Thailand

29 Jan 2000
Catch an early longtail and resettle into Railay Beach life.

30 Jan 2000
Thinking that I'm going to be here a while yesterday I went and took a bungalow at the cheapest place. Unfortunately, you often get what you pay for. On the verge of collapse with thatched walls and ceiling full of holes, I decided I needed something I bit more upscale, so today I moved back into my old home in the tree house.

In the evening I went over to the bouldering wall to resume my passive aggressive partner search. In addition to making to making progress on my chosen boulder problem, I also found a new partner, Craig from Calgary.

31 Jan 2000
A day of climbing with Craig. We went over to the Escher World and did a few routes. Mostly we were both trying to get into the climbing mind-set again and adjust to each other as partners. At the end of the day we make plans to climb again, despite the fact that I knocked a big chunk of rock off one of the routes almost killing my new partner. Oops.

1 Feb 2000
In the morning Craig and I went over to Thaiwand Wall, the huge tower that looms above Railay beach. A bad "head" day for me though. Anytime I got even just a little above my last piece of protection, I'd lose all confidence and start to quiver like Jell-O. I just barely managed to quake my way up the warm-up routes. No such problems for Craig, he was a fair ways above his pro on a tricky 6B when he slipped off and fell about 6m (20 ft) before the rope caught him.

I'm back in my old room, but there has been no sign of my cat, so this evening I nervously asked around. Turns out her owner took her to Ao-Nang (the next town over) for a few days, so I scouted around and made a new little friend.

2 Feb 2000
Came down the steps this morning to find my new cat with a mouse for me. Ahh, true love!

Craig and I went over to 123 Wall, but after we both struggled on the warm-up route, we decided to declare today a rest day.

I then headed in to Krabi for some errands. My first visit was to the post office where I hoped in vain to discover the fate of my Christmas parcel I'd sent home to my family. After I waited around and smiled for 1/2 hour, making it quite clear I wasn't leaving until they did something useful, I was referred to the postmaster who gave me a form to fill out and told me to come back in 21 days. Sigh.

3 Feb 2000
Today was Craig's day to have head problems. Yesterday's big fall seemed to have got to him overnight and he inherited my confidence problems. I actually climbed well for the first time in a long while. Overconfident after putting in a good effort on the 6B+ Alone I decided to try the 6C Lady Boy. This climb involves some intimidating but easy moves over a roof out of a cave and then climbs a difficult rounded stalactite. I managed the cave but then struggled poorly with the crux. Despite the fact that I flailed, and the fact the climb is overgraded, it felt good to be on something that is at least listed in the guidebook as what I think of as my level.

4 Feb 2000
At the end of the day yesterday I'd been resting on a piece of gear when it popped out and whacked me right in the eye. Today I have a small cut and a splitting headache. It's not obvious if it's a concussion, a hangover or a brain tumor, but regardless we get a late start.

After some warm-ups I manage to redpoint Short but Savage, a 10 meter two bolt wonder, but legitimately difficult and, a climb I hadn't gotten before.

I suppose now might not be a bad time to explain the climbing verb, "to get."
get (get)
vt. got, got'ten or got, get'ting
1) To climb in such a way as you feel no need to come back and try again.
2) Toprope.
3) Redpoint.
4) Free solo.
5) Barefoot, naked, free solo with a watermelon tied to the waist.
Strangely, the objective in climbing is more complicated than just getting to the top. And even more strangely, just what exactly the objective is a hotly debated topic amongst climbers.

Ignoring for the moment aid climbing, the idea behind the sort of climbing I am doing here, free climbing, is to climb only the rock, and not to pull on any human-made items that might be around. To "top rope," or climb with the rope above you, generally doesn't count. To be "gotten," the climb must be led-- climbed while trailing a rope and clipping it through protection points only for safety. Holding on to the protection points, or resting on the rope are both considered taints, if you did that, you didn't "get" the climb.

Leading a route cleanly is called "redpointing" it, after a now obscure German practice of painting red dots at the base of routes that had been done. Of course, it's considered best to "on sight" i.e.: get the route on the first try, but at the limits of their ability it's not uncommon to see climbers work on a route for weeks or even months before finally redpointing it.

