When we fantasized about life in the Biotruck, we imagined parking up somewhere along the Gulf of Thailand. Andy would unload the solar disco, crank a little Banco de Gaia while I’d make fruity Mai Tais. We’d easily be the coolest travelers on the beach.
But in six weeks the closest we’d come to this vision was an overnight near a fishing pier where in the morning I stood and watched mudskippers lurch around in a bog. A busload of school children arrived with colanders taped to the end of long sticks and began scooping up the poor creatures.
We posed for photos with the kids and their slimy catches. It was fine. It was cute. But it wasn’t our Beach Fantasy.
We crossed the border into Thailand highly motivated to realize our Biotruck Beach Party vision. We began a marathon drive toward Krabi, overnighting at a bleak truckstop and then continuing on in the early morning until we arrived.
A complicated network of jungle roads thread through the region of Krabi. It’s easy to get lost, and with our vague maps and sluggish GPS, we made several wrong turns. But we finally found a bit of coastline. It was littered with old tire rims, sun-bleached shacks, and rusted lobster traps.
Great, Andy said, stepping out of the truck and into a scattering of broken styrofoam bits. We found the ugliest beach in Thailand.
We can rent kayaks from somewhere, I said hopefully. We can paddle around …
He turned back toward the bus. Let’s get out of here.
The extra effort paid off. We soon found our way to the most gorgeous stretch of beach I’d ever seen. It wasn’t our party spot—there was no one around to sip on Mai Tais with–but dramatic archipelagos rose from the water and the sandy shore went on for miles in both directions.
I poked around in the nearby forest, finding an old road that led through an abandoned resort. It must have been a lively place at one time—there were dozens of rotting bungalows nestled between the trees. A dilapidated patio that encircled the front of an old restaurant must have seated 100. Now, it all looked like a shipwreck.
I wondered if this former resort had been ruined by the 2004 Tsunami that destroyed so many of the beaches and towns in southern Thailand. Every few meters a Tsunami evacuation sign pointed the way toward high land. The coconut palms along the beach were all short and young—the old ones, I presumed, were victims to the salinity poisoning that affected many of the coastal forests around Krabi after the sea water rushed in.
I headed back toward the bus along the shore, noting the debris in the line of driftwood–a plastic doll arm, noodle packets. The tsunami had always seemed an abstraction to me, a newscast sandwiched between fictional television dramas. At that moment, it seemed powerfully real.
We took a late afternoon swim. The water was flat so that the dribble of water off our bodies resounded when it hit the surface, our voices carried. Andy wrapped himself in a sarong collected some wood and made a fire and I boiled up some pasta right there in the sand while the sun set spectacularly.
It’s been almost exactly six years since the Tsunami wrecked the beaches and claimed over 6,000 lives in southern Thailand. In some places, the rebuilding has been swift—especially in high dollar tourist destinations like the island of Ko Phi Phi—a favorite of scuba divers and beach junkies alike. Still, in other places tourism has been slow to recover.
Protected by the island of Phuket, Krabi wasn’t the most effect deeply affected, but the memory of Khluen yaak—the Great Wave– is still fresh in people’s memories. The area served as a center for refugees and hundreds of bodies were taken there for cremation.
People still talk about the Tsunami as if it happened yesterday–a common impulse, I think, for humans to live in reference to their last tragedy. Perhaps it is somehow healing to repeat these stories again and again. They remind of our tenacity—of how we were down but found our way back up again.
I don’t normally get spooked anymore. I thought I left that feeling behind at slumber parties where we freaked out to Friday the 13th movies. But that night in Krabi was eerie for me. I woke several times in the night feeling like I’d entered a sensory deprivation chamber; the darkness was so total I wasn’t sure that my eyes were really open. I couldn’t hear a sound.
Questions kept me awake. What was it like here on Boxing Day when the surf came in and didn’t stop? What’s it like not trusting that the ocean to stay in its place?
We drove away from that silent paradise the next morning, leaving behind the ashes from our cookfire and a few waterlogged coconuts rolling around in the surf. We passed down the rutted road, past a bog dotted with several emerging pink lotus. We didn’t realize our Big Biotruck Beach Party there, but it was hard to complain. We may have lost a fantasy, but people had lost their homes, even their lives.
In all my rainbow-chasing I’m seeing that whatever I think should happen inevitably doesn’t. I nestle into the beach chair of my dreams and open a good book and then someone starts blaring bad music through a scratchy speaker. I think when I see Everest, that I will bask in glowing achievement, but instead I brace against the other tourists that are nearly elbowing me over the edge of a boulder.
What really drives a place into our marrow is not the fantasy of what will happen there, but what actually does happen. The connection usually sets in after-the-fact, when destinations are no longer oppressed by our fantasies, but allowed to become the old storied places where you can’t but help and walk around pointing: This is where I first learned to ride my bike, this was my favorite tree, this is where we met …