Monday, 28 January 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 32: Life’s a leech

The feeling of excitement at the sound of your morning alarm is a rare occurrence, but that’s exactly what I experienced as I awoke in our miniscule shack just before 8am, knowing that another good day was there for the taking. Yet again, there was building works right outside of our room, this time two guys hammering more wood onto another of their half made huts. Noise had been a common occurrence for the past few days, wherever we’d been staying, but was probably due to the early season which we were visiting in, where everywhere was preparing for the onslaught of sun-chasing travellers looking for somewhere a bit nicer to spend their winter months. We gathered with the gang for a quick breakfast, then hopped on our long-tail boat which took us back the way we’d kayaked the previous afternoon.

We had a one hour hike which would lead us to the Namtaloo Cave, followed by another hour inside, then the trek back to our temporary, humble abodes. As we started our guide told us that there would be a few spots where we needed to cross small rivers, and after navigating through various jungle on our narrow pathway we reached the first. We were also warned about the leeches, something which Sarah had been shitting herself at the thought of for the past few days, but there was not much that could be done to avoid them, except prayer and good luck. I suppose long trousers could’ve helped, but I only packed one pair of black shorts and they barely covered my lanky limbs, which probably looked even more appetising than the four hot wings for 99p deal, which you can get from Big Portion Chicken in Hackney, to the awaiting bloodsuckers all around. I pulled off my trainers as did Sarah, to avoid having to march around for hours in drenched footwear, and we followed the others. By the time I got my trainers back on, it was time to take them off again, and we were falling behind with all the messing around, so I walked into the river with my trainers on my feet and my lady on my back, dropping her off at the other side safe and dry. We did this method another two or three times, but were both getting stressed out, Sarah by the fact that she was doing something she really didn’t want to, and me by the fact that she wasn’t having a good time. I knew she was doing it for me, and that made me feel bad because I’m only ever happy when she is. It didn’t help when she decided to hop over a few big rocks on another watery path and ended up slipping, smashing herself, thigh first, down onto harsh rock, and soaking her feet in the process, rendering my previous work of carrying of her pointless and her having an even worse time than before. I found my first leech having a go on my hand after exiting another watery trap, and spivved out in a ‘GET THIS FUCKER OFF OF ME’ kind of fashion, whilst Natasha smashed it off of my hand with a rock. It was much smaller than I’d imagined, obviously yet to be filled with my blood, however because of how they hook into your skin, the bites don’t stop bleeding for ages after you’ve ripped the little shits out of you. Nasty likkle raas clarts.
Entering the cave that I nicknamed 'Nick'
We reached the entrance to the cave, where Sarah’s worries were forced even further by the fact that there were a few points inside which were flooded by a freshwater forest stream, and we’d have to swim through them, in the dark, with only head torches to light our way. A few years back a big storm made the water level rise so high that a group going through it all died; another factoid to worry my wonderful woman. Nevertheless, we all entered slowly, the lights from each of our heads flickering like fireflies as everyone looked around excitedly. We reached the first flooded part, which we all jumped in to, one by one, swimming across for a few metres before clambering out into the serenity that only ultimate darkness can bring, this is until your mind starts thinking about what else could be in there with you. I wasn’t thinking about the leeches, I wasn’t worried about insects, I was just enamoured by the beauty of the surrounding rocks, admiring the formations within this secret dwelling. In the past, this cave was a hideout for communist students fighting the Thai Government back in the ‘70's, but now it’s a key point for trekkers from around the world to navigate. Sarah was struggling through, quite clearly scared and not having the best of times, but she was brave and persisted with the support of our gang, myself and the Belgian boys all giving her a hand when needed. My favourite point of the cave was when we had to head upwards between two rocks, there was a narrow gap between them, and no floor, just rushing water beneath us as we split our legs and arms on either side and jumped ourselves along the gap. On the other side was another pool of water which we had to jump into and swim across. It was up to our necks or further and took some heavy swimming in our clothes and trainers, then we climbed out at the other side, checked for more leeches, and then looked up to see hundreds of bats, all hanging from the ceiling. A number of them would fly around when we shined torches on them or made noise, whilst others remained still and seemingly asleep. There were huge exotic looking spiders everywhere as well as scorpions, frogs, and god knows what else, but that didn’t stop us all turning off our torches to experience the pure, peaceful blackness until one by one, people switched back on. My torch came on last, I could have stayed there for a good few hours, or at least until ‘The Fear’ crept in. I kept trying to placate my lady by assuring her that it’d be over soon, and we had a branch to smoke upon our exit. We walked through for another fifteen minutes, until we could see natural light cracking through the distant exit. We splish-splashed through the final dash, stopping only for our guide to pick up a couple of toads, which both reacted by instantly playing dead, in order to protect themselves. He sat one of them against a rock, and placed the other right in front of it, so that it looked like they were having a snooze and spooning. We took our final steps back into the scorching sunlight, looking back to see how the trees and bushes almost fully hid the hole which we came out of. All of that mounted tension immediately lifted at this point, Sarah didn’t die and neither did I, all was well in the world, and would be even better once we’d made it back to our floating salvation. Despite another leech trying to have its way with my foot, the returning march through the forest seemed a lot easier than on the way there. Perhaps we’d just gotten used to it by this point, everything is easier to deal with when you’ve had a bit of practice. After a short trip back to the floating raft houses, I dived straight into the lake to cool off, then we gathered for a final spot of lovely lunch before grabbing our bags and bidding the delightful local folks a fond farewell, before smoking our joy on the boat ride back to the pier, then driving back to our original accommodation in Khao Sok.

