When the weather the Antarctic deep-field is good, there's almost nowhere I'd rather be.
HOWEVER - ask just about anyone as they lie - stormbound in a flapping Scott tent, smelly, and deprived of good alcohol and fresh food - where they'd rather be, and you might hear:
"I just wanna be on a BEACH right now". The person who utters this then lapses into 10 minutes of daydreaming about what life would be like without 6 layers of stinky synthetic clothing on, what fresh fruit smoothies might taste like, and the idea of seeing bikinis and bare, tan skin in real life - not in a magazine.
Perhaps I exercised good foresight then, when in McMurdo station in late October, I clicked "purchase" on a December 10th Tiger Airways flight from Singapore to Krabi, Thailand.
I had never been to Southeast Asia, and I was sick of all my friends telling me how cheap, beautiful, and amazing it was. In Mid December, I finished my "flycation" - having climbed almost nothing (but paraglided nearly every day)in Wanaka, New Zealand. I headed north to Singapore, where I inadvertently spent one night in a cheap hotel in the red-light district (be very careful when reserving hotel rooms online from Kayak.com!). My US$80 Tiger Airways ticket took me from the budget terminal at Changi Airport to Krabi, where I re-entered the "developing world" for the first time since guiding a Bolivia trip in 2005.
I promptly went to Tonsai (doesn't every climber?) and ensconced myself in a cheap bungalow supporting a robust assemblage of jungle flora, as indicated by the thin layer of insect fecal matter coating the top surface of my mosquito net. Within a few days I moved from my bungalow at Basecamp to a slightly tidier one at Green Valley Resort. Within days, I had spotted a yellow-banded Krait (highly venomous) living beneath my floorboards. Oh well I guess that's just part of the fun of traveling here.
Each morning I woke early (thank you jet lag!), walked to the beach, drank a coconut mango shake, bought some fresh banana bread, and strolled past the Tonsai Roof area (a few of us nick-named it "muscle beach - it's the place to climb if you're sporting a healthy narcissism-gene) to Dum's Kitchen or the Tyrolean Wall, where I would ask politely if someone wanted a climbing partner for the day. Usually I found one. I climbed with a hodgepodge of English, American, Dutch, French, Belgian, Quebecoise, South African, and Australian partners during my first week in Tonsai.
Jonathan Spitzer and Rachel Greeberg arrived a few days later. Our international breakfast-socializing crew was complete. I now had more climbing partners than I could shake a stick-clip at. Jonathan, Rachel, Rich, Darran, Marilyne, Jason, and countless others could be found (with yours truly) holding court at Pyramid cafe, making unambitious plans for the day before ordering more chai and turning back to their book. We spent lazy mornings, afternoons and evenings drinking coffee, pricing out which shop sold the cheapest toilet paper, drinking beer, falling off of slack lines, and debating the outcome of a battle between a feral cat and crab-eating Macaque.
We generally sought out the most titanium-rich crags, as stainless steel bolts of all forms have proven their lack of durability in the hot, salty, marine environment. On several occasions, we climbed multi-pitch routes. Humanality was highly recommended by friends, and therefore became our first. The route is four or five pitches directly above the freedom bar. It involves one pitch of 5.9+ tree-root climbing to get off the ground Sadly, most climbers avoid this pitch by starting at the ladder routes at Tonsai Roof. Even more sadly, this is because the ground below the tree is littered with smelly garbage, fetid pools of algae, feral cats, old coconut husks, and monkey shit.
Our second multipitch climb was on Ao Nang Tower. The access is unbeatable: we hired Lep and his longtail boat to drop us off at the first anchors and then pick us up a few hours later - complete with freehanging rappel directly into the bow of the boat. We climbed the 6c+ Orange Chandeliers route. Like many multipitch routes in Thailand, this one felt soft for the grade, but the climbing was fun nonetheless. The texture of sea-cliff limestone is always a bit scruffier than the tufa-rich limestone of the popular sport crags. Maybe that's because the jugs have not been worn to a polished sheen by an over-abundance of climbing chalk and C4 rubber. But I like it - to me the gritty and un-polished nature of the multi-pitch routes instills a greater sense of "adventure". The bolts are farther apart too - but never to the point of feeling reckless.
Our third multipitch route was Thai-Tanium (you can guess what the bolts are made out of). To get there we hired Lep again (I sincerely hope I am writing his name correctly - He was always of the strong, silent type). Lep welcomed us aboard his long-tail for the 45-minute boat journey to Koh Yawabun Island. Had I stayed in Thailand longer, I would have loved a chance to dive here. Lep deftly manuvered his long-tail boat beneath the old, ratty chunk of fixed line dangling from the first set of anchors. We were lucky it was high tide. Jonathan brought a pair of ascenders for us to share. Being the MOG (Man-of-Girth) of the group, I jugged first - testing the fixed line with my 205Lbs. It held, and Rich (from AUS) followed. Then Rachel and Jonathan ascended to the anchor as Rich led the first 6c pitch. Lep retired to the rear of his boat, apparently asleep. A dive-boat pulled up next to us, 6 divers jumped in the water and disappeared. When their bubbles ascended to the surface so did an 1-meter long sea turtle. When the divers re-ascended the turtle silently slid into the green depths. I appreciated the mischievous game it was playing with them.
Rich brought me up to the second pitch, which I led with great pleasure. Long reaches between in-cut jugs 200 feet over the glittering Andaman sea: it just doesn't get much better than this, does it? After Rich followed I shot some photos of Rachel leading. Then Rich led the third pitch - another 6b+ or 6c passage, but very sharp at the top. An eagle circled the summit of Koh Yawabun, inspecting us. I led the last pitch - a vertical slice of Karst with the sharpest holds I've never let go of - and clipped the sun-bleached assemblage of old, crusty anchor-slings. We rappelled the route directly into Lep's boat. The whip-crack of Jonathan's falling 70m rope was probably what alerted Lep to start the engine and maneuver the boat "into rappelling position".
We left the island just as a squall hit. Marble-sized rain drops smacked us in the face. We all hid beneath the tarpauline on the Long-tail, ignorant of poor Lep, back in the stern trying to steer the boat straight through growing waves and blinding rain. Jonathan's aversion to rough sees greatly amused all of us. We landed on the edge of Chicken Island (ostensibly to take photos and eat) and a more healthy pallor returned to Jonathan's face within minutes. An hour later we were braving the rough seas again, snickering at Jonathan's discomfort while simultaneously imagining "castaway" narratives that could happen if the boat were to break apart. I almost tossed him a life preserver from the pile of refuse in the bow, but I was afraid the "power of suggestion" might push him overboard - literally....
We only had another week or so to enjoy in Tonsai before our adventures would take us elsewhere so we made the most of it by enjoying more late breakfasts at the Pyramid cafe, taking whippers onto titanium glue-ins, dancing away a ribald new-years celebration, drinking endless coconut/mango shakes, and of course eating a never-ending supply of affordable and delicious thai food (and I wonder why I was heavier when I left...) I only managed to fit in two thai massages during my stay - what a travesty...