Thursday, November 22, 2007

Phi Phi

Climbing in Phi Phi: 11/22-12/10/07

Ode to the sweet luxury of the porch. I'm sitting here, on our little bamboo bungalow’s porch, chewing my breakfast Pad Thai and sipping the water out of a coconut. This morning, I did as I have done most every morning here on Phi Phi Island, Thailand. I wake up, climb out from under the mosquito netting, put my bathing suit on, walk out of the bungalow onto the beach, slip into the cool morning sea, swim out to the buoy and back looking at the fish, dry off by laying in the sun, go back to the bungalow for a shower and get dressed, eat Pad Thai breakfast with Rod on the porch (he has either Muesli or Fried Rice), and think about what we will climb today. I think i could stay here forever!

Our bungalow is at the end of a long beach. Tonsai Village is at the other end (about a 5 min walk) and on this side is the rock climbing area, Tonsai Tower. A massive overhanging chunk of lime stone, Tonsai Tower has over 20 well bolted sport climbs. The jungle behind our bungalow, between the tower and us, has a resident family of monkeys that steal our food while we are climbing, and turn over the garbage cans here on the beach. A couple of times, i have walked out in the morning to confront one scavenging up on our porch. They are quite aggressive, sneaky, and smart... a constant source of entertainment. In fact, right now, I am watching two climb up a papaya tree and trying to knock a fruit down. Oh, they got it. Now the biggest is taking bites of the fruit, while the juveniles are eager on the periphery to pick up what is left. Little fights break out with dramatized screaming and bolting.

Ahh, another regular day in Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee, and so therefore unfortunately the town Phuket is similarly said). Today, after breakfast, we will do some yoga and read on the porch until about 10:30. Earlier in the morning the Tower is in the sunshine. We try climbing in the sun, but it is so hot and humid, that we are literally dripping with sweat instantly, and our sweaty hands can't hold onto the slippery limestone. After 10:30 the rock is in the shade, and the heat and sweat are manageable. It took us about a week to discover how to manage the mosquitoes however. Finally we found that burning a mosquito incense, available in town, kept the pests in check.
Like I said, the climbing here is good fun. There are many routes that are good warm ups and great to build confidence on lead. We amuse ourselves with everything from simple satisfying leads to thrilling frightening leads to "no way will I lead that, maybe we can top rope it" climbs. And plenty to fill each day without getting bored. We will climb until about 2:30, then back to the bungalow for swimming and reading until evening.

Our bungalow is in a great location, 2 min walk from the climbing, right on the beach, and shade from Tonsai Tower covers it from about 1:00 on. It is cool and comfortable when the rest of the beach and village are sweltering. We usually walk along the beach to the village an hour or two before dinner time, so that we can go to the internet cafe or pick up anything we need in the market. Although we have tried most of the restaurants in the village, we keep returning to the Le Grand Bleu - by far the best restaurant in town. It is in a beautiful traditional wood building, decorated with plants, Thai paintings and fabrics, and staffed by nicest friendliest women. And you wouldn't believe their red curry!
Last night, on the way to the village, we passed through a big gathering of people watching something going on in the harbor, most of the village was there. A barge with a crane had been called to rescue a sinking ship. It was all kinds of chaos with men on the barge and ship yelling at each other, and swimming to put slings around the ship, and maneuvering a flat boat with a water pump, and the crane trying not to break the ship in half. In the time i was watching, the ship was sinking about one foot every 15 min. It was very exciting. When we came back after dinner they had it back afloat... it all worked out somehow.

On days we are not climbing (come on, we can't climb everyday, gotta rest too :) we have a few enjoyable reserve activities. A favorite is to head to the book store in the village. They serve great coffee, and we sit and read and pet the sweetest yellow lab who is always hanging out on the sun deck. She mostly sleeps, but sometimes she excitedly jumps up and soon we hear the bicycle coming... her owner calls her, and off she runs to the beach for a swim, which is her favorite thing.

A walk through town and up over to the other side of island is always an adventure. The path starts with the tsunami trail; which is both a planned escape-to-high-ground route should another tsunami hit, and a memorial to the devastation of the 2004 tsunami that hit much of Thailand. From the top of the island, we see the ruins of buildings and the broken vegetation of areas not yet cleaned up. One man we spoke with, who was here for the tsunami, said he was asleep in his room on the 2nd floor when it happened. With all the noise, he woke up and looked downstairs to see his house and the whole ground under churning water. He was fine, his house stayed standing, but most of the village was completely destroyed, and he lost many friends. It is amazing though how the people here bounce back, rebuild, and maintain such a cheerful attitude. After admiring the views from the top of the island, we walk down the steep slippery path through the noisy jungle and onto the beaches on the other side. One of these has some beautiful bungalows and a tasty restaurant. We stay for dinner, but then have the scary walk back through the jungle at night; homicidal psycho jungle roots grabbing our feet.

On calm afternoons, when the sea is flat, we hire a flatboat to take us out to one of the small rock islands surrounding Phi Phi. In the shallow bay on the south side of the rock, is the Best Snorkeling Ever! Wow! I am truly amazed by the abundant life, the staggering diversity, the electric colors, and the warm crystal clear water. And we are the only people as far as we can see. We snorkel and swim around, we dive off the bow, we stop to snack on bananas and grilled squid with chili sauce, we snorkel some more... then the sun gets low and it's time to head back. Watching the sunset over the strange jungle topped rock formations, tired and relaxed from swimming, while bouncing along the waves may be my fondest memory of all our time here.

Now it is just a few more days of this paradise. From here, we fly back to the U.S., to climb Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and then back to California. The trip is coming to an end, our circumnavigation is almost complete. Ahh, but it will be so hard to leave here! In fact, Rod just suggested that we don't. We could just stay awhile. It is certainly hard to leave Phi Phi, I hope to get back here someday... and the adventure continues on.


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