The Depths Called
Travel Shorts, and Stockholm To Ko Chang
The glinting ripples and bright light made the distant toasted slender locals appear as if walking upon water.
Early morning tropical sounds were drowned out by the noise of the engine. We bounced about on the back of the truck upon a road that snaked its way through tall slender palm trees. Upon one side, glimpses of hypnotising turquoise waters, upon the other; the thick lush jungle that seemed to whisper, come in if you dare. The light was strange, as if coming from a unique angle different to other places. It created startling contrasts between blinding bright and occulting dense shadows amongst trees.
The heat had intensified when we arrived at Bang Bao port. The restaurants and shops that refreshingly lacked ostentatiousness stood on groaning stilts. The pier was little more than a cement gangway that ran like a spine between the waking businesses. At the far end; moored boats of all shapes and colours tugged and gently bobbed shoulder to shoulder. Despite the narrow strip; carts, people and the occasional scooter moved along its length with relative ease and little fuss. High tide partly submerged the pier and the locals supplying the boats appeared as slender toasted Southeast Asian saviours walking upon water.
The wooden boats rocked in anticipation of the open sea. Their bows adorned with flowers and ribbons. It was Buddha’s place, and it seemed appropriate as some of the vessels looked as if they would easily sink if it were not for an impalpable miraculous force of intervention. The dive gear had been stowed aboard. Motors that coughed and spluttered into life did not whole heartedly nourish confidence about their seaworthiness, but the anticipation of being upon an expansive gulf and the depths that awaited erased traces of anxiety.
The boat chugged into open waters and the port became a thin blurry distant memory. There was ample time for a snooze on the upper deck accompanied by the lullaby of the rhythmic engines and cradling sea. When the engines ceased; the boat skated further upon the mirror like rippling waters. The equipment was briefly heavy before the large step off into the warm clear waters. We mirrored our readiness signals, released the air from our buoyancy vests and descended into the encompassing blue. The pressure of the surrounding sea brought every sound close to the ear and the sunlight saturated the water in shimmering translucent curtains. By the time we had bottomed out at thirty plus meters; sounds drew closer, bubbles warped and struggled to rise against the weight of the sea. At first the visibility was little over a meter due to the sediment we had disturbed as our knees gently touched bottom. It was part and parcel of the behavioural training requirement at compression depths when losing site of a dive partner. As the visibility descended on us sufficiently to sync hand signals with each other, we moved off in close proximity.
A ray shook sand from itself and drifted away effortlessly. We had drawn uncomfortably close for it to remain lying camouflaged and motionless. Upon ascending some meters the visible distance extended and more light filtered through again. There were brightly coloured schools of fish that drifted and darted one way and another quite uninterested in what we were doing. A large barracuda hung close and motionless. Unfazed by the bubbles its unflinching eye inspected the odd looking organisms in its realm. Its strong streamlined body deceptively poised to race off in less than the blink of an eye. Batfish accompanied us so closely it felt that they wanted us to be part of their school. We were merely their safety cover in open stretches of water. White eyed moray eels curled and peered from well lit rocks flashing with threads of reflected light. A resting turtle under a ledge grew weary of our curious intrusion, taking gentle flight to open depths; it merged steadily with the distance beyond visibility. I never envied another soul as much as I envied the perception of its freedom from all the trappings above the sea, and that which they call the civilised order of dry land.
The fifty plus minute dive evaporated as briefly as the lifespan of an ascending air bubble. The fifty bar gauge marker was reached by one of the divers signalling the end to the dive and the beginning of our decompression ascent. Breaking the film separating the two worlds returned me to a place I no longer wished to call home; the depths were a true place of peace. The harsher sights, sounds and smells were as alien as they might have seemed to a man from a deep sea Atlantis.
To Temple Faces
Travel Shorts, Stockholm To Ko Chang
Real places, People & Stories
...The centre of Siem Riep was a buzz with activity. Noises and lights filtered in through barred windows. The backpackers guest house was a stone’s throw from the market. It watched over a hive of activity along streets, to and fro over small arched bridges to the centre of commerce.
The clean polished floors and faint smell of detergent accompanied the oddly constructed guesthouse. Maze-like corridors, floors and staircases joined two distinct buildings on the first floor. Light sources and dark shadows played with perception, giving a sense of an uncommon order of rooms and an open plan budget sleeping dorm. A large barred window looked out across a carpet of angled terracotta roofs. The high ceiling, spacious and weathered air-conditioned room had an oddly small bathroom that felt like a latter afterthought. The clean but weathered decor was undecided whether it had remained in the late seventies or early eighties. It seemed at odds with post French colonial exteriors and some interiors. Considering the per night price; there was no cause for complaint.
