07 January 2009

Koh Tao - Of Sharks and the Effects of Man on the Island

OK, as you can guess, I'm working and working around to write up the perfect blog post which of course takes me forever. Now I thought I'd start with writing about our stay on the island of Koh Tao (near Koh Samui) off the Southeastern strip of Thailand - before catching up with the several days in Bangkok at a later time, else I NEVER catch up with my trip over here!

Since we've been lying lazily on the beach for days and roaming the streets of Tao (Koh meaning island in Thai and Tao meaning "turtle" as the 21m2 island not only - SUPPOSEDLY looks like a turtle but also because sea turtles used to come here to lay their eggs but not so often anymore, probably to do with the touristification of the beaches), we thought we'd go on a boat trip around the island to "see what the island we're on actually looks like" (Aike), as "just as well could be in Chumphong (me; Chumphong is the provincial coastal town where the boats to Koh Tao/Samui etc. depart from).

So for a couple of Baht (I'm really bad with numbers), you can hop on a boat at 9am, snorkel with some sharks, snorkel here and there, mask and fins provided, have refreshments on board and then later in the afternoon, have the option of A) Japanese Garden or B) Nangyuan Island (a small island off the NW coast of Koh Tao), the latter with a 100 Baht landing fee, before being returned to land in the early evebing.

So our first stop is Shark Bay with Shark Island (just a rock, more interesting for Scuba divers though). Maybe I've been living in England for too long but I kinda expected some kind of instruction of how to behave towards the whale sharks, what to do and what not to do lest it provokes them and how to tell if you just did. However, all the Thai guy said as he turned off the engine, popped us off the rear ladder with a jolly "See you tomorrow!" and tossed in the emergency ring was, "Shark: THIS way!", pointing in the direction I am supposed to swim in! I hold on to the ladder, shaking my head in disbelief that I actually PAID to go snorkelling with sharks. I send a Stossgebet to heaven, jump into the water and move my legs to keep me afloat, seeing in front of my inner eye a pair of yummy fresh lunch from the underwater POV of a shark, as feat. in "The White Shark" I think of holding on to Aike who, like everyone else, amazingly already swarmed out far. Then I remember his big open wound (motorcycle accident, a whole other story!) and suddenly don't find it such an appealing idea after all... But then I think, "They would not do this if it was dangerous. Get over it!", spit into my goggles and put my head underwater.

What you see down there is just amazing! You see schools of Zebra fish and even blue fluorescent fish. It's just great! It was my first time snorkelling too and I am surprised that you actually can SEE fish or so without the need of a scuba tank. I open my arms and just let myself float right there on the surface, surrounded by Zebra fish. I kinda lost track of time a little and when I pop my head back up, the boat is 60m away, all of the eight or so others on it plus the driver, letting his feet dangle off the side of it and beckoning me to come back to the boat. I swim focusing on reaching the ladder at the back despite the tide towards the bay. Next time I look at him, he had put his hands together in a prayer/greeting-like gesture and was mumbling sth to himself. I remember where we are and wonder if he's praying to get the last person (me!) safely on board. Hm... - But I make it to the boat. The comes aft and says, "Did you see shark??" I shake my head, not sure I should feel disappointed or relieved. Suddenly, he straightens up, his eyes go big and he points behing me: "Oh LOOK!!! Big fish! BIG FISH! SHARK RIGHT BEHIND YOU!" What a joker (I still peeped over my shoulder though, just to make sure). I come on board and he revvs the engine for the next bay. I ask Aike if he saw any shark. He says no. I reply, "Hm, maybe it's 200 Baht more if you want the tour WITH shark" (referring to the daily scams foreigners are exposed to on a daily basis). Just beautiful! Water is like 4-5m deep but there is an underwater rock ca. 3m high and ca. 10m2 and overgrown by corals so you can really see loads of stuff up close! Never seen corals myself before except from videos and pics and it's fascinating to encounter a landscape yet so different from what you can see on land. I get thje confirmation that I really want to learn how to scuba dive, the motivation that crucially outbalances your fears (if only by a little but that's all it takes). These underwater... plants that I saw look like gigantic underwater mushrooms. Small fish hide in between and the occasional school of fish passes by if you found a lonely spot in that bay (it's rather busy and there were around five boats there, some with 20 people, actually not so good for the environment and the integrity of marine life). You also see the occasional mimikry fish, lurking between sea flowers for prey. We go back on board and proceed to the next stop. It's around lunch time, getting quite hot but the sea now also reallyt starts to get a bit unco0m fy. We reach the final snorkelling spot. I pop into the water but can't see much as the waves shake up sediment and make it difficult to see anything at all. After only five minutes in the water, I climb back up, p[assing the Thai couple that I thought was chilling at the aft of the deck. I ask them if they don't want to come swim and tell them that the visibility is very bad for snorkelliung though. They smile and say that they are actually feeling seasick, especially the guy. I return to the middle of the ship and have some light steamed rice and then see the Thai BF puking into the water, where I've been seconds before, being gladf I got out of the water already. Aike comes back on board after that (HA HA!) and says that we haven't been asked for our options yet. Suddenly, a longtail boat taxi docks onto our boat and half the people on board climb onto it, among them a woman in her 50s who already looked seasick before we even had started the trip.