Climbers love to argue about subtleties in this whole process. Have you gotten the route if any required gear was pre-placed, etc... Of course, all the ethics questions reduce to why use the rope at all, isn't that cheating as well? To climb without a rope is called "free soloing," (as opposed to "free climbing" which means to climb with a rope). While not as popular for the obvious reasons, some climbers do consider this a superior style of ascent. But then, what about the shoes, etc...? The pinnacle of ethical purity is generally agreed to be climbing the route naked, barefoot, and with a watermelon tied to your waist.

Luckily for me, they don't have a lot of watermelons here.

5 Feb 2000
We went to Escher Wall to do a few warm-up routes before moving to The Defile to have a go at our 6C project, Krabi Krabi. This route is at the level of difficulty I climb when I am in shape, and I'm hoping to redpoint it before I leave. The start is technical and very strenuous, and while it then eases up the protection points are a bit far apart and even the top is not really a gimme.

Today I was able to get up it, but it took me a few tries and rests. It was a good effort though and built up my confidence as I worked on memorizing the sequences for future attempts.

6 Feb 2000
Rest day.

7 Feb 2000
Today, for the first time since we've been partners, Craig an I both climbed well. We went to a new crag, Hidden World, where Craig led some scary 6Bs before we decided to try a tricky 6C.

Unfortunately, the start is the crux of this route and Craig took several 10 foot falls to the ground attempting to reach the first bolt. Luckily a really strong climber happened by, and, in untied tennis shoes, he scrambled up and clipped the bolt we'd been struggling with.

Humbled but undaunted Craig gave it several more tries with the rope before letting me have a go. It took me a few tries, but I eventually discovered a sequence of moves that worked for me and set off up the rest of the route. I hung on every bolt, but really enjoyed the climbing, very fun, intricate moves.

After I made it to the top, Craig took over again and finally discovered his own set of moves for the start and got to experience the rest of the route.

Refreshed after belaying him, I decided to go for the redpoint. It again took me a few tries to do the start, but I finally managed that cleanly and then was solid on the entire route! My first 6C(11a) redpoint in over a year.

Of course, I did have that pesky taint of the pre-clipped first bolt, and no watermelon.

8 Feb 2000
Yesterday evening, when last I saw my partner, he was off to smoke some dope with a newly met Canadian women, so it's no surprise that he isn't to be found this morning at breakfast.

It's fun though, just sitting at my table, munching on banana pancakes and watching Railay life go by. I've been here long enough that I'm approaching "local" status. Staying this long gives me a context on what is essentially a contextless situation. People come, they climb and dive, then they go. But, from my seat at the breakfast table I get to see them all make the transition, and try to make some sense of it all.

There is an Englishman here we all refer to as the "hammock guy," he came for a week, but has been here for a few months. Legend has it that he's actually quite a strong climber, but I hardly even recognize him standing up. He spends the long sun-swept days in his hammock, a deluxe model, as he is quite willing to explain between exhortations on the structure and meaning of the universe

According to the hammock guy, we are all going 470,000 miles an hour "that-a-way," where that-a-way can be any direction referenced by a sweep of his arm. He earnestly claims to be in charge of all this motion, guiding the spaceship earth from his post in a second floor hammock strung up at Ya Ya's bungalows on Railay beach, the room just below mine. It's a tremendous amount of responsibility, guiding the entire planet, and he isn't sure how much longer he can bear it, he explained to me one afternoon as he took a puff on an ever-present joint.

This evening, after an errand day in Krabi, I found the hammock guy enjoying a chicken satay at the Sunset Bar. "Hey" I exclaimed, "Who the hell is steering the planet?!?" "Ahh my friend," he replied, "I can't take it anymore. Tonight, we are all on our own."

This all suddenly seemed quite unsafe to me so I rushed home and jumped into the hammock. With my hands on the controls I could sense everything that was right and wrong in the world. War and blight, the Coke and McDonald's plague that is spreading over the land. All this from the vantage of the control hammock as we careened through space at 470,000 miles an hour-- together.

He's right, it is a terrible burden, and I can bear it for only a few minutes before my eyes droop shut and I drift off into sleep. My last thought, in that ephemeral dreamland foyer: if not me, who the hell is driving? Is it you?

