Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 9: Alone in the Jungle

On day 9 I decided to forgo the hotel breakfast, as I realized how
expensive they were. (650 baht, or nearly 20 dollars! Yikes!) I'm
kind of a frugal guy so paying 20 bucks for breakfast when I can get a
local meal for 60 cents hurts me in the worst wallet.

So I jump on the bike, and head down to the beach Gor some local
breakfast...sweet smokey sausage on a stick, with sliced cucumbers.

I continue riding alongside the beach towards the national park. Once
again, the road degenerates into a rutted and rock-strewn path. I
push on until I reach the southernmost tip of the island.
To my left, the beach, to my right, a sign reading "waterfall".

The beach was beautiful. I small stream emptied into the ocean
nearby. Waves crashed over a small outcropping of rocks nearby. And
behind me, a huge resort stood silent. It was closed for the low

I remained there for a few minutes, cooling my feet in the ocean.
Then I got on the bike, and headed toward the waterfall.

This was probably the scariest road I'd been on yet. It got so bad I
had to ride the brakes, both legs spread out to catch me of the bike
should slide out from under me.

At last I arrived at a little house. A sign proclaimed "parking 20
Pay parking in the middle of jungle was a liitle strange. But the lady
sitting nearby, drinking an orange soda was watching me like a hawk,
so I paid her, guzzled some water, and set off in the direction she

The jungle air was hot, and stuck to my skin like honey. Remembering
yesterday's jungle trek, I peeled off my shirt, and stuck it in my
belt before it got soaked thru with sweat. Camera in one pocket,
water bottle in the other, I strided up the hill.

I passed an empty village of rustic It seems that almost
everyone leaves this island in the low season. The path began to
parallel a small stream, then crisscross it, before disappearing
altogether. I wondered if I was even going the right way as I jumped
from rock to rock, trying to stay out of the water. The stream
looked clean, but my imagination swam with giant leeches, water
snakes, and horrible parasites that rot your feet off.

On the other side of the stream, a faint path emerged. I wondered if
it was made by some animal, or was in fact, the path I was supposed to
follow. The path disappeared into darkness after. Just a few meters.
Given that my other option was following the stream through
potentially vermin-infested waters, I chose the path.

Almost immediately, I realized my the jungle was so dark. The path
led straight to a huge cave! I wandered around the mouth of it for a
few minutes, before cautiously proceeding in.

Ahead of me was pitch black. I turned on my iPhone, picking my way
along in it's dim light. The tunnel made a turn, as I wondered if any
animals lived inside. I took a few more steps, stopped, listened, and
strained my eyes to see dimly illuminated stalactites. And beyond, in
the dark, who knows?

Checking my phone, I saw that I had less than. 20 percent battery
left. I figured that if I got injured, probably no-one would find my
carcass for months at the soonest. I reluctantly turned around and
headed out.
And by reluctantly, I mean as fast as possible. That cave was fucking

I continued down the stream. I couldn't tell if the crawling on my
skin was perspiration or insects. It was probably a bit of both. I
saw a sign nailed to a tree, written in Thai. I tried to figure out
if it was directions, or a warning. Since I can't read Thai, I
figured I just shouldn't think about it.

I hopped along, deeper and deeper into the jungle as all signs of
civilization faded father and farther behind. I was worried. I
hadn't seen a soul. Where was the path? Would this treat lead me
there, to an early death? In the distance, I could hear children. My
heart jumped! Hope was not lost!

Within minutes, no less than seven Thai children and their mother,
came singing and jumping along, right down the middle of the stream!
They waved and smiled as they passed. The last child, a boy of about
6, stopped, holding a up a plastic bag of water containing some
creature he had captured, grinning from ear to ear as he showed off
his prize. He pointed upstream, and said "Warerfall!" before running

I was overjoyed! One, the water probably wasn't full if leeches, and
Two, I was on the right track! I raced ahead, through the water. In
five minutes, I reached it...a rock wall with a trickle of water
coming off it. It was all dried up!

I sat on a rock in the middle of the "pond", drank my water, and
admired the tranquility of the jungle. I sat about 15 minutes,
looking around and resting. Then headed back.

I got back, and the lady was still sitting in the same place, holding
a smiling baby. I dazedly waved, a strange, half-naked pale guy
emerging from the forest.

I started my bike and slowly retraced my way back to the main road.
Rutted paths became dirt roads, and the pavement came back again. I
was starving as I passed closed restaurants and bars. I came upon a
cute open-walled place called "cook-kai restaurant", it was open!

The family running the place only spoke a smattering of English, but
they knew what I was there for. I ordered a coconut smoothie and pad
thai. The back of the menu told the story of 4 brothers who build the
restaurant, and all the furniture in it from scratch.

An Australian couple sitting behind me asked if I was alone, and if I
would join them for a beer. They introduced themselves as Sharelle
and Alad. They were on their honeymoon, and passing the hot day
enjoying a few drinks. As I ate the best Pad Thai I've ever had in my
life, we shared stories of travels in Australia, our mutual love of
afternoon breakfasts, and debated the merits of bread crust. The two
of them encouraged me to visit Perth one day, and I said I would.
(And I meant it)
There's a lot of australia I haven't seen yet, and that continent
still holds a special place in my heart. I bid them goodbye and left.

I picked up some rambutans, and durian from a fruit stand next. I've
never tried durian before. It looks like a giant pine cone, and
smells like feet. Inside are seeds the size of an avocado's,
surrounded by a slimy pulp. The ladies running the stand laughed at
me as I shoved a whole seed in my mouth and tried not to gag. As my
eyes teared up, I managed a clenched "It's good!" so they cut up
another one and gave it to me for free. I thanked them and left with
my fruit. Now I had 2 whole, giant, stinky, slimy durians to eat
before tomorrow.

In short order I was back at the hotel. I stashed the fruit in the
fridge, and went out for a sunset swim. As I floated by myself in the
ruddy orange light, a hazy moon hung in the palm trees like a paper
lantern. I simply floated, motionless, and thought about how I would
be leaving this island paradise in the morning. I glanced over at my
robe, laying on a deck chair, and saw that a towel had been
thoughtfully left for me.

Later, as I opened the door to my room, the overwhelming smell of
durian rushed out to meet me. I took them to the back deck and
scarfed them down. (they taste much better cold)
Thus ended my time on Koh Lanta.

Jason Phipps
Art Director
Big Boss Creative

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