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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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...
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have no stomach problems, so I don't think it's something I ate. A virus maybe?
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.
Life in Railay seems never to change though, I spent the rest of the day climbing on Thaiwand Wall with the Swedish Chef.
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.
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!
Another writing day, circulating amongst my author's nooks.
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!
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.
Not our best showing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately I manage to misplace my fins so I spend most of the day napping on the boat. Not an auspicious start.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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."
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...
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.
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...