Sea Gypsies

I sat on the edge of the boat with flippers on my feet, snorkel mask in hand, and a life jacket strapped around me. I already watched as my adventuremates jumped off the front of the boat and began snorkeling around. To other people it may seem simple enough to just jump off the boat and be okay with being in the open sea with snorkel equipment that hopefully will work properly. My last encounter with snorkeling was not the best, nor does my family have a good history of snorkeling adventures. So I sat on the edge of the boat rather terrified. Not that I have a fear of drowning necessarily, cause I am a pretty good swimmer. But it is the fear of what the water may have. Last time I went snorkeling I got stung by jelly fish. In the moment of sitting on the edge I recognized that if I did not jump in, I would lose out on an opportunity. The islands that created a cove of snorkeling reminded me of a James Bond movie. So to get myself to jump off, I naturally sang the James Bond theme song and launched my body off the boat. I felt the rush of first cold that the water forced upon my body. The life jacket rose my body to the surface and I thought to myself, ok it isn’t that bad in the water. My other struggle however was the snorkel mask. My personal view of snorkel masks is that they suffocate you and I freak out a little when trying to put one on. So I took deep breaths through my mouth, placed the mask over my face and turned to look face first at the bottom of the ocean floor. The sea life opened up before me as I saw coral that lined the floor and the bright blue of the water. Little fish popped in and out of the coral and schools of fish follow one another in beautiful pod. Fish that were blue and yellow, bright blue, greyish, and stripped. My favorite was a big blubbery blue fish that slowly moved at the bottom of the ocean floor. I followed the fish until it was time to hop back in the boat. We snorkeled at three different of the Similan Islands. By the third time of jumping out in the water, I realized my skins distaste for salt water. Red marks started to show and it stung. My body screamed to evacuate the water, but I sucked down the tears from the stinging and continued to swim around for the full time of being at the island.

We stopped at two beaches on the islands that we could walk around and enjoy. The first one we stepped had white sand and water that looked turquoise. It was entertaining to see the swarms of tourists that spoke an array of different languages. I was content playing with the two year old that is with us on the trip. She giggled and plopped in the water, it was a moment of relief for me where I felt I wasn’t fighting the fear of the water. I was focused on the little one who was screaming laughing as the waves came up on her feet. I was fascinated by the fish that blended with the water that swam around my knees, but were pushed back and forth by the tide. Some of the other adventuremates had climbed up on a rock and I walked over there and assessed the pain to fun ratio and decided not to climb the rock after clunkily barely making it across the slick rocks that were not on an incline. One of the students was trying an easier way for me to get up, but I said it was ok. I am limited, and the comment was made that perhaps I limit myself. I thought it was interesting having it be said to me. The funny thing about limitations, is I do limit myself. In fact, I have to. I could choose to fight the pain and make it up the rock, but my wrists are barely holding it up as it is. So I looked up at the rock I chose not to conquer and thought to myself, yes I wish I could climb that rock, but it is not worth the pain of getting up it. The boats were calling us back, so I struggled my way back over the slick rocks and returned to the boat. The second beach we got to hangout at started with the mere struggle of crossing rock barefooted. In the beginning of the trip we put our shoes in a basket. I immediately regretted my decision of giving up my shoes, I never even cross rivers without my chacos. I did laugh as I watched over fifty tourists struggle over rocks to get to the shore. I figure the tour guides get a good kick out of watching tourists in their seemingly sexy bikinis and short shorts struggle across rock. We went on a hike to a viewpoint. The trail was plugged by tourists and the struggle of walking across boards over rock, walking sideways through rock, then landing feet on incredibly hot burning rock. I absolutely love hiking, but my feet are not cut out for barefoot hikes, especially on hot rock. The view was beautiful though! And it was entertaining to see the amount of tourists on one rock that definitely is not up to safety codes by US standards. We hiked back down and I wandered on shore and looked at the array of sea life that waded in the shallow water. Tiny crabs crawled quickly along and little fish swirled their way through. I picked up a few shells and focused on the soft sound of the waves. The boats called us back in, and everyone struggled across the rock again to the boat. The guides helped us across and enter the boat. I walked onto the boat and covered up my whole body from the sun. Scarf on head and around my face, towel over legs, and long sleeve shirt on. Ain’t my first rodeo, and I know what happens from being in the sun all day. I luckily only got a little burned on my legs and scalp.

