Lazy days at the Sunset resort
Trip Start Oct 27, 2004
35Trip End Aug 17, 2005
To be honest, we were both sorely disappointed with what we found there and were both starting to think the same thing, "Thailand is certainly beautiful and relaxing, but there is just no travelling to be done here". The island was pricey and way overdeveloped compared with the photographs in the brochures (that should have been our first warning, brochures). All the of the simple bamboo huts were being slowly moved off their rented land to make room for more lucrative and, in many ways, more ecologically compromising luxury resorts.
After only two nights we decided to skip town and take a chance on the next island, the much smaller Koh Mak
The ferry conductor was a small Thai Hindu, covered from head to toe in tattoos and he looked like he could gnaw the leg of a tiger if it got on the wrong side of him. Interestingly he wore a belt of muti-sized, multi-coloured and rather well hand-carved penae (which I'm reliably informed is the plural of penis). Lauren wouldn't believe me when I told her this and kept leaning over the railing to get a look at his belt, many of the other passengers had noticed it and were trying to alert the other passengers who hadn't had the 'pleasure' of seeing the now infamous belt. I looked in the back of my lonely planet to see if there was a phrase there for "Hey dude, what's with the belt load of 'penae'", my search was in vain, the best I could come up with was "certianly" when he asked to see my ticket, he was a scary looking dude and I was worried if he came any closer one of his 'shipmates' would brush against me. I'm not to comfortable with that kind of thing.
We were picked up from the ferry in a jeep constructed from jungle-wood and taken to the 'resort' of our choice, "Lazy days". The driver had offered us a free lift because his resort was nearby, which we thought was really nice of him. Unfortunately, or, as it would turn out, fortunately, the resort was full
The place turned out to be perfect, the most wonderful, relaxed, unpretentious and friendly lodgings we've had on the whole trip. The owners, Wit and Om and their trusty helper, Oc, were not always around to serve but if it was a chat you wanted, they always seemed to appear. Friendliness was free and so was trust, everything was left open 24hrs, you just wrote in your book if you took the motorbike, used the internet or drank a beer. The lack of beach soon turned out to be no problem as, attached to the resort, there was a deck stretching out onto a rocky reef, complete with hammocks and a seat taken from a car! Out from this stretched a long, varied coral reef that could be easily reached for a bit of snorkeling or fishing.
We liked the place so much, we decided to complete our PADI dive certificates there and stayed for a whole two weeks wandering around this white-sand fringed, underpopulated paradise.
The following story may sound pretentious but I've taken it from a journal I took that day and I guess the best way to tell it is how it felt. It's way over the top which, for anyone who knows me, should not be considered unusual! I guess the event just had such an impact on me that I have to write about it, if it sounds stupid, stop reading and forgive me.
Snorkelling on this island is, for me, like waking up to a new world. The colours of the reef and the vibrancy of life here are as alien to me as a colour television would be to a remote tribesman. I could not help but be fascinated and exited by the prospect of my morning trips to the reef, although I was feeling that each day I had to see something more impressive, to get a sharper high from what I was looking at.
It was difficult to reconcile myself with the idea that what I was looking at was all part of 'my world'. Years of watching BBC wildlife documentaries and Animal Planet specials had reinforced the idea that this was an 'alien world' and not a real place that could exist on my plane
As usual, I tied on my fins with shoe-lace and kicked out across the shallows to head for the reef. I timed it so that I would be heading out at early morning feeding time, something I had not yet seen. The tide was also a lot higher than usual so, out of my depth, I jostled my way through the warm currents to reach the reef. The sights took my breath away, bulbous coral heads, parrot fish, angelfish and ramorae flooded around me in their hundreds. The crunching of the coral was clearly audible underwater and the parrot fish left behind themselves trails of pink dust, leaving lines through the water just like the jet streams of the passenger planes thousands of feet above our heads. Lolling, diving and tumbling through this water I couldn't help but enjoy myself, but never once did I feel part of what was going on around me I was only a spectator. Not believing that this was real, not part of 'my world'.
