Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Sailor from Gibraltar

Long-tailed boat in the Thai style, Pataya Beach, Koh Lipe

Bedraggled, dazed, confused and exhausted after travelling on every mode of transport know to man from Koh Phangan across Thailand south and westwards (close to the Malaysian border) I arrived on the beach in Koh Lipe twenty four hours after setting off. Magic-hour sun drenched the beach and tinged everything with gold, intensifying the colours. The beach seemed so alive with people, colours, laughter floating towards me from the volley ball game going on a bit further along, and the murmur of voices from the myriad bars and restaurants that stretched the length of the strand. I still couldn’t find the Paradise Cottage resort and I was lugging my huge suitcase up the beach. At one point I stopped, not able to go on with exhaustion and that exasperation that takes over when, after such keen effort over a prolonged period, you seem to be empty of all reserves. It happens. I saw a girl in a vibrant bikini and asked her if she knew where this paradise place was. Another person stopped and between them they tried to work out the location of the particular paradise I was looking for. Neither of them seemed to have a clue where it was, then I noticed a man running down to us with a big grin saying, Welcome, welcome, can I help? He reached us, breathless, and seemed a bit intoxicated, but pleasantly so. As it turned out he didn’t know where it was either, was acting purely on alcoholic exuberance (but as I found out later this was layered over a basically very friendly nature) he rushed back to his friends to ask. Some very brown German started gesticulating down the beach and my friend rushed back asking to help me with my bag. I didn’t say no. I was surprised and relieved.

Finally we found it and I thanked him, said I could manage from here. He invited me down for a beer when I was settled. I had a quick shower in my little bungalow (which was outside in a beautiful tiles bathroom that reminded me of Greece, the rest of this ‘paradise’ consisted of a basic bamboo hut with an oversize bed and a fan). Refreshed I headed over to where I’d seen them sitting and he effusively asked me if I’d like a beer and invited me to sit down on a big communal lounge facing the ocean. A few beers later it was like we had known each other for a very long time indeed. I asked where he was saying and he pointed out to the ocean, See that light? What I thought was a star turned out to be the light on the top of the mast of his sailing ship, Spirit. They had arrived a few hours earlier, anchored off-shore and came in on a little dingy moored a bit down the beach and they’d been sitting there since, drinking beer and watching stray humans arrive from different parts of the world onto a little beach with the whitest softest sand I have ever experienced.

We talked about everything, children, Montessori education, life, the universe. The way he talked about children was a revolution to me. He had taken the Montessori training years before in a class full of women because he wanted the very best education for his two children. We talked about chance meetings, ships in the night and the wonderful people we’d both been meeting on our travels. At this stage he was more than a little drunk, but still very sharp and articulate, his English absolutely perfect with only the vaguest sense of a German accent softening the edges. I shared food with him and his friends and later watched the fire thrower who performed in front of us, brilliantly and adroitly spinning a wand with fire burning on both ends. The beach had lit up with the on-coming night, the beautiful temperature, the fantastically warm company. My friend Michael was more than a little drunk and more than a little affectionate. It was nice the way we hit it off, but because he was more than a little drunk our chance meeting and friendly ease with each other was unbalancing what I could see was a very balanced mind. He started telling me about his dream, that he had two choices, to go back to his life (and his children, who at ten and fourteen lived with him while their mother, from whom he was separated, lived in Germany while they lived in Austria) or to just take off with the sailboat wherever the wind took him. He said this with such a glint of far longing in his eyes it made me smile. He said he’d like to do this with me.

I could see it was the drink talking, although he could possibly feel the same way when not drunk. I said it wasn’t a choice at all, seeing as how he was the current carer of his obviously beloved children. He couldn’t just walk away from them. He reluctantly agreed but kept coming back to this proposition. I had already told him how I’d always wanted to learn to sail. He said he thought, no, at this point he knew he could teach me the ropes in three days. Crash course in crewing. In spite of the alcohol I felt this offer was not just the raving of a drunken mind and could definitely become my new reality. I think if I’d have said yes I would at this moment be on board that ship sailing first to Langkawi and then on, who knows where…
I said I would like to see the boat though and he said he’d show it to me in the morning at 8am. Perhaps we both knew this would never happen but we arranged it anyway, and I was indeed there at that time but in the morning light with a much clearer head and a bit of distance he obviously thought it wouldn’t be the best idea and so no dingy made its way from The Spirit over to the shore this morning while I waited there.
There were two sailboats out there and I didn’t know which was his. At one point, while I watched, one of them started sailing away towards the horizon. With my lens I zoomed into the name on the other boat, it was called The Wildflower.

