Posted by: twistsoffeet | April 2, 2010

Is This Really What I Travel For? Hell yes!


I came crashing into a state of semi-cognizant consciousness for the first time in five days.

What startled me into this state was the group of Aussies fighting the group of Germans outside of my bungalow on the sunrise side of Rai Lie Thailand. Now, some call us the ugly Americans when we travel, but in my experience the Germans are in a near tie with the French for ugliest travelers. The Brits and Aussies do drink hard and fight just as hard, but usually amongst other westerners and otherwise, they are decent to the host population of the countries they visit.

But I digress, I say semi-cognizant consciousness because at least I knew who and where I was– finally.  I had not been asleep, and certainly had not been awake either; nor had I been in a drunk or drugged stupor. What had happened was much more insidious. I had been hit with a nasty case of dysentery. For the uninitiated, dysentery is not just a case of severe diarrhea, oh no.  It is nasty. You know you’re sick when your guts start tearing you apart from the inside, then (skip this if you do not want the graphic details) comes the stools that are a seemingly never ending blob of slimy bloody mucous. In this instance, my first bout with this horrible affliction came to me in Thailand.

I had been climbing in Rai Lie during the day, starting early to trudge through the jungle to the limestone walls that were home to those of us who live for past vertical endeavors, as well as even more insane monkeys. We would climb until we reached exhaustion, then trudge back through the jungle until we reached the village, and thankfully a cold beer.

My quarters were a dark windowless bungalow under triple canopy jungle, no air conditioning, just an overhead fan. This particular economy bungalow did not have maid service.  In fact, linens were only changed after you checked out, I think.

Combine dysentery, no air conditioner, no windows, and triple canopy jungle in ninety five degrees and ninety five percent humidity, I felt like the malarial Colonel Kurtz of Apocalypse Now. My climbing partner, Alan, whom I had traveled with to Thailand had taken off with Francisco to go to Phuket to chase prostitutes as I was unable to climb.

They abandoned me and Sarah, who tried to help me as well as she was able. Fortunately, I was traveling with a good supply of Cipro, and was able to make this a very bad nasty experience rather than a horribly nasty and fatal experience.

After being so rudely brought into something vaguely resembling consciousness, I looked up Sarah who was very depressed and bored. I do not blame her.  Would you want to spend your vacation in Thailand caring for a sick friend? I think not. I suggested we visit Wat Thim Sua, otherwise known as the Tiger Cave Monastery.

Our journey started the next morning, first a 30 minute ride in a longtail boat to Ao Nong where we caught a  songthew ( a compact pickup truck with a top over the bed and a bench on each side). This particular songthew was full so we stood on the bumper, riding along at thirty miles per hour, in the rain. Now, this was fun. When we caught this ride we really didn’t know where it was going, we just hoped it was going where we wanted to go, and eventually it did get us to Krabi. In Krabi we quickly caught a taxi to the monastery.

At first glance, the wat was unimpressive, but we quickly realized the true prize here was at the top of the mountain. Now, keep in mind my current state of health as I describe the journey to the summit, 1,800 feet above. The trail is actually a stairway up a vertical limestone mountain, over 2,200 steps ranging from 3 inches to 2 feet. Definitely not built to code. For non-climbers this would be a vertigo inducing experience, for us it was paradise.  After a four hour struggle, we reached the top. It had a modest chedi, prayer flags and prayer wheels, but what was spectacular was the view. In the distance was the Andaman Sea, but closer was limestone wall after limestone wall, all nearly 200 feet high, some white, others burnt orange, with black and brown patinas, and with the sun fully on it a fire red as though it was in flames.

We were unable to stay long as it had taken so long to summit this stone. On the way down, we came upon two monks, one young and the other much older. When I went to Wai, the older monk got this big smile of disbelief on his face that I was coming from the summit and just said “Big Guy” looking at me, then the trail, then at me, then the trail. I guess the sight of me, being a large man, combined with my post dysentery pallor, coming from the summit was hard to believe.

After reaching the bottom of the mountain we decided to rest in the shade of this huge tree.  There were benches but fortunately, we did not use them. This particular tree was home to dozens of large, nasty, aggressive and psychopathic monkeys.

Apparently, one such monkey who I had decided to photograph was offended that I hadn’t asked for his permission. Said monkey angrily charged at me with all intentions of tearing me limb from limb, and yes, he was capable. What saved me was one of the benches between him and me, when he jumped on the bench he hit it with such force it went flying over backward and startled this bully so much he ran away into the safety of the tree.

Needless to say, I stopped photographing monkeys for the rest of the day.

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