With droopy eyelids at half-mast I arrive in Patong, Thailand. Checking into a hotel at 1:30 p.m., I 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 requires some cunning running; 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 and find my way to the finish 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, a ‘circle’ is formed, with the ‘Grand Master’ berating runners for ‘alleged’ sins committed on 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’, and the reason we are all here is because we are not all there!
With the circle completed and the day slipping away we hit the road armed with a few brewskis, since it’s unethical for HHH’ers to demonstrate an ability to walk upright. Clad in stubbles and brutally beat, I arrive back at the hotel and collapse into bed inert; sleeping like a corpse for the next 12 hours.
The town of Patong is a testosterone-frenzy of letchy old beer-sluts eyeballing 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 splay their Thai thighs for those willing to splay their wallet.
For a change of scenery I ride the swells, enjoying a gentle wind providing the air-con. Wing-finned flying fish leap from the sea any accompany the boat through a shimmering teal sea as we approach my next destination of Thailand’s island superstar; Ko Phi Phi.
Charlie’s Bungalow is nothing fancy, but a glorious place to go ‘troppo’ and enjoy the sand between my toes. Sunshiny days in the high thirty degrees are suiting this sun vulture perfectly, and ensconced on the island I am completely at ease, basking in a lazy breeze under fluffing coconut trees, beside bathwater-warm seas.
Exotic meals served are beach-side, and the munching is grand with my feet scrunching sand. Sitting barefoot under the palm trees, and intoxicated by the flawless sea-saturated view of the transparent turquoise bay and the towering limestone cliffs climbing out of it, I’m as happy as a clam at high tide!
Ten days later I tear myself away from my self-imposed treadmill on Phi Phi, and boat to Ko Lanta, where the 48 degree heat of an over-zealous sun has me focused on nothing but sheltered shade. The food is lousy, and there’s a better chance of seeing the Abominable Snowman than getting decent service. Not needing the aggravation, I pull the plug on the habanero heat of Melanomasville and ferry back to the mainland.
Moseying about in the river town of Krabi, I fortuitously stumble into a shop selling rum. Needless to say, the larking about that follows 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!
With my hangover joining me on my run today, I stop to watch sunrise beside a river bank strewn with a tangle of mangroves; ‘the tree that walks’. Unexpectedly, a small fish jumps out of the river and morphs into ‘the fish that walks’! As it boogies along the muddy shore, I’m soberly thinking I’d best leave the rum alone.
Krabi will also be remembered for my D.B.T.W.(Double Big Toe Wipeout). Staying at 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 not so deftly 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 the big toe of my other foot.
One big toe nail is 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 Thai girl working the desk hears the crash, and seeing me leaking onto her floor, she scampers off down the street and moments later returns with bandages ‘in tow’; a most genial gesture for this clumsy ‘Farang’.
From Krabi I travel to Surat Thani province where a mini-bus drops me off at the last stop on the highway. Collecting sunshine on my upright thumb, I manage to mooch a ride in the back of a pickup truck for the remaining 40 km to the tropical Khao Sok Rainforest, where I swap the sea-life for tree-life.
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. However, the Tarzanish abode in the tree tops has an amiable ambiance, looking down over a burbling stream and lush vegetation dazzling in every conceivable shade of green. With primal songs of gibbon monkeys echoing out of the forest’s 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 surrounding rainforest. 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 and thuds onto a tree right beside my head. This is actually quite interesting, but personally I find reptiles plenty scary enough even when they’re not flying!
Insanely beautiful butterflies looking like fragile flying flowers pause for a sip of nectar, and melodic bird tweets and trills emanating from the trees compete with the ear-splitting din of an exotic insect orchestra. The plethora of jungle flora and fauna creates the feeling I’ve just stepped into a nature documentary.
Penetrating further into the jungle I come to a waterfall lazily spilling over moss laden rocks, and 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 make a beeline back to camp to escape the bee’s bee-yond bee-fuddling bee-havior!
I’ve found some of the little blood sucking leeches drop off after drinking their fill, but others have to be scraped off! There’s a theory the snugly ugly would make a great pet and traveling companion, as it requires little space, bonds closely with its owner, and needs 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.
