Koh Tao Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-
Funny Lookin Kids and Melted Welly Heads
2007-02-04 to 2007-02-11
As those of you that know me will testify (and ex girlfriends will bemoan), I hate to plan things! On any trip like this you have to leave latitude to extend your stay somewhere if you fall in love with it and that`s what has happened in Koh Tao. I waxed lyrical about Koh Phi Phi just over a week ago, and that still applies, but Koh Tao has a magical quality.
Our `intimate` gang of about 15 (!) gave the island a very comfortable feel and made you feel like a local as you kept bumping into them on the beach. We all took off to Nuan Yeng beach which we all had to agree was the most beautiful beach any of us had ever seen. Two forested islands linked by a natural sandbar with crystal clear shallow waters where some resourceful Japanese had brought some bread to entice the thousands of fish closer so the rest of us could do the most amazing snorkeling. A mind-blowing explosion of colour right in front of your eyes.
There was a viewpoint on one of the islands that anyone could reach but my two younger friends from Brittany scaled these rocks to have the best views. My body was screaming at me no but machismo and testosterone kicked in and the `old man` climbed it too! Very windy up there naturally but it was truly worth it. I may not achieve everything that I set out to do, but the first time that I don`t even try because I think I can`t do it, that`s when I`ll give up this travelling lark and settle into a desk job!
Mandy and Stacey (California) are baby nurses and they are authorities on how beautiful the SE Asian children are (no wonder Angelina Jolie keeps adopting them!). They did say however that not all babies are naturally good looking and that FLK`s (funny lookin kids) were common! This gave rise to a litany of non complimentary terms which could be applied to both men and women, F0AMCL (face only a mother could love), BOBFOC (Body off Baywatch, Face off Crimewatch), Good from Far but Far from Good, Moon Pig (`If there were pigs on the moon, that`s the way they`d look!) and my favourite, the Melted Welly Heads (people whose facial features seem to have gravitated to the centre of their face, leaving large foreheads and chins and expansive cheeks!). Who says our conversations aren`t always intellectual!?!
This may come as a bit of a surprise to most of you and particularly to my Mom who`s reading these blogs (Hello Mom!) but I`ve become a Dad! Now before I get cut out of any inheritance, I should explain that I`ve been dubbed `Daddy` by the collective for looking after the girls in our group after I arranged rooms for them before they got to the island. But it has expanded in interpretation (as these things are wont to do) because now I`m a single dad bringing up several girls after my horrible wife got killed in a terrible accident and `my` girls were determined to find Daddy `a new friend!”
This is an incredible place to be in a relationship. It exudes romance rather than the absolute drunken dispersing of inhibitions, like some of the other places I have been. I can imagine that many honeymooners are coming back after meeting at such a place.
On the topic of meeting people, it`s going to be strange to go back to a place where you know everyone in your close knit group, rarely meeting someone new. It`s nearly impossible not to meet someone new every day on your travels and if you are a self confessed social butterfly/chatterbox that goes up to 4 or 5 daily!
We met Danielle, a nurse from Melbourne, and she commented on the number of people walking around with bandages. She had counted 33 in just three days! The most common ones are the `motorcycle tattoo`, a burn on your left calf where you have got off the motorbike on the wrong side and got burnt by the exhaust, the `coral cut` where people have swum out to see the coral, got tired and stood on the razor edges, slicing their feet, and the `cigarette lighter/beer bottle opener` which claims several victims when the cap shoots up and hits them in the eye!
My French is really improving but it`s taking over my vocabulary as I have started to dream in French! Often I speak to exclusively English speakers in pigeon French to make them understand before I realise that it would be a lot easier to speak English!
Although our group would have gladly stayed on for a few more days, the various itineraries had to be upheld and flights had to be caught. So in two days, our group dissipated with promises of frequent e-mails and reunions, all made with the best of intentions but only time will tell.
