Day 110: White elephant, pumpkins and a rock to the face


That's what driving up with your visor can lead to. Count your blessings when it's not worse. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

LOST in debate of whether or not I'll have to abandon Rocinante, my CB500X motorcycle, I fail to even look up the directions to Sao Din Nan Noi. I figured that the bizarre sandstone pillars and columns, eroded into existence by rain, weren't too far away.

I was wrong.

I stop for a coffee after missing the first major turn off, then plow forward, far past the second major turn off.

It's a startlingly beautiful day, the sun is warm, the air is cool and a variety of white clouds have graced a blue sky. The road itself, once I'm off Highway 101 is sterling. It weaves through the rolling hills, rice paddies and corn fields like a familiar friend, a river that has never changed course.

I regret not putting on proper riding gear, though that doesn't stop me from leaning deeper and deeper into the turns as a zoom along.

Far past the second major turn off, I stop and ask directions.

I show a picture of the sandstone columns to a woman wearing a hat and face mask, which is common among those working in the fields, often making them look like a ragtag bunch of disheveled ninjas.

The entire way, I've been ear marking places to visit on the way back. There are two caves, a waterfall, a tall, strange brick warehouses for Swiftlets to build their nests, and there was a pile of pumpkins. No that's not a fair description, there were several enormous piles of pumpkins that had been sliced in half along a horizontal axes, their orange flesh bare to the elements. It begged a question.

Though determined to reach Sao Din, I'd been driving for more than an hour at this point and I'm unable to resist the pumpkins as I fly past them a second time.

Another U-turn brings me face to face with the situation.

The woman in charge invited me into the house to see their prize pumpkin. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

There are maybe a couple thousand pumpkins laying in piles around a group of a dozen or so Thais along the roadside. Nearby, a large blue tarp is barely visible under a carpet of pumpkin seeds baking in the sun.

I wave hello and get out my camera.

Most of the women are middle aged, scraping the seeds from the insides of the gourdes before throwing the fleshy carcass into one of several large piles littering the ground by their feet. Three men are behind them, cutting up the pumpkins for the women.

The vibrant flesh of the cut pumpkins glow in the warmth of the sun. Many are freshly cut, though here and their, some are starting to rot. The women scrape away.

Over to the side, in the shade of a tree, a man and woman use strainers to wash the seeds clean before they are to be dried in the sun.

A squat, funny woman wearing blue rubber gloves address me in Thai. She scrapes free some seeds and then asks another question.

I show them a picture of where I'm headed.

In rudimentary Thai, she and I joke about me taking her on the motorcycle to Phuket, which gets a laugh from everyone.

At least that's what I think we're joking about.

The woman appears to be the owner of the house, in front of which the pumpkin seed production process is taking place.

A mother hen and her two chicks scramble over the pumpkin flesh. There is the sweet smell of pumpkin in the air. A handful of dogs wander around. They all look hard up, scarred and a bit mangy, but they aren't the least bit afraid of people and are cute despite their gruffness.

The woman, the one in charge, says that she has very large pumpkin inside the house. Do I want to see it?

Do I want to see a big pumpkin? What kind of country-fair-going Hoosier would I be if I was able to turn down the chance to see an over-sized piece of produce?

There is no door to separate the ground floor from the outside world, nearly allowing un-cut pumpkins to tumble into it. A young girl is watching television inside.

The woman heaves up the enormous gourd, wrapping the squat green Thai pumpkin in her arms, beaming up at me – she's a very short woman.

Some pumpkins are unloaded from a truck and being weighed, before they are tossed onto a large pile of the gourdes.

Whether not the woman is in charge, I don't know, but she's the class clown if nothing else. She keeps chatting away with me, smiling and laughing. The others jump in when they think they can help. A younger woman, perhaps my age, helps out with a few clutch English words.

No, no I don't have a girlfriend.

Back on the bike, I wave goodbye to my pumpkin loving amigos.

The women were happy to have their pictures taken. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Not much further down the road, I find signs for Sao Din – they show what I presume to be the lumps of rock that are iconic to the area.

A fruit orchard, first of passion fruit, then tamarind and, finally, mangoes appear on one side of the road, while corn fields alternate with rice paddies on the other side. Then, it all disappears into bush country.

The final turn off for Sao Din is a sandy, dirt road leading into a stretch of arid forest. It's strange to see a section of land so different from the forested mountains rising up in the east and the fertile fields that I'd been driving through in the west.

Yet, here it is.

It's exciting being semi-off-road, without ending up engine deep in mud. There is always the temptation to go a bit faster, but I rein it in. At least for now.