Like a tourist arriving in the Bronx of New York, stopping to take photographs of the slums without thought of his OWN dangerous position, I had forgotten that what I was looking at was not an interactive TV screen
I don't know if all the fish disappeared before or after I saw the shark, but I definitely felt his presence before I saw him. Only 4 foot in length and entirely harmless, his presence was nonetheless entirely one of dominance and the creature's single mindedness of movement and thought cut through my imaginary spectators bubble and left me feeling scared, stupid and very, very alone. There were no more colorful fish to dive and swim with, only a faint disappearing view of the Shark's tail gracefully swinging through the murk and a memory of his insensitive eyes set in smooth, grey skin. I was no longer spectating or playing around, I was on a reef, at feeding time and I was sure I was no longer on the top of the food-chain.
In retrospect, half drowning myself by going top-speed for the shore was not the best course of action. I could have stayed around for more sharks and observed their grace and beauty whilst keeping myself at a safe distance. I could have slowly turned around and snorkeled in a more shallow part of the reef, or just continued as I was. All these options would have involved a prior acceptance of the fact that what I was looking at was very real and very much part of the world I inhabit
There you go, unless it's on the TV, or you had to buy tickets, you are not a spectator. Direct observation is inherently involving. So you better watch out because you never know when someone, or something, will volunteer you to participate in the action around you!
I also have an equivalent to Kris' experience with the shark for writing stimulus. I found diving for the first time a really amazing experience and could not help writing about it to everyone back home...
Well everyone, there is a shuddering, slightly over-awed Lauren writing this email just now.
We have just come back from our second day on our PADI course on Koh Mak, but today was out first in the water
We got taken to the shore line of a beautiful island not far from where we are at the moment and taught our skills. Lots of them including, Taking the regulator out while underwater, clearing your mask, and (a little scary) and emergency surface in the case of an "out of air situation"! They make it sound as if it's nothing to worry about and you somehow you feel like you could deal with it if it happened which of course it hardly ever does. They must have been very good instructors.
Anyway all skills learned and demonstrated we then proceeded to swim to another even smaller island to have a closer look at the reef...And down we go...
What can I say? It was amazing. Strange at first but very quickly the sights down there took away all awareness of the fact that I was doing the impossible and breathing underwater. It was fascinating. I felt a bit cumbersome but even after a few minutes I got a little more used to the techniques of underwater locomotion. On this dive we were only about 7M down and stayed there for just under 20 mins if I remember correctly. Kris and I are the only ones doing the course so it was us two and two instructors who never took their attention from us but still made us feel as if we were doing it ourselves.
After lunch on the beautiful beach we set out in the speedboat again and stopped un the middle of the water - no nice shore to swim to this time if I got jumpy. Funnily enough though I didn't even think about that at the time it's only now I think about the depth and middle of nowhere-ness that we were in. I think having the boat there though was land enough for my mind.
The place we were diving was called the Pinicles and we went down 18m - the limit for a beginner open water diver. If I had been blown away by the first dive this one blew me out the water (so to speak). We were surrounded by huge groups of barracuda swimming round and round us. Kris and I looked at each other at one point both surrounded by gleaming silver fish that had a yellow shimmer that were darting inches from our faces. Kris saw a Morray eel lying on a rock looking suitably grumpy. There were angel fish, clown fish, anemones that were bright blue and pink and that I got to touch. They felt like the smoothest velvet. The corrals were even brighter and more impressive than the ones we have seen on the reef here. Coral about 2M high looking like huge domes carved out of the seabed. I saw so many fish that I don't know the name for but they all looked as if they belonged in an aquarium. Electric blues, bright yellow spots and stripes, colours that appeared and disappeared as the animal swam past. It was truly beautiful.
It was also amazing to be with other people down there. Although a lot of people say diving is a very solitary and personal thing (which I can completely understand) it was so reassuring and comforting to have 3 other people down there with whom I could communicate to and rely on. It was startling the amount of information you can get from someone even when your senses are so distorted
We have now got back and just had another beautiful sunset in paradise - this truly is the life.
Kris and I were both talking on the way back and agreed that we both have a very definite sense of pride , not just of diving but of being out here in the first place. I also have a constant feeling of luck!
Well, it's feeding time here - but this time for the mosquitos - so I am going to find some repellant and some sleeves.
I hope everyone is well back home and be assured that Kris and I have just had one of the most spectacular parts of our trip so far. We are exceedingly happy.
Lots of love to everyone,
Kris sends his love too but he has had to retreat to the deck with beer and the sunset!