With droopy eyelids at half mast, I arrive in Patong, Thailand, and checking into a hotel at 1:30 pm, learn that a weekly Harrier Hash run is taking place at 3 p.m. While common sense suggests some shut-eye after the fatiguing flights from Canada, I opt for the run. I tried to be normal once; worst two minutes of my life!
A Hash run is an interesting phenomenon, where the day before, a ‘Hare’ lays out a series of trails with bits of paper at intervals along a route with false dead end trails, loop backs, and other treachery intended to confuse the runners. When a correct trail is picked up, the hasher yells ‘On On’, followed by the trumpeting of a bugle or horn signaling the peloton of plodders to follow! I join up with a group of other runners at the Expat Hotel and we lower our rumps into the back of a scruffy truck for an hour’s drive into the mountains.
It’s a muggy 35 degrees and the run’s topography takes us through forests of rubber trees, mountain streams, and shoe-stealing mud slipperier than a peeled mango. Of the sixty odd runners I’m one of the luckier ones, finding my way back to the truck in about an hour and a half; mud-slathered, slightly bloodied, and sleep-deprived to the point a temporary coma would be welcomed!
When all runners are back and accounted for, a ‘circle’ is formed with the ‘Grand Master’ berating runners for ‘alleged’ sins committed during the run. The worst sinners must sit bare-ass on a massive block of ice, but fortunately all punishments involve chugalugging a frosty beer; after all, the Hash House Harriers are a self-described ‘Bunch of Drinkers with a Running Problem’!
With the circle completed and the day now slipping away we hit the road with a handful of brewskis, as it’s unethical for HHH’ers to demonstrate an ability to walk upright. Badly stubbled and totally zonked, I make it back to the hotel and collapse into bed; sleeping like a corpse for 12 hours.
The town of Patong is a testosterone-frenzy of letchy old beer-sluts eyeballing the tasty two-legged Thai tidbits, who’re parading pleasing presentations of female epidermis in deliciously hugging jeans low enough to require a pubic wax. There are 152 cheap bars within a kilometer, and seemingly a similar number of racily-clad hookers willing to open their Thai thighs for anyone willing to open their wallet.
For a change of scenery I ride the swells; enjoying a gentle wind providing the air-con, and wing-finned flying fish that leap from the sea and glide through the air beside the ferry. I’m on the way to Thailand’s island superstar of Ko Phi Phi, with its towering limestone cliffs climbing out of the shimmering teal sea.
Charlie’s Bungalow is nothing fancy, but it’s a glorious place to go ‘troppo’ and enjoy the sand between my toes. Sunshiny days in the high 30’s suit this sun vulture perfectly, and my enjoyment of the island is further enhanced being surrounded by coconut trees, a lazy breeze, and bathwater-warm seas.
I find myself sea-duced by exotic meals served beach-side, where the munching is grand with my feet scrunching sand. Sitting barefoot under the trees on the beach and intoxicated by a flawless vista of the transparent turquoise bay, I’m as happy as a clam at high tide!
Tearing myself away from the pleasures of Phi Phi, I visit the mainly Muslim island of Ko Lanta, where the 48 degree heat of an over-zealous sun has me focused on nothing other than sheltered shade. The food is lousy, and there’s likely a better chance of seeing a polar bear than getting decent service. I need this aggravation like a fish needs a bicycle, and pull the plug on ‘Melanomasville’ to boat back to the mainland.
Moseying about the river town of Krabi, I fortuitously stumble into a shop selling rum. Needless to say the rest of the day larking about is a bit of a blur, but I do have jumbled, rum-soaked recollections of helping a Thai guy with his English lessons, a great pizza, and a bad haircut!
Early today, with my hangover coming along for the run, I stop to watch sunrise beside a river bank with a tangle of mangroves; ‘the tree that walks’. A small fish suddenly jumps from the water, morphing into ‘the fish that walks’! Yes, Damn it, it begins walking on the shore! I’m thinking I had best leave the rum alone.
Krabi will also be remembered for my D.B.T.W.(Double Big Toe Wipeout). While staying at the KR Mansion Hotel, I’m in the lobby trying to get at a cold bottle of water tucked away behind some beer in the fridge, and accidentally knock a one liter bottle of beer off the top shelf. It lands right on my big toe nail and the tiled floor, with the bottle shattering and imbedding a shard of glass in my other foot’s big toe.
One big toe nail blackened and the other bleeding; you see, this is the kind of shit that can happen when you choose water over beer! Some days you’re the dog, and some days you’re the tree. The lovely girl working the desk hears the crash and seeing me leaking onto her floor, scampers off down the street, returning with bandages ‘in tow’; a most genial gesture for this clumsy ‘Farang’.
