Saturday, 13 August 2011
Just me and Mother Nature (and two ladyboys) in Ao Thalane Thailand
Ok, I admit, I've got no idea where I am. We had been traversing the huge bay of Krabi for days, bouncing around between Ao Nang, Rai Ley, Koh Phi Phi, until I no longer knew if we were in the Andaman Sea, in a bay, on the mainland, or on an island.
So when the little song taew truck picked us up in Ao Nang for a half day eco-adventure at Ao Thalane, I was amazed how big the 'island' was because we drove for at least 45 minutes to get there.
'Actually this is the road to Phuket,' explained my companion. Well, that did my head in, too.
'Phuket's an island and I thought this was an island, so wouldn't a boat be a better choice???' She just rolled her eyes.
Long story short, we arrived at Ao Thalane, a sleepy fishing village where a number of jetties poked into the bay, riven with sand bars at low tide. Locals hunched over scooped up clams and prawns from the shallows. A few other vans full of backpackers from Canada, Germany, and Israel soon arrived.
We clambered aboard our 2-person kayaks. Our two guides plied a lively line of humour, mainly centred on calling the other guy 'lady boy'. Haha, this was quite funny until about the 300th time which was only 2 minutes into the experience. They explained that this beautifully pristine area was the first of the limestone karts to emerge from the sea, about 300,000,000 years ago.
Great white upthrusts of jungle-clad rock wall soared up across the bay. In front were thriving mangroves, home to colonies of exceptionally cheeky macaque monkeys. The water can be a sparkling turquoise blue, but in the off-season it's just kinda green.
In convoy we headed out across the bay at a leisurely pace, rounding craggy headlands, passing wonderful sandy coves and what looked like concealed entrances. To me it had the makings of a Hardy Boys adventure setting, for those old enough to remember those story books of childhood derring-do.
With the shoulders feeling the pinch of persistent paddling, we pulled into a little sheltered nook -- a sandy strip dwarfed by the sheer rock walls closing in on each side. Jungle vines, ferns, palms and other trees reached for the sunlight hundreds of metres above. The ladyboy jibes continued. Something about this reminded me of the remote Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed.
Hugging the rocky shore, an arching tunnel loomed ahead. It was just above water level, leaving not much clearance at this tidal level. We were heading straight for it. Surely we're not, no we can't be ... yes we are! One of the two ladyboys guiding us leaned back flat in his kayak and flipped his head back at the last minute -- clear!
We all followed suit, like a conga line feeding into a limbo contest. I expected heads to be gashed, arms to be shredded, limbs to be lost, but we re-emerged with the same headcount on the other side.
Then a narrow rock opening appeared, and the current surged inward. 'Go left, go left!' shouted one of the ladyboys. We found ourselves in a cavernous area which opened up into a secret garden ... sheltered from the world. It was dead quiet other than the shrill of cicadas, the shriek of fish-eagles hovering ... and -- you guessed it -- more taunting lady boy accusations.
The current swept us along this section, in dappled daylight, amid such virginal verdancy. Then we swung left, into the mangroves. the section was narrow, so tight the leaves formed a complete canopy above us. The bottom got shallower, shallower, shal ... er, scrape.
'We turn around here,' instructed the leader of the lady-boys.
I took the opportunity to turn on my turbo-charger. Firstly for the exercise, and secondly to leave the group in my wake so I could enjoy this as nature had intended: sans voce (that's Latin or French or something for 'no voice')
I paddled furiously to put a 100m space between myself and the others. You could've almost waterskiied behind my kayak, jing jing.
It was wonderful. Such unspoilt ageless beauty. Just the gentle sounds of paddles dipping into the water. Birds serenading. And warm sunshine on my back. Perfect!
All too soon, we were back in the open water of whatever bay this was. But now the breeze had got up and it was choppy. We bee-lined for the headland to the right, every muscle straining against the tide and the headwind. Round the headland, the welcome sight of the jetty with its promise of lunch and a drink.
That was all the incentive I needed to power on home. Well, that plus the nervousness of having two 'ladyboys' closing in behind me ...