The edge of the cliff loomed as I hurtled towards the tree-tops that towered high and wide, peering from the other side of the drop. I was rapidly running out of road, squeezing the brakes in vain as the scooter propelled forward against my will. With my heart in my mouth, I gripped the handlebars tightly and braced myself for the inevitable…
In years gone by, Christmas never failed in bringing some form of chaos.
Electric black-outs became the norm, to the point that when we had a year without one, there was a vague sense of disappointment. It was as if we had set the table for the big dinner and somebody hadn’t showed up.
Of course, we would then remember the mayhem the storms had caused in previous years and be glad it decided to stay away this time.
On one Christmas morning we awoke to discover the wooden gate from the back garden had broken free from the fence and flown across the yard. It was quite an amusing feat of telekinesis by Mother Nature to ponder upon.
The only problem was that, during its journey, the gate smashed into Dad’s BMW – not exactly the gift from Santa he was hoping for.
Banished to the outer realm – the far side of the back garden fence – it was doomed to spend its days with other unwanted objects until such time they could be disposed of once and for all.
But to my mother’s horror, the black gate came back with vengeance the following Christmas by jumping over the fence and crushing some of the recently planted trees in her garden.
Another Christmas was marred when three of us were struck down by chicken pox and therefore felt more feral than festive that year.
In 2010, during a family holiday to Australia, we spent the Christmas in Brisbane. Apparently the curse followed us Down Under as the brother Paddy collapsed through a wall and also suffered a complete memory black-out. Strangely enough, those two incidents happened on the same night.
When my countless hours of planning our South East Asia backpacking trip in 2011 revolved around a Christmas on Koh Samui, a tropical island ravaged by a tsunami just five years prior, I was wondering what could possibly go wrong.
The whole period was certainly a different one than any Christmas before. Thankfully there wasn’t a tsunami in sight. Of course the rain made an appearance, as it did in Australia in 2010.
Us Irish folk aren’t allowed sunshine on Christmas.
The narrow, long strip through Chaweng – Koh Samui’s main backpacker hub – was surprisingly quiet by day. Even at night it didn’t have the atmosphere we anticipated. Further up the street, more signs of life emerged as it seemed the entire island had relocated to the bars and clubs that were clustered together in the side street that led to the famous Green Mango club.
It was here that we drank two nights away.
We spent most other nights on the beach, sitting on the platforms that graced the front of the illustrious Ark Bar – undoubtedly the happening spot on Koh Samui.
Hundreds of party-goers reveled here in the moonlight as the waves lapped up around their feet.
Backpackers indulged in drinking games and smoked shisha pipes. Local people performed fire-shows, released lanterns and set off fireworks. Thai children traipsed up and down the beach, hawking everything from glow-sticks to marijuana.
Many kids challenged drunken people to games of ‘Noughts and Crosses’ in the sand. Young they may be, but they were persistent and sly in their attempts to win money from the rich foreigners.
All in all, this was a Christmas like no other. But there was still no escaping the curse…
I am what some people would call ‘accident-prone’. This trait extends to my “control” of vehicles as I have build up a catalog of near-hits and heart-in-mouth moments when it comes to anything with an engine.
Once upon a time we thought it would be a great idea to tie a bed to the back of my brother’s quad. Then we took turns to lie on the bed, hanging on for dear life by our fingertips as Paddy raced the quad up the road. Guess who was the first to lose their grip and bounce backwards down the road on their head?
On a holiday in France, or possibly Gran Canaria, I can’t be sure (possibly due to head trauma), the men of the family went go-karting. Everything was going fine as we raced around the circuit in the sun. All of a sudden, stones began to shoot up from the underside of my kart. It quickly accelerated of its own accord. Despite my panicky stamps on the brake, the kart hurtled forward and all I could do was pull a stupid face as it careered full-steam into a wall of tyres.
The location of our hostel over Christmas 2011 was just far enough from the heart of the action to justify our moaning about it being too far to walk. The inflated taxi prices were close to extortion. Therefore, we had only one option – to rent a scooter.
Initially we hired just one and Paddy took the wheel, or the handlebars to be exact, but on Boxing Day we decided to get one each. We went for a drive up the mountain to do a trek to some waterfalls.
Michelle & ‘Log’, friends we met in Laos, hired one between them and we set off along the slippery, winding roads.
Given my prior calamities, there was an air of caution in my driving at first. However, I had just nailed my driving licence before I left home so a quiet confidence was bubbling underneath.
I’m not sure if it was the tropical scenery on Koh Samui or the effects of the sun, but after a while the belief that I was a natural-born biker began to seep into my mind as I glided around bends and whizzed towards the mountain-top.
But just as I was busy doing the mental financial budget to save up for my new super-bike with matching racing jacket, the Christmas curse brought me back down to earth.
Not satisfied with the snail-like crawl my hog was performing at the bottom of a hill, I maxed the throttle and leaned my head forward, for aerodynamic purposes.
I sped up and caught sight of my fellow bikers as I reached the brow of the hill.
It was at this point that I messed up. What I should have done was release the throttle. However, I kept the throttle on as I went into a dip, just before a sharp right-turn.
Going into the dip the bike hit supersonic speed.
Although I had a good 60 yards before the turn, the realization of what was about to happen struck me at once and despite my best efforts, all I could do in the end was pull the stupid face again and try not to die.
Gripping the handlebars, I closed in on the edge.
I knew I wasn’t going to make it. Even if I had the skills to lean low to the ground and skin my knees, it was too late. The bike wasn’t turning, it was too late for that now. It was going straight for the edge.
I was all too aware that there was no wall of tyres this time. Missing the turn would mean sailing off the edge of the road, flying through the air and inevitably colliding with a tree.
On a good day, I’d get stuck in the tree and have to be rescued by a firefighter, like a helpless cat.
But it was more likely the tree smash would just be the aperitif before I’d enjoy a sensational fall and long tumble.
With nothing more than instinct and hope, I threw all my weight to the right. Diving for the ground, I wrenched the handlebars around and pulled the scooter down on top of myself.
In the end, I managed to collapse in a heap at the corner, in some dense foliage between the road and the precipice.
Standing up and dusting the leaves off, I saw that I had come to a stop a mere six feet away from the edge. Peering over the vertigo-inducing drop. I saw a rolling forest hill littered with boulders, which would have earned me an extended trip in a wheelchair, if I was lucky enough.
Save for a few cuts and a bruised ego, my bike and I were intact. Sadly, my dream of joining Hell’s Angels had fallen off the cliff. A super-cautious, green-cross-code aware cruise back home was followed by a much-needed drink or three.
Christmas on Koh Samui was most certainly different, but somethings may never change.