The Creek Ride - by Herb

OK, this is the point to tell you a little story. As I mentioned in the letter cc'd to you, I'm not too far from the Burmese border. I would have to go to Kraburi--about 70km--and

cross the bridge over the Kra River into Burma—but guess what? Since I took this ride, Aah, one of the boys at the bike shop in Chumphon, told me the bridge is closed to traffic due to the Karen border issues. Apparently the SLORC dictatorship has used forced Karen labor to build the UNOCAL gas pipeline—as well as other issues—and, just as to the north by Kachanaburi, they have a small guerilla war going on over in the Tenasserim Division in Burma.

(by the way, do you see how the river name "Kra" is tied with "buri" to form Kraburi? Well, "buri" means the same as "bury" in English like Canterbury--yep, there are inclusions from Sanscrit, one of the Indo-European languages like English, and this is one of the words incorporated into Thai--except the script is unintelligible to me)

Back to story. So I headed out that way. Well, there's a point on Hwy 4 where it runs beside a river like the Trinity river (between Eureka and Redding in Northern California)

(except the local mae nam's not clear like the Trinity, it's got dissolved dolomite in it), and there's one of those footbridges like they have in the Andes, except not as extenuated or as dangerous, and it's big enough to go over on a bike or motorcyle.

Thinking there might be just some houses over there (in some commercial fruit orchards, I was surprised to go through the orchard and come out onto a dirt road running parallel in the jungle to the highway on the other side. So I went on it, it was rough, up and down and down and up a whole bunch about 6 miles, lotta mud, true off-road, some of the first I've been able to find out here. At one point I lost it going downhill, slid in a heavy mud bog, and flew off the bike. Filthy, but not even scratched! Onwards . . .

The dirt road moved away from the Highway. Eventually, I came to an intersection with a larger dirt road, I cut to the left (because I knew the right would go back to the high-way) and climbed into this mountain valley. Still not really too high of elevation, maybe I've climbed 600-800 feet above Chumphon. Lotta small houses, people friendly, all want to speak broken English to me. Road running beside a smaller stream, now fairly clear, good volume of water. Over some bridges, noticed they have Thai dedication markers (actually, I can somewhat read the script), so I saw they were built in 2541 BE (2541 Buddhist era)--only three years old. So I realized I was finally finding a recently opened area that was still kinda primitive (relatively, you understand, this whole area is pretty much under commercial fruit trees of one sort or another)

Crossed several more bridges, stream getting clearer and nicer, eventually came to another intersection. Decided to go right again, as the stream went up that canyon. Basically, the terrain--even in the appearance of the ground—is much like I would ride in if I went up into avocado areas of North San Diego County and was allowed to just go along dirt easement roads through peoples' orchards--except of course it's much more

primitive in most cases, although you have some nice Asian Thai houses with glossy tile and tropical hardwood decks and verandas, whitewashed walls, spirit house (small to rather larger ornate houses for the spirits of the land to live in so that they remain friendly; they put food out for the spirits every morning).

All of the people I pass are at least saying "Sawadee Kra/Kap"--which one depends on gender, some saying more, some wanting me to stop and talk, such as we can, and one kid with a Seattle Sonics T-shirt wanting to shake hands with me (of course I did). Onwards. Still climbing, stream quite clean and nice now, tempted to drink, but thought about tropical amoebas. (I left my Katadyn water purifier pump in the States)

Came to another very recent bridge, crossed--and, well, that was the last one, now I have to ford the stream. Kept going. Came to a nice jackfruit orchard, large house there, doesn't appear anyone lives in it. Am getting about the the limits of a truck without 4 wheel drive. Wondered how much I could rent that house for; have decided I like the neighbors and they would watch my shit (not that I have a lot, but I want a computer and good printer ASAP and a truck, but that would be a long time).

