Alright, mi amigos. I’ve been away from all things technological for a week now (except a camera), and my writing legs are a little stiff. Bear with me.
Donsak was incredible. I was a bit hesitant about going, expecting and fearing that we would be stuck in a hot, remote suburb of Thailand, amongst people who didn’t speak our language, and trapped without a car or a motorbike. My memories of a Cambodian friend from my childhood rushed to my mind every time I thought about going to Donsak- her family’s small, cramped apartment, with the rubber matting over the carpets, and the ever-present smell of boiled cabbage. Donsak seemed too real to me, too authentic. Admittedly, I am used to tourist Thailand- white sand beaches, coconut shakes, chill music, easy living. I hadn’t realized how comfortable I had become until Brigitte invited me to Donsak, and didn’t really give me the option of saying no.
Thank god I went.
Jack’s family is a happy, close clan. His mother is named Jai, and she is tiny. She smiles constantly, lugs huge buckets of water around like it’s nothing, and never seemed to tire of watching me eat- she found it uproariously funny that I would eat anything they put down in front of me. His sister Ray just had a baby, and she walked around in colorful, knee-length nightgowns, unbuttoned at the top and revealing bounteous breasts filled with milk. Her smile was genuine, and her hair was dark. Her baby was a tiny, week-old boy with black head hair, black back hair (!), and huge balls! Yes, he had huge balls, and the whole family was thrilled about it.
Jack’s father is an interesting fellow. He was a monk in a Buddhist monastery from the age of ten to the age of twenty-six. An ambiguous accident (the story varies depending on when and whom you ask) left him… different. He lives on the couch in the front room now, a fan constantly blowing on him, and the TV usually on. He is very white- he never gets out in the sun- and he could pass as Mexican, or Greek. It was hard for me to see the Thai in him. However the smallest offer of kindness and attention garnered the most heart-warming smile from him. It became a genuine pleasure of mine to go out of my way in order to have an exchange with him- whether it be tempting him with cookies, or grinning and showing him the baby.
On the second day in Donsak, Jack’s close friend from childhood took us on a boat trip. His name is Sab, and he is in line to be the next Poo-yai (Big Boss) of the Little Land. The Little Land is a sub-set of Donsak, stretching away to the north, and separated by a small, slow-moving river that takes only five minutes to cross by taxi boat. The Little Land is so-named because it is small and very flat as it runs north, eventually rising up again into a towering limestone cliff that reaches up, up, up, green and majestic, before dropping abruptly into the sea. Perhaps a thousand people live on the Little Land, or maybe it’s closer to two thousand. Whatever the number, it is small but busy, bustling with children playing soccer, fisherman pulling in their haul, dogs running back and forth across the concrete pathways that keep the land above water when the tides roll in, and many curious Thai people that love to look at two white girls who are often a sight that they have never seen.
Sab is all the part of a in training. He was bred for the job. He is tall, with a gleaming white smile. He never seems to be overtly looking around, and yet he always knows what’s going on around him. He acts as a mentor/ I’ll-kick-your-ass-the-second-you-get-out-of-line older brother to a dozen younger Thai boys, and is well respected by all of them. He is gracious, humble, and bright. Sab was a favorite with Brigitte and I. From the moment we got on the fishing boat, which belongs to his father, our every need was anticipated and fulfilled. Before I even realized I was thirsty, a cold beer was in my hand and an icy bottle of water next to it. Moments before the first pangs of hunger hit my stomach, a meal of fresh fish, white rice, and several different curries was laid out before me. Just as the munchies were starting to kick in, I found myself with a Snickers bar in hand, and an assortment of chips, cookies, and fresh-cut mango arrayed on the front deck of the boat, a straw mat laid out for us to sit on.
The boat trip took us through the Ang Thong National Marine Park, a breath-taking stretch of islands that dot the Gulf of Thailand, and are blessedly protected by the Thai government from further development. They are green, rolling and endless, and as we sailed east, we maneuvered through them, stopping occasionally at a government outpost that was usually a small national park, encouraging day visitors and educating people on the importance of environmental conservation. On our first night, Jack, Brigitte and I were taken off the boat to a tiny, mystical beach inhabited by perhaps twelve other people. Four tents dotted the hill at the end of the coconut grove, and to the right was a small restaurant and the educational office, which by twilight, was closed. We stayed in the tents that night, and listened to the sound of the monkeys swinging in the trees, the waves rolling gently into shore, and the breeze in the palm trees overhead. It was so picturesque, my whole body seemed filled with good energy, and I took deep breath after deep breath, trying to gulp it all in. Brigitte and Jack were in similarly good moods, and we laughed a great deal, and stared around us in wonder until the sun went down, and evening turned to night. Later, Sab and one of his minions paddled in from the fishing boat, which was docked some way out, with a huge plastic bag full of things they had brought for us. When we opened it we found three icy bottles of water, three Singha beers, a bag of chocolate, pillows, blankets, the drawing supplies we had left on the boat, cigarettes, towels, dried fish and sticky rice, a bag of mangosteens, and Brigitte’s IPod. They had thought of everything. We hadn’t even known or expected they were coming.
The following day took us further east, past Ko Samui, Ko Phangnan, and Ko Tao, the tourist-traps that we have taken to calling “The Sacrificial Islands” after seeing that there are still so many others that lie untouched. We wound through tiny islands, barely more than rocks rising out of the water, and huge ones, that seemed to unfold again and again, proving that what originally had looked to be five or six islands was actually one. Late that morning we stopped at a small beach with an official-looking sign and a small hut. It was another government park, and we were allowed to visit for the day. One of our comrades (as Brigitte and I had taken to calling our co-sailors, without their knowing or understanding English) paddled us in in a rowboat, and once on shore, we followed a steep trail, that was often more like a ladder, up into the hills and through the jungle. Eventually, breathless and slick with sweat, we arrived at the viewpoint, and realized we had been trekking to a lagoon. To our right lay the sea, vast, dotted with islands, and stretching away to the horizon, and to our left and far below was a fairy-tale lagoon, green and deep, fed only by underwater caves that connected it to the ocean. We almost screamed in delight when we saw it…
Now as it is 8:47, and I have to meet Brigitte and Jack at 9:00 for our last beer together before we all part ways tomorrow, I will cut this short and leave you hanging 😉 But I do have other stories to tell, and I intend to post at least a few more before I leave for Chiang Mai tomorrow. Pictures are also coming, and if you would like to see more, check out:
(Oops. I just realized that Facebook’s going to make you join in order to look at the pix. Hmm. Oh well. I’ll figure it out later.)
Okay, read on, as I’m back in action and cracking the whip on myself to start writing again. Goodbye for now, from hot, sweaty Bangkok.