Today a haunting encounter occurs while hiking alone along another an unpeopled jungle path. Busy trying to pull a blood engorged leech off my leg, and not paying attention to the scrawny path before me, I suddenly notice about a meter in front of my foot, a menacing six foot black cobra hugging the ground; soulless, dark, and menacing! Mercifully, the toxic terror seems in a non-combative mood and slithers into the greenery, but 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’m putting distance between us. Describing the incident back at camp, I’m informed I’ve been very fortunate as the description matches that of a ‘spitting cobra’; a most aggressive and dangerous snake. It seems this legless terror has the ability to spit venom with lethal accuracy into the eye of its prey from up to eight feet away to blind its target and then delivers a fatal strike. A chill ripples across my skin thinking about the close call with a venom-chucker that could have seriously ruined my day! The jungle undoubtedly provides great adventure; but for now, I’m good!
Taking a boat to Ko Samui, my enthusiasm quickly evaporates when I realize the island is yet another shining example of a once idyllic spot turned into a cesspool from the ravages of tourism. It’s little more than a mess of cheap bars and cheaper women, beaches strewn with needles and beer caps, and a surplus of European flesh-wobbles wearing ill-fitting speedos and looking like beached albino seals.
The island’s heavy sex trade is very 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 time on my way to put a hurting on some breakfast! Obviously, to these eager beavers, sex is no more serious than a sneeze.
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 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 sizzling seafood spread, 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; for fuckssake, don’t fish just swim anymore? Ahh yes, Rum – because no great conversation ever started with a salad!
Meeting the gang at the ferry under a sun that knows me well, they are shocked by the darkness of my sun-stained skin. Leading them to the bungalows, a liberal alcoholized reunion follows while swapping the last month’s news. Finally, with sobriety flagging, we call it a day before we end up wearing the toilet as a hat!
Today, transport for a snorkeling trip is a long-tailed boat, powered by a muffler-less car engine sounding a lot like a hiccupping chainsaw! Through our rum-clouded retinas, we’re amused by a pod of playful porpoises frolicking alongside the boat as we motor between the craggy cliffs. Eventually we acquire some quiet relief from our temple-thudding journey, by dropping anchor in a beautiful briny bay, and plunging in to snorkel amidst a stupefying kaleidoscope of tropical scales and tails.
After a few days in Ao Nang and Railay Bay we circle back to Phuket. 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 with near perfect bodies clad in lingerie, and flaunting teeth that could star in a toothpaste commercial. Seconds later when our wives arrive, the girls’ 1000 watt smiles are not only dimmed, but completely extinguished. The old ‘mama-san’ in charge seems to have a pickle up her ass about her lost business opportunity, and begins screeching some hostile Thai turbobabble, with the aerobics of her flailing arms giving the appearance she’s performing a drunken backstroke!
A short international flight deposits us on our old stomping grounds of Bali, Indonesia, and 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 are here 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 remains dark and silent. The Balinese take their Gods and demons so seriously even the airport is shut down! At breakfast, Christine tries to order fruit juice at our bungalow, but 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; with some having candles burning in the eye sockets to symbolize temptation and the evil spirits in people’s lives. At midnight, the elaborate demons are strapped on to bamboo platforms, gyrated about the streets by villagers, and paraded down to the beach to be set afire and tossed into the sea. The ritual is meant to cast away evil spirits from the island.
Over the last couple of months we’ve collected many interesting experiences, but none more vivid than the sphincter-tightening spectacle of a thief savagely murdered right before our eyes! Only during the last few trips to Bali have we become aware of a ritual called ‘maling’; meaning thief. Apparently most of the island’s crime 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, as without the geyser of tourist 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 grisly graphics of this gruesome death in Kuta which has left us both shaken to the marrow, but witnessing someone being beaten to death 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; a convoluted task made even more difficult as I’ve been plagued the entire time with a bug diagnosed as Moraxcella. Pneumonia in Bali – Say what? Clearly, I have not been swilling enough rum to obliterate the microscopic entities that have declared 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, and get back home where yesterday awaits.
Mark Colegrave 2000