9 Feb 2000
Wandering about in search of a free warm-up route, Craig and I picked up Mark from Seattle, fresh off the boat raring to go. The three of us went to Thaiwand wall and did a few fun routes before totally burning ourselves out on a really hard 6C.

Utterly spent, I sat and watched my sweat turn the clay to mud. Cloud, a very strong climber from New Mexico that I'd met the day before, wandered by, and I offered to give him a belay. I sent him up a 7A+ that Craig and I had flailed about with on toprope a few days earlier. Cloud sent it easily, and while I'm not holding my breath about doing it myself, I did learn a few tricks.

As usual, in the evening we all gathered at the Sunset Bar to watch the day fade away. I joined Cloud talking to two really pleasant Norwegian women and the next thing I knew it was five in the morning. They went to let Cloud sleep on their floor and get two hours of sleep before their boat left. I walked the lonely path back to my Bungalow. No cats were about tonight.

10 Feb 2000
I really should have just stayed in bed, but I joined the 9 a.m. breakfast club and then we headed off for Eagle Wall. I managed a 6A and then spent an hour flailing on a 6B. I had absolutely no confidence and just couldn't make myself do moves when there was the slightest chance of falling. Frustrating for everyone involved and I finally gave up and was lowered off.

After a nap I rejoined Craig and Mark and managed another easy route. Convinced though that what I really needed was to fall off something hard to clear my head of irrational fears I picked out a 6C and got Mark to belay.

I struggled up to the roof crux and placed some gear to back up the bolts. Then, after getting as much of a rest as possible I committed to the holds above the roof and managed to struggle through the moves. Ecstatic, I finished the route and was lowered off.

As with most things though, that seem too good to be true, my elation was short lived. A quick check of the guide book revealed that the route was really rated 6A+, not 6C as we had been told. Oops, I suck after all, at least for today.

11 Feb 2000
After an a.m. trip to the Escher World and not feeling great on the warm-ups I decided to declare today a rest day. I wandered about chatting and being social, while watching other climbers work their chosen projects.

Viewpoint Bungalows sponsored a party this evening and the usual suspects from my Railay social circle were in attendance. A lot of partying was done, resulting in...

12 Feb 2000
The hangover from hell.

Luckily today had been scheduled as a rest day, so I went over to 123 Wall to lay in the sand and wait for people to wander by and tell me how stupid I'd been the night before. The consensus was that I'd been fairly entertaining and managed not to cause any trouble. Whew!

13 Feb 2000
After a late breakfast I went of to climb with Yurgen from Norway. After struggling on top rope with the 6C I'd redpointed a few days ago I decided to distract Yurgen with a project.

We walked over to Escher World to have my 3rd epic on The Best Little Route in Minnesota. He gave it a valiant try, but the heat, humidity and dust covered holds defeated him one bolt short of where my carabiner still rests from my bail-off in December.

14 Feb 2000
Valentine's day.

Morning: "The boys" and I got up early in order to hit Ton Sai beach in the morning cool. Our objective for the day was the apropos route, Babes in Thailand, at 7A, about my limit when I am really fit. I'm not fit, so I spent a lot of time falling off Babes in Thailand. In fact, none of us got it cleanly. That about sums it up.

Evening: A big valentine's day party. It was grim, I really don't want to talk about it.

15 Feb 2000
Hung over and stood up. Bad post Valentine's day karma.

16 Feb 2000
Time to piece it back together. I met the Swedish Chef, a member of the Valentine's Day team of antagonists, and we went to Phra-Nang beach for some bouldering. The afternoon was lost in the energy vortex that is Railay Bay. It took us 6 hours to get lunch and coffee, so twilight found us at the base of an easy Railay classic, The Groove Tube. I led it in fading light and the Swedish Chef got to follow in the dark.

17 Feb 2000
I locked myself in my room to try and catch up on my writing.

18 Feb 2000
Ostensibly, my excuse for being in Railay is to do a Divemaster course. But here, where it can take days to get around to something as simple as picking up laundry, it's taken two months to get my course organized. Today is day one.

We do a bit of lecturing and then head out in the boat for some diving. We've been down only 11 minutes when a frantic clanging brings us back up. We surface befuddled to find a speed boat full of Thai men tied to our longtail. A look of panic flashes over my instructors face as we realize these are immigration officials and the instructors, who are working illegally, could be in a *lot* of trouble.

