Saturday, July 12, 2008

Animals, Animals, Animals

Part 1: Bang Bang
The top of Bang Bang's broad forehead is in serious need of moisturizer and his sparse and bristly hair could use some conditioning, too. So whenever he reaches up with his trunk to work a spot, I help him out by scratching with the tips of my fingers, which is like scratching a rock face covered in eruptions of heavy gauge fishing line. At the invitation of his handler, I have slid down off the bench where Kaya remains warily, and am riding atop his neck with my legs dangling behind his generously flapping ears. As he strides gracefully forward, the rocking motion forces me to lean heavily on his forehead, and in this manner we make our way through the well-worn elephant tracks just below the falls at Namuang.

Part 2: Camouflage
While snorkeling on the reef on the northern end of Chaweng Beach, I discover the secret of the Octopus' success. Although I am told they live among the coral heads in profusion, in over of week of snorkeling morning til evening, I have yet to see one. So it is with mild surprise as I'm resting on the surface, looking downward at nothing in particular, that I see an amorphous black mass the size of a baseball glove gliding swiftly over a stretch of sand in the reef. I might have mistaken it for a piece of seaweed caught in the current if it was not also attended by two pesky midsized reef fish, who are darting and dashing around it apparently harassing it. The black blob settles on the face of some reef at the edge of the sand, and the fish become more aggressive as the weave around it, prodding and provoking. Occasionally a tentacle reaches out to meet the fish in an almost offhand manner, but the fish do not retreat. When I decide to dive down for a closer look, however, the octopus pulls an extraordinary camouflage trick, changing in an instant from a jet black to the color of reef, complete with virtual texture and variations of color. All that is visibly identifiable is its soulful eye peaking up at me. It slithers deeper into the ledge of the reef until it is essentially invisible. I decide to retreat behind the rock to see if it will recover its previous coloration, and after about a minute a black tentacle cautiously emerges from the ledge and the body begins to follow. The harassing fish have not retreated, however, and whether the octopus sees me or responds to the attacks, it once again falls back to its defensive position and color and disappears into the reef ledge. I dive down once more to try to get a better look, but all I see is the glare of one bright yellow eye, staring out at me from the reef ledge.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Koh Samui, baby!

Well, you get what you pay for. And the Amari Reef Resort is worth every penny. We have very nice adjoining rooms in a smallish building right next to the pool and a stone's throw from the beach. Aside from the amazingly attentive service (ALWAYS with a smile--Niko and Kaya are an especially big hit with the staff), an extravagant breakfast buffet and dinner menu, wonderful beachside views, and excellent weather to date (only one short shower to date, knock wood), we're still pretty sure that our segment of Chaweng beach is paradise.

The typical routine: rise at 7:30, or later, if the gods will it; engorge selves on assorted eggage, pastry, fresh fruit, breads, cheeses, sashimi, meats, exotic juices, and bottomless cups of instant coffee--okay, so even paradise isn't perfect. Then it's a brief respite to choose reading materials before selecting the most appropriate lounge chair for the day's goal. Mine has been to pursue ideal views, and avoid the intense heat of the sun, not to mention Russians. The kids opt for poolside but rarely emerge from the pool. Jen moves with the sun, as always. Then the day just seems to whoosh by until late afternoon, when an opportune high tide allows for sea kayaking and snorkeling unimpeded across the bay to an ancient exposed section of reef that the hotel must be named for. Nearby, the corals begin about 30 yards off the beach, quickly erupting into huge heads covered in a wide variety and color of corals and attended by dozens of species of fish. Niko and Kaya usually choose their afternoon ice cream from a trawling beach vendor who seems to know just when to show up for them. Of course there's also plenty of general lolling about in the soupy warm, clear waters of our sandy edge of the sea. A walk on the beach sets the afternoon just right. That gets us to dinner.