A High-Seas Adventure

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I thought today might be the day that Phuket let us down but it ended up being my favorite day in Thailand. It's amazing what a resort like this will do to one’s pace, for good and for ill. This whole trip, we’ve kept a pretty solid schedule, generally getting up by 7 or 8 and seeing sights (or driving to them) until 9 or 10 at night. I won’t insult any of you by pretending that this is in any way hard work, but it’s also not without exertion. In China, we added unfamiliar food, customs, language, transit (basically everything). The pace does take its toll and I never had any trouble falling asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow each night (and for those of you who know what an insomniac I can be, this is saying something).

In Phuket, we have ground to a halt, and this is largely a good thing. I can feel myself recharging, but after 2 days of not moving more than a half mile in any direction, I suggested to Maribeth that we take a day trip to one of the many islands dotting the coast of Phuket. Our booking guide didn’t initially inspire us with confidence, as he nixed a trip to Phi Phi island (a locally famous landmark renowned for its amazing beach flanked on two sides by giant cliffs and famous for being the location where the movie The Beach was filmed) because of the monsoon weather. He suggested a closer locale, but smiled and told us that although the brochure says to bring sunscreen, we’d be better off with an umbrella. Only then did he tell us that the trip was non-refundable. Great.

So it was with a bit of hesitance that we left the (sunny, cloudless) Banyan Tree that morning, with a motley crew of hotel guests (including an Indian family with two kids I found adorable and MB was less enthralled with, an American family with two teenage sons attached to their iPods, and two young ladies from Japan, one of whom we’d given then nickname "Princess Leia" after the tiny gold bikini she wore the day prior—and today. As a side note, these two ladies spent the entire time hiding from the sun. They covered themselves in beach towels to get on the boat, then sat under shade the whole time we were on the island and received beachfront massages…It’s worth noting they could have done all of this without leaving their villa.). We headed down to Phuket’s new marina, and the Banyan Tree’s boat (can you tell I’m not a boat person? It was larger than a speedboat and smaller then a yacht, and could do 42 knots on the open sea, which is pretty fast. It comfortably fit all 17 of us.)

The trip to our island was thrilling yet hemorrhoid-inducing. The captain warned us the sea might be a little rough, and it did not disappoint. Don’t get me wrong, this was no Perfect Storm, and the sky was mostly bright and sunny the whole time, but our boat had a way of magnifying the sea swells, and we careened along from wave to wave. Sometimes we’d skip along a series of waves with a jarring, jerky whack, whack, whack. At others, we’d rise and fall with the swells enough to get a good top-of-a-rollercoaster free-floating stomach flip. We shared the front of the boat with our little Indian friends and their mother, and they laughed and laughed with every crash, rise, fall, and spray of salty water.

Finally, the moment of truth arrived as we approached our island. Would this be worth the trip? My answer is an overwhelming yes. Our island was little more than a rocky hill covered with thick tropical vegetation combined with a flat area of beautiful soft white sand. The whole island couldn’t have been much bigger than a football field. The shallowest water was the kind of bright blue that I had thought was solely the province of postcards. Further on, the waters alternated between hues of blue and green—a dark royal blue in the deep areas, and olive green where the waves kicked up sand. The sky was a gorgeous baby blue dotted with pillow-y white clouds. The water was refreshing, but not in any way cold. In the distance, we could see even smaller islands in our atoll, some rocky outcroppings, others a real-life beach island with lone pine tree that we’ve all been stranded on with only one book in “what if” games.

The only dark mark on the whole island was the human presence.  The beach was packed with gaudy striped chairs that bore evidence to what a tourist trap this must be in the high season. For our trip, it was about a quarter full (which I’m sure some purists would rule out as a tangle of humanity…For me, it was fine.) A few restaurants cooked food in beach shacks and sold it off platters to passers-by, so we heard and saw “corn, corn, corn” every 10 minutes or so.

We began exploring our little paradise. Maribeth immediately fell in love with the gentle clear waters and the rhythmic swelling of the sea. I’m not proud to admit this, but it took me a bit longer to adjust. I’ve never been much of a swimming in the ocean guy (I’m more of a “hide from the sun under an umbrella and happily watch the beach” type), as the ocean brings out, for some reason, a number of neuroses. At one point, Maribeth started laughing at me and a pained look on my face, as we were floating in the ocean and asked me what I could possibly be worried about. A shortened list included: tsunamis (totally illogical and improbable), killer rip tides (not 10 feet from the beach), sleeper waves (which I remember reading about but couldn’t tell you what they were), jellyfish, sharks and other creatures (thanks Discovery Channel), lighting strikes (stupid, since it was a clear day) and most embarrassingly the tiny completely harmless and actually quite beautiful schools of tropical fish surrounding us. Yes, I’ll admit it: for whatever totally illogical reason, I was freaked out by the fish that surrounded the island and provided perfect fodder for snorkeling. I suppose this was some kind of karmic payback for all of the boundary-pushing that I forced Maribeth into this trip, from kayaking to paragliding, to crossing the streets in Shanghai.  All I can say in my defense is that within an hour, I could tolerate the little buggers.

Later that afternoon, I convinced Maribeth to work with me to build a sandcastle. I don’t know if she enjoyed this activity as much as I did (“Only you could figure out a way to make this island into work!”) but she gamely helped me build an impressive double set of sea walls, a serviceable tower, and a mini lagoon, all without the assistance of modern math or electric equipment…or any equipment (Take that, ancient Egyptians!)  It was enough to get the wide-eyed attention of our Indian friends and a few pictures (but that could have been the fact that we were two adults fully engaged in child splay). The tower lasted exactly 15 minutes, until, as we left, a little German boy walked up to the tower, looked around carefully, and then proceeded to kick and punch the whole thing over. Oh well, even the Mona Lisa is fading.

Our most lasting souvenir from the trip—aside from happy memories and a good story to mock me with—was a punishing sunburn. For MB, it was mostly a shoulder thing. For me—a mostly albino chap and accustomed to our SPF 75 spray (the chemical equivalent of wearing a burqa to the beach)—I suffered. Our spray ran out mid-application, so I look like a barber pole – white streaks and red burns. Ouch. However, all in all, it was a wonderful day, worth the bumpy ride (but oh how I wish I hadn’t put our large metal hotel keys in my butt pocket) and the searing pain of toasted skin.

Tomorrow: Elephants
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