We wave goodbye as they are taken off in the speedboat, and the longtail returns us to Railay. End of lesson 1.

The instructor is actually a friend and I'm worried for her, so I make the rounds of Railay locals trying to figure out what can be done. With most people I get only a few words into the story before they turn tail and flee, but eventually I find they right person and they set a plan in motion.

It turns out the dive operation is owned by a local muckety-muck and when he shows up at the immigration office things are quickly sorted out. The officials are full of apologies in their haste to make amends for their "mistake." My instructor is sprung amongst assurances that they will call first before the next, "raid." The only open question, is why did this happen? Our best guess is that some other dive operation initiated the complaint, but it still sort of a mystery as the Thais promise to take care of things amongst themselves.

19 Feb 2000
Despite yesterdays assurances, we decide to keep a low profile and do a quiet day of lessons off the beach.

20 Feb 2000
My first day of real diving here. Not too bad, we saw a two meter leopard shark. They are sedate but beautiful creatures, just a dappled silhouette lying in the sand.

21 Feb 2000
A rest day from diving means climbing. I took my instructor out for some easy routes, and then headed over with "the crew" for another go at Babes in Thailand. This time I climbed cleanly to the crux, threw the big fully airborne dyno and brushed the key hold before peeling off for the 10 foot fall. On the hike back home we decided this was progress.

22 Feb 2000
I make an early morning trip into Krabi to avail myself of the ATM machine and 1 baht a minute e-mail before quickly fleeing the "big city" for the tranquility of Railay.

In the afternoon I climb for a while with my diving instructor, but then, as the sun begins to set we switch roles and gear to set out on a night dive with two students.

It's the first clear night we've had in days, and the sky above us fades from azure to cobalt while clouds hang like impressionist smears on the horizon. Sliding off the boat I find myself bathed in a cloud of cool green light. There is an incredible amount of bioluminescence in the water and it glows like fairy dust around my every movement.

It is the first night dive for the students and they're nervous and awkward. Things aren't helped much when one of their flashlights dies and we have to return to the boat for a spare. Back underwater, we cruise the bottom sending beams of light into the beds of sleeping fish, as shy crustaceans scramble about on mysterious errands.

I love night diving and the completely different perspective it gives on the undersea world, but my reverie is quickly disturbed as we drift into a fishing net abandoned on the bottom. We aren't in any danger of being entangled, but the students are again spooked so we call it a night and return to the boat.

23 Feb 2000
I get to help out as my instructor teaches the diving-101 class. I learned to dive in the still, limpid waters of a pool, but here we just swim off the beach and look for a sandy place on the bottom to practice skills. The students bob about like corks as the sea surges and I scurry about keeping them relaxed and nearby. The lesson ends with a short underwater tour, and I find keeping four novice divers in sight and moving in one direction a bit like underwater cat herding.

24 Feb 2000
An enjoyable day of climbing with the Swedish Chef. We started off with some easy routes in Diamond Cave and then headed back to the Groove Tube so she could see how it is in the light.

My batteries seemed to run down over the course of the day and dinner time finds me too drained to leave my bed. Hot and cold flashes wash over me all night as I lie in a feverish daze wondering what's wrong.

25 Feb 2000
I spend all day in bed, paralyzed by fatigue.

I have no stomach problems, so I don't think it's something I ate. A virus maybe?

26 Feb 2000
Recovered enough to leave bed I make it to the dive center for our scheduled 9 a.m. departure. Unfortunately the boatman got drunk last night and neglected to move our boat as the tide went out. At this mornings low tide the longtail is high and dry in the mud, a few hundred meters from the water.

Mai pen rai (no problem), as they say here, we relax over coffee and wait for the tide to come in. By late afternoon we can get the students out for one dive.

27 Feb 2000
The end of a Railay era-- after four months here, the hammock guy left today. While I've been here, Pete had become a friend and a constant source of interesting conversation. I made it dry through the goodbye hug, but I couldn't help but shed a tear as he turned to the assembled crowd and gave a final wave before walking down the beach and back into the realtm world.

Life in Railay seems never to change though, I spent the rest of the day climbing on Thaiwand Wall with the Swedish Chef.

