19 May Taxi of Death
If there’s one travel commandment I think is worth sticking to it’s Thou Shalt Not Provoke Thy Local Taxi Driver.
Whenever traveling alone in a foreign country it’s wise to never write off the possibility of a the losing or stealing of your wallet, passport, phone resulting in a spot of bother. We’ve all heard the stories and know how accidents happen easily outside of comfort zones. But these types of problems are the stuff of dreams when you’re faced with a quite real possibility of being discovered in small pieces in tropical wasteland, underneath a minibus wreckage. Today could have been all of those scenarios together.
It all began with the obnoxious behaviour of a passenger who pushed the buttons of our local Thai minibus driver so far that he almost executed each and every one of us. This is how it went down. Buckle up dear friend.
For the purpose of setting the scene, it was after midday and I had flown in to Phuket after a week in sunny Koh Samui. I’d spent little waiting time at an airport designed as a bespoke boutique village. Our aircraft had a cartoonish mural of sailboats painted on each side. The flight was free of turbulence and irate kids. T’was already beginning to feel like what Walt Disney labels a beautiful day.
On exiting the airport I weighed up the two options for travelling to my hotel: private taxi at a hefty £20 or minibus with 9 other passengers for a fifth of the cost. The blog title indicates which option I took so let’s move on. Our driver, a rough-round-the-edges type of chap, reminded me of the stocky, double crossing bodyguard of Al Pachino’s Carlito Brigante. If he was an animal I would place him as a wart hog. Dearest taxi driver loaded the backpacks on board and drove us to the ticket office to collect our receipts. This is where it all went downhill.
Our tribe followed orders like good little tourists, all except an elderly Japanese man who, when hopping onto the minibus moments earlier and had jokingly proclaimed to be an ‘old, fat man’ to break ice, had suddenly hit the roof over a disagreement on ticket cost. His body jerked like an electric chair victim as he let fly with the verbal to emphasise that he wasn’t bloody having it. I couldn’t understand a word of it and assumed his gripe made even less sense to the poor office clerk. One thing was clear, taxi driver was being held up and this seemed to get under his skin. He too began to see red and went out back for a verbal spontaneous combustion of his own.
Both ‘old, fat Japanese man’ and and taxi driver eventually returned to the taxi and we were able to set off. No one suspected further friction would bubble up. It took all of two minutes to prove us wrong. For the next hour our taxi driver did his very best to keep his speed above 140mph, regardless of the condition of the road or number of cars in our path. It became very clear that his aggression was an act of revenge on the minibus’ favourite passenger acting up, who by the now remained tight-lipped. When a mild-mannered tourist in row one asked taxi driver to ‘please slow down’ because ‘he doesn’t want to die’ (quite a reasonable plea in my view) he belted out every Thai swear word under the sun, punctuated by a wagging finger. We took that as a no.
Every vehicle in our path was overtaken without fail. Sometimes even on blind corners. The worst part of it all was that I because had chosen to sit up front for extra legroom I was now a human shield for ‘fat, old Japanese man’ and a strong candidate for cannoning through the front windscreen in the event of a collision. I occupied my thoughts by drafting a will in my head and scouting locations in the UK for the scattering of my ashes.
As bad luck would have it my hotel was last on the list. I looked out to the last leg of the journey and winced as we approached a cliff edge. The situation was going from bad through horrible to unbearable. And despite my life hanging in the balance I remember thinking how well we were doing for time. Every cloud…
I’d like to leave it at that, let’s call it a cliffhanger. I’m obviously alive and well otherwise I wouldn’t have written the tale.