Before leaving Krabi I take a graffiti-splashed tuk-tuk to the mountain temple of Wat Tham Sua, arduously climbing its uneven 1,232 steps, rewarded with 360 degree views of the countryside and Andaman Sea. Next, I’m off to the Surat Thani province, swapping the sea-life for tree-life. A mini-bus drops me off at the last stop on the highway, where I stick out my thumb and hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck for the remaining 40 km to the Khao Sok Rain Forest.
The heat and humidity conjure up memories of the Amazon, and my home for the next four days is a jungle tree house accessible only by a ladder. My minimalist ‘jungalow’ is basically a roof over a bed and a candle for light, but the Tarzanish abode has a pleasing ambiance; opening directly into the tree tops and looking down on a river and lush vegetation that dazzzles in every conceivable shade of green. With primal songs of gibbon monkeys echoing out of the morning mist, it seems I have my Cheeta; now all I need is Jane!
Taking a little leave from my mind, I opt to play out my survivor fantasies with a solo trek into the depths of the surrounding rain forest. Without the aid of a guide, this not surprisingly turns into quite an adventure! The wonderful, wacky, and widely diverse wildlife includes weird frogs, spiders, scorpions, a water snake, rodents, and a ‘flying lizard’ that glides through the air past my head before landing on a tree. All quite interesting, but personally, I find lizards scary enough even when they’re not flying!
Insanely beautiful butterflies, like fragile flying flowers, pause for a sip of nectar, and melodic bird trills emanating from the tree canopies compete with the ear-splitting din of an exotic insect orchestra. This plethora of jungle flora and fauna creates the feeling that I’ve just stepped into a nature documentary.
Penetrating further into the jungle I come to a waterfall lazily spilling over moss laden rocks, so I park my butt on a rock to enjoy the scenery. Suddenly, a swarm of bees seem bee-sotted with me; buzzing around like a rip-saw. They may be attracted to my salty sweat, or perhaps to blood dribbling down my leg caused by a leech acquired at one of many river crossings. In any case, with my arms flailing about like an octopus falling from a tree, I quickly launch myself down the trail to escape this bee-yond bee-fuddling bee-havior!
I’ve found that some of the little blood sucking leeches drop off after drinking their fill, but others have to be scraped off! There’s a theory that these nasty little uglies make great pets and traveling companions, as they require little space, bond closely with their owner, and need only one feeding every 6-12 months to stay healthy and happy. However, my ‘attachment’ to the parasites is purely physical, as the horrid blood-eating worms are light years from the top of my pet list! Five hours later I hike back into camp.
A memorable encounter occurs today while hiking alone along an unpeopled jungle path. Busy trying to pull a blood engorged leech off my leg, I’m not paying attention to the path before me and suddenly look up to see, about a meter in front of my foot, a menacing six foot black cobra! Mercifully, the toxic terror seems in a non-combative mood, and slithers back into the greenery. The petrifying encounter leaves me playing castanets with my knees, and hoping my underwear is still intact. They say that ‘fear’ is 80% mental and the other 20% is in your head; but in this case, fear equates to ‘Fuck Everything And Run’!
Faster than a Cuban on a speedboat headed for Miami, I return to camp, and describing my confrontation, am informed I’ve been very fortunate as the description matches that of a ‘spitting cobra’; one of the most aggressive and deadly of snakes. It seems this legless terror can spit venom with lethal accuracy into the eye of its prey from up to eight feet away, and after blinding the target it delivers a fatal strike. A chill ripples across my skin, thinking about how close I was to having the lethal venom-chucker seriously ruin my day!
The jungle assuredly offers great adventure; but for now, I’m good! Sadly, after boating to Ko Samui, it doesn’t take long to realize this island is another example of a once idyllic spot turned into a cesspool from the ravages of tourism. It’s a mess of cheap bars and cheaper women; beaches strewn with needles and beer caps; and a surplus of Europeans flesh-wobbles in ill-fitting speedos, looking like beached albino seals.
The island’s heavy sex trade is quite apparent. Wearing about as little as the law will allow, a plentitude of painted girls of pleasing proportions and perfectly positioned protuberances, prowl for potential prospects; hoping to climb the ladder of success wrong by wrong. While out on a run between 6 and 7 a.m., I’m propositioned three times, and then a fourth on my way to eat breakfast! To these eager beavers, it’s quite obvious that sex is no more serious than a sneeze. Time for another boat; to a place more remote.
Returning to Krabi town, I once again witness my ‘walking fish’! They have bulbous eyeballs perched atop their heads and ‘walk’ about on their pectoral fins. I know you’re thinking; he’s been into the local hooch again, but I swear it’s true! In the water these oddballs breathe through gills, and on land can absorb oxygen through their skin. For you nonbelievers, this weird evolutionary hybrid is apparently called a ‘mudskipper’.
I’m back on Phi Phi Island again, as Christine and some friends will end my time as a solitudinarian by joining me for the second month of my travels. Tonight, I’m flabbergasted to bump into Jack and Brannan; a couple I know from Victoria! We hook up for a whale of a seafood dinner, and over far too many rums, discuss the walking fish of Krabi, as my man Jack also claims to have seen these piscatorial pedestrians.
