We caught a longtail boat to Tonsai a couple hours after dawn. It was everything I had heard it would be–a climber’s paradise. A small stretch of beach flanked on either side by towering limestone cliffs. No one was waiting on the beach trying to sell us tuk tuk rides or bungalows. There were no tuk tuks here and the beach was still and quiet.
For fourteen dollars a night Rob and I rented a bungalow with a private toilet and a mosquito net. We made the mistake of waiting until evening to close the net. By then dozens of the fuckers were trapped inside, feasting on us while we slept. Rob had to hunt them down one by one. I smashed them into the bed it left a smear of blood on the sheets.
In the bathroom, the drain in the sink was actually just a hole that splashed water onto the tile floor. There was a hole in the floor that served as an actual drain, but this was three inches to the left of where the sink water splashed down.
I was so eager that we went out the first night to a bouldering cave called “The Temple.” Walk up the dirt path on the north edge of the beach and soon you’ll see a short, steep path to your left with a rope lying on the ground. Pull yourself up the path and there’s the cave—like the inside of a cracked egg, dotted with pockets of white chalk and decorated with rivers of grooved, greenish rock. There were three limp mats on the dusty ground—the thai style mattresses without springs in them. A laminated map of the routes sat on a shelf in the rock next to an old toothbrush. The routes on the right were all V6-V11 with sharp overhangs, but on the left the rock was more vertical. We picked a V3 traverse and kept at it until Rob’s hands were covered in blisters and the bats began to flutter around us.
We were supposed to go deep water solo climbing the next morning, but we had a dilemma. Electricity only ran between 6pm and 6am and there was only one outlet in the room. We could charge our phones, or we could plug in the fan. The fan won out. Rob’s phone battery died in the night and we woke up at 10. The fan had been off for four hours. If you don’t get up before 6 here, then you always wake up sweaty.
Having missed our boat, we went down to the beach for breakfast. “Family Restaurant” was the cheapest place on the beach, with big bowls of curry stuffed with meat and vegetables for $3, a pot of rice for $2, and lemon sodas for $1 each. While the pricier joints sprawled out on the beach, Family was tucked into a narrow alley of sand, with plastic chairs surrounding uneven table tops. The flies were everywhere.
At every place I’ve been in Thailand, food comes slow, and here was no exception. I sipped my lemon soda and watched a girl in diapers carrying a dinosaur shaped floaty ring over her head. The top of her hair stuck up through one of the leg holes. I had to yell at Rob a few times to get him to notice. They were showing the highlights from last night’s Premier League game on the Thai news channel and not even adorable Thai babies took precedence over that.
There was a lazy rhythm to Tonsai that I liked immensely. In the morning when the ocean kissed the cement foundations of the restaurants and the cliffs cast long shadows over the sand, people alternated between swimming in the ocean and climbing the shaded cliffs. You could wade into the water and float there, watching a climber hang off the rock with just one hand and a toe, shaking their arms out one by one, then lunging to the next hold. Inevitably they would always fall, and then hang in their harnesses until they had the strength to pull themselves up by their ropes again. That was one thing I had not become accustomed too yet with climbing—the inevitability of the fall.
In the late afternoon the tides would begin to roll out. First the beach volleyball net would appear on the sand, the boats would float away from the restaurants, a rock would appear, poking out of the surface of the water, then a dozen more. Within an hour or so the whole beach had turned into a jagged muck of rock and mud. It made an ugly sight, but if you walked into it a bit you could see everything that normally hid beneath the water. In a square foot of muck there were dozens of tiny hermit crabs with shells no bigger than the nail of my pinky finger. Fish darted around in little tide pools and the sea slugs as big as my foot clung to the underside of rocks.
At night people would come down to the beach to buy breasts of barbecued chicken and the small handful of reggae bars would have live Bob Marley cover bands. I never saw the drinking turn into a wild party, just the mellow relaxing of stoned athletes.
Still, there were nights where I couldn’t sleep. Released from work and the flurry of planning, it was as though as soon as we left Simahaphot my brain broke open. There was a barrage of useless information pummeling at all times–bits of a book I was reading, pictures of birds diving towards insects, worries about Rob’s opinion of me, and all the time a current of anxiety over how swiftly each day was going by.
I thought frequently of those bastards back at home, but never for very long at a time. I pictured shaking Avery violently while yelling at him what an idiot cunt he was. But Marie’s face was always still and always horrible. It was a face convinced it was justified in hating me. Sometimes, while Rob was sleeping and I stayed up scratching at bites from that one mosquito we could never seem to kill, sometimes that face got the better of me.