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Sunday, February 24, 2013

In Search of Nina's Land

The adventure all began on a ferryboat. The way that adventure should really always take place when the morning rays have first broken the chains of the night and the day whispers in soft gusts with the wind that laps against the waters and gently rocks the boat that you are on, taunting and hinting of adventures that are about to be born. Though, I recall at the time nothing so impressed me that morning for I was groggy and slightly irritated. Why? A rooster had woken me up even before the sun had arrived and I was still pissed off about it. And I had to kick my way out of my hotel room for after threatening the rooster numerous times, my door shut and locked me in it. I stole out of the guesthouse in Trat as quietly as I could after that. But enough about that, I sat on a boat that was to take me to an island and I had a book out and I was slowly getting away from cursing that blasted rooster and enjoying the morning sun and wind, and waves and water. Magic Intoxication, if one is aware, when I spotted them.

Mainly, a tall older white gentlemen. And a younger lady with curly hair. (a usual sight in Thailand) and 3 juveniles, and a Thai male. So 6 in all and I could not tell what their relations were to each other. The lady approached me and asked me if I could take their picture and that's where it all began. A conversation commenced and I understood half for the winds sweeping the top deck of the boat along with her low voice made it difficult to understand what was exactly being said, but I did understand that she was offering me a ride in their car with them to the other side of the island which I liked and decided to just go with the flow. And sometimes, this “go with the flow” attitude is the best recipe for a marvelous experience.

The island was the 2nd largest in all of Thailand and had mountains and jungles and beaches. It is called Koh Chang which translates into Elephant Island. Its called that because they say it looks like a herd of elephants. I still don't know if they mean that the mountains or the maps resemble elephants. But they are wild elephants that roam the island, though not indigenous. They were brought here for labor long ago and since remained and became wild. However, some are still used for tourist trekking. Where tourists can pay a fee and ride the elephants through the wilderness. So, in a ways, the name Elephant Island is aptly put on many fronts.
It wasn't til I was in the car with them that I understood what was going on. This lady's name was Nina and her family owns land on this island. In fact, her mother used to live on this island years and years ago. Nina had been living in Denmark for the past 20 plus years and was having to be reacquainted with her land. That was the sole purpose of her trip to find the present markers and boundaries of her land which were two plots at different areas on the island. Both of which were pretty much in the jungles of this island. The older white man was a retired engineer from Denmark named Jeorgen. They had a long, strong friendship that stretched back to Denmark. Now, he lives his unhurried retired life in Pattaya, where she is briefly staying.
The other Thai man was her driver, a man named Tong, who didn't speak a lick of English. And the 3 boys were all the friend of a friends who were invited out here for a day trip and a picturesque romp through the jungle. And now, I joined their number. There wasn't much hesitation on my part. And I don't even recall much pleading. It was just “We are going into the jungle to find my land...and you should come with us.” And that was all it took.
I was only a little worried about finding accommodation that night but they assured me that it wouldn't be a problem, so with no further worry, I remained in the car as it whisked around the coast of the island. Here there were many changes that Nina observed, for years ago as a girl few of these businesses were running. Now, the tourist craze that is sweeping, that HAS swept Thailand has caught up with this island as well. So the usual bars and restaurants, guesthouses, massage parlors, fruit shake stands, T-shirt kiosks, and resorts had popped up in the past decade or so. Outnumbering the few ones that were there before.
The 1st plot of land was located near a road that lead to a National Park where waterfalls spilled marvelously enough to attract the camera action of many tourists. This part was near one of the elephant trekking companies where they had these large stable areas and elephants would stand in them when they weren't being lead around the trails. Guesthouses were also popping up here and there and Nina's land lay right near the park entrance across a stream. So to get to it we had to strike off the main road and descend down to the stream right where the security guard sat in his booth for the National Park and then we had to cross the stream by either wading in the stream or hopping across on rocks. It made us look like we were trying to find another way of getting inside the park without paying the entrance fee. But we did it anyway and nobody yelled at us.
And then up a bamboo ladder that lead us up onto higher ground where this old shack on stilts stood and that looked all but abandoned. We didn't tarry here for very long but kept going further into the trees until we found ourselves in what looked like a type of makeshift rubber tree farm. The rubber trees had these large diagonal slashes in them and fastened around the bottom were little plastic bottles cut in such a fashion to collect the bleeding sap of the trees and that was the collection of old rubber. I recall peeling some of the rubber out of the tree and it was much like a weak rubber band.
We kept going a little ways til we came to an old well that looked very dangerous for it was basically a square pit dug some 15 to 20 feet deep and stumbling through there at night or if someone had covered it up would prove detrimental for there looked of no way of getting out if you were all alone. Somewhere around this well, was the cement rectangular bars that were the markers to her land and we took pictures of this.
We turned to go back to the car and had made our way to the abandoned shack on stilts when behind us in the rubber tree forest, I saw this dark shadow peering from foliage to foliage. It was this man wearing nothing but underwear and carrying a knife and his skin was darker than the jungles. He emerged from the bush and he had these tattoos painted all over his body and looked young sort of warrrior like. He did not look angry. A conversation in Thai was struck up and we plunged back into the forest following this man in his underwear carrying the knife and I had no idea what was going on. But some deep conversation about the land was being had.
It turns out that the man supposedly stayed at that shack on the weekends and the knife that he had was only for scraping the rubber from the rubber trees and he apparently only wears his boxer shorts when he is out working in the forest. So no hostility. A type of friendship was begun. And he had joined our entourage.
After the long foray into the forest and whatever they were talking about, we went back to his shack were this man in the underwear with the knife, emerged wearing shorts, shoes, a nice collared shirt, a cap, and was not holding a sharp object. He cleaned up really well, and looked like a different person like he was a Bangkok socialite, which I think that is where he was actually from.