All day I’ve been reminded of a story by Marguerite Duras called, The Sailor from Gibraltar. It’s about a woman who has a brief intense love affair with a sailor she meets in Gibraltar but they separate with no contact details for each other. After coming into money years later she learns to sail a boat, gets a crew and heads off ostensibly in search of this elusive person whom they never quite find. They come into ports and hear rumours of how they have just missed him, his boat just left for Aruba, or possible Rio de Janeiro. So they up sails and head off after the rumour. The crew speculate that there is no sailor at all, that this searching dream of the woman is how she has chosen to live, that the search is better than the actual finding. I can’t help feeling incredibly sad today…
Possibly I’ll meet up with him again…

The Wildflower, anchored off Pataya beach, after Spirit had sailed away...

Supplemental: What I’ve learned so far…
·         There’s a bit of a gap between the Thai use of words like ‘Paradise’ and ‘Palace’ and my own understanding of those terms
·         I am distressed by the way the Thai people treat animals. The number of miserable-looking cats and dogs (the latter always seem to have just birthed a litter and are dragging around two rows of ridiculously swollen teats under their bodies). The dogs, miserable with mange and fleas and lethargic with hunger roam wild, sleeping in any shade they can find, begging food from restaurant tables and being kicked away. A common sound is the yelping of some poor cur who’s received the narrow end of human kindness. 

Pataya beach, Koh Lipe

      Monday, March 07, 2011

      My last day on Koh Lipe, which as it turns out, I’m quite happy about. This island is a tropical paradise with all the prerequisites: turquoise seas, bowing palm trees and the whitest softest sand I have ever walked on (feels like walking through talcum powder), but if you are not interested in frying in the wilting 100 degree sun (believe me, many are) or equally burning up in the magnification of water while snorkeling, and once you’ve taken all the photos of Thai high-prowed long-tailed boats you will need for a lifetime then you quickly realize this is a pretty boring place. It is full of regular tourists, not travelers and I would definitely associate myself with the latter at this stage. After the incredible friendliness and openness of the people at the Sanctuary, the quickly-established intimacies, I can’t help but feel let down to be back to normality and people who barely grunt if you say hello to them, after they’ve gotten over the shock of such forwardness.
       And it’s so much more developed and touristy than I’d imagined, or read in any of the descriptions, my impressions were that it was still an undiscovered jewel in the crown of exquisite islands that make up the Tarutao islands that form part of the Tarutao National Marine park and you can’t get much further south in Thailand than Koh Lipe, situated almost on the Malaysian border. I travelled twenty four hours from the other side of the country and much further north to get here and I’m glad I came but also looking forward to heading north tomorrow to the Krabi area, to Koh Lanta and  then on to Phi Phi. I have a feeling now I should have stopped at Tarutao island, where the boat stopped on the way here. It’s an actual park, but with camping sites and cabins, and it looked so much more wild and remote. After Tarutao the speedboat to Koh Lipe stopped for a photo opportunity (really!) on Koh Khai, a little gem with a beautiful rock formation showing the azure sea through a cave like gap in the rock. Everyone piled off and got the requisite photos in front of this unusual thing and then on to Lipe where the bay awas chocka with what seemed like hundreds of taxi boats plying their way across the clear waters to the string of hotels and resorts on Pataya beach. I guess I should have chosen the other side of the island with that exceptional cove that is much quieter and picturesque.

Koh Khai, Tarutao National Marine Park, Thailand

Near Sunset Beach, Koh Lipe, my favourite beach on Koh Lipe

Lone Guy on beach, Koh Lipe

'Paradise' Cottage resort, where I stayed, Pattaya Beach, Koh Lipe

Why come to Koh Lipe? The answer's in this picture...

        I’m missing my daily yoga and Thai massage sessions with Wuth and today I secumbed to belly problems from something I ate, lots of fruit, toast and French fries. Some of the inevitable joys of travelling! I hope my next stop has me meeting up with more like-minded people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet on Koh Phangan, travelling here and also my first night here with the Sailor from Gibraltar. It’s been rich but I’m lonely now, surrounded by people…

Big Mama with Wuth in the background, where I went everyday in the Sanctuary for his miraculous 'Lifetime Memory Massage

      In the evening a storm blew up, as sudden as anything, darkening the sky to cobalt blue with streaks of ash and vanilla. The light became what photographer's die for, roam the world for, track across deadly wastes and tropical paradises for. The rain suddenly flashed down, the sky blooming pink with the setting sun, then golden with the clarity of polished crystal.


Carley said...

Wow, these photos are amazing Anne! Really beautiful, are the colours over there really that vivid? I've been missing out :-( and missing you! xx

Anne said...

hi carl, yeah, it really is like in the pictures -- incredibly intense colours. On Phi Phi now, going to Maya beach this afternoon to snorkle (The Beach) but there'll be a million people there so I doubt it will be good pics-wise. These islands are amazing!! Miss you too! xx a.

Anonymous said...

Well, those German men....often unreliable.
Gorgeous photos, great read!

michael said...

...didn't mean to be "anonymous".

Sheila said...

Hi Anne

Just started following your blog......I am truly amazed at your courage. Your photos are amazing....I envy you :) Enjoying your discriptive blogs......Stay safe my friend, love and hugs xx