken with her earlier, and when I arrived, there was my
ride...a Barbie-Pink 125cc moped with a basket on the front! Yeah!
It was later explained to me that pink is not a feminine color in
Thailand. In fact it's on par with sportscar red in the states.
The reason for that being, the King, who the Thais adore almost to the
point of worshipping, went into the hospital for heart surgery a few
years ago. When he emerged for his first public appearance after his
recovery, he wore a pink shirt. That week, pink clothing sold out
across the nation, and has been a popular color with thai men since.
When Matt saw the bike, he instantly dubbed it "The Pink Rocket",
which had us all cracking up.

We rode to a local curry stand for some breakfast, then I bought 4
kilos of fruit for later. We rested a bit, and that afternoon, we
took off for Patong.

Patong was a good 80 km away by highway. And we had to pass a police
checkpoint along the way. It's against the law to ride without
helmets, Thai drivers licenses, registration, and Insurance. We had
helmets, at least. I had not seen one person on a motorcycle wearing
a helmet on Phuket, but laws here are sporadically enforced, and the
police love to bust farang on things, because they can "fine" them on
the spot.

The checkpoint turned out to be no big deal, as the cops were either
napping or smoking a cigarette as we were waved through. So on we
rode, Will leading the way with Tory on the back, Matt on the second
bike, and me following behind.

We maxed out the bikes as scary highway traffic blasted by at top
speed, and an almost total disregard for the lines on the road. This
was a lot different from riding around sleepy Little Koh Lanta a
couple days before!
We passed scooters sputtering along with sidecars made to accomidate
an entire family as we narrowly avoided massive oncoming trucks filled
with durian and lumber.

After riding for what seemed like close to an hour, we stopped to gas
up, check the map, and let the feeling come back into our numb hands.
Matt and I drank soymilk as Will and Tory checked the map. Patong was
not far! We continued our journey. Out if the gas station, the
traffic began to get heavier, and crazier. It was a game of follow
the leader thru an obstacle course. We had roundabouts to navigate,
cars backing up, trucks parked in our lane, and construction. Then
the road got hilly, and curvey with hairpin turns linking up with each
other. Traffic got faster on the downhill, and I hoped that I
wouldn't hit any gravel or a pothole.

Finally, at the bottom of the hill, Patong!
It was a crowded, touristy area, bustling with busses, tuk-tuks,
motorcycles, and pushcarts. Will deftly navigated these streets and
back alleys with ease as Matt and I strugged not to lose him in the
madness. After all, he had the map!

Going down one side street, a gaggle of bar girls hooted and hollered
as Matt and I passed by. The street dead ended, so we had to
backtrack. This time, one of the girls jumped out in front of Matt
and grabbed his handlebars. Some of these girls are persistent! Matt
was definitely flustered, but I could tell he enjoyed the attention.
Personally, my ego was a little hurt that girls weren't throwing
themselves in front of MY motorcycle. (although I did have gangs of
girls in bangkok mob me as I walked past. I don't really like being
grabbed, but I do like the attention! Except when the kathueys, or
"lady-boys" do it. They don't let go, and freak me the hell out!)

We decided to visit the mall, as Will needed to purchase a few
things. We drove to an underground motorcycle garage, navigated it's
small, labyrinthine aisles, and parked.

Immediately upon entering the mall, girls once again grabbed at us,
begging us to buy their overpriced tshirts and sarongs. We tried to
negotiate, but to get the bets price, you have to walk away first. We
made our way to the upper levels, had some ice cream, and watched
through the doors as it began to monsoon outside. We decided to wait
it out.

We wandered around, til it began to get late, and Matt and I were a
little bored. (A mall in thailand as still a mall, and I tend to be a
little mall-adverse) we left, to got to the Lotus-mart, the local
supermarket. As soon as we got on the road, we instantly ran into
rush hour traffic. And it was on the same hilly area that brought us
here! As we weaved through the gridlocked cars, there were a couple
close calls, but all the motorcycles tend to clump together for
safety. We followed the swarm out of the worst part, and soon arrived
at our destination.

It turns out that it was Tory's birthday, so we took her to a hot-pot
restaurant, stuffed ourselves with fish balls, exotic fungus, spicy
salads, and fried rice, them went shopping.

We had to be careful not to buy more than we could carry. Not a
simple task, as we had to buy enough for 4 people.
A little over an hour later, we had everything on our list, and
amazingly managed to tetris-pack it all into the bikes. Thankfully
the pink rocket had a small trunk under the seat, in addition to the
front basket.

By this time, though, it was dark, and another monsoon was moving in!
I hadn't planned on riding in the dark, much less the rain. Just
getting here was hairy enough in broad daylight,
And we were still nearly an hour from home. There was no turning back
now, though.

We steeled ourselves for the journey, then hit the road again. Soon
after getting in the highway, it began to rain...hard. Giant,
lukewarm drops pelted my face like hail, and the road began to flood.
Water on my glasses, obscured my sight, but without them, the wind and
rain stung my eyes.

Memories of my motorcycle accident flitted through my brain, the fear
amplified by the fact that I was in a developing nation with no more
access to money than I had in my pocket.

At that moment you have to make a choice. You can listen to the fear,
let it tense your muscles and second guess yourself. Or you can laugh
in fear's face, despite the danger all around you, and dare to
actually enjoy the experience. I knew that to get through this, I
would have to suspend all conscious thought, remain hyper-aware of my
surroundings, and eliminate all hesitation from my actions. And as I
drove through the puddles containing hidden obstacles, wiped the water
from my glasses, and roared on at 45 miles per hour, a giddy grin
spread across my face. Uncontrollable giggling followed soon after.
I hadn't felt this alive in a long, long time. I thought my soul had
died while I sat, atrophing in front of a computer for years, like
human veal.

But after years of fearing motorcycles, I was remembering how fun they
were. All I needed was a little danger, a little uncertainty to wake
my spirit out of it's complacent slumber, to remember, again, what
truly stimulates me. No risk, no reward. And the risk, this time at
least, was absolutely worth it.

We drove back through the checkpoint, then home again, where we
whooped and hollered out of unrestrained glee. Soaked to the gills,
with cramped hands and numb asses we toasted our safe return with
Singha beer a bottle of sweet Thai rum.

A shower and a comfy bed would round out the day. I was asleep as
soon as my head hit the pillow.

Jason Phipps
Art Director
Big Boss Creative

No comments: