Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gilligan's Fantasy Survivor Thai Island and the Search for the Golden Buddha

Episode 1:

In the interest of international security and in keeping with the need for absolute secrecy, the Fischers covertly switched mode of transport at predetermined points along the 16 hour journey. It did not appear that we were followed via international or local air, loaded van, nor long boat, though Captain Owen claimed to see a number of shady characters along the way (head clearly muddled by a new found addiction to Pez candies found in a Thai supermarket along the way).

Attempts to board said longboat along side our mountain of mostly unecessary luggage failed to be exactly secretive. Numerous Thai fishermen simply stared. Princess Grayce was carefully placed into the boat. Captain Owen took a running leap and nearly ended up "swimming with the fishies," as they say. Nevertheless, the entire family was soon seated safely on 2 wooden planks. The journey *might* have been perilous...wide open ocean waves, a sea pirate at the helm, Mountainous islands rising in the distance and a smoky mist enveloping the Mystery Machine in its waving fingers (oh, wait. That's Scooby Doo. Wrong story).

There was no turning back. The Golden Buddha must be found and we had just 7 days to complete our mission. We sped sea-worthy along an empty coast of sparkling sand, the water so blue, the sun so bright, it was obviously enchanted by a powerful magic. Rounding the long edge of this beautiful yet deserted place (few outsiders dare to sail these waters in fear of being lost at sea forever...Bwahahahaha,) our boat entered (was pulled into???) a nearly invisible channel between the rocks and floated silently towards the shining mirage of coconut palms. We scanned the area for a place to pull the boat in closer. Mr. Rourke was late and no seaplanes or pier were apparent. The journey was long and we were prepared to face all manner of hardship. Thus it was... We threw ourselves overboard into the warm and salty Andaman sea. Wet and weary we swam to shore, clinging carefully to pieces of bobbing luggage. Our boatman was apparently immeasurably tall as he lifted the rest of our baggage on to his shoulders and waded to the empty beach.

Captain Owen lay fully clothed in the wet sand, digging furiously with his plastic shovel within 30 seconds of our arrival. Princess Grayce bemoaned our fate, noting sadly that her gown was all but ruined. Bob and I turned to thank our Pirate guide and saw that both he and his boat had vanished completely... How would we survive amidst the sea and jungle with so few provisions?

Would we live to tell our tale and find the mythical Golden Buddha?

"What's that? You say you see a sign? Above Bob's head? The one that says "Golden Buddha Beach Resort?" Oh. Yeah. That. Must be a trick of the light.

(Mysterious island rhythms fade into black and the credit's role).

Stay tuned for scenes from our next episode>>> How many banana shakes can the young Fischers drink before they start swinging from the vines? Which island drink is better...the Mango Daquiri or the Mamie's Sister? Are "fisherman" pants really unisex? Is the "no-see-um" actually invisible and can it penetrate the barriers of mosquito netting? Will the children know if their parents sneak out to the beach with a bottle of vino after they fall asleep? What is the max number of fellow human beings spotted by Bob on the 10 km beach at the same time? Is 3 a proper age to introduce aromatherapy massage? How loud can a 6 year old screech the fist time she sees 50 scuttling miniature sand crabs? What happens when Bob doesn't listen to his wife and wear shoes walking on the jungle path at night? Answers to all these questions and more...coming up.

Alright. We confess. It's possible we've exagerated a few small details: We aren't Pirates. Mr. Rourke was not involved in our adventures. And we didn't actually have to swim to shore but their wasn't a pier and we did have to wade in water above our knees. Koh Phra Thong island isn't deserted (there are three small fishing villages on the other side) but Golden Buddha Beach Resort is the only resort and the island is otherwise completely undeveloped. And in Thailand.

Bob counted 13 people on the entire beach one day (and that includes those swimming) and most days we were the only 4. I'm not going to tell you how many banana shakes the kids drank because Grayce has her own vacation post planned. The food was wonderful...made to order breakfasts and simple Thai food lunch and dinner buffets featuring freshly caught seafood and succulent fruits. The beach was pristine golden seaweed, no rocks, just sand a few seashells, and the amazing turquoise Andaman Sea to swim in. 23 traditional Thai houses (all different and all independently owned) and a restaurant/clubhouse. Beautiful jungle off the beach with all sorts of wildlife...birds, geckos, Toukay lizards, monkeys and others. Mangrove forest. We sea kayaked, snorkeled at nearby Surin Island, swam, took an island boat tour, ate, drank, hiked, went to happy hour every night at 6, fell asleep by 11 and had numerous massage and spa treatments outside on our private deck with the sounds of tree frogs chirping as our music.