We don't go to the Japanese Garden anymore and I am surprised as I would not have thought that bad visibility or sea conditions would prevent anyone from seeing a garden on shore. Turns out, the Japanese Garden actually is underwater too... So our boat then takes course on Nangyuan. Although the guy ties the boat the the dock, it is so shaky because of the rough sea that the gap inbetween changes between 0.5 and 1.5m (and now imagine that for small people like me!). I get the feeling that this must be what it is like to land on an oil rig. Luckily, there's two guys that give us a hand or rather, an arm to haul us on the dock that moves wildly on a rack of empty gallon-sized containers. Fun! Nangyuan is sth of a double island, connected by a struop of beachg where the ocean washes corals ashore from both sides. On one side, you can climb a small hill and overlook Nangyuan, Koh Tao and the sea. Nice scrambling, some people even do it with their flip flops. You can actually also do rock climbing on Koh Tao, on granite. I just love to learn rock climbing and scuba diving and horse riding... The kinds of things I always wanted to learn as a kid but which my mother thought too dangerous and my father too expensive.

At the moment, I start to think that it could be fun to come back to Koh Tao, learn how to scuba dive (if by then it still is the cheapest place to do that in whole of Thailand), practice my rock climbing skills and take part in that marine conservation project I read about in a local leaflet. \

Having lived on this island for nearly a week now, one really does get a sense of the relationship of human life (lifestyle of locals and tourists alike) and nature. Recycling, waste management (they burn what they can but collect plastic bottles, probably to take them to the mainland for proper recycling), supply of clean drinking water, marine ecosystem, electricity (often streetlights go out at night, making it pitchdark to walk home, most restaurants and bars close at 10pm and the most electricity comes from private generators). If you are considerate, you save energy and then you find the islanders shoot this Gigawatt beam of light to pierce the clouds of the night sky , probably for the tourists and New Year's Eve mood. Or you see a 1000W turbo ventilator in a bakery/coffeehouse that blows on whoever ordered hot coffee...) and transport (motorcycles are as popular on Koh Tao as bicycles in Amsterdam. They are literally EVERYWHERE! And whoever does not have a motorcycle, has a Toyota cross-country jeep, taller than me (AND the average person in Europe), often those are Taxis to get people throught the difficult sand roads in the hilly terrain of the forest at the inner part of the island (mostly tourists arriving at the only pier that gets you to the mainland) and who want to get to their resort at the other end of the island with their bags.

1 courageous comments!:

Anonymous said...

Hi Hj!

I was wondering what is happening with you! Did not hear anything for ages! So I looked into your blog - very interesting stories (hope u r not pregnant!) (;-)). U disappeared from facebook - guess u want to have ur "privacy" - I totally understand!

I hope u r doing well!

I am good although the world seperates me and Zane! Sniff! Btw. he did a proposal on the airport - Canada (long story)! Seems we r going to marry...(if we see each other again).

Hope we could talk soon!