Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Turtle Islands

It's been a long time again, hasn't it? It's hard to remember all that went on in Thailand now that we've been in Indonesia for almost one month. I need to get better at writing more often, but we're headed to Africa next and I really doubt that internet connections are going to be any better than they are now, but we'll see. Thanks to the faithful followers that still check up on us to see if we've posted anything.

Chris already did a great job talking about the history of Thailand and about our time through Ko Tao. I won't try to redo all that, but will just throw in some pictures and funny stories. Basically a little color commentary.

Ko Phra Thong (aka "Turtleteer Island")

Chris and I went to Ko Phra Thong to volunteer for an organization, Naucrates, that helps turtles in the local area. As Chris mentioned, we went at the time when we would be most likely to see little baby turtles, but mother nature can't be controlled and we weren't able to see a whole nest of hatch-lings while there. We did however see one hatch-ling on the night that we camped out on the beach. This is the story of Scrappy the hatch-ling:

Chris' account was accurate - we didn't see any hatch-lings while we all (Chris and I, Martina, Maxi, Ailan and Isabelle) diligently took two-hour shifts through the night, waiting for the little ones to pop out. Once the morning dawned, we were faced with the task of excavating the nest for lack of a better word. The turtle eggs were hidden about three feet underground, so it took awhile for our fearless leader, Maxi, to reach the nest. Once there the eggs were taken out one by one and painstakingly recorded by two of the other volunteers, Ailan and Isabelle (sorry if this is misspelled). Basically, most of the eggs had some sort of mildew or fungus that got into them and did not develop properly. I think we dug out a total of 60 or so eggs that didn't hatch. They were all in various stages of development and the smell wreaked basically of, you guessed it - rotten eggs.

At the very bottom of the stack of eggs, all of a sudden, Maxi pulled out an "alive/out" (alive and out of the egg, if memory serves) turtle. This little guy had been at the bottom of the heap of eggs for at least two or three nights, trying to fight his way through all of his unhatched turtle brothers and sisters. He was scooped up and put in a bucket while the rest of the excavation continued. As he continued to try to break free from the bucket and make it to the sea, we noticed that he had a bum front flipper which caused him to go in circles for awhile.

What happened next was an interesting discussion between Maxi, representing Naucrates, that is actually from Italy and a local man from a marine research center that is collaborating with the volunteers. The Thai people have a long history in what is called "head-starting" the turtles. This consists of keeping the hatch-lings in captivity for a few months (or years) until they are strong and have a good chance of making it in the open ocean. Naucrates, the volunteer organization, on the other hand, believes in not interfering with nature and supported trying to let the now named "Scrappy" try to get to the ocean and make it on his own with no head starting. Additionally, Scrappy was (or hopefully still is) a leather back turtle and Naucrates was unaware of any successful case of a leather back turtle being head-started.

A discussion went on for at least an hour regarding what to do with Scrappy. The Thai gentleman advocating for headstarting and Maxi pushing for sending Scrappy out to the waters that day. Por, the translator for the program, was literally in the middle of the intense and complex conversation trying to get each person's point across without majorly offending anyone. All the while, Scrappy was scratching away at the sides of the bucket trying to complete his task of getting to the water.

In the end, since we were on the beach that Naucrates patrolled, it was decided to let Scrappy go, rather than headstarting him for awhile. It was a harrowing journey for him from 100 or so feet from the ocean to making it in. He struggled with his bum flipper, but eventually figured out how to correct for it. It was especially difficult to watch him make it to the sea, only to be pushed back 10 feet by the waves. He never gave up, though, even after being at it for so long. It was amazing to watch the innate determination built into his little body. He was not going to give up for anything.

Who knows what Scrappy's fate was or if it was the best decision to send him out into the world then rather than after a few months. I still think about that and haven't come up with a firm viewpoint as I'm not an expert on turtles. Regardless of how improbable it is, I do, however, like to image that one day, 20 years from now, Scrappy (who will actually be female and named Scrappa) will come back to that same beach, with a slight limp and lay her eggs.

Besides our night on the beach waiting for the turtle nest to hatch, Chris and I also spent another night on the beach alone. It was a little cooler than in the town and we wanted to take advantage of being able to stargaze like you can't in LA. We set up our make shift tents (actually mosquito nets) on the beach, and of course once we did, it started to rain. It seems like it never just rains in SE Asia. It may start out as a slight sprinkle, but sooner or later, okay usually sooner, it turns into a down pour. Luckily, we were by a yoga sala (aka covered patio) and were able to set up our makeshift tents there.

