Sometimes it’s easy to forget tropics, but sometimes they just jump out and remind you. And by they, I of course mean a pack of cute little monkeys or a lizard or a big ass spider. Walking home from dinner in Hat Yai, an elephant loiters casually in front of 7/11- I’ll add that to the list of “Never in Edmonton.”
Stopped for a drink and shade, attempting to escape the omnipresent heat, men shake Hodei’s hand, or bless him at random. While sitting on the steps, men ask him “where is your wife from”or if they might have pictures with me. Though seated next to him, I am voiceless.
While repairing H’s spokes, the “I’m bike” shop examines my broken seat. They check my MacGyvered fix: a cut plastic bottle rammed and taped under the broken seat. One of the guys looks at me, then back at the bike and then waves me into the shop. He shows me two used seats, for you he says, anything free. I’m humbled. His man attaches my new seat and fits my bike with a shiny new bell, removing the broken one claimed by Cambodia. Again, I am positively delighted. These guys are just too nice.
Cycling south toward Malaysia on the east coast, we cross through a perfect patch of paradise: the highway 4157. It meanders quietly, away from the busy traffic and at one point drops off and into the sea entirely, bordered by beautiful lush fields. Smile the thousand watt smile: it’s like cycling through the set of Robison Crusoe.
Southbound, communities also begin to change shape. Wats go from lining the roads, to recessed, much further behind ornate gates. These same gates go from housing only monks, to entire communities. Mosques pop up more often.
Checkpoints back in Thailand began rather innocuously at first. A couple of sticks, red and white striped, faded by the afternoon sun, block traffic from free flowing. Really, they look more like horse jumping props than military traffic controls. Slowly though, the checkpoints become more erect, more formal, stronger colored, more serious. Barbed wire appears, this is then traded for razor wire. Further reinforcements are added, sandbag barricades house soldiers behind camouflage curtains. Guard towers crop up and, soldiers in full uniforms dot the roads near video monitored checkpoints, sporting full fatigues and automatic rifles.
Cacophonously, at least 5 mosques call us to pray. Each call is slightly out of sink with the others and all compete for ear-space with nearby chanting monks. Stopped in a pagoda, a solider about to start his shift explains, in not so many words, they’re out patrolling because of recent car bombings. He tells us there is a curfew after 6. We let him know, this isn’t a problem. Our lunch lady in Malaysia confirms. Buddhists and Muslims don’t seem to get along so well in south Thailand.
Ironically, even after the many soldiers and many checkpoints, it wasn’t until the last night I felt anything less than completely safe. Pulling into a wat, we survey, looking for a monk to ask if we might stay. From around a corner, a short squat man in a basketball jersey strolls toward us. I eye his hip. A gun sits there. Casually, subconsciously, his fingers reach up and touch it, toy with it lightly. Slung lower is an ammunition belt, containing many fat red slugs, like something Rambo might wear. A Thai cyclist who joined for the last few kilometers, explains what we want and explains to us this is the Wat’s guard. He protects the monks and the families on the property. Set up on a pavilion, I sleep uneasily.
Over oat flakes at breakfast, H tells me he is having an existential crisis. He can’t recall if Katniss marries Peeta or Gale. Life is tough.
Happily, we cross over into Malaysia on the ferry at the Tak Bai border, ruing only our missed opportunities for piracy in international waters during the ride. Alas, it lasted less than 10 minutes and we weren’t quick enough.
Immediately, Malaysia has it’s charms, somehow it feels like is like cycling into the 90s (with fancier phones and better connectivity). Signs for “snow shower” and “boring air” pop up. Housed in a little blue hut, a payphone rings quietly as we pass and are passed by a Proton.
Cycling next to H this morning, a man reaches out and grabs my breast, hard. I scream that familiar unfamiliar animal cry, full of spit and incomprehension. H apologizes to me as I crouch down by the side of the road. He wishes he could have protected me somehow. But I, more than anyone, wish I could have protected myself.
The Spoke(n) Saga continues
Broken spoke counter: 9;
Spokes currently broken: 0;
Days without spoke breakage: 3.25