My Dirtiest Day in Thailand
Or, Our “Rumble in the Jungle,” Khanom Style*
So I had my first motorcycle accident last Sunday. It happened in slow motion. Literally. Just like my first and only car accident.**
While gathering the troops for a little road trip, I nipped across the road to the motorcycle repair shop to pump up my tires. Coming back, I took the pile of sand and gravel in front of Annie’s house at too slight an angle and at too slow a speed. My speedometer doesn’t actually work, so I can’t tell you how slow I was going, but I had enough time to be incredulous about the fact that I was falling before I actually hit the ground. It wasn’t quite enough time to put my foot down to stop it, but it was enough time to break my fall with my hands. The bike fell down on top of me, but the real victim was the palm of my right hand, which is a bit odd, since I fell on the left side.
But, with only a small amount of blood escaping the heels of my hands, cold running water, and Annie’s supply of large bandages and disinfectant, I wasn’t going to let a little spill ruin our Sunday afternoon ride to Laem Phra Thap fishing village and the German Garden Restaurant. The village is on the Phra Thap Cape—the mainland directly across from Ko Samui—on a shallow inlet surrounded by low mountains and mangroves.
Now, one might think a motorcycle accident was the most excitement I could take in a day. Apparently I was wrong. Turns out that I have a great capacity for “excitement.”
I mean, have you ever stood at the edge of a mangrove forest, looking out across the protected waters of a cove to the sea beyond?
Well, neither have I. But, not for lack of trying.
After a lazy lunch at Zum Grünen Baum, I had a great desire to get up close and personal with the mangroves and look out from the cape to the sea. And so we searched for a path from the road and started bushwacking our way down to the water’s edge.
And we had very little luck. We kept stumbling across mini ravines or gullies. After a few forays into the wilderness, we girls were ready to give up—mostly because the mosquitoes were crashing the party. But one of our party pressed on (Sun, the only Thai among us). He crossed a little mud-floored gully and made his way down to the water. He came back to get us from the other side and showed us the way: a thin log across the little mud-floored gully.
We thought, why not? We’d come all this way. It’s just a little mud.
(There’s something about Thailand that makes you do things you’d never do at home. Ride a motorized two-wheeled vehicle in flip flops, for example. But that day I suggested to my posse that they wear shoes. Not because it makes good safety sense, but because I knew I wanted to do some tramping through the brush, and flip flops might not cut it. Little did I know…)
So, since it was my idea, I took the lead, carefully lowering myself down, edging out along the thin log that basically sat in the mud, to reach for our scout’s hand. And as I let go of the sturdy tree, my shoes slipped ever so slightly. And it happened…
You’re probably thinking I fell down and got a little dirty.
And that’s where you would be wrong.
I didn’t fall down.
I just stepped off the log.
My foot slipped across the log into the mud itself.
And it kept going, and going, and going, until my right leg was standing up to my ass in mud, with my left leg draped over the log, stuck in mud up to the knee.
And because it wasn’t so much mud as it was a few feet of clay, I couldn’t move.
When I first tried to pull up my leg and I couldn’t, I heard “Wait, let me take a picture!” (Not quite sure you appreciate the gravity of the situation, but sure, capture the moment.) Luckily my shock-induced laughter covered up my initial feelings of panic.
Then the boys tried to intercede; bracing himself against a tree, Rani pulled so hard on my arm, I thought it would dislocate at the shoulder. Of course, I didn’t budge.
And that’s when the adrenaline kicked in. I knew I had to get myself out, and I managed to pull my left leg out onto the log.
Sun’s reminder to go “slowly, slowly” must have triggered my Chinese-finger-puzzle muscle memory and I kicked into action (slow motion action, but determined-to-save-myself action nonetheless). My bag and sunglasses were handed off for safekeeping (it was a real possibility I would slip and fall deeper into the goo), and I grabbed hold of what I could.
(Let’s forget for a moment that what I grabbed hold of first was the long “walking” stick we had plunged into the mud at the beginning of this operation, which clearly demonstrated the depth and nature of the mud and should have set off alarm bells, especially given Rani’s warning that there was “too much mud,” and turn our attention back to my valiant self-rescue).
I grabbed hold of an actual stick in the mud, and slowly started pulling my right leg out. In doing so, I had to re-submerge my left. But the key was to shift my body back towards solid ground. Using that damn stick in the mud as leverage broke it off. But by then I had managed to shift enough to brace myself on the mud log and grab hold of the tree, allowing my right leg to slowly inch out. Then I rested my knee on the log. With the help of the others, I managed to get on to “dry” land with my right food, and holding on to the tree for dear life, I slowly pull my left leg out.
Of course, this was all while laughing hysterically. And the laughter only increased once the crisis was resolved and I was free (and that’s when the cameras came back out). Apparently, it looked like I was wearing mud pants. And my shoes? They stayed on my feet (incidentally, flip flops would not have made it out alive), and brought a few inches of clay with them.
With my dream of seeing the cape up close abandoned, we trekked back to the road—and everyone who followed me got whipped by mud-coated leaves along the way (a small consolation).
As the adrenaline subsided, I stood in the road, on the verge of loosing my shit. “What do I do now?” I said to the group, with a combination of emotive tears and sweat trickling down my face.
In the end, we headed for the river (but not before taking more pictures, and Candace deciding to hop on Rani’s scooter to stay well away from my mud pants). I walked into the river (confident that river beds are firm, whereas mud gullies near the sea are not) and danced around in place to shake it off—especially the huge globs on my shoes.
I was quite the sight to behold, even after my little river dip, and Sun enjoyed every opportunity he had to tell passersby why that farang girl was covered in mud.
Thirty minutes later, we made it back to our beach bar, and I walked straight into the Gulf of Thailand fully clothed. The waves and their undertow washed away most of the evidence of my hilarious humiliation.
While drying out by the bar, I finally had a chance to relive the experience. I realized one important thing. I must thank the travel adventure gods for that log. Without it stopping my left leg, I might have been waist-deep in clay and sinking fast, with no Cary Elwes in sight to dive in and save me.
Oh, and by the way, the heels of my hands are healing nicely, in case you were wondering.
*Rani first used the expression “Rumble in the Jungle” at the beginning of our silly little adventure, long before I even stepped into the mud.
**Way back in high school, a few weeks after getting my driver’s license, I drove home in freezing rain from a late-night exam study session. One block from my house, I approached a stop sign at about 5 km/h. I braked slowly but the car still went into a spin on black ice, slowly inching across the intersection. I steered into it, as I’d been taught, but I could not stop the car until the tip of my ’82 Ford Fairmont’s passenger-side hood made contact with the bottom back bumper of a parked SUV. The only damage being a small dent on the tip of the Ford’s hood, and my fragile final-exam psyche. I knock on wood that every vehicle accident in my future occurs at 5 km/h!