The 747 sank heavily into the leaden clouds below, and my spirits sank with it. Rain skittered against the perspex of the window, obscuring my view of the grey anonymous clutter below - London on a wet weekday morning.
If you had asked me, three weeks previously, to predict the circumstances which could possibly induce me to return to Britain, I couldn't have done it without resorting to complex and unlikely scenarios involving strong men with balaclavas and chloroformed handkerchiefs, or possibly teams of wild horses.......
Team Duval and I had spent several days in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, swatting mosquitoes and listening to the rain hurling itself at the roof, before deciding that enough was enough. We set off towards the "Golden Triangle" the following morning, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we paddled off in an upstream direction, for the rain continued to fall unabated.
I had purchased a green plastic rain poncho in Chiang Mai, and it has to be said that it was not exactly up there with state of the art weather protection systems. Its strength may have been sufficient to withstand speeds of 20 kph on a step through scooter, but at normal road cruising velocities I quickly shredded the flimsy thing, and ended up with long green fronds whipping around above my head. Ken, glancing in his rear view mirror, must have believed himself pursued down the road by an angry motorcycling seaweed.
Stopping over the night in Chiang Saen on the banks of the Mekong River, we were entertained in the local restaurant by the appearance of the indigenous rat population, who perched cheekily on the small altar and scoffed the edible offerings placed there by the restaurateurs. I had been contemplating another plate of the most excellent fried rice, but quickly reversed my decision and we beat a hasty retreat. Ken couldn't resist pointing out the "rat cabaret" to some other tourists seated outside the restaurant - they really had nothing to worry about as the rats were sleek and fat, so the food had to be good didn't it?
The weather improved markedly over the following days, as we travelled North to the much photographed confluence of the Sai and Mekong rivers, the "Golden triangle" where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet. The area is marked by a little monument, a row of tourist stalls, and a huge brightly coloured Buddha. The Thais are big on buddhas - these enormous (usually golden) figures smile benevolently down at you from unlikely locations as you travel round the country, perched high up on hillsides or peeking over treetops. There are a few standard poses - the "reclining buddha" is popular, and the "buddha in lotus position" is another favourite. The little known "golfing buddha" has never really caught on, and the "bathroom buddha" was frankly a non-starter.
The following few days were bright and warm, and this break in the weather could not have come at a better time, as it afforded us a hugely enjoyable trip on an excellent road which runs down the western border of Thailand swooping up and down innumerable jungle covered ridges on the Burmese border. Things got green and twisty and the grin factor was appreciable.
We returned to Bangkok to prepare for the journey south
- Ken was engrossed in the continuing saga of the BMW shock absorber, a dramatic and apparently never-ending tale of man's perpetual struggle against weak recoil ( and soon to be produced as a Hollywood blockbuster starring Clint Eastwood as Ken and Sharon Stone as Barbie (sorry, that's Carol.....)).
I on the other hand simply had to procure a new tyre, having trashed my Kathmandu-purchased rear "Nitto" in a little over
2000 miles. If I make it to Indonesia, where these satanic things are made, I shall attempt to do humanity a favour by burning down the factory.....
Two days of highway-bashing later, and we were in Krabi for a little beachlife. Things don't get much better than this. However, even chang beer and lazy days at the beach soon wear thin on hardy action-adventure types like us. Ahem....
We headed for Hat Yai, close to the border, and it was at this point that something nasty dropped on me from a great height. Metaphorically speaking that is. To cut a long one short, I had in the past worked with farm livestock in Britain, and had long since hung up my green wellies and rubber gloves and believed that this was the end of it. But unfortunately, with Foot and Mouth disease virus running riot in Britain, the Ministry had posted a request on the internet that even such miserable specimens as myself were urgently required back home in Blighty. I freely acknowledge that, given a healthy bank account, I might have been tempted to ignore this request and keep riding. However, in common with most overlanders, my wallet after 6 months travel is a sickly and shrivelled creature, and the opportunity to earn a few UK greenbacks would be welcome.
This presented me with the problem of returning to the UK, a difficult feat to accomplish from Thailand because the Thai authorities do not recognise the Carnet de passage. Instead, they put a big ugly stamp in your passport and make you sign a "goolie clause" (this is a bit of paper that says that if you do not re export the bike, they are entitled to remove your testicles....). This would inevitably lead to some degree of embarrassment at the departure gate if I attempted to leave the bike in Thailand and fly back to the UK.
This difficulty was solved by crossing into neighbouring Malaysia - a country which does honour the carnet, and therefore does not need to decorate your passport in such an offensive manner: with a "clean" passport I was free to leave the country, so there was no further obstacle to my returning home. Damn.
Still in the company of team Duval, I made a very brief tour of northern Malaysia, then said my farewells and set off for a memorable trip along the jungle road from Kota Baru to K.L.
I was slowed, but not deterred, by the 3 inch nail which buried itself in my rear tyre, yet another broken spoke (yawn) and an electrical storm of impressive violence which blew out a streetlamp only
100 metres away from where I was sheltering under a bridge with a few dozen other soggy local bikers. Perhaps the gods were trying to tell me something?
I left my poor abused and dented bike in the safe keeping of nice Mr Wong of Motosing in K.L., with instructions to look after it and read it bedtime stories. I was surprised at how easy it was to walk away from my trusty machine - either I had implicit trust in the sterling character of nice Mr Wong, or I had implicit faith in the fact that things will work out one way or the other. Or possibly it was just that my ass was sore, I was a bit knackered, and I was unconsciously jumping at the chance of a couple of months out of the saddle to recover.
I briefly examined this forum for self-analysis, decided that it looked like too much effort, and went to KFC instead. I amused myself on the bus journey to the airport by making lists of the spare parts I would bring back with me, on my return to Malaysia from the U.K. It's pathetic, but after a few months away from convenient sources of spare parts, and you find yourself almost drooling over the thought of a readily obtainable O-ring chain and sprocket set. Yum.
And so it came to pass that I took up a posting to work for MAFF in England. For the next couple of months, all I have to sustain me in this dark, dismal and virus ridden country is the email contact with all those friends who are still out there. Good luck to you all and I'll be making that return trip soon, hopefully with a bucketful of groats and a bag full of XT600 goodies.
And if you listen real hard, you can just hear the faint but strengthening echoes of a little tune, tootling away indomitably in the background - (with apologies to Willie Nelson because I never did get the damn lyrics straight......)-
"On the road again...." it goes, "...can't wait to get back on that road again...."
"The calendar is magnificent!"
"I just wanted to say how much I'm loving the new, larger calendar!"
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