Tuesday, October 26, 2004

sea kayaking

today i spent way more money than i intended to, to go sea kayaking with john gray's company, which is well known for it's ecologically friendly tours.

they picked me up from my hotel around noon and we headed for northern phuket, where we crossed a rickety pier to a large fishing boat filled with large inflatable kayaks. the group was larger than usual because john had just lost his boat to another company who would pay more to rent it, but it was still comfortable. i made friends with an australian couple, and a korean couple that spoke no english seemed to pity me for being alone and took me under their wing, giving me sweets, covering me with blankets, and smiling solicitously at me all day. the staff was made up of about 8 thai boys, and john gray the owner is a big scruffy american man with a beard and ponytail. they were all very friendly. we were served a huge healthy lunch of fruit, noodles, fried vegetables, and sodas as we headed out towards the islands. unfortunately it was stormy, so the water was not so blue and it was pretty chilly, not to mention that being in lifejacketless boats in storms absolutely terrifies me, but the thai boys were all happy to comfort me.

we were to explore "hong"s, which is the thai word for "room". the hongs are the spaces created between large outcroppings of limestone, sort of private lagoons, and to get there you have to go through caves. and to go through the caves you have to time the tides very carefully. we were all assigned a guide, and me being solo got personal treatment with my very own guide, pong. he was the one to paddle the kayak through the caves and hongs, and he did an excellent job of explaining to me in english the natural history of the places we were boating through.

the most exciting thing i saw on this trip was 4 separate water monitor lizards! they are sleek, creepy looking lizards the size of a five year old child. they live in the cracks and crevices of the caves and rocks we glided through. of course whenever i saw one i did not have my camera, but they were quite shy anyway.

we boated peacefully through at least 4 separate caves/lagoons/hongs, including a large smelly bat cave. pong told me a bit about his family and muslim life- he was so laid back and polite that we got along instantly, and i had a really good day with him despite the rain and the cold.

later over dinner (two types of fresh fish, lots of fresh veggies, brown rice, etc.) all of the thai boys started flirting, as is expected. thai people instantly assume that a girl travelling on her own is looking for a boy. it can be rather annoying. they were pretty friendly though, once i dug through all the bullshit. they all helped me make a 'kratong', or a small boat made of banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles. it's thai tradition to put one of these in the water, say a little apology for your sins, and let it float them away, bringing you fresh good luck. it's extraordinarily beautiful. we went to a particularly large cave for this. the waves by this time were huge and scary, and john gray jumped into my kayak unceremoniously, making me terrified he would flip us over. but all was well, and we lit our candles and incense and let them free. in the dark there is bio-luminescent plankton... so when you run your hands through the waves it looks like fireflies or stars.... the combination was really beautiful.

i spoke with john about his business and he seemed rather discouraged with it, though he has been in thailand for fifteen years. thai people are ruthless competitors, and they are always refusing to promote his tour in their agencies or telling people he is stealing from thais. he started this industry here so it's quite sad- especially since his competition has little regard for the environment. he said it's all about the backhanders... another person who makes me feel like my goal of starting a business here might be a tad unrealistic.

anyway scraggly and soaking wet, but nevertheless serene, i finally left my group of thai boys with my phone number and a fond goodbye, and went home to collapse in a hot tub. i thoroughly recommend the john gray tour to anyone who comes to south thailand.


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