The kids made their own discoveries: Thai people love children as much or maybe even more than Indians and are perfectly willing to indulge them as needed. Grayce did her usual and after having several panic attacks trying to snorkel finally put her face in the water and exclaimed, " Mommy, did you know all those beautiful things were in the water?!" (Umm, yeah...that's the whole point, kiddo.) Holding her hand, swimming and snorkeling among the gorgeous and varied coral reefs was a highlight of the trip. Owen snorkeled too...but decided that he didn't actually want to swim with "those things in the water." Being massaged with fragrant oil isn't just for grown-ups. You can pretend to be a pirate most effectively when Sea Kayaking around an island. Thai island baths involve pouring water over your self with a coconut shell. There is a real story about a golden Buddha being buried some where on Koh Phra Thong...

Sure, there are "downsides" (depending on your vantage point and your need for 5-star luxury). No hot water (didn't need it.) Limited electricity in the houses (a fan at night would have been lovely but wasn't a deal breaker.) No A/C. Mosquitoes are plentiful at dusk and tiny no-see-ums" breed in the Mangroves and CAN breach the mosquito net barrier with the resultant bites itching like hell (the resort advises using the mosquito net, not turning the lights on above your bed and using repellent which worked as well for us as it would on a camping trip in Minnesota...which is to say, pretty well, but not perfect.) Keeping food in the houses has the potential to invite monkey friends for cocktails. The Toukay lizards have a bizarrely loud song at 2 am. Nature is at your front (and back and side) doors and windows (sometimes taking the form of gecko poop on the floor.) When you ignore your wife's declaration that everyone should wear shoes after dark you will probably cut your toe on a jagged tree root and have the chance later in the trip to check out a Bangkok hospital first hand, (not that I'm one to say I told you so. Honey.) There is no place to shop nor another place to eat on the island. It takes about 4 hours to reach the island from Phuket. The original resort and most of the fishing villages were severely damaged or destroyed in the Tsunami (a sobering reminder that nature is not always kind.)

But...ohhh, it is a hidden little paradise! The natural beauty of southern Thailand surrounds you. There is no smog or air pollution. No honking. No beeping. No piles of garbage. Only a constant view of the sea peppered by far off fishing boats...

Wine on the beach is still a secret....Shhhh.

Come and visit us and maybe we'll take you there ;-)

The Fischers
Back Home in Bangalore

Saturday, January 19, 2008

15 minutes in Thailand...

The kids were tired and hungry in that manic way that the combination strikes young children... Look sideways at them in the wrong way and they fall into a liquid puddle of hot tantrum soup. But they still need to eat. You could scrounge the bottom of your traveling pack and let them feast on cracker crumbs and melting M&M's (they do TO melt!) but that option won't feed the adults in the group.

So it was that we walked the long alley from our guesthouse in Bangkok to a small hotel restaurant where Owen became incensed, screeching, "I WANT SQUID. I SAID I WANT TO EAT SQUID! NOW, DADDY " as a plate of rice noodles and chicken was placed before him.

Okay, then. Squid for the youngster. We clinked our beer mugs and toasted the moment.

A quick squid dinner...a walk back down the dark alley... a bump into a baby elephant out for his promenade. 100 Baht lets 'em feed the elephant and go for a quick ride. And the day is done...

A round of Squid and Elephant for everyone.

Oh, by the way. 91 degrees in Bangkok. -12 degrees (w/ -31 windchill) in Minnesota. Over 100 degree swing. Weird.

The Fischers

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Having a Beer In Bangkok...

Tastes good, too. Tell you all about our adventures in a few days :-)

The Fischers
Now Playing for a short time, In Thailand

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Road Less (and More) Traveled...

