There are ethical reasons why this leaves me with a dilemma, you see today I went and sat with the Macaques down at the monkey temple and I fed them with bananas, coke and water. These though are wild animals and they have got so used to human beings that they interact with us, taking food from us and generally enjoying a free lunch.
My dilemma though is one of ecological ethics. What upsets me is that the animals are treated as an income for the local tourist guides who then leave rubbish, plastic bags and other detritus just laying around. I lost count of the number of pieces of broken glass I saw. The guides do not seem to appreciate that these animals are delicate, wild and potentially dangerous, especially when they encourage tourists to put pieces of fruit on their heads so that the monkeys will then climb up to eat.
However, as much as I try to stand on the moral high ground over the rights and wrongs of introducing extra food into an area that is ultimately limited in the number of species it can maintain, I cannot deny that what happened to me today was emotionally and spiritually moving. I felt a connection to another species of animal that chose of its own freewill to sit with me and "break bread" so to speak. Being so close to such a beautiful species was both breath taking and saddening. Seeing the animals trying to eat plastic bags felt so wrong, but feeling the touch of that gentle but strong hand as it gripped my finger while reaching for a banana with the other hand will stay with me for a very long time.
These animals are not stupid, they are clearly exploiting the system here for their own benefit, they have learned that human beings are a source of easy and nutritious food. Yet this does not sit easy with all of them as some will show signs of aggression as they take the food. As tourists, we are both part of the problem and and part of the solution. Our need to see animals is what draws the guides here to make money and in return their need to make money is what ensures that the local wildlife is safe. I am just glad that most of us have moved on from the desire or want to dress in animal pelts.
After a manic couple of days of riding on the scary locals roads, how much more relaxing can it be than to join a big ride out and block the streets of Phuket with about two hundred other bikers? Well actually it can really set you up for a day of fun and adventure. When there are two hundred of you, the other road users in Phuket suddenly start to be a little more polite to bikers, but having the Police stop all other traffic helps greatly.
This was the day that Carol had been really looking forwards too, her favourite Thai band were headlining the stage later in the evening and the bike festival was under full swing. We had purchsed the obligatory pin badges for our waist coats and even a couple of tee-shirts each, so with the usual rally supplies stocked up, we were free to enjoy the ride out. The ride out was organised for three in the afternoon and so we did not miss the start we arrived at half past two and saw a line of bikes ready to go, all six of them were parked and there was no sign of any other riders joining in. Our hearts sank a little, we had hoped for a bigger event. However the thing to remember is that Thai people have a different concept on time, just ask the train company! At ten to three the queue started to grow and when we joined we were about ten from the front. At three o'clock, a mass of riders flooded into the paddock, custom Harleys, stretched out Honda chops and the standard big capacity sports bikes, the queue was now huge and the Police car at the front lead the procession out on the busy streets. At every Junction Police officers had blocked the roads so that we could pass through, bemused onlookers and shop owners lined the streets waving or taking pictures on their phones.
As we paraded through the hot city streets moving slowly, the feeling of camaraderie was huge. It did not matter what kind of biker took part, patch club members, sports bikers, adventure bikers and just the average bikers all came together and rode as one big friendly group, the Thai culture although always friendly just seemed to spread through the bike clubs in a similar way that we do not see as much in the UK. Different clubs flying Thailand bottom rockers greeted each other with handshakes and the usual Thai greeting. Then we stopped. The street was not that long and all of the bikes totally blocked it as we stopped for a short break. Not speaking Thai we had no idea why we had stopped, but it soon became apparent when a beautifully dressed Bride and Groom walked towards the queue of bikes and posed for photos. I had visions of the Brides beautiful white satin and silk gown getting oil stained from some of the ratty old chops, but she remained as pure as her smile. The Groom sat astride a couple of the bikes in his smart suit and gave the biggest of smiles when he sat on a huge stretched chop and his friends took photos. This was clearly a very proud moment for him.
The heat in the street in which we had stopped was baking, we had parked in direct sunshine and as the rays hit the bikes, the seat pads warmed up until they were so hot they burned when we sat on them, talk about the hot seat! After a few minutes I was starting to cook in my clothes so I went and hid in the shade of a monument and sat on a wall next to a group of Policemen, all of whom gave me a beaming smile and a nod of hello. Carol was wandering about taking photos and talking to some of the British ex Pats that she had met and slowly in the high sun all of us baked until at last the ride out leader sounded his siren calling us back into the group and we set off once more. The Wedding couple left happy with their photographs of the bikes.