28 Feb 2000
Into Krabi to extend my Thai visa.

29 Feb 2000
Today had been planned as a climbing day with my dive instructor, but one of the other divemasters went missing, so at 9 a.m. I got a knock on my door and we starting kitting up for the boat.

It was an easy day, for the two of us just to be guiding two certified divers, much more relaxed than the thinly veiled pandemonium of four students in open water.

We were on land for only an hour though before heading back out with some advanced students for a night dive. The day had been rainy with angry skies, but at dusk, the clouds split and boiled into low cumulus lumps and high cirrus swirls as the fleeing sun lit everything in a palette of pale pink through magenta. Even in a place where "I watched the sun set," is an accepted response to, "what did you do today?" tonight's effort was truly a spectacular display of some deity's artistry.

We had front row seats in the back of the dive boat, and as the lurid colors faded into browns we slipped beneath the surface. There wasn't nearly as much bioluminescence in the water tonight, but we had a pleasant dive through piscine bedrooms.

Back in Railay, I showered and then headed over to Ton-Sai beach for what promised to be one of the last major parties of the season. The bar lies in the shadow of one of the major climbing walls and for the party it is lit with torches. Mats and low tables are strewn over the beach as an actual DJ with an actual sound system sets the night air to throbbing.

It's a strange set of incongruities, the high-tech sound system in a bamboo bar, the techno beat bouncing off the steep limestone walls, and me dressed in my party shorts dancing in the sand.

01 Mar 2000
I lost my shoes last night. Normally, if you go to a party and lose your shoes, people might think you had a problem. Here nobody even blinks, "Bummer, think they'll show up?"

I was up at the crack of noon for some writing, and spent the day circulating between my favorite concentration hideaways.

When I came home from dinner I was astonished to find my sand covered shoes laying on my deck. Wow, they followed me home! Good shoes!

02 Mar 2000
Of course, I wake this morning to find my shoes have gone missing again. It takes me a whole pot of coffee to work out what must be happening. Someone staying on my floor has found my errant shoes, and is now wearing them about. Rat bastard!

Another writing day, circulating amongst my author's nooks.

03 Mar 2000
Under a pile of logistical problems the dive operation finds that today, they are short one divemaster. Even though I'm not certified to divemaster, I am qualified to guide and my instructor will be nearby the whole time so I agree to give it a try.

What I'd signed up for was leading one retired American dive instructor, but at the last moment two beautiful young Dutch women show up and want to go as well. Ok, so maybe this guiding gig is going to be more interesting than I thought, but the Dutch are only two weeks out of their Scuba certification courses an I begin to get very nervous.

The local dives here are at small islands. My job is to take everyone down, get a compass bearing and then swim around the island bringing the whole group up right next to the boat just as the first person starts to go low on air. The times I'd watched my instructor do it had seemed like finding a needle in a haystack, but trailing my charges like bait on a line, I somehow manage to pull it off. Whew!

04 Mar 2000
Another writing day, sat in the hammock off my deck.

It's been a few days since I've seen my shoes, so today I finally accept that the person who had them has left, and I go out to buy some new ones. 80 baht (US$2) for some authentic plastic Thai flip-flops.

05 Mar 2000
Another climbing day with the Swedish Chef. Unfortunately it was one of those days here where it was hot enough to melt cement and humid enough that I was drenched just tying my knot.

Not our best showing.

06 Mar 2000
More climbing with everyone's favorite Muppet. This time in the cooler morning over on Ton-Sai. I did a lot better, but she struggled a bit with the unfamiliarly steep rock. Almost all the routes on Ton-Sai over hang at least 20-30%. The "easier" routes have stalactites that dangle down and if you can do a split out to them you can pretend it's only vertical. It's an acquired technique...

07 Mar 2000
I went around the beaches to shoot some pictures for an article I've been working for and in the evening I went in to Krabi to submit the article.

08 Mar 2000
The rule here in Thailand is that you get a 30 day visa for free when you come over the border. You can do this as many times as you like, but you can't extend the visa more than 10 days from within Thailand.

So, today I needed to go to Malaysia for 5 minutes, and then I wanted to be back in Railay for a big party that was planned.