"You Take the High Road, I'll Take The Low Road." (unknown by me)

"A Fork In the Road." (again, unknown, but not me)

"Truckin' "(cuz it's really all about the Road). (The Infamous, Grateful Dead)

"On the Road, Again" (Willie Nelson)

"We're Just Brothers of the Road..." (Allman Brothers)

"The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can..." (The Lord of the Rings)

So. Travel. By Car. Or foot. But never by plane. You can't take a road trip by airplane (though perhaps the trip from the U.S.A to India qualifies, somewhat.) Sometimes you can plan one. Most of the time...road trips their own way. As a mother of two young children, I'd forgotten. No parent plans an endless journey with a three and six year old. Because. You. Know. You. Won't. Win. On the other hand, the best journeys undoubtedly begin "off the beaten path." And the races I've "won" have been few and far...anyway.

Last weekend we intended to spend a low-key weekend in Hassan with our Minnesota friends, the Vanderpools. Last minute, post-holiday, plans. A "3" hour drive (because 3=5, of course). Great...we can deal with that...not unexpected. The fluidity of time. The changeablity of plans. A million bathroom stops along the way. A Good Road is God smiling right-on down at you. 50 miles an hour feels like flying. In India, the course you chart rarely ends where you imagine.

After some discussion, we decided our first real trip out of Bangalore would be a close one. Close enough to keep our own car and driver. Hassan is south of Bangalore and the road down is honestly one of the better and safer ones. We arrived at the "Hoysala Village Resort" in time for lunch. We found the resort charming. Not fancy, but clean with a decent pool (though the Vanderpools experience of cats peeing on the roof and leaking on to their feet might bely that...just a bit.) Still, no one had to sleep in their clothes and we saw no apparent for us (given our history with that amiable species, the Rat) that was a plus!

Our afternoon was spent close by exploring the ornately carved Halebid temple. Though our experience of celebrity is admittedly small, it didn't take us long to feel a bit like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, on holiday. I quickly lost count of pinched cheeks, grasping hands, and picture requests. We were, quite literally, stopped every couple of minutes by families, groups of young men and circling school children eager to practice shaking our hands. It was fun to watch their confusion when they asked where we were from...

Owen, as you might imagine, rather eats up all the attention. Grayce, more reticent, was incredibly disturbed by all the attention and spent much of the time shooting deadly lasers from her spectacles and perfecting her special International, welcoming glare.

Once back at the hotel we had apparently had t-o-o-o-o much sun and a few too many cocktails because we collectively agreed, as a multi-family group that it would be an excellent idea to take a "2 and a half hour drive" the following day to visit a temple our friend's driver indicated was a "must-see" and perhaps make Sunset on the coast... So innocent.

Saturday started well enough. A visit to the ancient Belur temple. A repeat of the previous day in terms of our fame. Many friendly faces, gorgeous icons and discreet peeks at Kama Sutra carvings ("hey, mom, what are those gods doing up there???? Gymnastics??) Impending doom??? Nah.

And then it began. The endless car ride into yonder sunset... 84 Kilometers (yes, friends, that is a mere 50 miles) in over 4 hours. Pot hole by Pot hole...some so deep we had to claw ourselves out (the kids are so good for that...those tiny, nimble hands). According to our friend's driver, the road was great the year before when he had taken his own family. Not so now. The upside is that there was road construction. Loosely translated to giant wood fires with steaming vats of black tar at the roadside and the manual pounding of rock to make pebble...

What? Why not turn back?? No, no fellow intrepid traveler! The road, once started on is symbolic of the journey. Whether or not you will run out of crackers in the middle of no where is not a consideration. Because just around the bend, things are SURE to get better. And there are holy temples to see. Who needs lunch??! (the kids were suspicious of our argument but Kids! This Is Good For YOU!!)

The really fun thing about a 50 mile/4 hour journey is the 5 hour return trip. Partly in the dark. The last hour done with a hysterical 6 year old. Priceless (mastercard has NOTHING on us!)

Sounds pretty horrible, doesn't it?? And it was...except it was also kind of fun. The perilous and never-ending journey included, not only washed out roads, enormous pot holes and a singular lack of adequate snacks but also stunning views in the Western Ghats mountains, tea and coffee plantations, and a view of village life and work that isn't possible from the "good" roads.

And believe me, a cold beer with friends tastes great after 9 hours in the car! The kids might have been catatonic (and a little pissed that they never got to swim in the hotel pool) but it made it so much easier to convince them to climb 650 steps to visit a Jain temple in Shravanabelagola early the next day...

The road is good. Carry on...

The Fischers, definitely in India.

P.S. click on the Picasaweb album links in various places above for many more photos of our journey!