The fish tale Jack tells me, is that they saw one of these fish get out of a car it was driving, so they tried to take him for a drink. It seems the bartender knew the fish, but wouldn’t serve him because he speaks only ‘Finish’, and is lured into trouble after a couple of rums. Apparently the fish is a bit of a slimy dude, known to get into fishticuffs if his bill comes to over a fin! Seriously, one has to wonder, first its flying fish, then its walking fish; what the hell, don’t fish just swim anymore? Ahh yes, Rum; because no great conversation ever started with a salad! Another round please!
Meeting the gang at the ferry, they’re shocked by the darkness of my sun-stained skin as I lead them along the shore to the bungalows. Indulging in a generous alcoholized reunion, we make plans for a snorkeling trip tomorrow then decide to call it a day, before we end up wearing the toilet as a hat!
Today, with a hangover so bad my hair hurts; we’re aboard a long-tailed boat powered by a muffler-less car engine, sounding a lot like a hiccupping chainsaw! Dolphins cavort in front of the boat’s bow as we motor between the craggy cliffs. Eventually we get some relief from our temple-thudding journey when we drop anchor in a beautiful briny bay and plunge into the depths to snorkel amidst a stupefying selection of stunning tropical scales and tails.
After a few days in Ao Nang and Railay Bay, we return to Phuket, where out wandering after dinner, Richard and I accidentally stumble into a brothel. Yes, an accident; Scout’s honor! Ass-ending a set of stairs, we come to a flesh farm with a bevy of caramel-skinned joy-girls clad in lingerie; flaunting shiny white teeth and near perfect bodies. Seconds later, as our wives appear; their 1000 watt smiles are not only dimmed, but completely extinguished. Obviously sour at her loss of a business opportunity, the old ‘mamasan’ in charge starts muttering some hostile Thai mumbo-jumbo; punctuated by flailing arms that give the appearance she’s performing a drunken backstroke!
A short international flight deposits us on our old stomping grounds of Bali, Indonesia. Since my month here is mainly work related, I’ll keep my comments short, as you’ve previously heard me rapturously babble on about Bali ad nauseam. However, I will mention two thought-provoking occurrences.
We happen to be in Bali for the sacred holiday of Nyepi, or ‘Day of Silence’, that happens every 210 days; a Balinese year. People stay home and are not allowed to use lights, start fires, work, or even travel. Tourists are asked not to leave their hotel, and about 1000 police are deployed to ensure the rules are followed. The belief is evil spirits won’t be able to find the island if it’s dark and silent. The Balinese take their Gods and demons so damn seriously even the airport is shut down! At breakfast, when Christine tries to order fruit juice at our bungalow, she is told this is not possible as the noise of the blender might alert the evil spirits!
The night after Nyepi, a festive parade of ‘Ohgo-Ohgos’ occurs in the streets. These evil looking demon effigies up to 25 feet tall are made of wood, Styrofoam, and bamboo; some with candles burning in the eye sockets to symbolize temptation and the evil spirits in people’s lives. At midnight, the elaborate demons are strapped to large bamboo platforms, gyrated about in the streets by villagers, and paraded down to the beach to be set on fire and tossed into the sea; the ritual meant to cast away the evil spirits from the island.
Over the last couple of months we’ve collected many interesting experiences, but none more vivid than the unnerving spectacle of witnessing a thief murdered right before our eyes in Kuta. Only during the last few trips to Bali have we become aware of this ritual called ‘maling’; which means thief. Apparently, most of the crime here is caused by more-or-less moral-less thugs from the islands of Java, Lombok, and Sumatra. They come to Bali looking for work, but when none is to be found, often resort to stealing from tourists.
The Balinese believe their island must remain a safe haven for tourists, as without the foreign dollars, businesses will close and they won’t have money to buy petrol or rice. Since the police system is abysmally inept, locals take matters into their own hands. When a robbery is witnessed they scream ‘MALING’, with the thief then chased by everyone, and if caught, savagely beaten to death on the spot by the mob.
I’ll spare the gory graphics of this savagely gruesome death which has us both shaken to the marrow, but sadly, witnessing someone being killed just a few feet in front of you, and hearing the sounds of a human skull being crushed is a bell that can never be unrung! A further reminder that Bali is like a rose; it has many beautiful petals, but is certainly not without its thorns!
It has been an arduous month in Bali, with the majority of time dedicated to my importing business. This complicated task has been even more difficult by being plagued the entire time with a bug diagnosed as Moraxcella. Pneumonia in Bali? Clearly, I have not been swilling enough rum to obliterate the microscopic entities declaring a nasty jihad upon my system! And so, with our cargo now finished, so too are we; it’s time to traverse the time zones back home, where yesterday awaits.
Mark Colegrave 2000