The ceiling fan rotated slowly and crimson light filtered through the window filling the room. I nursed another beer from the bag of ice and watched the fan’s rotations; it felt like a scene from Apocalypse Now, thankfully minus any war terrors. Still contemplation whilst grimy and sweaty was overshadowed by city sounds filtering up from the streets below.
The staff were pleasant, helpful, apparently awake at all hours with more than gratifying functional English. The cheerful, bad whisky drinking establishment owner was selective about the guests to which he took a liking. Regardless of his bad whisky and Cambo Cola choice of tipple; his eyes seemed sharp. He confessed easily to being a former policemen. It did not seem a purposeful or necessary deception. He would sit easily in the evenings with his drink and an attractive young women who would smile amiably and speak very little. It was a fair assumption that she spoke little or no English, but in my humble experience, one should never assume anything of anyone, either way. In any case it was hardly any of my business. He spoke of the corruption and things about his country that angered him. I expressed that he was in the company of many people and their respective feelings about the types of people running their countries. It reminded me of damning quotes by H.L. Mencken.
It felt good to leave behind the bustle, sticky hot air and noise of endless wizzing scooters. Traffic thinned out along a main highway flanked by back to back businesses. The occasional barefoot school child in a short sleeved white shirt paced the dusty roadside. It reminded me of the guesthouse owner’s story; whose veracity I had little reason to question. A young boy who helped out in the early evenings was his ward. He had promised the mother to give the boy shelter, an education, discipline, a sense of responsibility as well as keep him out of trouble. He was related to the mother and in not so many words, spoke of problems she had created for herself through bad choices. There was nothing further to be said on the subject. It was apparent he held up his end of the bargain.
Three days was not enough time to leisurely wonder around all the temples. Aside from the sightseeing; the magic hours of photographic light were short lived either end of the day at that latitude. A couple of thinly clouded hazy mornings fudged up the sharp angular sunlight that made images speak for themselves in a compelling manner. Perhaps it was an augmented personal fascination with the medium. There is that which cannot be put into words, it can only be felt. Regardless of how eloquent the wordsmith or camera view capture; one cannot see that which one is not prepared to see, despite all the psychological sordid work of culture taste manipulators. A subject matter requiring a preparation prior to investigation not readily taught or grasped, yet easily and deliberately ridiculed for obvious reasons.
They say that Angkor Wat is the largest religious site, measuring a kilometre along each side. It is understood to have been commissioned by king Suryavarman II in the XII century. Dating rock is extremely difficult. A large part of dating was postulated from the layers of sediment the site was excavated from, as is generally the case. In itself, another subject of contention and flaws with controversy that rarely passes closed lips to the public at large. Legends and ancient historical writings scrutinised with contemporary bias have been generally underrated. A common practice has always been to discredit, ridicule and generally call ancient people's backward, especially regarding certain anomalous criteria. That being said; the fact that all over the world the ancient and pre-ancient proves knowledge and capacities leaving the modern in ridicule baffled. The ancient worldwide peoples were not such imaginary mythological weaving fools of falsehood.
Writings relate something infinitely more interesting, as is often the case pertaining to such sites around the world. Ancient texts speak of the temple dating back to 600 CE, which would be more in keeping with its Hindu roots and mix of Buddhist themes. Supposedly commissioned by Pria Pishnukar, son of a common man and mother they say was from the stars. Texts relate that Pria was taken into a flying palace with other non human beings led by Indra. It is interesting to note that they are not mentioned as gods. There he received instruction on how he should lead and teach his people. Angkor Wat was to be a place of healing and peace, as well as a location to which the sky beings or shining ones who taught Pria would come. The essence of these writings regardless of a reasonable lack of literal credulity share similar themes appearing in other ancient cultures spanning epochs, as do other compelling themes...
Traffic along the highway slowed and stopped shy of the park entrance. Folks wondered about from their vehicles. Some stretched their legs; others in search of a reason for the hold up. There were two large RVs with retired couples in front and a group of young guys in a pickup behind. Wondering what was wrong was short lived; news drifted back that the road would be closed several hours for repair works. Folks there about were relaxed and seemed to be taking things in their stride. It was an opportunity to get acquainted with others on their respective journeys down the highway. The friendly and curious group of young guys from the pickup explained that they were on their way back to agricultural college after working on ranches during the summer break. The two retired couples in their RVs were in the midst of their adventure travelling around the entire country. They were cheerful folk who offered us fresh coffee and home made donuts…
…Curled up in the blanket on the reclined passenger seat could have been worse. Some shut eye was well needed before going on. It was difficult to know how long I had been out when there was a sharp knock agains the glass. A harsh torch beam made my bleary eyes squint. After cracking the window I called out.
