Tuesday 23 December 2008
From Koh Bulon Le we could see enormous rocks jutting up into the sky from the sea. We motored across to the first one and had a close look at it. Koh Lama (06 53 632N; 99 34 252E), is a massive block of weathered stone 190 metres tall, with bamboo scaffolds and ropes snaking up its sheer faces. Men come here and scale the cliffs to take swallows’ nests for birds nest soup.
All around the horizon are similar stone islands. Another striking one we sailed close by was Koh Phetra, with a massive peak of 377 metres. All are home to the swallows whose nests are raided for Chinese soup. They create a surreal landscape – like some vision of an alien planet, great massive jagged lumps jutting out of the horizon.
We arrived at a little bay on the west side of Koh Kraden (Lat 7 17 984N Long 99 15 407E). There were already eight yachts there, as well as a few Thai longtails. These longtails are fascinating. They are long graceful wooden boats, usually open like a large dinghy, or with a roof or shade structure. The motor sits on deck at the back of the boat, and is tilted to raise the propeller out of the water. The prop is at the end of a very long shaft – easily 15 ft long - and when the boats go fast, they send up a plume of water like a rooster tail. Most of the drivers are young blokes, so there are lots of rooster tails.
This was the place we’d planned to have Christmas dinner with the other three boats – Gwendolyn, Blue Sky (an American boat we hadn’t yet met, friends of Gwendolyn) and Lothlorien. There is a small, backpacker style resort – Wally’s – a short walk up a path from this bay, which we’d been told put on a great Christmas dinner, complete with turkey, ham, the whole shooting match. We anchored there that night, but next morning, our friends arrived at the opposite side of the island and encouraged us to join them. We found them anchored off a sandy beach with a ramshackle looking collection of huts and a central building which housed a rough sort of kitchen and a roofed slab with a few plastic chairs and tables. We arrived in time to have a beer at this spot with the others, and to meet the old Thai man who owned it. He gave us a menu, looking hopeful, but we had our minds set on Wally’s on the other side of the hill.
We set off along a jungle path to Wally’s, about a mile’s worth of Kokoda trail style walking through thick rainforest up a steep ridge, three of four paces of flat and then down the other side again. (Note: life on board does not prepare one for mountain climbing) Wally’s looked enticing, a wide green bowl of grass ringed with tidy little huts and an eclectic thatched-roof, open-air restaurant in the middle. A posse of barking dogs welcomed us, and we joined the rest of the crews in another beer while we checked out the place.
It was like a South Pacific version of the Bark Hut. Very rough and ready but serviceable. A spartan open dormitory stood opposite, a line of bed frames and mattresses visible but no signs of mosquito netting. The little huts around looked in good shape, with several bathrooms at a central spot, no doubt to facilitate the plumbing. Lovely location, and close to the pretty beach where we’d stopped the day before. Several people lounged at tables around us while more were outside on the grass or at the huts.
Wally, the American owner of the place, sat hunched over his ledgers at the entrance to the restaurant, keeping a handwritten tally of the food and drinks. He wore a pair of board shorts but nothing to hide the huge gut that hung down between his knees at the desk. His German partner Borgen, of similar proportions, looked after the bar. Wally periodically shot sour looks at the kids careening around being kids (we had 6 between the four boats) and kept counting money. After a while and a couple more beers, we considered the walk back over the hill in the dark, with no torches, and decided to head back while there was still some light. Consensus was for a barbecue on the beach on our side the next day, and not the traditional Christmas day affair at Wally’s. His attitude put us off, not to mention the thought of staggering back to boats over the Kokoda trail in the pitch dark jungle with a few drinks under our belts.
When we reached the little Thai place, dinner there seemed like a good idea. The owner spoke almost no English, and Thai is a difficult language. Sign language however knows no boundaries, and we managed to order food, although not exactly sure what might turn up. The beer was hot, but he produced an esky and ice to cool the cans for us.
Meanwhile the kids were at the far end of the beach with Emma and Jim from Blue Sky. Emma made them all jaffles while the rest of the parents dallied back at the café. A young Danish couple were also there, the only guests of the whole place. They had been on a dive trip, and when they stopped at this spot, liked it so much they jumped off the dive tour and stayed. As a result of their familiarity with the place, arrangements were made for us to have our Christmas dinner at the little café. The owner would go over to the main island the next day and buy the food, drinks and ice, and all we had to do was turn up about 3 pm. He produced a small bottle of Mekong rum to celebrate the deal.