Also, saw no weird dogs, which is an ENORMOUS issue here in Thailand--they aren't spayed, and huge packs of semi-ferule dogs ravage trash or other things and scream (they don't bark, they scream, and they are covered with horrible running infections (fungal skin infections) and bleeding ripped flesh from intra-pack fights, they fall dead all over the place--in Bangkok they allegedly feed them to the crocodiles at the crocodile farm, and good riddance, I say)

Anyway, the stream is, as I said, good volume, had to keep the bike on the down river side not to be swept away, probably forded fifteen times just going up (I was only wearing gym shorts, flip-flops, and a T-shirt and butt pack with spare tires etc), I fell down three or four times, completely soaked, nearly lost the bike once, but kept going. Houses kept getting more primitive--lots of small footbridges consisting of lengths of stout bamboo with similar for handrails, would be a balancing act to go across. Came to three houses, some women (grandmother age) and kids, they became quite excited by my appearance (we're seriously into the mountains now, doubtless I am the first falang ever to come here). Forded the stream again, here comes a little girl about 6 on a bike with her blouse down around her shoulders, tried to talk to me, but finally discouraged. Onwards.

A ways further I see her dad in a big "carport"-like structure cutting up some kind of fruits with one of their big machete-type knives. He pays me no heed.

The creek crossings are becoming increasingly difficult, although the creek now carries less volume, 'cuz the creekbottom is filled with these round cobbles and unstable rocks. I fall several more times, this is when I actually almost lost the bike (it wouldn't have gone far or been hurt had I done so) The soil is reddish and clayey, a lot of limestone and other sedimentary rocks. I find myself wondering whether I could grow avocado trees here; the soil is indiscernable from that of avo areas in north San Diego; I wonder what the PH (acidity) is, and what minerals its strong or deficient in . . .

Road getting swampy, creek now smaller, running beside road, getting towards summit, but is close to 6pm, dark at 7, light is fading in canyon. 28 year old Thai guy speaks to me unseen from the brush off to my right, kind of spooks me, but I realize he is just working on his orchard--now a coffee plantation. Most of these people are poor small holders, they have no trucks or cars since just after I passed the final bridge, possibly no motor-cycles either, I've seen none since I left the kid with the Supersonics shirts. Properties are probably a couple-maybe 5 or 6 at most--rai (I think a rai is probably about .58 of an acre, not sure), but the land still might be quite valuable, depending on how highly developed--I noticed a couple of months ago a guy was selling his house and 14 rai fruit orchard for around $10,000US.

Anyway, I'm having fantasies about getting some property up in the high canyon with a younger Thai woman and living up there in some simple house (at least on weekends, I could stay in Chumphon during the weekdays--although it turned out there's a bus shack down on Hwy 4 where they make regular routes between Ranong, Krabuir, and Chumphon at least several times a day). Was crossing stream again when younger Thai guy, his teeth stained black with ??betel nut chewing, came and told me that the "road" (it was really becoming single track now) didn't go through--he said this in Thai, but there are certain words that indicate negation if in front of phrases, and he smiled, and pointed at the road, so the whole thing (context and negatives made his meaning clear). I pointed at my thighs and the bike and said "sanuk" and balled by upper arm while pointing at my thighs (kinda pumped from this ride), so he understood I was just having fun exercising, so he waved me on. I went for a ways, eventually came to a large blue plastic 55 gallon irrigation drum in his orchard, I could have continued (and would like to do so some other time, but was concerned for the on-coming night, also was noticing some animal tracks, some larger padded tracks, don't know what they are, am out into the jungle (just above the orchard lines, wondering how wise to be out here at night), so I went back.