So I was leaving Thailand, this wonderfully diverse country to head to Malaysia to finish off my trip. I can`t believe that this leg of my trip (and I really only see it as the start of my travels) is coming to an end. I wanted to see if the rigours of travel would be too much for me and I am happy to report that it`s not! But the trip to Langkawi where I currently am did test that resolve!
Our boat from Koh Tao to Chumporn was delayed for two hours for no reason so Emily, Tina (both girls from our gang in Koh Phi Phi) and I just sat at the pier chatting. The boat ride was unremarkable if a little choppy and upon arrival we were escorted to a bar that would be happy to arrange our travel requirements and `please sit down and have some dinner!`. There`s nothing for nothing in SE Asia!
They were very good though and got us all on the last train of the night going to Haddyai in Southern Thailand. Emily got the last bed and Tina and I said that we`d be fine to sit in our seats for the 8 hour journey! Was that ever a bad call! Firstly the lights never went off so it was hard to sleep but when the carriage turned into a NASA training wind tunnel that`s when things got really stupid! It might have been bearable had everyone kept the windows shut, but we were surrounded by locals who were much better clothed than the two `farang` (foreigners) in their T-shirts and shorts! A more suspicious Consi might have suggested a conspiracy on their part but I gave it little thought…
They all had big jackets on, one guy giving a very good impression of an Ernest Shackleton/ Kenny from South Park cross with a huge polar jacket zipped up to reveal practically nothing of his face. The weird thing though was that he had his window completely open! I was baffled by this seemingly obvious contradiction and tried to sleep regardless of the icicles forming off my nose.
My fleece had been vacuumed packed into the bottom of my bag after Pai in Northern Thailand and I steadfastly refused to unearth it for about three hours. But pride cometh before a fall and not wanting the pyrrhic victory of getting off the train pig headedly with my T-shirt, I dug deep into my humility and my bag and retrieved my fleece! There was an immediate reward as my limbs could feel the once recognisable rush of blood again!
We got out at 5:30am and went straight to the travel agency where a Jackie Chan doppleganger booked us on to a minibus that was to take us to our boat to Langkawi in Malaysia. Every day you should drink two litres of water but in this heat that doubles to 4 litres daily. Add in a few alcoholic drinks in the evenings and that goes up again to about 5 or 6 per day. So you are permanently drinking water, morning, noon and night.
Well five minutes into our 90 minute ride, I needed to go to the toilet. Being crammed into the back of the bus, I immediately set about ways to take my mind off it. I started to read my book but the travel writer was currently in Vienna and all the references to water were not helping. I tried to sleep, but still in my fleece from earlier and unable to swing my arms to get out of it, it was too warm.
So I decided to take in the scenery as it was to be my last day in Thailand but two of the first signs I saw were directing you to a Waterfall and another one to the Sunat Irrigation Plant! God has a very funny sense of humour. My mind, getting in on the machiavellian act, conjured up scenes of rushing water, small rivulets and water balloons smashing on the ground!
I decided to give tantric meditation a try by trying to clear my mind of all thoughts but that was shattered as Tina turned to confide in me that she too needed to go to the loo! The driver stopped for what we assumed was one of those frequent and frankly frustrating breaks where they drive you to their wife`s/cousin`s/debt collector`s restaurant so you could spend money but this time I relished the idea. But no, oh good God no, this time he was just making a delivery and sprightly (I`d say impishly) jumped back into the van and drove off. We finally reached the pier and the customs officials but we did a full bypass and with as much dignity as our capacity filled bladders would allow made for the toilets!
There we met Luke, an 18 year old from Southampton and he had overstayed his visa by one day, incurring a 500 Baht fine (12 Euro/15 US $) but there were no ATM`s and they didn`t accept credit cards so `Daddy` adopted another youngster and paid his fine! To his credit he did repay it as soon as we docked at Langkawi which in its own right was a strange experience as I don`t think (with the obvious exception of ferrying to England or Wales for matches) I`ve ever sailed into a new country.