‘Hey man, please take the light out of my eyes.’ He angled the light away and I got a partial view of the ranger uniform he wore.
‘Sir you can’t park here.’
Although the message was to the point, I didn’t get the impression of anything but a helpful tone. I wound down the window further then eased the door open to sit up. The explanation that I was too tired to drive was noted, but parking there was prohibited. He explained that just a mile down the highway there was an RV park where I could park up for the night. There was nothing else to do but oblige, so I rubbed the sleep from my face, thanked him and steadily drove on from the souvenir store parking area.
…It was pitch black save the reach of the headlights. There wasn’t a soul on the road, but the heating and music on the radio kept me company. Curves in the road straightened out for a spell across a plain. A sense that something was not quite right began with a sensation coming through the road, tires and up into the car. The ground began to rumble, soon after shook with violent concern. The muffled thundering was not that which came from the sky, but rose from the ground up. I slowed to a stop and could see dust rising and drifting ever so slightly. It was no earth quake or geyser. The rumbling grew louder and a surprising sense of excitement and wonder washed away any logical fear. Within the reach of the lights I saw an elk flash across, then another of differing size. Several more followed with the clear form of a bison near enough the size of the car, then more of varying sizes. Then the rear view mirror caught my attention, and with in the reach of break lights the same was perceived. The sound and vibrations grew and more pounded either side of the car. I was caught in the middle of a stampede at night right slap bang in Yellowstone. Excitement became awe which I surrendered to. Massive magical creatures were a haze closer either side. For a moment whilst glancing at the dark of the passenger side window; I entertained the idea of what might happen if one hit me sideways on. It was a no brainer; there wouldn’t be enough time for the impact to register with my brain. There would be a mangled metal, tangled bloody mess without much left to identify amongst the remains of a bison and or elk.
Upon later reflection, and given a twisted sense of humour; I imagined some terrible B movie gore scene. The Park Ranger who had previously woken me arriving at the scene with his rookie, shaking his head and whilst witnessing the bloody mess.
‘Yup, I recognise the vehicle. A young foreign guy was sleeping in the parking lot by the souvenir store. God damned shame Bob. I told the guy to sleep it off in the RV park. He had to drive on through.’
The thunderous roar finally moved across and off into the distance on the other side. It must have been a few minutes, yet seemed much longer. The dust settled and the faint tremors dissipated. I sat in silence for a while.
Stampede At Yellowstone
Real places, People & Stories
…Crisp cold darkness fell upon Yellowstone. Drowsiness seeped in and driving through the park to Jackson in search of a motel was not an idea worth entertaining. I cruised steadily, headlights revealed clear stretching road, bends and hints of the stretching wilderness around. There was little that could prepare many for what awaited a short distance away…
‘You’re not from around these parts, are you?’ The barkeep eyed me as he poured a single malt into my glass.
‘I expect it was the accent rather than asking for a single malt that gave me away?’ The weathered barkeep, aside from having seen and heard plenty from behind the bar; had been around the playground a good few times, so to speak. He took a step back and grinned.
‘You almost had me with the whole dusty hat and clothes, but that my friend is no in country accent.’
‘It figures.’ I reached forward, breathed in the aroma and took a slow sip.
‘A man who sips his whisky.’
‘Is there any other way to appreciate something as fine as a single malt?’
‘So what brings you out west?’ He spoke as he smiled easily.
‘If I told you, you would probably laugh. An authentic ranch holiday experience.’
He didn’t laugh, but with a chuckle added. ‘Well, you’re sure as shit in the right place brother.’
‘Got much more than I bargained for. Yes, got the whole authentic experience and then some.’
‘Well, colour me curious, how’s that?’
I went on to relate the story that though true seemed far fetched or something from a movie.
‘Relief is up there with a near pants crapping experience. We grow up with doses of butt sucking awful westerns. You know the type of movie; where Indians are painted Hollywood white guys talking with terrible accents in parrot monosyllabic fashion. Then there’s the classic cow poke stampede scene. Little Billy Bob or Mary Joe caught in the middle up a solitary old tree that looks like it will fall and be trampled under pounding hoofs. We would be forgiven for thinking it was near comical. Being caught in one is no laughing matter, and even less so in the middle of the night in Yellowstone. Those images I’m sure will endure. If I was tribal it would be spiritual, and require a name change to Stands Strong With Running Bison.’ I chuckled and took another sip of whisky.