Tales of Tao 3 - things that go bump in the night!
Our little island of Koh Tao has changed somewhat over the years, quite dramatically in fact. She is a very young island as far as human interaction goes and the last 25 years have seen a boom in her growth that lies parallel to that of the smokey cities across the globe, without the smoke but admittedly with some of the problems that come with it. I have kind of grown up with Turtle Island; many close to me will say that is an oxymoron, as I still refuse to grow up in all its elements, and that too is true of Koh Tao.
There are plenty of neigh sayers out there, perhaps flummoxed by Koh Tao, folks who failed to find their way or cope with the demands that island life presents, who would happily announce that she has been overdeveloped, paradise lost. I rather liken the island's growth to a spectacular metamorphosis; what once was a clumsy caterpillar, restricted and singular, has passed through the pupa and has begun to emerge as the most beautiful butterfly, albeit her wings are still a little creased and not quite dry yet, but all great things take time.
I have very fond memories of Koh Tao, some that stretch way back to the late 90's, some from just yesterday, she is different every day, not just year by year, and most of which, and of whom, she has left behind, I truly believe that ultimately she will be better off for. Just as will we. Lightening the load, preparing to reach for the sky. Just a few weeks back I was out photographing the Milky Way in a place that I had only once before been. A very isolated point of the coastline nearest to shark island. I drove to the nearest parking area in my car, which on arrival conveniently ceased to operate so I was stranded, with no phone signal and no way home, at ten o'clock at night. But I was where I had planned to go and the sky was beautiful so the show must go on, as they say, whoever they may be.
A short hike followed, in the dark, and then a clamber over some granite boulders down to the sea's edge when I set up and sat with the waves washing over my feet and that of my tripod. No phone, no light, only sounds of the sea, lightening and lights of fishing boats on the horizon, and the amazing Milky Way. For 4 hours I sat and took photographs in that spot, and I thought, I, we definitely don't do enough of this these days. Pure and simple, no clutter, just me and my thoughts. Alone, well almost. Actually, I started to feel something on my feet, pushing it aside as the tricks that play on one's mind in the dark I just ignored it. Then it was on my legs, and enough was enough so I started to pay attention. Crabs, around 3 to 4 inches across, lots of them and they were starting to fluoresce, they had a light band that moved something akin to the car in Night Rider, Kit but greenish blue, not red, and there were hundreds of them, over all the rocks and 4 or 5 of them had decided that I was all part of the game.
It did not make me feel uneasy as luckily I have not watched any films recently like Arachnophobia but admittedly I decided to move slightly higher up the rocks and change my vantage point, for a better shot, naturally. It did however bring back some memories that made me chuckle. There is something wonderful about laughing out loud with yourself when totally isolated from other people, a little bit like being happily mad, yet nobody has yet discovered your secret and had you locked up, I would suppose. One such memory was many years prior, wandering home from the pub, the same sort of time of night, along the beach in pitch darkness, under a blanket of stars. I confess I had had a drink or two, so I was sure that my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw bright green footprints approaching me at speed along the tide line, from far away down the beach. Many footprints, as they got closer exposed themselves as hoof prints, then came the sound and the vibrations and I managed to gather my senses and jumped behind a coconut tree at the top of the beach. I felt the wind as they passed me by within a few meters, and heard the grunts and groans as the smell and dark shape of a herd of buffalo stampeded passed. Much like the crabs, I was not left feeling afraid, although it was a close call, now totally in awe as the entire length of Sairee Beach, lit up bright green, every hoof print clearly defined and wonderful, just magic. Thankfully I had the good sense to wake up everybody who lived near the beach, to share this miracle, but also to verify that I had not achieved the dizzy heights of island fever and simply lost my bloody mind.
Nature is a powerful thing and despite the growth and changes, the metamorphosis of Koh Tao, living out on an island we still very much live as part of nature, exposed to her power in all the good and bad that may bring. Watching the lighting, dreaming of the buffalo and feeling that adrenaline rush once again while out on that shoot. The rush that is replaced with absolute peace and harmony is seriously powerful and emotional stuff. Some years after the florescence on Sairee Beach, my wife and I were sleeping in our little Thai wooden house, much the same way we live now, when we were awoken by the most almighty explosion. We both leapt up in the bed, my wife Pbu into my arms, or perhaps me into hers, hard to say really. My first thought was that we were under attack, I had simply never heard anything like it. The bungalow had balconies along two sides and therefore the roof was extended quite far out, one could not see up, only directly out. After some time had passed, impossible to say how long, minutes I suppose, we were still hanging onto each other, we began to peek outside and crept carefully onto the balcony expecting the next wave of attacks at any moment. The next thing we saw was fire balls, yes that's right, large balls of fire, around 1 meter across, trailing flames as they fell to the ground all around the house. My thoughts of attack quickly turned to the realisation that this must be Armageddon, the end had arrived, no question, I mean, what else could it possibly be? I felt myself have another chuckle while out under the stars, yes I looked around to make sure nobody could see me chortling to myself as another flash of lightning stuck, silently, somewhere far off and out at sea.
It was lightening that fateful day when the world was about to end but narrowly didn't. It struck a coconut tree not 5 meters away from our little wooden house. As there was no rain the palm fronds ignited and that gave forth the apparently apocalyptic fireballs. It took quite some time for us to figure that out as it took a while to gather the courage to venture outside, the world was ending after all, but fear of the house burning down forced me out into the garden where it all became clear.
Taking photographs is my meditation. Whether it's underwater on in some obscure location. So much becomes clear when we escape from the confines of others' beliefs and open up to the endless possibilities that may be. Koh Tao has changed, and so have I, everything changes, I love and cherish my memories but that's all they are, the past is gone, it does not exist. All we can do is be grateful for any future we may have and embrace the present. So with the ethos of the great Monty Python, stop moaning, get out under the stars and dream, laugh and cry, just make sure that nobody can see you, you'll likely get locked up.