Friday, August 3, 2012

Khao Sok: River tubing in a prehistoric landscape

The air conditioning on the overnight train south is not exactly up to arctic levels. Knowing that heat rises, and that we were in Thailand in the summer (a place where you could conceivably grill chicken on the sidewalk at midnight), I probably should have chosen the bottom bunk.
I spent the majority of the bumpy night plastered against the cold plastic wall, palms flat against the paneling like a gecko. I like being cold when I sleep. When I was a teenager I used to sleep on the tile floor by the front door in the summers when it got hot, sometimes I would stick my pillow cases in the freezer - anything to chill myself into a mini hibernation for the night. In the morning we hopped onto a bus to finish our voyage to Khao Sok, a rainforest older than the amazon where wild tigers, elephants, and gibbons share the forest with muntjacs... otherwise known as barking deer - a deer so badass it has fangs. Yes, let me repeat that incase it didn't process - a DEER, with FANGS.

The bus was something in itself to behold - oscillating metal fans hang upside-down from the pumpkin orange ceiling. Strings of marigold and jasmine flowers tied to hot pink ribbons droop from the rearview mirror in various stages of wither, bone-dry petals dropping onto the Yoshi green dashboard with every pothole. A large round wall clock is strapped over the speedometer, the thick layer of dust suggesting our driver hasn't been concerned with his speed in quite a while. The driver straddles the wheel. His bare feet dance between the tetanus garden of rusty clutch, gas, and break pedals to the splintery wooden floors of the bus. A paperclip is taped to his right ring finger, extending out from the tip into a hook. I don't know what the hook was for, I wasn't going to ask.

There it is again, that distinct smell of feces or fruit. Nuddy, our guide for the south, assures me the smell is coming from the rubber tree plants ("like for making condoms or shoes", Nuddy says). In the middle of a sea of rubber farms, we pass by a roadside carnival stand. A rainbow of balloons fill the back of the stand, waiting for passersby to pop them with darts. An enormous winnie-the-pooh awaits the winner.

For a couple who is used to roughing it when we travel, we were shocked to arrive at our individual bungalow on the river. The bathroom had pebbles in the shower and a mosaic on the wall. This was not motel 6 (or whatever its rainforest equivalent would be). Looking out our back patio was a  truly dinosaur worthy landscape. Colossal limestone cliffs covered in dense forest poked at the clouds above the river. We hopped into tubes and cascaded down the river, surrounded by craggy peaks so vertical that trees appear to defy gravity as their roots dangle down the side of the stone."BUMS UP!" echoes through the canyon from our fellow river tubers to warn us of rocky waters ahead. Caves bite into the base of the bluffs, we stop at one to swing from a rope into the river. I don't purposely seek out those moments that take my breath away, but when they happen I lock the image in my head so that I can look back on it forever. Floating down that river, looking straight up at the rocks above me, drips of water racing down the side of the cliffside, wooden houses lining the riverbank... it was one of those moments. 

The most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen on a cat. 
I have never seen such a mix of green and blue on a cat before.

The next morning, we took a long tail boat through the Khao Sok lake. As the boat passes the bluffs, more slide quickly into view like a life-size pop up book, creating an infinite horizon of forested crags mirrored on the teal water. We rode deep into the veinous avenues of the lake where we stopped for a swim and some lunch. The water was so deep that we could never reach the bottom - no matter how many times Ryan tried to touch the lake floor with his many, various attempts at Olympic diving. The water was so richly teal that you would think the whole lake was dyed to match a perfect shade of Disneyland moat water. Next to the table where we set down our bags was a netted off area of water overstuffed with a gang of snaggletoothed fish.

 As you could guess, when we got out of the lake we were welcomed with plates full of those very same terrifying fish - their giant bodies hanging over the edges of the plate in all their sharp toothed glory. The heavily salted bodies were carved open to expose a tic-tac-toe of sweet potato colored meat and splintery bones. Luckily for me, a hesitant and rare fish eater, the fish was accompanied with a king's quantity of the most comically spicy chicken curry I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful, colorful journey you have taken us on. Thank you!!!