It is 6.14 am; it’s warm, humid but not yet oppressive and we’re going for our morning walk. We have a number of routes to choose from, but prefer the quieter roads that cut through small villages and farmland.
We start off slow, working out the stiffness from our aging bodies, but soon pick up the pace and start sweating from our exertion. The way of life here has a pattern that is now becoming familiar to us. We know to look out for flattened frogs and snakes (and the occasional rat) on the concrete road and, depending on their freshness, step around them, and to avoid the huge (as big as an African elephant’s) droppings of the water buffalo. We now recognise the noise that sounds like an early morning sprinkler system, as the cicadas that have started their daily vibrating calls. And we know that birdsong and the raspy-throated crows of the cockerels will accompany us whichever route we choose.
We will probably meet a slick, mud-coated water buffalo, usually accompanied by two men; one to pull the rope attached to his nose and the other, with a small stick, to tap his enormous rump. He is being moved to a new field where he will be tied to a coconut palm to graze for a few days. And there comes that clever coconut monkey, sitting on the top railings of a truck, a chain around his neck. He’s off to work with his master; to climb the highest palms and twist off coconuts.
Then there are the dogs; temple dogs, jungle dogs, shop dogs, street dogs. Most of them are free to wander as they please, and they do just that, ignoring us while they make their rounds. Occasionally they join us, with wagging tails, for a part of our walk but sometimes they bark at us. These are the ones I don’t like; you see I have been bitten twice by dogs. Once on the behind in Portugal (6 stitches) and once in Kuilsrivier, on the right hand (5 stitches) and was out of action for a few weeks. So you can honestly say I am beyond being once bitten twice shy.
“I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog,” I say in a small voice as a black dog comes bounding at us from out of the jungle. “Did you hear me? I don’t like that dog!” I say to Stefan, sheltering behind him, making sure to keep his bulk between me and the barking dog.
“Well then, you should give a better warning, like; DOG! AT THREE!”
“Dog at three? If I’m scared of a dog, I’m not going to be able to work out from which direction it’s approaching!” I objected.
“Well you saying quietly ‘I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog’, doesn’t serve as sufficient warning.”
“Okay then, how about I shout DOG! And point? And I still use you as my shield?” You see it’s all about compromise, compromise.
Now people are stirring; yawning men, still in their silk pyjamas, sit in doorways drinking tea, a woman is sweeping, sweeping, sweeping. A small open-air ‘restaurant’ is open for breakfast and an old woman is doing brisk business serving unidentifiable foodstuff to customers from her corrugated iron shack. A scooter carrying four school children sitting astride whizzes by, and a man is tinkering in his motorbike repair shop. We turn for home and a woman passes on a motorbike, her side trailer laden with fresh produce, perhaps on her way to the market? Watch out for that minibus approaching, it is on its way to pick up tourists and we know it doesn’t slow down, even on these narrow roads. (Maybe a distant cousin of the South African taxi?)
We hear chanting as we pass a local beach restaurant, a prayer meeting in progress. A sweet-smelling aroma drifts our way as a man lights incense and, holding his palms together, bows towards the decorated shrine that stands guard at his entrance. A friendly smile and a “SAWATDEE-KHA!” from the woman sorting through a pile of dried palm leaves has us waving back. We are on the home stretch when we are passed by a rush of scooters, with Thais in smart gold uniforms, making their way to work at a nearby five-star hotel.
As we round the last bend we pass a bent-over old man, shuffling slowly along with a walking stick.
“Sawatdee Khap,” says Stefan.
“Khap,” replies the old man with a toothless smile. He looks up at us in surprise and laughs in delight. We are not too sure what he finds so hilarious. Is it Stefan’s pronunciation of the greeting or my bright, matching neon shirt, cap and shoes? Could it be Stefan’s headband, a throw-back from the seventies, squeezed tightly around his big head, his hair sticking up at all angles? Or could it simply be that we are just altogether so strange we make him laugh?
Koh Samui, Thailand: 30-04-2015