The road spills out into an unimpressive clearing next to a log marking the tourist attraction. There is a rubbish bin under a tree and some wooden steps leading down to the base of the sandstone pillars.

I park the bike.

I am not impressed.

The pillars, carved into the side of the hill are not terribly big or terribly tall. In fact, they look like the columns for a drip-style sand castle. I scramble down to the base of the sandstone, if in fact the formations can be called sandstone; the rock crumbles in my hands. I have strong hands, but not stone-crushingly strong hands. It raises the question: when does something start to count as a rock?

The drone goes up, it spirals up out of the canyon over the trees.

Nearly over the trees.

Directly into the trees.

There is a buzzing thwaking sound as the propellers of the drone crash into the upper branches of a tree, like the sound of a weed wacker hard at work. The screen on my phone shoes a tangle of leaves and branches. There's movement as the drone falls farther and then is caught by the branches again.

I hit the kill switch to stop the blades from doing any more damage to themselves. The tree is somewhere up on the ridge. With the remote in one hand, I skirt a little ravine and find a way up to the scraggly forest on top.

There is the sound of a truck coming.

For a moment, I straddle a nasty choice: do I turn back and make sure someone doesn't swipe my tank bag and all my camera gear or do I push on and try to salvage whats left of my poor drone from the trees.

I put my faith in humanity and continue to search for the drone. With my hands as far back on the ledge of the “sandstone” cliff as possible, I heave myself up.

“Going home,” says my phone. Despite “killing” it, the drone seems hell bent on going home. I cancel the command.

“Going home,” it says moments later.

The sandstone columns crumble when touched. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli. Music: Glenn Simonelli

Following the sound of the drones buzzing, I make my way into the woods.

There she is, strung up sideways in a vine and a broken branch, at eye level. One of the quadcopter's propellers spins and spins and spins and spins as fast as it can. It's brethren are all jammed up.

I check my phone and the remote. Fucking hell, how do I stop the blade?

The drone is suspended at such an angle that it's possible to reach up, under the blade, and hit the power button on the little bugger without chopping a finger off.

It comes to a stop, just hanging there, sad looking, like it was dragged through the jungle, which isn't too far off the truth. Brown and green streaks are painted on the body of the aircraft. The tips of two of the propellers are broken.

Gingerly, I unlodge the wonderful piece of tech, pulling it free of the dead branch and vine.

Back down by the motorcycle, I fire it up with the broken blades. I have replacements, but I want to see if it works as is.

The drone lifts off, hovering slightly lower than usual, but ready to fly.

The road continues past the rock formations. Not yet aware of how badly my sun burn is getting, I pack things up, get the drone battery charging from a 12v cigarette lighter plug on the bike and head off.

It's a questionable choice to take the bike farther off road given that I might have to sell it and crashing it will, without a doubt, hurt its re-sell value. Already, I'm hearing prices in Phuket for a CB500X, even one set up and ready for a big trip, aren't close to what I paid for the bike. However, I'm holding out hope that getting a fair price in Chiang Mai is a real possibility.

Of course, that doesn't stop me playing now. Rocinante and I wiggle through a little mud at a pace a slug, if a slug had shoulders, would shrug its shoulders at. However, with wheels on dry ground, I give it a little gas, reading the the erosion patterns in the dirt as we skate forward. The arid forest quickly gives way to fields.

The bike is handling well and we're cruising along the dirt track, when at the peak of a little hill, we come to a stop. A mama Water Buffalo and her calf wander across the road.

I wait, then kick it into gear and start driving again.

A woman calls out to me, asking me where I'm going. Her husband, just up the track, asks the same question as stop next to him.

“I don't know,” is apparently not a suitable answer.

Most likely thinking I'm a lost idiot – not far off – he makes it clear I should turn around and head back to the main road so I can get back to Nan Noi.

So, I do.

Cruising along the main road at speed with the visor up, there is a cool breeze playing on my skin. My arms, however, have gone bright read. Baked a Christmas stocking red, I'm concerned about them. But there is nothing I can do. I didn't bring my jacket, which I'd never thought about as protection from the sun, and don't have sunscreen. I'll burn until Nan.

My mind turns back to the bike. Maybe Rocinante is my white elephant. If I sell her, sell her at a reasonable price, my options for adventures grow nearly exponentially.

Is my beloved Rocinante really a White Elephant for Dice Travels? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

I can roll to end up in India, Nepal, Mongolia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and buy a bike wherever I land. The quality and the price of the bike, however, might be a real issue. The options are alluring: a Dice Man likes options, especially options that put some cash in his pocket.

