There are times in life when its surreal quality astounds me and threatens to alter my sense of reality forever. Our trip to the Phi Phi (again, pronounced pee pee) Islands off the larger island of Phuket, in southern Thailand was once such event. Images of the earth-shattering tsunami obliterating parts of Phuket haunt me to this day. A woman with whom I am acquainted had gone to the Phi Phi Islands the day of the tsunami. She was out to sea with her entire family when reports of the huge wave were radioed to the pilot of her boat; he took them to a cove on the other side of Phi Phi Islands to wait it out. They returned to massive devastation.
These thoughts rolled around in my head as we boarded the speedboat with a bizarre mix of boat fellows, starting aft and working clockwise:
1) A middle-Eastern family of four. The wife is wearing a matching one piece suit and cover-up. Her two darling daughters, around the ages of five and three, are wearing what I believe to be Target bikinis (I know my merchandise).
2) A middle-Eastern couple. The wife is covered head-to-toe but not wearing a burkha. The husband is in shorts. They hold hands a lot and both wear very large sunglasses. The husband’s sunglasses sport the Chanel logo, which I have no doubt are real, but just seem wrong on a man.
3) Sitting next to them is an Eastern European couple in their late thirties. They also hold hands. A teenage daughter (?) sits at the prow of the boat with the other non-marrieds. The husband has a jaw line rivaling Dudley DoRight and the character Jaws from the James Bond movies Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me.
4) Next, the couple from Tampico (yes, Tampico, look on a map), Mexico. I had never met anyone actually from Tampico. Newlyweds, they too hold hands. The bride looks nervous. Very nervous. They hardly speak to each other.
5) Things 1 – 3, Thing 1 sprawling her six foot frame across the bench as teenagers are wont to do and sleeping, squishing her brother and sister into the corner.
6) Moving to the prow of the boat, we find Vin Diesel’s shorter, tattooed, Australian mini-me. He is vacationing with his sister who appears utterly normal.
7) Back in the main cabin is the gay Jewish couple. I’m not actually sure they are a couple but I can tell the American is trying too hard. I want to slap him and tell him that the other dude, who is sitting next to me and is a smug, jaded traveler of indeterminate origin, is not the right man for him. Ugh. The man sitting next to me is, quite simply, a prat.
8) Me and Mr. U, who sits next to various members of the middle-Eastern family throughout the journey. We do not hold hands but that’s because I am clutching my camera case on my lap.
Everyone is surreptiously checking each other out, except for Jaded Traveler. He wants to be somewhere else. The sun is shining, it is warm but not hideously hot, and our guide is a happy chap. It is simply a beautiful day.
Finally, after an hour of rocketing along, we reach the Phi Phi Islands. The first photo from yesterday shows where Chinese immigrants live in the cave-like rocks. They have lived there a long time (I can’t remember how long) and they produce income by knocking down the swallows’ nests from the ceiling of the caves and selling them for exotic soup (as the Chinese are wont to do). Before the tsunami, one could wade through the shallow waters and go inside the caves. Not any more.
A bit further on we pass between two large rock formations into a huge cove. The boat is parked and we all jump off into the water, except for the middle-Eastern couple who never enter the water. The water is fantastic, warm, salty and buoyant, the best water I have ever been in in my life. We paddle around for awhile and then head over to Maya Beach and Khai Island, with a Monkey Beach Do-Over (no garbage on the tiny Thai beach but the monkeys will bite and scratch if you are stupid enough to get too close).
During the boat ride, Mr. Understanding and the middle-Eastern father chat. The family is vacationing from Iran.
And here dear reader, I must leave you on the edge of your virtual seats until tomorrow when you will get the rest of the story … Jim Caviezel is coming to dinner – the Sloppy Joes are in the crock pot.
Qs: who is in your surreal speed boat? Did you know that monkeys can swim?