09 Mar 2000
My article was accepted and I was euphoric for 15 minutes. I ran over to my table and ordered banana pancakes as I booted the laptop to go back to work on my Tibet write up.

On the 5th keystroke, poof, my laptop died, just like before.

I'm pretty annoyed with Sony, that their alleged repair job lasted only two months. They will be hearing from me, but in the mean time, you may not be, at least not quite so frequently.

10 Mar 2000
I helped my instructor do an intro dive for a Swedish couple. For intro dives, the students get an hour or so of instruction before the instructor takes them down. They aren't expected to have any control on their buoyancy underwater, so the instructor essentially pilots them. Exciting for everyone!

11 Mar 2000
I bouldered (climbing just off the ground with no rope), in the morning, and then in the late afternoon Toby and I went out to do a few routes. I managed to redpoint the 6B+ Alone, a route I had tried unsuccessfully several times before. I haven't been climbing that much and it felt very nice to finally "get" one of my projects.

12 Mar 2000
I took the swim test for my divemaster course. It's been years since I did a timed swim so I was quite nervous, but I passed it without too much grief.

13 Mar 2000
I spent all day studying dive theory at my instructor's bungalow on West Railay Beach. The material might be dry (gas partial pressures and decompression theory), but the class room can't be beat (towering limestone cliffs, white sand and blue water).

14 Mar 2000
My dive instructor and I spent a pleasant day climbing on Thaiwand wall. We did most of the easy routes on the cliff, and then I managed to dog my way up a 7A+ on top rope. I'll add it to my "project" list, but I'm not holding my breath.

15 Mar 2000
I spent a lazy day reading on Phra-Nang beach. In the evening, feeling guilty, I strapped on my climbing shoes to do some bouldering. I was just warming up on an easy section of one of the most popular problems when a bread-loaf sized piece of rock broke off. It and I both tumbled to the ground and a razor sharp edge slashed open a deep cash on the inside of pinkie finger. I had to cut up my favorite tank top to make a bandage. Rats!

16 Mar 2000
Another day studying at my instructor's bungalow on the front beach.

17 Mar 2000
The cut on my finger is deep and nasty, but doesn't seem to be structural so I went for an easy climbing day over by Diamond Cave. It was my first day climbing at this fun crag with lots of easy and moderate routes.

18 Mar 2000
In the afternoon I worked on underwater search patterns off Phra-Nang beach. In the evening Toby and I went climbing on Happy Island.

We had no problem wading out to the island, but by the time we were done climbing the tide had come up to a freakish "full moon" level. It was way over our heads and even though we could make the short swim, what to do with all our gear? We watched a spectacular sunset but as the slow motion fireworks faded into darkness so did our hopes of hailing a boat.

I swam to the beach and the day was saved by some friendly Thais who loaned us a huge flower pot. It took three trips as they looked on bemused from the beach, but we eventually managed to float everything over in the pot.

19 Mar 2000
I laid on Phra-Nang beach and studied dive theory all day.

20 Mar 2000
Day one of an Open Water course for my instructor, I sat in and watched her teach all the theory.

21 Mar 2000
Day two of my instructor's Open Water course. I spent the day on Chicken Island with the students while they practiced skills in shallow water. Right at the end of the day one of the students lost his mask and we spent an hour looking for it. Distracted by the search, the full moon tides struck again and by the time we gave up the search the boat was in 6 inches of water.

We put our shoulders into it and in 30 minutes we managed to push the boat half the distance to deep water. We were fighting a losing battle against the rushing tide though and finally the boat seemed hopelessly stuck. In a last ditch effort we took all the tanks and weight belts out of the boat and managed to get it over the rocks.

As we got close to deep water the bottom became a mine field of sea urchins. It seemed inevitable that eventually we would be fenced in by these pin-cushion like creatures with their painful spines. But, unloading the boat once more we finally managed to get it off the reef. All that was left was for the students to run the gauntlet of urchins on the way back to the boat. Sadly, their were casualties. One fell and got a nasty coral scrape while two more took urchin spines home as souvenirs.

Another day in Thailand.

22 Mar 2000
Day three of the Open Water course. The students start to do some actual diving and it's chaos as they bounce from the bottom to the surface trying to get control of their buoyancy. Continuing our trend of never having a "normal" day there is a communication break down and the boat doesn't come to get us after one of the dives. Finally one of the Thais swims back to the boat to fetch it as we drift along in current...

