A friendly climber fell off his perch and into shallow water (a foot below the water: jagged rocks). The Thai guide yelled “Help!” from up on the cliff.

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By David G. Allan

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in November 2001 on the website TheDharmaBums.com. David’s CNN.com column, The Wisdom Project, can be subscribed to here: https://tinyletter.com/wisdomproject

PI-PI ISLAND, Thailand — From our vacation paradise at Railay beach in southern Thailand, we ventured out to this lush tropical island in the Andaman Sea, located next to the nature preserve island where they filmed Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach.” A large boat picked us up from our resort and like clever immigrants we refused to go down below, finding the last two spots on the starboard deck for the trip out to the island.

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Here on Pi-Pi, we immediately rented snorkeling gear and made our way past the bamboo stilt huts and young backpacker tourists content to sleep the day away on hammocks by the beach. You know the type: 20-something travelers eager to forget they ever grew up in small American towns before they went to India and Nepal and lived like innocents on a remote Thai island.

We had some excellent snorkeling — warm clear aqua-green waters full of colorful tropical fish, urchins and brilliantly-colored clam-types we couldn’t identify. And after getting our fill of fish we hiked to a more remote part of the island and climbed over slippery rocks by the water, a fact I only mention because it was here that Kate took a bad spill, cutting up her knee and then, minutes later, took another fall to add injury to injury.

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Once we climbed past the rocks (ne’er a complaint from the injured) we found a little beach populated by two Westerners-gone-local living in a hut made from a boat and doing their laundry in a plastic bucket in the back “yard,” and their local neighbors who had a longtail boat that could take us back to the port village. It was a harrowing ride through choppy waters which only our pilot seemed unworried about. We were back on our home beach in Railay just in time to watch the sun give a beautiful curtain call of red streaks into the sky. Later there was a “fire show by Tex Co.” I fell asleep as Tex Co. (who we liked to call “Tex Mex” or “Chex Mix”) swung fireballs on ropes near our heads.

The next day we decided to stay closer to home and rented a sea kayak to explore the nearby tall limestone cliff islands (and their sea caves) that jut out of the sea like the rocky fingertips of Neptune.

We hoped to find a private beach all to ourselves and we did. No people, white sand, a few palm trees and tall cliffs on three sides, blue waters on the fourth — just us, our kayak and towels. Minutes into quiet bliss a longtail boat came up and threatened to deposit more secluded beach hunters, but it was just dropping off a rock climber and his local guide passing through to scale the cliff.

The climber apologized for interrupting our solitude and when he turned to wave a friendly goodbye he tripped on a rock. Not a very auspicious way to begin a climb, we joked, and we looked at a nearby shoot of bamboo and sized it up for its gurney-potential.

The climber was making good progress. The last time we looked he was at the top of a three-story high cliff. A few minutes later we heard a splash. The friendly climber had fallen off his perch and into shallow water (a foot below the water: jagged rocks). The Thai guide yelled “Help!” from up on the cliff. We ran over, wading to a groaning man who had the wind knocked out of him but lucky not to have his brains knocked out as well.

Horribly bruised, flayed and bloody, he slowly limped to the beach with our help and rested while we prepared to paddle for help in our kayak. Just then, however, a longtail boat with tourists came by and we waved and yelled for him to stop. He did, and Kate explained things in Thai and we put the poor (but lucky to be alive) shaking Eric the Climber on his way to the hospital. The guide looked more scared than Eric, repeating his inculpability. (“I’m just a guide. He experienced climber.”) The tourists who were in the rescue boat were stranded on our beach until the boat came back so we let ’em have it, no charge, and took off for home.

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Later we looked at photos of the “fire show” the night before and, wouldn’t you know it, the climber guide was none other than Mr. Chex Mix. While Kate was swimming in our cove at sunset, I saw Tex Mex, who said Eric the Climber was okay and that, again, it wasn’t his fault: “I’m just a guide.”

We left the next morning. No one dead on our watch, we said “sawatdii” to our beach paradise and to the ceramic love birds in our bungalow and sea caves and tropical fishies and the back packing head-nodders and Chex Mix and slippery rocks and macaques and forest monks. Happy, rested. As we skipped along the green waters away from Railay I told Kate it was the best vacation of my life. And I wasn’t sad for it to end either because I wasn’t going home to San Francisco, but to our new home, Bangkok!

CNN’s Editorial Director of Features (Travel, Style, Wellness, Science), plus The Wisdom Project column. This account represents my personal views, not CNN’s.

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