12,067 km so far.
This is a post for all of you who are still suffering through below-freezing temperatures and snow drifts at your doors. I hope this can bring a little heat into your hearts, if not your homes.
When I open the doors to our tiny bungalow, the warm air whooshes in. It clashes against our air conditioned space, and the contrast is so great, I’m surprised it doesn’t create a mini rainstorm right there in front of the French doors.
We’re up early to beat the heat, but when the overnight low is 27C, you can’t get up early enough. It’s still cool enough to contemplate riding, though, so we hop on our bikes and begin.
By this time, the heat is really starting to take hold. My elbow creases shine with little pools of sweat. As we ride south, I can see a similar shimmer gathering on Stephen’s left calf, right where the rising sun is hitting it.
The only relief from the growing heat is the blustering wind, which, on a normal day would be nothing but an annoyance. Today, it is a welcome gust of cool, keeping the heat from tipping over into unbearable.
Our little meandering cement path by the river turns into a bumpy dirt road. This type of road has been our route of choice lately, since it is much more interesting than riding the narrow shoulder of some generic highway.
We roll quietly through a sort of wetland. Egrets and herons take flight as we disturb their breakfast with our passing. They rise from the water all around us, soaring easily on the warm, thick air.
The road is bone dry though, and our wheels kick up dust and dirt as we rattle through the cracks and bumps. Dust sticks to our damp skin, and before long, our shins and calves are coated in a layer of grime.
Little rivulets of sweat form under our knees and drip down towards the ground, leaving a shiny clean track in the landscape of leg dirt behind them.
We stop by a wat gate to shoot our 12,000km picture.
As soon as we are stationary, any cooling effect the breeze has had disappears. Suddenly, a sticky sheen of sunscreen and sweat rises up from under the surface of our skin, and we both look like we’ve been dipped in a vat of lacquer.
On days like this we can never stop for long.
By early morning, we’ve drunk all of the water we started the day with, and we need to stop to get more. Luckily, Thailand has little shops absolutely everywhere, so it’s not hard to find a supply of chilled water when you need it, even on the backroads.
We stop at a ramshackle shop at a busy intersection and lean our bikes in the shade. Like most local stores, there’s no real inside to this shop – it’s just a covered space with a couple of coolers in what would be a living room back home. The front of the building is open to the heat, dust, and exhaust. With no walls and no door, there’s no sweet chill of air conditioning, like you find in the 7-Elevens and Tesco Expresses in this part of the world.
Peering into the refrigerator, trying to see what’s on offer through the foggy glass door, we are painfully aware of the contrast between our temperature and that inside the icy fridge. Oh how we wish we could miniaturise ourselves and crawl in.
Stephen’s note to self: Must practice yoga more. This skill would come in handy.
Finally, we make our choices, and quickly, so as not to let out too much cold, I open the fridge, grabbing a couple of drinks and a couple of bottles of reverse osmosis purified water. After paying, we sit and drink at the painted concrete picnic table provided at every convenience store, for just this purpose.
Twisting the lid off of a frosty bottle of iced tea and tipping back the sweet liquid is the highlight of the morning. Nothing has ever tasted so good.
The wind has long since lost its cooling properties. Have you ever walked past the outflow of an office building, and been blasted with the heat from inside? This is exactly how the wind feels today, but you can’t escape it by crossing the street. It is an ever-present furnace blast of hot dirty air.
This must be what it feels like inside a fan-assisted oven.
The wind dries our sweat instantly and saps any moisture from our eyes and mouths. I take a gulp of water, which has long-since lost its refreshing refrigerator coldness. It is now the temperature of a cup of tea left half an hour too long. Water at this temperature doesn’t refresh, but it wets my mouth for exactly as long as it take me to swallow.
Then the scorching wind blows and my mouth is dry again, seconds later.
Pinpricks of sharp pain pierce my scalp. My head is roasting under my mess of thick hair and the bike helmet.