23 Mar 2000
The fourth and final day of the Open Water course. I must admit I'd had my doubts at various points along the way, but on the final dive today everyone gets it. All of a sudden they are divers. Wow.

24 Mar 2000
Stood up by the Muppet as torrential rain cancels most peoples plans for the day.

25 Mar 2000
One of the exercises for my divemaster course is to go down to the bottom with my instructor and do a complete exchange of equipment while both of us breathe from one regulator. The exercise isn't a simulation of any real diving situation, it is supposed to teach stress management underwater.

On the surface we'd thoroughly planned the sequence so on the bottom everything went fine. We swapped scuba kits and fins, all while taking two breaths and passing the regulator. The one thing we'd forgotten to figure was that both of us wear contacts so when we peeled our masks off there were two blind people sitting on the bottom trying to pass a regulator and swap masks. We managed it, and the real laughing came when on the surface we both said to the other, "wow, I'm sure glad *you* had your eyes open." Ooops.

26 Mar 2000
A run into Krabi to beginning extracting enough money from the ATM machine to pay for my courses.

27 Mar 2000
A final day of skills diving off the beach and then another run into Krabi for more money.

28 Mar 2000
The last dive of my course-- once more around Ko Hah Island to finish my underwater map. I'm now officially finished except for the paying, so I make one final run into Krabi for the last of the cash.

29 Mar 2000
I was out late last night at a Ton-Sai party but luckily I didn't have much to drink, because this morning one of the divemasters doesn't show up and they want me to substitute.

Unfortunately I manage to misplace my fins so I spend most of the day napping on the boat. Not an auspicious start.

30 Mar 2000
A pleasant day on the beach in Ao-Nang giving swimming lessons to a beautiful and friendly woman with an infectious laugh.

31 Mar 2000
Say good-bye to my instructor as she is leaving for a holiday in Europe. Watching her go I'm reminded that my days here in Railay are numbered. I walk my favorite walks and order my favorite dishes for dinner. It's time to make a plan.

01 Apr 2000
One thing about being a place for so long is that it never seems like there is a rush to do things. As I begin to think seriously about leaving a huge list of "haven't done yets" wells up.

Today I went through the cave from Phra-Nang beach to Thaiwand wall, something that every tourist in a 3-day climbing course does, but that I had somehow managed to miss in 3 months of bumming around.

On Thaiwand wall Toby and I found quickdraws dangling from my 7A+ project so despite the lack of a warm-up we gave that a try on lead. I didn't make it through the crux, but given me lack of recent climbing I was pleased with my effort. These days the failures just get added to my list of reasons to come back.

02 Apr 2000
For weeks now I've had this scrape on my shin that is becoming more and more infected. Now swollen to the size of golf ball I finally went to the infirmary to have it looked at. After a bit of Novocain the nurse took a scalpel and sliced it open releasing puddles of black pus. Yuck. Her advice it to keep it clean and dry and to take antibiotics. Given that I now have what looks like a bullet hole in my shin I'm not convinced.

03 Apr 2000
A final "goodbye for now" to Railay. A few more pictures and one final stroll down the beach before grabbing a longtail to Krabi, a bus to Surathani, and the overnight train to Bangkok. This is been my home for 3 months. A quarter of a year too much, or not nearly enough? I still can't quite work it out.

04 Apr 2000
Ack! I'm in Bangkok! Culture shock!

After months of feeling "at home" and knowing all the rules, the crush of touts in the train station breaks over me like a wave. I try five cabs, three don't understand me and two try to scam me. I finally find a tuk-tuk driver willing to take me to where I want to go for a reasonable price.

In the Banglumpu district I wander the streets looking for my hotel. I have a booking but don't know the address and in the end I'll discover that I don't even have the name spelled right.

Toto, I don't think we're in Railay any more.

05 Apr 2000
Errands, errands, errands.

Off to a real Dr. to have my leg looked at. His verdict: no big deal, just more antibiotics and cleanings. Then, off to the American Embassy for some tax forms.

I slowly feel like I'm waking up again, throwing off the Railay torpor.