Next we were back in the car, after crossing that stream and the bamboo ladder and headed off this road down a dirt one til we got to another local's dwelling place. And here we were visiting either an old friend of the family of Nina's or an actual relative, I could not remember. But this man also was scantily clad and had tattoos on him. He was older than the first guy and after a long while of dallying at his place. For that is the Thai way, lots of dalliance, he threw on a shirt and all of us made our way trying to find Nina's 2nd plot of land.

It was the 6 of us in this car. And both these locals sat on the scooter of the “guy who was previously only in underwear”. And we drove further south where the tourist civilization and civilization in general all very got scarce. There would have been a highway ring that would have circumvented the entire island but this southern portion of several kilometers had not been paved so the road ended here and therefore society ended here. Right before the jungle swallowed up this main road, there were smaller roads that lead into the interior until they too were swallowed up in the jungle. One one of these ventured. But it was difficult in a car for the road was growing more and more narrow with the encroaching rainforest. We had lost sight of the two locals on the scooter and did not know where they had disappeared to and had no reception out there. So we had to dally a bit waiting on them. And eventually they emerged and we struck down one of these narrow roads until the car would go no further and then we started hiking. The 3 boys remained napping in the back of the car. I wonder if they knew what they had gotten themselves into. They were all about 14 and that age where anything they do where they have to accompany others is lame. So the rest of us, go hiking through the rainforest on this trail. We cross over several dry stream beds but these just require us to step on rocks for fortunately it isn't the rainy season in Thailand now. By this time, I am carrying Nina's purse and sometimes her large Ipad that she was using to take photos of everything. And I was helping her step across the dry riverbeds. When deep in the jungle, we finally come to these same cement markers that marked her land. But there there was absolutely nothing else around. Several photos are shot and conversations made and yes, just basic Thai dalliance as usual. And we headed back to the car. And I thought that would've ended the adventure there. But that was only the beginning.

They did as they had promised me, they drove me to a beachside bungalow area where I could get myself a bungalow for the night. And then they'd would depart and make the long drive back to Pattaya. This was late afternoon and I went for a swim with them. But the next thing I know, Nina wanted to start developing on her land. So she wanted to stay a night as well and Jeorgen, the very silent retired Danish engineer, also. The boys had to be at school the next day, so they had to be driven by Tong back to Pattaya. So meanwhile it was the 3 of us, each with a separate bungalow, staying on Elephant Island.  


Anonymous JamesBrett said...

glad to see you posting on the blog again. enjoyed the story and anxious to hear more about your southeast asia travels.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Brian Harrison said...

Thanks. Glad you've taken the time to read it.

5:58 AM  

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