Realizing the possibility of selling Rocinante seems to have opened a bit of a Pandora's Box. The more I think about it, the more options appear.

My mind drifts away from the struggle of selling the bike and returns to the road.

I lean lightly into a turn. As I'm about to come out of it, a dump truck comes whizzing by, heading the opposite direction.

“Shit.”

My head snaps back as I take rock between the eyes. The bike doesn't waiver.

“Fucking hell.”

I can feel blood trickle down from the spot the rock hit me. However, there isn't any pain. I check the bridge of my nose with my hand. There's blood. Bright red blood, but not much of it.

I keep driving, looking for somewhere to eat and wash the blood off my face. When I wiggle my nose, I can feel the crusty blood around the top of one of my nostrils crack.

I pull up at a tiny car-garage sized restaurant. The two women there seem very unfussed by a farang showing up with a trickle of blood coming down his face.

I ask for some ice, to prevent any swelling. The owner of the place finishes making a batch of fried rice for the only customer there before getting the ice.

Eating ka pow moo, I dab the blood off of my nose with a napkin. It really isn't too bad.

Back in my room, I roll the die: should I get in touch with Aly to see what she and her teacher friends are up to tonight? I bumped into Aly, Kara and a couchsurfer at a noddle shop near the morning market yesterday.

I spotted Aly as she craned her neck when I drove by on the motorcycle. As the little restaurant this white girl and her friends were eating at was packed with locals, I stopped for dinner.

I didn't introduce myself, and neither did they. However, after they left, Aly and Kara came back.

“Is that your motorcycle?” Aly asked.

“Yup.” “You do magic shows?”

Well, that of course is a bit more complicated. I anticipated getting to the point that I could do magic shows to help support Dice Travels and spice things up a bit, but to say that I currently do magic shows would be misleading. The “Simonelli's Traveling Magic Show” stickers on the bike are therefor also a bit misleading.

“You should preform at our school!” Aly says.

Aly and Kara agreed that it was great idea, though they would have to ask their boss.

I said I would think about it. I thought about it.

I rolled the die. It said I should at least offer to come to Aly's class and put on a little show. Not that I had to do the show, I just had to make an offer.

Now, back in my room with blood on my nose, the die thinks that it's a good idea for me to see what Aly and her friends are up to tonight.

I'm invited along for dinner after they get out of yoga.

There are four of them at a table of a little no-frills Thai restaurant located at the end of a strip of food stalls that Aly called “the dinning street”.

All four of the young women are fresh out of university: Aly and Andrea graduated from Princeton; Bailey from Univeristy if Michigan (her sister might actually be an undergraduate in a class my sister will be working with – small world) and Kara went to Northwestern.

As I approach the table, at first I think that Bailey might be a guy, bared, muscular and a tangle of long dirty-blonde hair makes me wonder, though as soon as I see her face there is no question. I sit down next to Kara, who is very short with thick curly hair. At the head of the table sits Andrea, who studied IT at Princeton.

The girls have a rhythm ot their conversation that and banter that's enjoyable. They are all very well educated, so the conversation, even if it's teasing Andrea about Chiang Mai date lined up in a couple of weeks that's not going to go anywhere, is interesting.

It's nice to be around people. It's the first meal I've shared with anyone in nearly two weeks. They've already order, so I flag down the waitress and get a couple dishes for myself.

I, of course, still have a bubble of blood and some bruising between my eyes Nobody asks about it.

I find myself wondering if Bailey and Aly are in a relationship some sort. Aly's a big personality with a lovely face and a bit of a belly, which apparently one of the kids in the school comes up and slaps after lunch every day – kids are wonderfully weird. There seems to be something between the two of them, but it's hard to tell.

“They take the cheap shots,” Bailey says.

“Your disability is funny,” Aly proclaims with a heart-warming smile.

“What if I was dying from it?”

“It would be less funny, but still funny.”

It turns out that Bailey can't see directly in front of her. I would have never noticed. Even after being told, I didn't see it until the end of the meal while we were chatting, waiting for a sudden thundershower to clear up.

Her head was turned toward Aly, but only slightly, as she listened. Then her head swiveled again to listen to Kara, not looking directly at her either, leaving the speaker somewhere between directly in front of her and her peripheral.

The rain lightens up and then stops. The girls climb onto their old-fashioned bicycles and pedal off, I pass them and wave goodbye. If Aly isn't able to get permission for the magic show, I'll be leaving Nan tomorrow – heading for the border.

And that's a drone crash. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

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