Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Koh Tao

If I could be reasonably assured that the Christian afterlife was half as beautiful as the southern Thai island of Koh Tao, Jesus the Lord and Savior could welcome me back to the fold immediately.

I lucked out on the bus ride down and got a place on an all-together comfortable double-decker traveling coach. My luck was somewhat more questionable in that I sat next to a self-described “Crazy French… pardon Corsican” guy. He spoke broken English a mile a minute and almost completely nonstop. Also in our little seating section was a very nice Czech couple, Helene and Peter. Helene was a beautiful and shockingly nice international cosmetics sales girl. Peter was vintage Prague Rock. Not in the esoteric guitar sense, but in the long hair, “I own a motorcycle and tend bar during the graveyard shift in the basement of the Akropolis” sense. As we boarded the bus, we were instructed that when our stop is announced, we are to exit the bus immediately because it was continuing and didn’t have time for us.

Yes sir.

The trip was long due to the evening traffic in Bangkok and the broken fan belt somewhere outside Chumpton. When we did finally arrive at the port, most of the bus was asleep, as it was 3 in the morning. A small Asian man entered the bus and screamed “Koh Tao!” at the top of his lungs, prompting a Chinese fire drill to get off the bus. The situation was a little sketchy there for a few hours. We sat at a roadside restaurant and smoked cigarettes for three hours until a wooden pickup truck came to load us up and take us to the docks. Much more like I remember third world transportation. I spent most of the trip trying to reconcile the fact that I found the Swedish girl sitting next to me attractive, despite her very pronounced mullet. (Oh yuk—mullet that is, Sweedish girls OK) And then the two hour ferry ride brought us to Turtle Island -- Koh Tao.

(There aren’t actually any turtles on Turtle Island, too many drunk gap-years so they went to search out quieter waters.)

The island is unreal, with clear turquoise water, dark green hillsides and palm trees everywhere. I came here to primarily to scuba dive and was supposed to leave yesterday, but am still here and still do not possess a bus ticket out. I spent hours just floating in the turquoise water, and, dare I say, frolicking with the schools of friendly fish, including a light blue one that I seriously suspect of having less than wholesome intentions with my red painted toenails. The diving has been good; I finished my Advanced certification class and then took a Nitrox class. Nixtrox is oxygen enriched air that lets you stay down longer and is supposedly more dangerous to use. I didn’t really see that to be true unless you are planning try to smoke a cigarette at 30 meters down. The most dangerous thing that happened all week was the driver of a dive shop pickup, that I was loaded into the back of, almost going into a ditch (canyon actually) because he didn’t want to run over the enormous green snake sunning itself in the middle of the road. So I went diving, saw 8 billion types of fish (yes I actually counted) including stingrays, grouper, triggerfish (truly nasty SOBs), moray eels, barracudas by the boatload, and one lone shark. Alas the whale sharks had already passed through 2 weeks ago.

Some highlights of my diving adventures:

Night diving. So you jump off a boat in the pitch black with a flashlight and scuba gear. The last warning the instructor gives you is that not to let the 3 foot long barracudas worry you, they rarely bite, and to let him know if you see any sharks. It went well, though, and no one was bitten by the barracudas, but they were rather big and did swim a bit on the close side.

Deep diving. Deep diving takes you down to 30 meters, roughly the height of a seven story building. It’s dark down there and no colors because it is too deep for the light waves to reach it. And again, the instructor asks you to let him know if you see any sharks. We did see one, but he wasn’t too interested in us. Apparently the fact that we were all clad in colors befitting mid 80s Miami hookers convinced him that we were probably not seals.

I could go on, but you are bored already. I have been writing travelogues for years now, I know these things.

So, that brings us to today, which is the Thai New Year, Songkran. Traditionally, the New Year is celebrated by splashing water on your friends and family to cleanse them for the upcoming year. I pictured some sort of glorified baptismal spritzing, until I saw tourists and long term residents alike stocking up on Super Soakers days ahead of time. And I mean stocking up. So then I figured that it probably had been turned into some touristy waterfight with guys hosing down giggling girls in white tee shirts with the natives looking on in disgust. Wrong. The Thais are out of control. The place looked like Wild Water Kingdom the day after the Aquatic Armageddon. They are driving around on any sort of mechanized vehicle they can find with barriques (50 gallon drums) of water and what can only be described as firehoses. Nailing passers by. Especially if they are on other mechanized vehicles, like motorbikes, where the aim to knock them off. Those on the pickup truck or whatever not involved in the direct operation of the water canon are throwing buckets of water, or drinking beer, or both. Every child old enough to walk has a watergun. I have currently sought shelter in this internet cafe, but rest assured , I am soaking wet. What worries me slightly is that the festival isn’t even supposed to kick off until sunset and it is 4 in the afternoon.

Well, that is all. I am head to Cambodia next, but god only knows how long it will take me to get there because of the holidays.

No comments: