Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 8: Part Two, The Bat Cave

On the way to the Sea Gypsy village I took a detour into "Old Town".
Before there was a road onto Koh Lanta, this was an international
seaport. Since the water is very shallow, there's an incredibly long
dock that runs into the ocean to meet the huge boats. Since
everything now comes by ferry on the other side of the island, it has
since fallen into disuse.

The whole place is more of a historical site now. I drove my
motorcycle out onto the dock to get a better view of my
surroundings...and what a view! Dozens, if not hundreds of islands,
most of them taller than they are wide fade into the horizon. The
water, a crystal blue-green. And plenty of boats, historic long-tails
alongside motorized yachts, all catching fish.

I rode into town to check it out. Most of it was closed, so I
continued on my journey.

I raced south, over increasingly curved and unpaved roads. Passing
smiling and waving locals as they lounged in elevated, outdoor living
rooms in the mid-day heat.

Other motorbikes whizzed by, carrying women with scarves covering
their eyes to shield against the wind, babies balanced on their laps.
The landscape to my left changed from jungle to sea cliffs, and I
stopped at a cliffside restaurant to admire the view.

A man, running the place, waved me inside. I removed my shoes,
entered, and looked around. The place was deserted. I asked if I was
the only person there. Suddenly, a woman, apparently napping behind
the counter, sprang up like a jack-in-the-box, and announced that she
was there too. I ordered a mango smoothie and fish, and took a seat
on the deck. The man brought out shrimp chips, a map, and binoculars,
and began to point out the different islands. Most of them
uninhabited. Through the binocs, I could spot pristine, white sandy
beaches.

Soon two girls in their twenties showed up on a scooter. One was
Claire, from England, and the other was Laura, from Iowa. They had
been traveling together for about 2 months through Southern Asia.

We swapped a few stories as i ate a whole fish with my hands. I gave
them my map, then we continued on our ways. Down the road I reached
the Sea Gypsy village. The roads became paths. Children ran around my
bike, and houses with woven walls and thatched roofs clustered around
me. I decided not to disturb this peaceful village with my screaming
bike's engine, so I headed back.

On the way I saw Claire and Laura, buying fruit by the side of the
road. I beeped my horn and waved. They began to follow me. I turned
onto an unfamiliar road that led inland, and began to climb. The
jungle loomed around me, a cool breeze, scented like potting soil blew
my way. At a bend in the road, a huge sign proclaimed, Cave, this
way, 3 km. As I sat looking at it, the girls caught up to me. I
asked if they wanted to see the cave. They looked at their flip-
flops, and decided that their footwear wasn't really up to the
challenge.

We rode together part of the way, then they raced away as I turned
onto a dirt path. A path that got smaller and bumpier the farther I
went along it. Everytime I began to think I was lost, a hand lettered
cardboard sign, bearing the words "Cave", and an arrow pointing the
way would appear.

At last I arrived. There was no sign, the path simply ended at a
small, empty restaurant. 2 men napping in a tuktuk and a woman
wrapped in scarves, smoking a cigarette, the only inhabitants. As I
unmounted my bike, 2 Germans, Marcus and his girlfriend Sandra, pulled
up on another motorbike.

We bought our tickets (200 baht apiece), which included our guide. Who
told us his name was Tim. We trekked to the entrance of the cave
though the humid jungle, grasping vines and rocks as we searched for
footholds in the nearly vertical climb. Sweat coated us 3 tourists as
Tim scampered ahead, dry as a bone and completely unfazed.

We reached the entrance at last. We donned headlamps and descended a
rickety, homemade ladder into the depths. This wasn't a sanitized,
maintained cave by any standards. This cave was wild. Occasionally a
wet, muddy rope, or a stick-ladder would help us on our way.

It was apparent that anyone venturing into this cave without a guide
would be instantly fucked. Bottomless dropoffs on either side of us
threatened to eat us alive as we traversed wet and slippery ledges.
My headlamp revealed icicle-shaped formations and frozen waterfalls
made from rock. The walls were slick and muddy, and sometimes sharp.
Rocks would jut out at places perfect for bumping your head on. Down
and down we went.

Like the roads in Thailand, the farther we went, the smaller the path
became. And I use the word "path" loosely here.
Soon we were crawling on our bellies through the muck and slime. The
crawlspace opened up into a huge vaulted room. Tim pointed his
headlamp upward to reveal hundreds of bats, hanging from the ceiling!
Guess what that muck was we were crawling through?

The cave exit wasn't far now. I emerged out of the cool, humid cave
into the hot, humid jungle. We sat and drank the last of our water as
Tim told us the tale of how the guy who discovered the cave, 30 years
ago, was lost inside for a month. No rope, no food, and no equipment,
he survived with his Army Training, and by burning his shoes for
light. That same guy still occasionally works there. I might add, by
the way, Tim was still as clean as a whistle!

I bid them goodbye, and headed off once again. It turns out that the
cave was rather close to my hotel, and I was back in around 25 minutes.

I peeled off my sweaty clothes, caked with red Thai soil and feces of
exotic animals, took a shower, ate some spicy Tom Yum Goong that set
my face on fire, and collapsed into dreamland after a very, very full
day.

1 comment:

Kris said...

sounds like a lot of fun......