One of the perils that await you off the beaten track

by Travel Paulie on June 23, 2010

How not to drive on crappy road conditions

How not to drive on crappy road conditions

I wrote a couple of articles back of the wonderful benefits of overland travel, and while I’ve been motoring in and around my southeast Asia destinations for several month now, and a lot longer before that, I’ve always been due my first self-inflicted minor/major motorcycle accident.  It arrived today without much fan-fare and caught me completely by surprise – which accidents tend to do (I read that somewhere).  So tonight, I’m typing with an iodine soaked pad taped to my right arm just below the elbow, and the same on top of my left foot, and again on my right ankle.  A joy – shooting darts of iodine-cleansing pain have a way of lulling you gently off to sleep.

A terrible combination

When you have heavy rains that sometimes form rivers on the roads, on absolutely terrible roads, topped off with a couple of days of baking sunshine, you’re in for a real treat.  That is, terrible roads covered in at least a nice layer of finely grained sand and dirt.  This is the type of road I have been travelling when going to my English teaching post in a Karen migrant school, in Mae Sot.  I must have underestimated my ability to navigate them since one moment I was happily singing along to my iPod and the next second the ground was rising up to meet me.  I knew something was amiss in the moment of my doom because ‘motorbikes aren’t supposed to be angled that way’, I remember thinking to myself, because if they are, then I’d fall off.  ‘Oh…’, I thought as I fell.  And since this is a family show, I have omitted the many expletives channelled through me in the moments that followed – I was but a vessel for a message that needed to be heard.  🙂

As I got up and started to recover my sensibilities a motorbike came from the other direction with 2 Thai/Karen people on it.  ‘Awh, that’s nice’, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely if they assisted me the 2.5km I needed to travel to get to my school?’.  They took one glance at the blood running down my arm, gave me flat stare like they had no idea why I was standing there in the middle of the road, and drove on.  Once the mists cleared in my mind and I had reseated the bike, I realised the track playing in my ears was ‘Walk On’, by U2, quite inspiring at the time, and so onwards I went.  I made my way towards the school and the teachers helped clean up my wounds and took me to the clinic for a proper dressing.

What can I learn from this experience?

There are several lessons I can (re)learn/relay from today’s events…

  • make sure you have a little bottle of iodine in your first-aid kit/collection.  They use it everywhere here and it gets into woulds far better than creams do.  It’ll stain your fingers brown for a short time, and anything else that comes in contact with it, but that’s half the fun – think of all the shapes you can paint.
  • plasters are useless but for the smallest, most minor abrasions.  What you want is a couple of packets of the cloth and some tape – that way you can cover wherever and however you please, and also put your iodine into the cloth, soaking the cloth and covering a wider area.
  • if you can, rent a semi-automatic scooter if you plan to travel along crap roads in crap conditions.  If you don’t know how to drive one, learn asap as you’ll usually also be able to rent them for less than a fully automatic and save yourself a bit of money.
  • not everyone you meet on the road will be a good Samaritan, but there’s no doubt that people here look after you like nothing else and they have done today in many different contexts!  When they know you, you’re effectively part of the group/family and it’s really very reassuring to know.
  • on shit roads and conditions, drive slowly, and then slow down a bit more.

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