Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | South Thailand – Finding Nemo
18.12.2003, Thursday, Koh Tao
Its morning and finally I got some good-night sleep, so despite my skin still burning Im awake and in a pleasant mood for a change. The sun is rising behind the island, which with its 21 sq kilometres is mountainous enough to prevent the sunlight from reaching me yet. But I can see it on the tops of the palms outside my balcony, and on the silvery trunks of enormous trees that grow among them, entangled with bushes and high grasses into an unpassable jungle. To my right I can see it climb the slopes of the hills in a green wave, to my left the island rolls into the waters of the Gulf of Thailand.
I went diving yesterday and being a seal (novice, in the slang of my instructor, Simon), had to do Discover Scuba Diving, which was twice as expensive as a normal single dive. Fair enough, as I had Simon all to myself, and didnt have to worry about anything except popping my ears so they wouldnt hurt as we went down. The sky was overcast but the sea calm, and that was lucky, I was told, as the previous week there was rain and even the day before the waves were too big for the boat to leave the haven. In the water the visibility wasnt great, maybe five meters, ten at the best, and the trigger fish we saw was just a silhouette of a fish, big and dark blue against the dimly lit blue of the sea. We didnt see any clown fish, although we were looking for them, or sharks and turtles, which werent actually supposed to be in such shallow waters. Instead, we came across hundreds of sea slugs, dark and motionless at the bottom, and beautiful coral, inhabited by creatures looking like the ends of pipe cleaners – blue and red, and white, and yellow, and pink, which would pull themselves into their tubes as soon as I would do any motion towards them. The fish werent as numerous as I was hoping they would, yet there were some, shiny like neons and as garishly coloured, in poisonus pinks and greens and blues. The sea was warm, but after an hour I was freezing and my mask didnt really fit, filling with water seconds after I cleaned it, so I was getting slightly annoyed and fed up. Not impressed. Just one of the thirty thousand tourist coming to do a course here every year. I made a sign for Im freezing, which hadnt been included in the course but was obvious enough, and we went out.
I decided the previous day that after my dive I would leave, there being nothing else to do on the island and the weather being better on the Andaman Sea side of Thailand, but there were no boats leaving that day. The only one Id managed to book was due to leave tonight, and I wanted to rent a motorcycle and drive to Mae Haad village, where there was the pier and more travel agencies. Thus just after arriving back at the hostel from my diving excursion I went out again, wodering how would I ever manage to drive anywhere, naver having driven a motorcycle in my life before. And then I met Nick, an Irish guy who was doing a rescue course and had been on one boat with me that day. And Nick had nothing to do as well, and agreed to give me a ride, and off we went on a rickety thing sounding like an old man wheezing.
The agencies at the pier were many, but all more expensive, as if by agreement. So we drove back and I bought the ticket where I booked it, and Nick decided he wanted to see the other side of the island. We didnt drive far and the road turned into a steep dirt track, which for our vehicle proved to be unpassable. We turned and went for dinner, and watched a movie afterwards, lying on the traditional triangular axe pillows which I suspected to be extremely uncomfortable and wasnt proven wrong.
But today the day rose bright and beautiful and, having to check out before 10 am and not due at the boat before 7 pm, I left my backpack at the office and trekked to Laem Thian Pinnacle, on the opposite side of the island and to be reached only by the dirt track Nick and I didnt manage to negotiate yesterday.
Although the highest mountain on the island is mere 379 metres and the saddle between the mountaintops must be much lower, climbing onto it took me a good half an hour, always steeply up, through the jungle, through sand and slippery dead palm fronds. I stopped to catch my breath at the highest point, not daring to sit, not daring to rest properly, as the mosquitoes were coming in clouds. But the views were magnificent and I nearly ran for the rest of the way, headlong downhill this time, till I reached Laem Thian with its rocky shore looking like something the giants might have toyed with centuries ago and left lying around – enormous creamy boulders of limestone were scattered everywhere, ending abruptly in the shallow waters, blue and transparent like cool air, with white sand mixed with shells glistening beneath.
I scrambled through them, climbed up and eased myself down, clutching to anything, finding support where there was almost none, till by mistake I stepped onto a rock covered with greenish slime, slipped and fell into the water as I was, shorths and shirt and bag.
I spent the rest of the morning swimming around, waiting for my clothes to dry, or just sitting on a low flat-topped boulder, inhaling the clear salty air, getting drenched in sunlight. There was nobody else Id seen, neither while I trekked nor while I sat at the beach, looking at the most beautiful bay Id ever seen, with ragged rocks rising from azure blue sea to the entangled savage greens of the jungle, the sunlight glimmering on the waves like scales of gold.
I went back after a while and strolled through the village, spending hours in second-hand bookshops and reading in cafes. I was hoping to meet Ross and say goodbye to him, so I sat at the front table in the bar where we met the first time, he seeming to be a constant customer there. I sheltered my eyes from the sun and bent over the book, not distracted by pain anymore, as my lobster tan settled and turned the colour I remembered turning in my childhood – cinamon and honey and smoke. My nose was peeling and looking in the mirror of the dimly lit bar toilet I had to smile to know where my face was.
Well have three chocolate milkshakes – said somebody next to me and I looked up at him without understanding, suddenly distracted from my book.
Oh, sorry – he said, a tall blond guy suprised at the sight of my face. I smiled, not being offended at all by being mistaken for a local. I pointed to the bar and bent over my book again.