We went for breakfast and had curry at about 10am! We got rooms in the Gecko Guesthouse and set out to explore the place. The first thing that hit us was the heat! It was almost unbearable, the sand was lightning hot and the it was about 35 degrees in the shade! I`ve got a colour (you`d be impressed Seamus) but even I knew when I was licked and I went back for an afternoon `nana nap`
We went out and had dinner in a Muslim restaurant (the predominant religion here in Malaysia) and of course could not order wine or beer with lunch. We then went to Debbies place, an Irish bar run by Debbie, a Malaysian woman with one arm and her husband (formerly the head chef on the QE2) from Mayo!! Their staff were all nuts but wonderfully helpful and very funny! They insisted on learning our names and very much part of their job description is to sit down with the customers for a chat from time to time!
Tina and Luke were tired but Emily and I set out to find the late night bar, The Reggae Bar. What an experience! I know that we`d only had a few drinks but we were appalled to see such decadence unseen since the fall of the Roman Empire. 80% of the crowd of about 100 were very well oiled as we`d say at home and the other 20% took up vantage spots on the fringe to see the descent of morality, humanity and decency! Some people were falling over, others had given up and were sleeping the sleep of the not so innocent and others were drinking a fiery Sambuca concoction off the bar.
And it was hilarious! We immediately agreed to bring our friends back to experience this and I would come armed with a pen and paper!
Yesterday we hired a car to drive around the island. I asked the guy that was renting it to us if there were any scratches, dents etc that I should be aware of so that he didn`t charge us for it afterwards and he just said, “I trust you, you are a good driver, you are a good looking man so you are a good driver!” Hmmm, not exactly the strictest of criteria or even a tangible link there and if that`s how they issue drivers licenses over here, that might explain some of the crazy antics we have seen on the road!
It was great to drive again. We set off for a cable car which took us up the 710m to the top of a mountain with great views of the island. Then we set off for a waterfall and I climbed 373 steps to the top where there was a natural spring pool at the very top which I happily jumped into!
There were monkeys all over and a braver one approached us (a not so brave Emily broke land speed records and made for the car!) and I dangled my keys over him so he could play with them. He lunged and caught it and would not let go! As they were our only keys, a titanic struggle not seen since the black and white Tarzan movies between man and ape ensued. Well it wasn`t that bad, he bared his fangs, I bared mine, we called a truce and he let go!
We picked up Kelly (ex Phi Phi member of our team) and we all went for food in Debbie`s (superb) and then down to the beach for a few songs and to watch the terrible (or just terribly unlucky, I`m not sure) Liverpool lose and then off to The Reggae Bar again. And as soon as we had built it up to our friends, it let us down! It was still good but there was a band playing last night and everyone was very well behaved. Since I thought it was my last night we all were saying our goodbyes etc and I unwaveringly avoided the dance floor.
But just like Pavlov`s dog, I am powerless to avoid the sheer contortion that my body experiences when I hear the opening salvo of `ABC` by the Jackson 5!! (The main picture on the homepage of the blog is documentary evidence!) The girls knew this and requested it and out I bounded to the dance floor, clearing a space for me to show my stuff! And as quickly and dramatically as it had started, as soon as the song was finished I was back off the floor!
So I woke this morning, full of the intent that I was going to leave but I got a mail from Lucy, another of the original Phi Phi gang which said she was in Langkawi and that she wanted to meet up. So that means another night here.
I have realised on this trip that planning is pointless (see how I am linking back to the start!?! Us literary folk do that!).
They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him what you are doing tomorrow!
Well it`s true! So I`m supposed to go to Penang tomorrow and then down to Kuala Lumper for my flight back to Sydney on Thursday, arriving on Friday morning (Colm, will I see you there?!!)
I know it`s been a long entry but so many great (and not so great) things have happened to me in the last few days, I had to get it all out.
It`d be nice to just have one quiet day…..!
Reflections on Valentine`s Day