The streets of Phuket can be narrow and when packed with bikers there is barely enough room down the sides for a Rizla paper, but this did not stop the ride out emergency team from racing past and closing the next junction. The sound of their sirens made us look in our mirrors expecting to see a large Police Car or truck, instead we saw a small 110cc scooter with a Police Paramedic riding through the traffic at breakneck speed. While in the city though the ride out speed was quite sedate and we rarely went above twenty five miles per hour, it was a different story though once we hit the main roads and things opened up. On wide carriage ways we were up into the high fifties and occasionally in the sixties. One thing struck me as odd though. On the main roads into and out of Phuket, there are small speed humps! The equivalent in the UK would be to put speed humps on the M32 into Bristol. There were not very big, but if you were not fully concentrating, they could throw you off line somewhat.
Back on the ride out, we were heading towards the coast and the local marina, we cut through the stationary traffic and were then directed up the jetty, all two hundred of us rode up to the end where the office was located, turned around and made our way back down again. The custom Trike with the big V8 engine growled as it went past, a truly impressive sound making the Harleys seem almost quiet and boring. Once back at the landward end of the jetty we stopped and parked up for a few minutes while the final bikes rode past us. Once it was clear we set off again and this time across the car park and up the hill to the Navy Base. Three quarters of the bikes peeled off at this point, but Carol and I being in the front group were led up through the gates, past some very serious looking Thai Military guards. Thai people may in general be very friendly, but these guys looked like they could pull off your head with out even messing up their smartly pressed uniforms.
The ride came to a halt outside a large military building, stood waiting were several high ranking officers who guided us towards parking our bikes and then over to a memorial monument. Suddenly this felt like familiar territory, British Legion Riders often make donations and show respect to the Armed Forces of the UK. These Thai bikers were doing the same thing, there was an exchange of gifts and then a small ceremony on the memorial monument similar to the RBL remembrance parade. Then after posing for photographs, we got back on our bikes and rode back down the hill to the helipad and the Officers Mess. All of the other bikers rejoined the group and we all parked up. From this point it all got a little strange and Carol and I were often baffled as to what was going on.
We were directed down onto the sandy beach, the sand was like yellow talc and so soft to walk on, gathered about were various groups of sponsors of the event and they were posing for photos. Somebody then produced a series of large water filled plastic bags and handed them out to the bikers. Seeing that Carol was empty handed, someone passed her a bag and when we looked inside it held a small group of orange and white stripy fish, similar in shape and colour to the now famous Found Nemo! The bags were sealed with an elastic band and this was undone and the bag holders directed towards the sea. This it turns out was an ecological program to release rare reef fish back into the ocean and Carol and I were lucky enough to take part. Taking her bag, she gently knelt on the damp sand and lowered the bag to the water, releasing the beautiful animals to the wild. Shocked and stunned, the small fish clustered together into groups and tried to stay out of the wash that deposited them back on the beach, with a few flicks of my glove though, the beached fish were back in the water and still looking startled. As they calmed down though, they slowly moved out into the slightly deeper and safer water, but remained with in sight of the bikers who had released them. Hundreds of them must have been released and hopefully hundreds of them are now repopulating the local reef.
The press were gathering groups of the various bikers together with Military officials and taking photographs for their various publications and Carol and I stood back not really grasping what they wanted. The main photographer for Bike Week though spotted us and called us over to be photographed with the most senior Naval Officer in charge of the Third fleet of Thailand! Yes, little old us mixing it up with the big wigs once again. We explained to him that we were British Legion Riders back home and he politely acknowledged that he knew what we did. He was such a gentle and softly spoken man, I could have listened to his voice all afternoon, it was hard to imagine that at his command the legions of Thai Sailors would unleash a barrage of death!
The ride back to the Bike Week site was fast and fun as once again we took up the roads and watched interested drivers taking photos on their phones or trying hard to edge out on to the road, only to be waved to a stop by the Police Paramedics on their scooters. Pulling back into the pavilion was an altogether different feel, as the now hundreds of locals had gathered to welcome us back in, parking though was now at a premium and we struggled to find enough space to get all of us back in. More and bikers though kept coming and the place was rocking with happy drunk people, noisy bike clubs cheering each other and revellers just enjoying the music coming from the various acts on the stage.