Monday, September 5, 2011

Don’t Worry

Thailand was for many years a favorite holiday destination, and trips there were frequent enough to blur the lines between one time and the next. Most visits focused on Bangkok, a city with its own exotic catalog of colors, smells, flavors, tuk-tuk traffic jams, bird sellers and smiling people. On those occasions when the city’s crowded streets and throbbing activity grew tiresome, a jaunt to the north country held out promises of a very different geography. Thailand is a land of elephants, and seeing one is rarely a surprise, but in traveling north I had not counted on a day of trampling through the jungle atop a huge tusker. Neither had I imagined sitting inside the coils of a twelve foot boa constrictor with the unforgettable name of Porntip. My Thai friends called it a photo op.


Eager to see what the southern end of the country looked like, for the next excursion out of Bangkok I planned a week in a small village in Surat Thani province located on the Gulf of Thailand. Most international travelers head to nearby Phuket, but the quieter, lesser known area with its empty beaches was the more enticing. At the time there was no airport in Surat Thani, so everyone flew into and out of Phuket, which left me with a two hour taxi ride to my hotel in the quieter place with the empty beaches.


The hotel was a beautiful construction of bamboo and slabs of the local stone, a building that seemed to grow out of the jungle with an outward lean toward the silvery beach on the other side of an unpaved road. First thought was that the opposite body of water was like a giant wet magnet pulling the hotel into a watery embrace. My second thought was what happens in a typhoon. With few guests, mine was a large and comfortable room that didn’t seem a part of the hotel’s exterior. It could have been a double room at the Baltimore Holiday Inn with a magic door that opened onto paradise.


The uncrowded restaurant lacked much in the way of outside walls, a view of beach and distant islands unimpeded from any of its tables. Barely in my chair, a smiling waiter arrived with a broken English welcome and a tall umbrella drink spicy with rum. He explained that I wouldn’t need a menu since the chef would prepare a few of his special dishes for my first night. Over six days I never looked at a menu but left each meal to the discretion of the chef and the waiter with the rum drinks and the big smile.


The next several days were hours of walking the near empty beach, never once catching glimpse of a face not Thai, watching teams of boys scurrying like cats up tall coconut palms, bombarding the ground below with giant green fruit; snorkeling among coral reefs in clear water while the hotel guide spearfished and prepared a lunch on his hastily made beach fire. One day with the same guide a short boat ride took us to a small island with a beach that surrounded a maze of high-ceilinged caves, the air cold, musty and un-tropical—an interior world apart from the golden beach not fifty yards away.


With goodhearted waves and smiles the hotel staff saw me off at the end of the week. A taxi had been arranged to drive me the two hour distance to the Phuket airport and a flight to Singapore. I was a little concerned at the lateness of the hour, worrying that bad traffic could make me miss the flight. The driver and hotel representative in the front seat assured me there would be no problem.


I did get to the airport on time, did just barely catch the flight to Singapore, but ‘no problem’ is the worst possible description of that drive. Upon arrival I kissed the airport tarmac thankful to get there alive.


Somewhere along the mid-point of our mad dash on narrow country roads, the driver pulled into the left lane to pass a truck. Seeing another truck in front of the first one, he accelerated to pass the second truck figuring he could get back to the right lane before any oncoming cars appeared over the hill. But in the next instant there was a motorcycle, and too quick for thought or reaction we smashed into it head on. In the few seconds before impact I pushed my face down into the soft duffel bag beside me on the backseat. After the impact, the shattering of glass and shuddering malfunction of all parts, the taxi careened and bounced across a deep ditch and came to rest nose down on collapsed wheels.


There was a coating of red-stained bits of glass all over me and the backseat of the taxi. Raising myself up slowly I saw the driver and hotel rep seemingly okay and making an attempt to get out of the front-crumpled taxi. My door still functioned and I climbed out into waist high grass. The first sound was a dull and continuous moan from somewhere in the dense growth behind us. I climbed up to the road to find already a crowd of stopped cars and passing locals. Deadened by the inertia of shock, I stood apart on the side of the road, catching the occasional stare from one or another person milling about. It was all countryside and surprising to see a police car arrive so quickly. What they did not notice was the driver of the taxi jumping on the back of a motorcycle urging the man in front to take off. I watched his red-smeared face disappear around a curve in the road.


The man from the hotel and I sat in the back seat of the police car, answering questions about the accident. Mostly silence from me, shocked and understanding little of either questions or answers, I sat dully and let the hotel employee talk. Clearly he explained that I was a traveler in transit from hotel to airport, because soon after a taxi arrived to carry me on to Phuket. But still no ambulance for the man and woman on the motorcycle, both of whom lay moaning in nearby bushes. I was uninjured, in possession of my duffel bag and pretty much a nervous wreck, but the policeman saw me off in the newly arrived taxi. Through the glass of the police car the hotel man lifted his hand in a halfhearted wave.

3 comments:

  1. Scary end to a visit to Paradise. Although true, it follows so much in literature about the darker underbelly inherent in all things. And it is the uncertainty of the unexpected that always gives pause to any adventure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Did you know you can create short links with AdFly and earn money for every click on your short urls.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

My photo
Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America