Thursday, February 28, 2013

Climbing Railay...and beyond

Day 1.

So what activities did we get ourselves up to on this first day of beautaeous Railay, you ask?

Ohhhh boy.

Let's just say maybe we were a little overzealous, since we weren't sure how many days we would get to spend here. We had at the most 3 days (half day arrival plus half day from when our flight left for Bangkok from the Krabi airport), and we were going to spend those days to their fullest.

So, the first day we were there we went to their Walking Street (literally, that's what it's called), and saw who had what to offer. There was a lot they had to offer.

Climbing expeditions, deep water soloing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, night swimming, scuba diving, sailing, and just about any other sea activity you could imagine.

But the climbing here was supposed to be fantastic. No, unfathomable. So, climbing is what we went for first.

As we were fairly certain we were going to do a half day of climbing, another activity caught my eye - sunset snorkeling and night swimming in phosphorescent waters.

Apparently that's a big thing here - swimming in the phosphorescent waters at night.

...I'm sorry, what? Phosphorescent waters who?

According to various advertisements (and our tour book), Leonardo DiCaprio made swimming in phosphorescent night waters in the movie The Beach a big thing. This, as it happens, is a movie that my sister and I have both not seen. So the significance was completely lost on both of us. But well, everyone kept stressing the point so it must have been something cool. And I love me some good snorkeling in awesome ocean, so, well, I was sold and it didn't take long to convince my sister that this is probably something worthwhile too. Who doesn't love swimming with the fishes?

So, that was our schedule for the first full day we had in Railay. Morning till noon full of climbing, afternoon until 8pm of snorkeling and then some night swimming in phosphorescent waters. Pretty dec, right?

Definitely right. The climbing was fabulous, as it was promised to be. The terrain really is perfect for climbing, and boy did we get our climbing on.

We climbed right over the sandy beach (on the gross non-fabulous beach side of the island, where all of the good problems/cliffs are). And it was wonderful. The rock here is such that there are natural hand and foot holds everywhere. Even without chalk (which we did use), it wasn't too sharp and it didn't crumble at all, no matter what you did. It was like it was made to be climbed.

The wonderful thing about it was there was a nice range of problems - there were people in our class who had never climbed before and others who climbed all the time. Just depended on what you were looking for. Should you want something more difficult all you had to do is move over a little and suddenly you were in more difficult territory. There were bouldering areas all over the island where people set up and just started climbing.

We were out climbing for a few hours and got a good 5-6 climbs in before it was time to call it quits. I hadn't been on a wall in probably 6 months and it felt good to be back. Just gives me enthusiasm to get back into it once I have a steady situation again. Here's hoping that Don has good climbing gyms. ;) Hey, if Finn had them, why wouldn't Don, right?

After a quick stop back at our hotel to change and apply more sunscreen, we caught a fast lunch then met up with our snorkeling crew.

We bought a cheap underwater camera for this portion of our trip, as you could imagine (and especially after my sister accidentally killed her iPhone after leaving it in her pants during our elephant bathing session), but here are a few quick shots we got off with the digital camera while on the boat:

The waters were just as warm here, and even more beautiful than the ones we had swum in off of Koh Phangan. I can't imagine waters any more wonderful than these.

Our only point of issue (which also slightly haunted us the next day): jellyfish. These little buggers were everywhere. Luckily during our snorkeling phase it was just of the small, clear, annoyingly painful variety, not of the poisonous flesh-searing sort, but it was still unduly irritating to one's skin and uncomfortable to say the least. You could barely see them in the water (they were like floating lightbulbs the size of small icicle radishes) and they would sting you but leave no mark, just a very unpleasant stinging sensation on your skin. I was stung numerous times on my back, neck, ears, and arms. They floated right near the surface. Nothing to do but ignore them if you were enjoying the fish and other creatures, which were wonderful - especially the multi-colored clams.

As our snorkeling wound down (we went to several locations), we were brought to an island a little further out where a large bat cave was - one of the biggest known in the area. A bit after sunset we were told to look towards the horizon. For the next twenty minutes thousands of bats swarmed out of their cave and went out into the night to hunt. It was beautiful. Like right out of a Planet Earth documentary...though infinitely more silent.

I don't know if you can see them in this picture, but know that they're there, in the thousands. No one (i.e. our guide) seemed to know much about them, but they come out every night like clockwork and return at dawn. It was wonderful.

After this we waited a little bit until it was dark enough (and we caught a free fire show that was happening on the shore near where our boat was waiting) then we headed out for some night swimming.

I've never been a comfortable ocean swimmer. Just in general. Despite being a strong swimmer (I competed in the two longest distances available all through high school), somehow deep water has never sat well with me - no matter if I could see the bottom of it or not. Swimming in a pool has even freaked me out from time to time. Something about sea creatures and the possibilities of them sneaking up on me from behind or below (yes, my rational mind understands sea creatures cannot live in pool water...this does not assuage my fear).

Anyway, even during the daylight this can get the better of me and make me get out of the water. But for whatever reason Thailand's ocean waters have had the exact opposite effect on me. I wanted to stay in the water as long as possible. Yes their temperature probably helps, but there's no end to the dangerous creatures in their waters, so it's not like that should have eased my mind. They certainly had jellyfish (even of the poisonous, dangerous variety, as we found later in the day and the next day), even some sharks and I believe rays...and squid fishing is a definite nighttime activity. So, what was it?

I actually don't have an answer for you. Maybe the place is just magic. But whatever it is about Thailand and its waters - I believe in it. It stopped me from holding my fears about water and allowed me to relax. It's the first time I can remember being able to fully relax in water in a long time. I hope I can hold onto this feeling for as long as possible. Maybe it's just that I'm letting go of other things in my life as well. Whatever it is, it feels good.

Anyhow, back to the story. Night swimming does not usually help my fear of deep water. I have a love of horror movies but it doesn't make things like night swimming better. I just know more about potential bad situations. Or it makes my imagination more creative. There were a couple of thoughts that crossed my mind regarding this and I wondered if at the end of the day, I would be able to stay in the water for more than a couple of seconds.

Once again I needn't have worried. Thailand's magical waters soothed my soul and I stayed in and was the second to last person back in the boat.

Oh and the phosphorescent waters? Incredible. You splash around underwater and all your bubbles glow blue green. It was like being in the glowing red tide of San Diego but without all of the unnecessary disgusting bacterial danger.

After we swam in the glowing waters we headed back in silence. There are just some things better left unsaid about some experiences, and this was one of those times.

And that is what we did on Day 1.

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