It feels like a forest before a blaze really takes off – like tiny fires have been lit at the base of each hair. As the fires spreads, a searing pain travels across the top of my head, seeping down into my skull. The only way to stop it will be to take my helmet off, but we have a little more riding to do first, so I grab my helmet and wiggle it around on my head as much as I can, putting out the fire momentarily.
Droplets of sweat condense along my forehead, where hairline meets skin. Every once in a while, one slides down the smooth terrain towards my eye. Between helmet, hair, sunglasses, and cycling gloves, wiping these drops away is tricky. I pull my sunglasses all the way down my nose, and reach into the gap with my the point of my thumb, whisking the drop away before it can burn into my eyeball.
After a short 56 km day, we roll up to our hotel on the outskirts of Ayutthaya. My brain is so baked by now, that it moves at half the normal speed. I can barely think, and talking is beyond me.
Hungry and hot, I collapse in the lobby, which is open-air, and just as hot as the rest of the world. I know it will be a matter of minutes until I can hop into a cool shower and delete the layer of sweat and grime from my body, but those minutes drag on and on.
No one is in a rush in this heat – it takes days and days to get us checked in.
Finally, we are in our room and I can strip off, dropping my sweat soaked clothes in a pile under the shower, so I can wash them while I wash myself. While I do this, Stephen cranks up the air conditioning.
It has only taken a few weeks for us to become people who can’t live without air con. We happily pay extra for it at every guesthouse, and often step inside 7-Eleven just to feel the sweet relief of cold air on our bodies. I feel guilty (and slightly pathetic) depending upon it so fully, when many of the local people don’t even have electricity. It does not comply with our goal of travelling without harming the planet.
But if we turn it off, even for a few minutes, our room becomes too stifling to bear.
Falling into bed after my shower, I savour the sensation of being cool and clean. I know it will only be brief, since we need to go out in a minute, into the midday heat, to find some lunch.
Fed, showered for a second time, and refreshed from a short nap, I decide to sit by the pool and do some work. In the short time since we returned to our climate-controlled room, I have forgotten the sensation of being hot. It all seems like a dream. When I step out onto the pool deck, which is bathed in afternoon sun, the heat snaps back into focus.
I sit down and try to write. The laptop sears my thighs, and I am sure when I remove it, I’ll have a stripe of grill marks across my legs. My brain is not working any more quickly than earlier today, so I give up, opting to slide into the pool instead.
The water is warm, but still much cooler than the air that surrounds it. Ahhh. This is why we pay extra for a pool.
I glide lazily down the short stretch of water, hunting for an elusive piece of shade. When I find it, I lean against the cool pool tiles, and let my body float just under the surface.
The hotel we have picked for tonight is a few kilometres out of town, and after a dissatisfying lunch at the restaurant here, we’ve decided we need to go into town to get fed.
As the light starts to fade, so does the heat of day.
“Do you think I need to bring a sweater?” I joke to Stephen, as we lift our bikes over the railing of our ground-floor balcony.
Ayutthaya’s night market is awash with lights. Compact fluorescent bulbs shine over each marketeer’s stall, highlighting their wares. People stream up and down the narrow market aisles, pushing by those who have stopped for a closer look.
Each food stall generates its own heat. There are sizzling woks full of boiling oil, giant steaming pots of soup broth, tiny table-top pots glowing with hot charcoal, and countless grills filled with cuts of meat. If we stand too close, even for a minute, it feels like we’ll be roasted right alongside the whole fish or chickens.
It doesn’t take long to spot a Pad Thai stall. We order and then each choose a soda from the ice-filled cooler next to the stand. Condensation slides down the smooth surface of the glass bottles, pooling on the plastic tablecloth.
There is something incredibly satisfying about drinking pop from a cold glass bottle on a hot summer night. Have my nieces and nephews, who have all grown up in a world of plastic, ever experienced this? I don’t think it’s likely.
Riding back in the quiet of the evening, we are finally able to sigh with relief. The heat has lost her grip on the day, and the breeze that flutters by as we ride is cool and refreshing. Tonight we will sleep soundly, knowing that the whole hot sticky cycle begins again at first light. ♥