I wish I could say I enjoyed myself more than I did, but it was stressful for my body and stressful in the battle of past experience that intertwined itself in the current experience. I was born a water baby and always loved being in water. But a couple of experiences of being submerged in water and unsure of when I would surface, to bad snorkel equipment and second degree sunburns, is enough to keep me away from choosing experiences of hot weather snorkel excursions. The guides were nice and helpful. The guides go back and forth to the islands every day with different tourists. I asked about Sea Gypsies, which is a fairly new concept to me. Sea Gypsies actually exist, but their way of life is changing rapidly. Sea Gypsies are people who have lived on the sea for generations off the coast of Thailand and Burma. They struggle the same issues as hilltribes are experiencing in the north. Due to their lack of living on land, they struggle with gaining citizenship, harassment from traveling ships, education, and preserving their way of life. One article said they even have better vision under water. One National Geographic traveler lived with them for several years and experienced the sadness that the elders have about their way of life changing. Even the tour guide said that the way of life is changing because the kids are on cellphones and technology. As he spoke those words I realized just the weight of development and the dramatic change for the upcoming generations. The place we stayed was on Bangsak Beach, which is a little north of the actual city of Phuket. It is the first stretch of beach I have seen that is not developed in anyway. There are some buildings being built and a couple resorts, but past it there is a cove with no development. Just fisherman hanging out in the shade of the trees as they wait for the right part of the tide to cast their nets out.

On Tuesday I went running with the boys and we ran to the end of the cove. The water would splash against my feet as I ran near the water on the denser sand. It was the feeling of being alive and free. Just in that moment when the rhythm of running meets your mind in a perfectly calm harmony. The deep breaths that filled my lungs and the gentle swish of the ocean as the waves crashed up on the beach. It was fun running with the boys as we waded out in the water once we reached the end of the cove. We peered on the other side of the cover and the beach stretched on for awhile with some development. We floated in the water and watched fisherman walk out where the waves met one another from the different pulls of the cove. I thought they would stop at some point, but it literally looked like they were just walking out into the ocean. And for them, it was an ordinary day it seemed. Headed out into the ocean to make their living. We ran back to where the group was and ate lunch right on the beach. I had mango juice and we shared large platefuls of food. Cao Pak (Fried Rice) seems to be delicious on the coast of Phuket! The afternoon consisted of wandering in and out of the ocean as well as napping for a bit. We ate dinner again on the beach and headed back to the house to shower our straw like hair from the intense amount of salt that seems to be in the ocean here.

Wednesday was snorkeling day, and Thursday was National Forest day. We strenuously hiked up and down through the rainforest of a jungle to reach a “small sandy beach” as the sign said. The translations were pretty funny on the signs as they were translated directly from Thai, which does not make much sense. I enjoyed the hike over as the trail followed the edge of the rocks that guarded the land from the ocean. We made it to the small sandy beach. I walked around on the shore as some people read their books and other people swam. There was black sand on this particular part of the beach and I had fun created images in the sand. I walked along the streams of cold water amongst the array of rocks that were scattered across the sand. Rocks that had shells molded to the side with green and purple. I was fascinated by how similar it was to landscape in the Northwest. I walked along the beach and reflected on my experience of being in Thailand. It is beyond what I dreamed. In fact, it has surpassed my expectations of what I thought I would experience. The chance to live with people in a village, to laugh so hard I cried, to giggle through uncomfortable experiences, to ride an elephant that is loved by its owner, to learn words in multiple different dialects, the chance to be challenged in being content, the chance to battle bodily pain, the learning of the fun to pain ratio, to eat authentic tribal food, to meet genuine people, to meet passionate people, and most of all the chance to be loved by the people of Thailand. Nothing will surpass the love and hospitality I have received from total strangers in Thailand.

On Friday, I was determined to dress up and walk on the beach. I wore my new dress that I bought in Chiang Rai and wore make-up for the first time since being in Thailand. The fear is always in me in doing something by myself in a new place. Perhaps it came from my upbringing or enough strange looks that keeps me wandering too far. Someone once gave me the advice that I should take myself out on a date, because you do not always need a date to go out and enjoy yourself. So I dressed up for no other reason than that I wanted to feel pretty. I walked along the beach with my new dress, scarf around my shoulders, hair blowing in the soft wind, and my umbrella over my head. I walked along the beach a ways and felt the warm water rush over my feet as the waves softly crashed over one another. I watched as fisherman went out to the waves and dragged their nets parallel to shore. I saw families playing on the beach and people going about business as usual. It was life in the north of Phuket. The beach that is partly undeveloped, the slower pace of life, and the funny tourists that wander the beaches. I was thankful for life to slow for a moment. Cause I know life will not always let me stop to breathe. We gathered our things and flew back to Chiang Mai through Air Asia. It was strange being back at the airport at night with a different mindset and in a different context. I remember arriving at the Chiang Mai airport with wide eyes. a tired body, and the feel of everything being new and strange. Now it all seems familiar, and Doi Saket seems like another home. It always strange for me to be in the same place, but a completely different mindset. Thailand is no longer just a dream, it is an experience and a reality. A reality that I am continually thankful for. The next part of the term is taking two more classes. I will be taking Thai Cultural Arts and Social Context for Community Development. I am excited for what the next six weeks will bring and am preparing my heart for the things I will be learning. Thank you everyone who has continued to follow my journey! I greatly appreciate it and hope you are learning too!


Bethany Jane

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*Wordpress has limited the amount of photos I can post, so the rest of the photos can be found on photobucket at the link below!*


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