06 Apr 2000
A day exploring Bangkok with a web-pal, Sumonta.

Cruise down the canals to check out urban life on the water and then go to explore the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Po and finally end at the Dawn temple.

07 Apr 2000
Off to Immigration to extend my visa one more time... An all day exercise in patience and politeness.

08 Apr 2000
More exploring with Sumonta, the Vimanmek Teak Mansion and the Marble Temple.

09 Apr 2000
I've been in Thailand for 3 months, but I really haven't seen any of the country. Today I'm off for Chiang Mai in the north for the Songkhran festival.

10 Apr 2000
Explore Chiang Mai

11 Apr 2000
Take a cooking class.

We made "Penang Gai" (my favorite Thai dish) completely from scratch, grinding the curry paste with a mortar and pestle. Mine came out better than I've ever had it in a restaurant, I was pleased and amazed!

12-15 Apr 2000
The Songkran (lunar new year) festival

For the days on Songkran the entire city Chiang Mai turns into a huge water fight. The road around the moat is a parade of pickup truck loaded with barrels of ice water and bucket happy Thais. Pedestrians fight back with water cannons made from plastic pipe. Between dawn and 6 p.m., no one is safe. Women, children, police, business people and franangs, everyone gets doused-- over and over again, with the proper response being "thank you." If you tried this in a western country there would be fist fights in minutes, but here everyone takes it in good humor.

In the midst of all this they hold a full-on parade. Hundreds of people dressed in traditional costumes and a complete marching band all get doused. You haven't lived till you've played "fill the tuba with ice water."

16 Apr 2000
Overnight bus to Bangkok, cab to the airport, fly to Hat Yai, taxi to the Malaysian border and back (new visa), bus to Krabi, and taxi to Ao-Nang. 28 straight hours of travel, but yes, I'm back in Railay. I swear I'm not going to get stuck this time though.

17-24 Apr 2000
Railay life...

25-30 Apr 2000
Diving on The Junk in the Similan islands.

The diving was quite nice. No mantas or whalesharks, but an abundance of smaller reef life and the boat and crew were both wonderful.

One bit of stray excitement: after eight years of diving for the first time I actually ran out of air. It seems my high pressure hose had a leak and after 18 minutes underwater my pressure gauge read almost zero. I was still getting air though so I swam over to the divemaster, let him know what the situation was and began making a controlled ascent (from 12 meters). At 5 meters (15 feet) the tank went dry and I got to try an emergency swimming ascent, one of those things you practice without expecting to ever have to do. But, it worked, just like they said it would...

1 May 2000
Errands in Krabi

2 May 2000
Bus to Hat Yai

3 May 2000
Hang out in Hat-Yai

4 May 2000
Bus to Songkla

5 May 2000
A year ago today I sat in a rooftop Athens cafe and watched as mid-meal floodlights came on and bathed the Acropolis in a golden glow. At that moment, sitting back in my chair, I could ask myself only, What have I done?

Well, a wonderful, crazy, miserable, wacky, incredible year has gone by and I still don't know. I think that's ok though. Some things are right, some things are wrong, it's life as usual wherever you might be and whatever you might be doing.

For me though-- for now-- I think I'm going to continue walking this path a while longer. Sometimes it feels the one less traveled and other times all too worn. But if I focus on the step, and not the direction, I find there is always a way to enjoy the view.

6 May 2000
Bus from Sonkala to Hat Yai.

7 May 2000
 
Tuk arrives and we catch a bus to Penang, Malaysia.
Who is Tuk?

Tuk is a Thai woman I met on Railay beach. With the low season looming in Southern Thailand she decided to come travel with me for a while instead of heading back to Bangkok.

And now, for our first big trick: getting her out of the country. It turns out that when you travel Southeast Asia with a Thai woman immigration officials assume she is a prostitute and treat her like chattel. At the Thai border, I literally had to sign her out of the country by filling out some paperwork that "guaranteed" her, while she had to endure the fifth degree from the border police, "How long have you known this man ... Does your family know where you are (she's 27) ... How long will you spend with him ... etc." Not a very pleasant experience.

We'd heard horror stories about Thai women trying to cross the Malaysian border but we actually had much less trouble there. After rattling off an itinerary of a few high profile tourist spots they stamped her in with a 30 day visa.

Welcome to the road...


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