10 January 2005

monkeying around

ao railay was the destination of our most recent escapade. the group defining "our" in the previous sentence consisted of neil and bridget visiting from south africa and ajarns bruce, jane, judy, giselle and i. bruce and judy both taught at suratthani school a few years back and have kept in contact with each other since then - bruce from suratthani and judy from krabi. i had not formally met judy prior to this weekend, though i knew her by reputation as a free spirit and very consciencious teacher. she has been volunteering for the tsunami response networks in krabi for two weeks. two weeks of working around the clock within sight/smell distance of exposed corpses in psychologically exhausting conditions would be enough to drive most to distraction, but when we met judy on saturday she seemed imbued with more spunk than most show on their best days. her demeanor was due doubtless to the cocktail of her indomitable spirit and bruce's sagacious presence. with the addition of judy to our suratthani entourage, we were ready to explore whatever awaited us on ao railay.

and good heavens, what a shock! giselle, jane and i were just on ao railay one month ago, and the place has been transformed by its lack of tourists. the beach itself has not seen much obvious damage, mostly stripped vegetation along the beach and limited bungalow damage. but we were struck by the ghost-town ambience. there were so few visitors that bungalows were forced to cut their prices by 50% in some cases during its high season. one month ago it was difficult to find a place at the bar. but saturday three waiters came up simultaneously and asked where we would like to sit. if you are in the area and wondering where to travel next, GO TO KRABI!! it's beautiful and bungalows hurt by the tsunami need your business.

not that we weren't grateful for the beautiful high-season weather, seclusion and sub-low-season room rates! we immediately headed for the beach after checking in to our previously unaffordable rooms. on the way, a number of us bought drinks and chips. this was to prove a futile purchase. a few yards down the path, one monkey appeared into view. everyone stopped to look and bless our good fortune at seeing a monkey so close. then another monkey came. and another and another until they had us surrounded. one monkey started towards dtom and her potato chips. when our hairy cousin got within biting distance, dtom yelped and dropped her bag of chips. the monkey grabbed the chips, and the whole gang bounded up to the treetops. amazing.

almost as amazing, in fact, as the two battered ships awaiting us at the beach. they were two beautiful antique-looking boats docked as annexed restaurants to the audaciously-priced resort nearby. both of the ships' masts and mainsails fell victim to the tsunami and were to be found sticking out of the water some way down. the deck dressings were smashed up ashore, and one of the hulls was topside. given the ready evidence of the tsunami, bruce asked if there had been any casualties or fatalities. amazingly, there was only one fatality, a tourist who was caught in a cave temple along the beach. apparently the guard and three of his coworkers saw the approaching tsunami and blew their whistles, giving everyone enough warning to reach higher ground.

after a quick swim, we headed back for a lovely dinner before heading to the other side of the isthmus for a nightcap. as we were wandering along the boardwalk checking out our bar options, a rather redfaced foreigner sauntered over to us and kindly informed judy and myself that the food around here is good, it's just that the tiramisu (this is what we believe to be his mangling of the word) scared everyone away. we hope he was just very, very drunk. either that, or that's one hell of a frightening dessert menu.

sunday was our pre-appointed day to check out the notorious lagoon which happens to be bruce's favorite place in thailand (and for someone who has lived here for 14 years, that's saying something). we had been warned that the climb was sporadically arduous, but no one managed to tell my legs (they still hurt 24 hours later, by the way). it was the closest thing to rock climbing i had ever experienced, and i might have turned back if it hadn't been for the others. there are three vertical portions of the trail, though there is a rope to help steady oneself.

but can i just say how very WORTH IT the hike was! we emerged into a lagoon shore entirely encircled by cliffs. the lagoon is tidal, so we hit it at the perfect time. the water is just deep enough to swim and float in, and looking up at an encapsulated sky is a requisite experience. i thank my aching legs for taking me into and out of such an enchanting place. i don't even mind losing a pant leg to the adventure (boy, was i a fashion statement as we walked back to the beach!).

my birthday is january 29th, which i hope will be a good enough excuse to get a group together to ao railay again. how can you beat a fantastic weekend at an unprecedented bargain that helps local economies damaged by the recent tsunami? i mean, really! all are welcome, get your bus or plane tickets today, because the 29th is coming up!

until i see all of you on the 29th at ao railay, may the world treat you right, my two devoted readers.

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