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I have to Ko Phi Phi

So after the civil unrest in the capital, in which the red-shirts thankfully did not seize the airport like the yellow shirts did last November, I was ready to explore the Thai beaches, which eluded me on my last trip to the region. I should add that my worldwide luck in avoiding transit strikes continues. In addition to escaping the original Bangkok crisis, I missed the Budapest airport workers' strike (though Chris did not, and almost couldn't fly home) and the Nepal bus strike came a day earlier than my intended journey back to Kathmandu. I don't want to jinx any upcoming labor union hijinks, especially knowing that Fiji is prone to cyclical coups, but I consider my transportation karma to be born from Jules Verne's spirit.

And if you don't believe I have good transit luck, just look - they even had a parade for me when I came to the airport:

So I rejoined Anne, who flew ahead of me to Ko Phi Phi (pronounced Ko Pee Pee, stop giggling, this is someone's home). She is still nursing a bum ankle, as well as all the cats that come her way. This one got all the shrimp from her Pad Thai.

The waters were the color you would expect. With no roads on the island, longboats with noisy outboard engines are the major form of transport.

Nearby is Ko Phi Ley, famous as the setting for the beach in "The Beach." I remember watching the movie my senior year of college. I didn't really understand the traveler's mentality or the appeal of southeast Asia.  But after another viewing while in Thailand, the film resounded much more. In the opening scene, DiCaprio saunters down Khao San Road and is hustled into drinking snake blood, whereupon he checks in to a fleapit and meets crazy people before setting out on an adventure to escape the masses. Discounting my vegetarianism, which also excludes reptilian foodstuffs, I would have been perfect for the role.

Would you trust this guy with your life? At 12 meters below water, I didn't let him out of my sight. Sure there were sea turtles and the occasional shark, but I like to keep my friends close and my scuba instructors closer. Here he shows us what face to make if you run out of air at four atmospheres:

At one point Jim  took the regulator out of my mouth while on the ocean floor. He insisted it was just for practice. I told him to stand down the middle of the fairway so I knew where to aim my tee shot. You know, for practice.

And this is me with Constance, a girl I met on my ferry to Ko Phi Phi. She is from Paris and decided to wait until our third day of hanging out to say that my French is terrible and I should just speak English with her. Of course, my French was flawless underwater.

A closer view of the actual beach from the movie. Maya beach is where the shark attacks the Scandinavian dudes and, oh just go rent the movie...

By the way, swimming to the island, as they did in the movie, is less feasible than an Alcatraz attempt.

Constance and I climbed through the jungle for about an hour to find an overlook for sunset. You can see the barbell shape of Ko Phi Phi here. The "town" is at the isthmus connecting the two ends:

I show you this to highlight the plight of the islanders during the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. Unfortunately, tidal waves came in from both bays, leaving the townspeople with nowhere to go. Estimates vary, but Ko Phi Phi lost more residents per capita than nearly any other Thai island (maybe even as much as 2,000 in total). Curiously, the same Buddhism that made many Thais react stagnantly when the ocean initially receded has also helped them moved past the tragedy. Buddhists often believe that the ocean and land are in a tug-of-war, with both sides claiming territory at different intervals, but they also accept death with a measure of insouciant grace that takes other people much longer. No one ever talks about it, even during my first trip here in 2007 (as opposed to 9/11, with 1/100th of the death toll). Still, the bars are littered with pictures of the deceased, both locals and foreign expats and holidaymakers.

So why did they rebuild? Sunsets like this:

Which turned the sky into a canvas of fire-strokes and galvanized waves:

After Anne left for the next island, I met up with three German girls staying at my resort. We rented a longboat for the day and snorkeled until the fish began to bite. From left, Stephi, Elisabeth, and Chrissy (who thankfully added the non-superfluous extra syllable, perhaps knowing that there can be only one "Chris" on these pages). I should add that Elisabeth is also a member of the Klein clan. Next time I am in Munich, we'll have another family reunion - I'll take you to the Hofbräuhaus so you can feel like a tourist.

The fish were biting that day I tell you! Actually, they took to biting us, which felt more ticklish than painful. Kinda like my experience with Israeli border guards. Ticklish, not painful. I have no idea what that meant.

Here I attempt a triple tuck, four-and-one-half gainer with a suicide twist. The German judges gave me all 8s.

But in the world of synchronized cannon-balling, there is no bigger purist that me. You see how Chrissy in the nearground has under-rotated? And Stephi, where is the tuck? Normally that would cost them a full point deduction, but I looked the other way when they bought the first round that night.

It was eat-what-you-catch-with-your-bare-hands night at our beach, so we cheated and got our boat driver to help us. Just kidding - we threw it back, but not before a few tense moments when the fish wriggled out of his hands and got lost on the deck for about 30 seconds.

This guy was making the world's largest and most flammable circle-circle-dot-dot cootie shot.

I can proudly say that I have managed to avoid all the world's aquariums so far. And who needs 'em? I've swam in the Atlantic, Med Sea, India Ocean, Red Sea, Zambezi, Nile and Ganges, and now the Andaman Sea (not to mention the lakes of Nepal and bathhouses of Budapest). If I don't have all the waterborne diseases known to the CDC, then I will renounce my throne as the Prince of Protozoa. Until then, I'll keep going overboard.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 13th, 2011 12:17 pm (UTC)
Can't wait to have my say
Hey - I am certainly glad to find this. cool job!
Apr. 14th, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
Hoping to get involved
Hi - I am really delighted to discover this. cool job!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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