Hanging off the ceiling, I know the feeling.
Spooning frogs
Sarah the Survivor

Tired Team Canada
We decided that rather than staying another night at the Jungle Huts, we should pool our money with Team Canada and try and get a ride to Patong Beach that night. After a fair amount of haggling with our guide we managed to get his boss to drop the originally ridiculous quote down enough to make it worthwhile, and the seven of us waited at the huts with our worldly possessions for a new driver to turn up. I went to grab our laundry back, and get some drink and snacks for the journey, and after handing over a 1000 baht note for 110 baht worth of goodies I left the store and soon realised the girl on the till had given me 990 back, 100 baht more change than she was meant to. I walked back in and tried to explain, but she didn’t seem to fully comprehend her error, still I gave her back the 100 anyway and left with my karma fully intact. As much as I like free money, if she’d had it docked from her wages I’m sure she’d have felt it a lot more than I would. It’s despicable how little the Thai workers get paid, however, I’m sure just like everywhere else, their bosses do alright for themselves. After the best part of two hours wait, having our first chance in a few days to contact the world outside, a van rolled up and we loaded in. To kill a bit of time, Sarah and I decided to co-write a silly little story, one word each continuously until the end. She went first, and it ended up like this:

‘Ten thousand years ago there lived six magicians. Many students eagerly gathered at Glastonbury trying hard to understand the secrets of their ancestors. All minds together would unlock the bubble world, but there wasn't enough love leafs to create transsexuals. Fire breathing dragons appeared; everyone started laughing at their cocks. Later the demons from limbo stole the magicians’ sleeves so they couldn't fly anymore...’

I spent the next few hours doing my usual writing in the dark, doggie chasing his tail trick, ending up in Patong Beach after two hours of fast driving from our man with van. We bid him farewell, and walked into the place we’d heard was pretty decent. It was full. The place next door, named Kamilla, looked decent enough, and had a sign in the window saying ‘Rooms 400’. I had a quick chat with the lady owner, and managed to get three rooms for our gang at a discounted rate. Sarah and I took the first one, and went up the stairs, straight into a pretty fancy little room which had air conditioning, a lovely double bed, wardrobe, TV, fridge, table and en-suite wet room. Comparing it to where we stayed the previous night would be like comparing Johnny Depp with Johnny Vegas, it was more than adequate for our needs, and only a five minute walk away from the main streets. After a quick bang and shower in succession we hit the streets to scope out our surroundings, and within two minutes I passed a bar, and noticed that Arsenal was playing against Fulham on one of their screens. I looked at Sarah and she read my mind, leaving me there to watch the last five minutes whilst she went into a shop. It was 3-3 at home, another not great result as it stood, but I hoped that my watching would somehow swing the balance in our favour, since I’m a very lucky man. Whilst standing at the doorway I noticed a few local ladies of the night standing nearby, fanning themselves on the corner. Three big Indian men with moustaches approached a slim little thing, trying to work out a deal with her, which judging by the interested looks on all of their desperately depraved, drooling faces would’ve meant a situation no human should ever have to experience. I don’t know the quoted price, but it was no dice, and they shuffled off down the road to try and satisfy their twisted urges elsewhere. I was thankful. Back in the world of football, the dying seconds of the game saw us given a penalty, and I excitedly pointed it out to Sarah who was walking back towards me. Our dynamic Spaniard Mikel Arteta stepped up to the spot, but had his effort saved by the goalkeeper. “FOR FUCKS SAKE!” I shouted as the final whistle followed right after, and a Thai guy beside me laughed at my aggravation. At least some happiness was caused by our inadequacy to get a decent result.

We walked through the seedy main streets, Sarah somewhat un-enthralled by what was on offer whilst trying to scope out somewhere decent to lead Alexa’s hen party to the following evening. I was excited by my ugly, flashing, vibrant surroundings, it reminded me a lot of the dodgy places in Bangkok where I’d had a good laugh with the Lub D hostel crew during my first few days away, and I was looking forward to experiencing more of the same madness with my best friend now in toe. By this point we hadn’t really witnessed the ultra-seedy side together, and I was eager for us to see some crazy shit . We went full circle, ending up back at Kamilla, where we firstly searched for our favourite movie channel (the only thing that was good in Koh Samui), which wasn’t available, but we found another showing films in English, which went on in the background yet again as I wrote myself to sleep whilst Sarah was zonked.

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