This is the original, unedited, article which appeared in the January issue of Ocean Navigator. But here we can post far more pictures than can appear in a Magazine. Sorry if the images seem a bit fuzzy. We had to resize them to small in order to upload them with this slow internet. Plus, how I lay out the post on Word Press is not always how it appears when opened on the internet……
What do people living on sailboats do all day? There are plenty of days when a cruiser has to dream up a new day’s exploration and make something happen.
We had been anchored on the south east side of the Thailand tourist island of Koh Chang (Island Elephant), in the Gulf of Thailand. This is a desolate coast, no roads, and only a few fishing boats passing by. All the tourists and activity are over the high mountains and rain forest, to be found on the west coasts. In fact here on the south east side, we are the only cruising boat and have not seen another sailboat for weeks, in this part of Thailand.
Today, for something to do, we decided to see where this local stream originated. The expats we asked who live scattered around on Koh Chang could not imagine the cove we described to them. Apparently, no westerner had explored this indention of the coastline and especially the stream.
We had been using the fresh mountain water to fill our water tanks and to do our laundry and getting a good rinse in the quick current. This stream also has a long swimming hole, shaded by trees, just inland from where the stream collides with the ocean salt water. But where did all this fresh water come from and most importantly, was there a waterfall with a swimming pool at the bottom? We stuffed our back
packs with trekking food and jungle supplies then set out on our mission of discovery.
The stream was wide and shallow. Our feet dragged and trudged as they fought with each step through the current. This trek called for special footing; closed toed sandals which protect the feet but let the water and sand flush out. There was no way of knowing if our adventure would end within an hour or run into trouble and take all night. We certainly needed to be back before dark since we had no flashlights and there was no moon and the sky was clouded more often with the monsoons than the stars.
The going was slow and wet and often difficult especially when slippery rocks tried to trip our footing. If we stumbled and got soaked, it was a pleasure to have the sweat of a jungle swept away and wet clothes act as a clinging
air-conditioner. At times, we marched to the bank and stepped out of the current. It seemed, spinning a machete to clear a path across land, would be faster than the water route. In the areas along shore, where the
jungle was less dense and the ground more level, the machete whacked in constant motion like a gas powered weed-whacker which followed the lead of a branch held in my other hand. This bushy ended branch was constantly bobbing high and low and side to side to clear cobwebs and send jungle spiders scurrying. Still there were invisible strands that were left to wrap around my face and to spit out of my mouth. All the noise helped to alert long thin green snakes, fatter brown snakes, pythons, vipers, cobras, and scorpions, that something much bigger and heavier than they are, is coming through. Politely I offered the point position to Rebecca but her words of wisdom were “There are times it is best to be a follower, at least 10 feet behind!” Fortunately the serpents in the jungle are equally afraid of us as we of them. We have seen more snakes flattened on the paved roads and at times trying to commit suicide under the tires of our rented motor scooter, than in the jungle.
Surprisingly, there were few mosquitoes or flying insects to bother us. But just in case, we had carried high concentrate DEET repellent and a small bottle of acetone. Acetone (finger nail polish remover) is very effective for stopping the itch of insect bites and for making those slimy strings of Velcro known as leaches drop from our skin. Once a leach takes hold, they are very difficult to scrape off with a finger nail and in doing so, they can leave a divot in the skin. With acetone, we get revenge. So far, in this part of the jungle, there were no signs of wild pigs, deer or monkeys, so there were no leaches. Possibly this lack of fresh blood also explains why we were hardly bothered by mosquitoes or biting gnats. Life in the jungle, during the day seemed sparse. At night however, anchored on our boat ¼ mile offshore, the jungle was fully alive with the full range of sounds of a construction site, buzzing, whirring, banging, screeching, chipping, hammering. Certainly, in the jungle, they all come out at night!
We bushwhacked on, sometimes wading in to cross the stream again when the bank we were on became too steep and the opposite side looked flatter and more promising. At times, a land route was too difficult so the only option was to climb the stream through rapids and hope the ascent around a corner did not become unmanageable. I could not imagine doing this exploring in Alaska or Colorado, where even in mid summer the snowmelt water would freeze up ones hands and body within a few steps.
But we pressed on. An hour and a half of trekking quickly passed when we finally climbed to what we hoped to discover, not just a waterfall but a double waterfall. It is certainly no Niagara Falls but it was our own fun discovery complete with a pool at its bottom. No other tourist has seen this waterfall and certainly very few natives to this island have been to this remote spot.
Our legs had lost much of their spring so we took a long break and a swim. Eventually, we forced movement upon ourselves and continued the climb upwards.
There was room for problems in all this remote wandering. Rocks were slippery, ankles and legs could get twisted; a damaged body could not call for a helicopter rescue; this was not America, a hiker would have to find his own way out. And that, of course, is part of the challenge.
The waterfall and adjoining rock face was too steep and slippery to climb so we moved down stream a bit then up the embankment. I hacked our way inland to circle around the waterfall and back to the stream. This was thick jungle. If one were to take a little stumble on the rocky terrain, you had to be careful which tree you reached out to for support. The wrong prop could
give a hiker a handful of impalement on long spikes. But there are other vines and vegetation which are a little less impaling but equally biting, and are always trying to scratch bare arms and legs. I now go jungle bushwhacking wearing a pair of gloves. Large toenail clippers are part of our jungle gear. They are used like surgical tweezers. Some of those bush spines, broken off in the skin, are like grabbing a sea urchin; the spines are brittle and easily break when they are pulled so they need to be dug out.
The stream lead us to a torrent of water funneled into a narrow chute of vertical gray basalt. It was impassable. Once again it was back to hacking a trail up the mountain and circle back to the stream. Stepping in a hidden mass of large red ants, which swarmed my sandled feet, sent me into a wild Indian hopping whoop. These ants hurt and leave terrible itching welts. Then there was the log to go under. It would have been natural to have wrapped a forearm on top of the log and swung under but fortunately I saw the long line of tiny red ants and warned Rebecca. Their bite is not nearly as stinging as the larger ants but still is a terrible irritant that even the acetone has trouble controlling.
Soon the stream widened out again and we could climb up through the flow. Along the way, little capillaries of water trickled down the hill sides from the left and some from the right as we worked our way higher into a clearer sky far less shadowed by trees and vines. Our legs would not lift and move as easily as in the beginning of this adventure and we began to wonder how much more we should push this situation. The sun was well over the mountains and there were no more shadows. It was becoming a risk of taking too long and being caught in the jungle after dark. It was a gamble, but we pressed on. With each step closer to the 1,200’ summit, the main artery of the stream faded to one little gurgling of water sprouting magically from rocks. Just a little higher up, the small ravine was a dry bed which obviously in the past had carried torrents of water with a tropical downpour. But this was the end of the stream, the source of our adventure. We could turn around and race the fading light.
Certainly it is easier going down than up a mountain. We slipped, skidded and braked and splashed down the middle of the stream making good time and were able to retrace our jungle trail around the narrow vertical chute. Working down to the waterfall, Tarzan like vines and a bent over sapling of hard wood were our ropes to ease down the rock face saving the
long land route. What had taken over 3½ hours going up, took an hour and a half to return. Our muscles were rubbery, we were wet and our feet hurt but it was a fun day of adventure we will remember for many years to come.
Now the problem is, what to do tomorrow?
Off with the jungle gloves and time to go home.