For the past few months, Rebecca and I have been doing our best to go diving in the cool places we’ve visited in Asia. It’s been great, and we’ve seen some great wildlife. But sometimes, it’s just easier to put on a facemask and snorkel and jump in, content to just say up where the sun still shines. We went diving in Ko Lanta, but we didn’t see anything much better than you would have been able to do snorkeling. So one day during our rustic beach bungalow stay, we decided to save a zillion dollars and do a snorkeling trip.
We started the day waiting for our pickup van, watching the thunderstorms converge around us. Surely this trip would be canceled due to bad weather, right? Snorkeling in a lightning storm seems like a bad idea. But no, the trip was on, and we boarded our overcrowded shuttle to the other side of the island for our snorkeling boat. The sky opened up on the way, so we were treated to a nice sprinkle to keep us cool on our ride.
The plan was to hit four spots on our tour for a total of about 8 hours, so a nice long trip. Half the people on the boat were foreigners, but the other half were Thai, just on the boat to have a good time. It was an hour out to our first snorkeling spot, and with rough seas, it was a bit of a struggle to not puke. I succeeded, but the Thai boy next to me was not so lucky, puking over the side of the boat (and on the boat) a few times before quieting down. I missed this mostly, since I was busy doing my impression of a dead person, eyes closed and half asleep. It probably didn’t help the Thai kid that he had inhaled the breakfast cookies they had given us as a morning snack right before we took off. Let that be a lesson for you all: inhale cookies, and you’ll end up tossing them on the boat.
The first snorkeling spot was pretty good. The water was a little cloudy, but the area was pretty so it was enjoyable. Sadly, the coral reefs below told a tragic story about fishing practices of the past. Lots of the coral was blanched, and it had a strange flattened look. I learned later that this was probably dynamite damage. Yes, fisherman used to put dynamite in the water and blow up the coral, stunning or killing the fish so they would just float to the surface. Talk about lazy.
I had my own snorkel and mask and I’m not a fan of fins, so I just jumped in, while the Asian tourists put on life jackets, snorkels, fins, and floated within spitting distance of the boat. They barely put their heads in the water, and I’m not certain, but I think it’s because they were afraid of the water. I’m pretty sure there were some people on this trip who couldn’t swim. Seems unsafe, but whatever. I swam around (I’m a very active snorkeler – I like to get a workout in) for about 30 minutes and got back on the boat, noticing a few fish in a bucket below deck. Yes, the snorkeling company fished off the boat on a snorkeling trip, and I’m pretty sure we ate some of those fish for lunch.
Snorkeling spot #2 was great, except for one thing: the boat staff were feeding the fish. They wanted the people in the water to be surrounded by pretty tropical fish, so they threw out bread while the person swam out. Cute, right? No! One of the excited fish bit me, thinking I was food, and I screamed obscenities, letting one fly at the boat staff member who had put me in this position. Propriety be damned! Those lucky fish then followed me around for the 30 minute snorkel, thinking I had something for them. It was annoying. Making up for it, though, was the razor fish sighting a little later. Razor fish are weird; they’re thin and don’t move like other fish, preferring instead to just kinda hover. Google them and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
We ate our lunch of chicken (and fish) curry, rice, and Coca Cola and moved onto the next stop. We noticed a large crowd of boats parked outside the entrance to a cave, and we wondered how we were getting in. Turns out the way to enter this cave is in a giant Conga line of floatie-wearing tourists. The boat staff had us all link to each other, so we snaked back about 300 feet, and he pulled us along with a rope into and through the cave. On the other side was a gorgeous beachy alcove with a sheer cliff wall about 300 feet tall and a tiny tract of jungle. It would have been very meditative had it not been for the 150 other people in there with us. We sat and observed for a few minutes, then got back in our Conga line and headed out. It was my favorite part of the trip.
Stop four was a lovely beach spot where you could just lay out. It was cloudy, though, so not a great beach day. Fortunately for us, there was a mischievous hornbill flying around for a great photo op. He flew from a tree to a nearby balcony railing and started knocking his beak on the condo window, trying to get some food from the people inside. He flew away, but not before Rebecca’s cousin Noah got some great pictures. While this was happening, I was dealing with the small crisis created by a colony of Army ants we happened to encounter while putting our stuff down under a tree. They crawled all over us, so I ran into the ocean to get them off, and then had to remove them from our backpack, flip flops, and sarongs, which took a good 20 minutes total. Those little effers did not want to die, but die they did.
On the way back, our boat came upon a fishing boat. We’re not sure if they were legally fishing or not, but their ship had the largest fishing net I had ever seen. It was about 150 meters in diameter. Our boat approached and then traded Coca Cola for some trevali fish. It was a strange transaction, and we’re not sure about the ethics of that either. Then we disembarked and returned to our bungalows, conflicted yet happy to have swam with the fishies.
The experience was an educational one. In the US, we’re always pretty sure of what is legal or OK and what isn’t. In other cultures, though, we’re completely in the dark, so it’s hard to know if we should be concerned or not. Either way, it wasn’t the most ethical trip from the perspective of wildlife conservation; fishing off the boat and feeding the fish is a big no-no. But there was nothing we could do about it. That’s life as a tourist. You have to be OK with enjoying yourself despite the strangeness happening around you, knowing full well that your country has its own problems. So we just shrugged our shoulders and accepted our situation for what it was – a nice trip out on the water, and a chance to see some lovely sea life.