One of the fixtures of my lodgings during my first 10 days in Phuket was Alex, a shaggy Russian from Novo Sibersk with an aversion to wearing shirts unless absolutely necessary. As he is shredded like a the crucified Christ, I am not particularly bothered by this. Despite his limited English and my profoundly non-existent knowledge of Russian, we managed to communicate exceptionally well. The dividends paid were extraordinary
One day, he offered a beach trip. I am down.
“How are we getting there,” I ask?
My eyes widen, as I don’t know how to do 2 wheels, Thai driving are what you’d expect for a society that widely believes in reincarnation, and “farang road kill” is a terribly trite way to die.
That’s OK, as I can ride as his passenger. For some reason, I acquiesce to this. I just can’t refuse shredded foreigners offering a ride. I figure that a Russian hippie semi-resident in Thailand absent bandages is probably capable of handing the roads.
I still downloaded my insurance docs onto my phone in case I ended up at a local hospital.
After a quick google search of how to be a decent passenger, I grabbed onto a helmet and tried to make my peace with mortality. Off we went.
“This isn’t so bad.”
My curiosity got the better of me soon enough, and moving my head to look at everything we passed earned a gentle reproof “no move, only sit.” I focused on the printed pineapples on the back of Alex’s shirt.
In abut 35 minutes on the scenic route, we ended up at Nai Harn beach, at the southern tip of Phuket island. As soon as we hopped off the bike, rain began. We also were low on fuel. As my brain hemispheres and subsidiary lobes were still contained in their original packaging, this trip still qualified as a success.
We retreated to shelter for beer while we waited out the showers. When the weather improved about an hour later, we went a-hunting for fuel. We stumbled on small self-service pump. I handed him B40, and we were good to go for a bit longer.
Alexey needed a bite, and you don’t need to ask me twice to enjoy some Thai grub, so he took me to Tony’s Restaurant just outside of Phuket town. He was fond of it for the cheap Pad Thai and beers at 10 baht over the 7/11 price. Pineapple fried rice for me and a Singha, and life was looking good, until another downpour befell us.
Realizing that it wouldn’t let up, we donned plastic ponchos and slowly made our way back. Heavy rush hour traffic, a downpour, and flooded roads – what could go wrong?! Miraculously, very little. As we rode through inches-deep water, I joked that I hoped Alex was up to date with his shots (putting his foot down in the filthy flooded water when stopped for a light.)
By some unknown grace, we made it home only moderately soaked.
Pros: We survived, had food and beverages. Cons: Soaked like bilge rats; no beach time.
Given his imminent departure from Thailand, Alexey decided that more beach time was needed. I didn’t need to be asked twice.
After pulling on trousers and a long-sleeved shirt (sun protection, slightly more protection in an accident versus shorts/t-shirt/tank), we were off again.
Today’s destination was Surin beach, and there was barely a cloud in the sky. After a ride across the island and over the mountain, we arrived at Surin, one of the cleanest beaches I have seen in Asia. The lack of plastic garbage was refreshing. I can’t overstate how marvellous the water was – cool enough to refresh, warm enough to frolic in for hours.
At around 4pm, I managed to communicate to Alex that it would be a perfect time for a beer. In emphatic agreement, we were soon on our way to a 7/11. An old hand at Thailand has already discerned the problem with this plan. Thailand’s sports its own version of a blue law that prohibits the sale of alcohol between 2-5 pm. I cursed myself for making a rookie oversight before retiring to the beach to wait out the hour.
There are far worse purgatories!
In time, we had a pair of Singhas in hand. Those who drink with me will attest that this is the point where the “respectability quotient” of the banter heads south faster than a retiree sensing the arrival of winter.
We were discussing food. I relayed a story of my grandmother stuffing a chicken who alternated between muttering something about “impure thoughts” and singing/humming the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind.” His first reaction was asking via a mix of google translate and google images if we in the West stuff geese with apples. I stared, blinked, and communicated that, regardless of Siberian custom, we do not sodomize geese with apples in the Anglophone West. And so was born the joke of the month.
I’ll leave it to your imagination where the conversation went from there.
In time, it was time to return. Stash had received a new guest who was keen to hire a scooter for an evening run into town, so Alex had to dash back to facilitate the transaction.
If nothing else, the beer made me somewhat more relaxed about the safety of zipping around on a scooter.
After a Day 3 that looked much like Day 2 (hence its absence), Alex decided to bring me along again for his last day in Thailand, for the foreseeable future. I strapped on my old familiar helmet, hoped for good luck on the road, and we were off again.
Our first destination included a visit to Big Buddha, probably the most famous cultural attraction on the island. “Uncle Sid” (as one friend calls him) commands a magnificent view of the island. Fortunately, we had a clear, sunny day and low season tourist levels, so the visit was quite pleasant. Note: Women do have to dress relatively modestly, though men don’t appear to (e.g. a man can wear a sleeveless shirt, a woman cannot).
Souvenirs and snacks are available, if you wish to indulge.
After the Big Buddha, we made our way on the scenic route, and we blew out our rear tire just as we arrived at the beach on Promthep Cape. Alex went off to have it fixed, as this exact setback befell him at this same beach a few months ago. I decamped for lunch (I hadn’t yet eaten that day). He returned in need of 40 baht. The front tire blew on the way to the shop, but it could be patched. Lucky us!
My custom was to buy the beers for us, as 50-60 baht for his libations seemed worth all the fun. I begged him to get a second for his troubles. After the tire fiasco, I didn’t have to try too hard. After all, that tire was the apple in his goose.
All good things must come to an appointed end, and so did this arrangement. I found myself missing my Russian driver, my late-afternoon beer, and the inevitable goose-apple banter that followed. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide of the island. Such is the traveller’s life – these sort of brief, happy encounters are a defining feature of the lifestyle.
I’ve also realized that I haven’t eaten an apple in almost a month.