Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The best hour of the day - Patong beach, Thailand

Patong doesn't have the reputation of an atoll, but sometimes at 5 it has a burst of pride. A quiver runs over the profile of the beach. After having put up with the heat for a day, fended off touts and standed the kids, the majority of the beach-goers pack up and leave.

Young Thai men, with dark skin and tattoos, close the umbrellas and pile up the lounge chairs. There are people who like to go for a swim, those who moor their boats to a tree and others with earphones who jog on the shore. The gay colleagues of the Bangla Road hookers start to play volleyball with their yesterday's clients.

At last everyone has some space for himself. I open my book and lie down on the sand. Some minutes later I finish a chapter, I bookmark the page and look at the gulf. The sun is setting as if it was solid and falls like an egg yolk on the foamy clouds. Steel and flames are slicing the sky, moving in parallel with the faded horizon. After the retreat of the high-season horde, the sand and the plants have reappeared in the picture. A golden cloud has shrouded us: the magic of the tropics, their atmosphere is back.

The spell is broken by a thud and some cries. A makeshift sidecar driven by a Thai has knocked down two foreigners who were walking on the beach. People hasten to give some help, while the driver is apologizing to the unlucky girls. Another local joins the scene and all of a sudden an uproar breaks loose. They roll on the sand and splash water around, among hissing of blows, loud yells and insults. Everything stops when a big guy pops up: a couple of words and everybody looks down. Everyone seems to be satisfied, as if the only thing that matters were saving face.

On my way back I come across a pick-up. A small nervous elephant is standing on the rig. Scared by the people, the lights and the music he puts one foot on top of the cabin and the metal caves in with a construction site noise.

When he climbs on the roof with one of his hind legs the windows blow up and the windshield cracks. The animal slips and falls out of the truck, he lands with a somersault and lashes of trunk, then starts to run down the narrow street. A group of tourists who were taking pictures are scared by the pachyderm and hide into a restaurant. The elephant is peacefully trotting now. One of the men catches up with him, grabs his ear and pull him up. Everybody is laughing, except for the driver, who shakes his head while he checks his truck.

I set off for the hotel, it's already 6. The best hour of the day here ends like this.

Photos by Fabio Pulito

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