On the way back down, the young Thai guy came out with some whiskey and his wife, offered a drink, I declined not wanting to be buzzed and riding in the dark, also remembering how sick I got from a bacterial infection the last time I drank whiskey off a common glass with farmers, but he didn't take offense, I told him I taught at the Sa'ard Phaderm Wittaya, that I lived in Chumphon, they were excited to talk to me. Went on back, saw the Sonics kid again, he came out with two sisters and younger brothers now (obviously had been waiting for the fascinating falang to return), all shook hands with me, his dad had the family motorcycle in the creek washing it, talked to me a minute. (I had taken advantage of the creek to wash my own bike, but, why bother, it didn't stay clean)

Came to the last ford before the last bridge, a naked girl and her mom bathing, took pains to look away as I crossed, another lady came walking with a meat cleaver and another little girl, the cleaver made me wonder if they considered me a possible threat (she didn't appear to be doing any cooking, but maybe she wanted it for cutting some-thing at the creek, and her sister a few feet away by their house was effusively talkative and friendly, so I discounted that they were concerned about me).

Went on, retraced my route, went through both intersections again. Whole valley seemed to be turned out on my return to greet me or look at me, many people on idling motorcyles off to either side of the road, word spreads fast in these rural locations. After I passed the original dirt intersection where I entered the valley, I rode for quite a ways before reaching Highway 4, had come much further from the highway than I realized. Regained Hwy 4, turned towards Kraburi, thinking, well, I don't have to go home tonight, I'll go to Kraburi and get a hotel. But was discouraged from this as the road was quite arduous up in these (relatively) higher elevations, perhaps really because I'm so tired. I began to feel how far gone I really was, also some people told me "Kraburi ni--taorai kilomet? Sahmsip kilomet.--it was thirty km to Kraburi, so I decided to go back home instead.

Arduous f*****g ride, getting zits on my crotch from saddle time, eventually bordering on exhaustion. I realized from calculating the km markers on the highway, plus allowing about 15-20 km offroad, that I was over 100 km by the time I would regain Chumphon, close to a 60 mile combined road and offroad distance. In pretty exhausted shape by the time I got to Phatomphon junction (bangkok expressway going south towards Surat Thani, nort towards Prachaup Kiri Khan, crossed by Highway 4 turning to Muang Chumphon the last leg into town--comparable sized-intersection to I-5 and

Highway 76 in Oceanside, CA, or I-5 and the Pachero Pass Road in the California Central Valley), butt so sore it was hard to sit. I created quite a scene when I showed up at the native market at Phatomphon, but they have gotten used to seeing me come in from the mountains now, went to the Thai waffle stand where I often go--they make these folded waffles with shaved coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon jelly inside them, gorged two of them, could barely talk or stand I'm so wasted, a bunch of them came and started carrying on about my bike (they all know by now it's a high end bike, they get real excited about it, and always want to handle it, especially lift it up and down, all the Thais that take an interest in my bike always comment on how light it is for being a chromoly frame. They wanted to know where I went, one lady spoke english pretty well, they got all excited when I told them I fell in the river and where I had gone etc.

Went to the 7-11 around the corner (the modern in juxtaposition to the native markets with street venders) and bought a giant cherry slurpee, glugged it down, tasted so f*****g good. My energy returning. Guess what--time for the monsoon--hadn't had any meaningful rain for two days--here it comes--torrential. I'm pissed. Don't want to get soaked after all this, I sit for half an hour, becoming exceeding irritated over this shopkeeper's six minature dobermans that shriek and yelp and bark all around me as I sit under the only roof immediately available. I wonder why in the fuck they have this irrational obsession with dogs in this country, speculate if it may be due to some need to vent emotion on something given the way the demands of saving-face and other social obligations make it impossible to vent feelings (towards humans) openly. Whatever. Anyway, I finally realize it's going to go on raining awhile, say f**k it and ride the last 8 km home in the deluge, of course soaked to the bone, not pleasant, despite being so close to the equator, gets rather cool here at night during the rainy season. Home, tear off my clothes, couple heavy shots of brandy, shower (cold--only the people who can afford it have hot water here) crashed, dead to the world except for periodic excruciating leg cramps. That's what we do for entertainment here in Cosmopolitan Chumphon, Gateway to the South.

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