It wasn't quite as romantic as we hoped for, but it was still less hot than in the village. The one thing I wasn't expecting was that I got totally freaked out by the area, which I hadn't when we were turtleteering it up waiting for Scrappy. The cause of my angst was a book that I read while in Ko Phra Thong, Out of the Blue. It was written by an Australian journalist that was on that very beach, by the Golden Buddha Beach (GBB) resort, during the tsunami that hit SE Asia right after Christmas in 2004. In the book, the demise of people from the tsunami on that very beach is depicted in heartwrenching detail. It was really freaky to be in that very spot where the author describes the events of that one fateful day. I, apparently, am not alone in my apprehension, as some of the locals originally on the island refused to return because of ghosts that were haunting the place. The part I was really freaked out by was the description of monkeys that went on the attack and ripped into people's faces a la Siegfried and Roy. Needless to say, we made it through the night.

The rest of our days on Turtleteer Island were filled with a LOT of patrolling beautiful beaches and the occasional secluded island looking for signs of turtle hatch-lings. I thought I would lose weight from all of the walking, bicycling, and swimming, but actually probably gained some from the wonderful cook, La Mione, that made a five course meal (with dessert) every single night. As Chris mentioned, the accommodations were definitely minimal. The family we stayed with were very hospitable, but we were more consumed with Tutleteering duties. We weren't expecting luxury living when we signed up for the program, but it is a slightly difficult problem to figure out how to use the squat toilets. Luckily, we had other facilities by GBB that we could use. This really was the first time in Thailand that we had to use squat toilets all the time. While there are many in bus stations and other areas where more locals use, for the most part, in the touristy areas there are almost always western toilets and facilities, so don't worry if you are going to Thailand. Also, I must say that I've gained a new appreciation for squat toilets in public places as your feet are the only things touching a public area.

{TMI? Trust me - I have way more funny stories to tell about waxing and other issues associated with being a women that I will be happy to share off the blog. I could probably have an entirely separate blog for the female issues I've encountered!}

Another interesting, none turtle related note, is that they grow cashews on Ko Phra Thong. I had never seen this before and was amazed that one cashew comes from just one fruit on a cashew tree. No wonder they are so expensive!

Overall, for me, the highlights of Ko Phra Thong were the beautiful, uninhibited beaches, the yummy food, and hanging out with nice people. The turtle bit didn't pan out quite as expected, but I guess mother nature can't be scheduled.

Ko Samui/Ko Tao

Basically Ko Samui and Ko Tao had beautiful beaches and lots of SCUBA. I wasn't quite ready to try SCUBA yet, so I spent a lot of time reading and working on my tan. Hard life. I did do some snorkeling and cliff diving (about 30 feet or so), which was a blast. Chris and I even saw some black fin sharks when we were snorkeling, just a few meters of the coast. The guy we were with had a trick of crunching on an empty water bottle to make the sharks curious and come around. A nice trick with smaller sharks, but I won't be trying that with on my own! Ko Tao is DEFINITELY an island for SCUBA divers with over 40 SCUBA shops, but I still had fun relaxing during the day and enjoying dinner in the evening. Can't complain.


After our time on Ko Tao, we went to Nai Yang, a small beach resort outside of Phuket for two nights because we were flying out of Phuket to Bali. It was a small stop over, but worth mentioning for a slight detour we had when we got to the bus station in Phuket. Basically, by that time we had already been travelling for well over 12 hours. From Ko Tao, we took a three hour boat ride to the mainland, from there a 30 minute bus ride to a main town, after that a three hour hot crowded "minibus" ride to another main town (Surat Thani), and from there, a six to seven hour ride to Phuket. It was about 8:30 pm and luckily we already had a hotel reservation in Nai Yang so we thought it would be a quick trip to crash out.

Chris was in charge of getting our bags from the bottom of the bus, while I was in charge of finding a cab. I was ushered to a man with a broken down minibus and showed him my piece of paper which clearly stated "Nai Yang Beach Resort." He pointed to a list of places around Phuket said yes here. The sign send Nai Han, but I didn't see Nai Yang anywhere else on the list, so I said ok. Additionally, I asked if he wanted to use my cell phone to call the hotel because I had the phone number. He declined.

Here I have to interject something that I've seen ALL over SE Asia. They spell every word, including and especially towns, ALL different ways. Case in point - we are in Jogjakarta right now. Or is that Yogjakarta or Yogyakarta. I've seen all different ways - even on airline flights and within the city itself. With that in mind, I thought Nai Han was just a different spelling of Nai Yang.

All the way from the bus station I saw signs for Nai Han beach and started getting suspicious, but didn't say anything because I had shown him the name of the hotel on the piece of paper. Boy was I wrong. We basically ended up 2 hours away from Nai Yang with the man shouting and pointing in my face with his finger. "Lady say Nai Han." "NAI YANG not NAI HAN" If I could hear the difference between what he was saying that would be a miracle. 2 and a half hours and $30 later in a different cab we ended up at our resort in NAI YANG!!! Lesson learned - point to a map.

If you haven't already figured it out, we decided to skip Australia and have been hanging out in Indonesia for the last month. Sorry Australia, we'll have to see you later. We'll update on Indo soon. Miss you!


  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme II by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP