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Tentative in Thailand

Within minutes we were all stood around like business people discussing the severity of the situation. “What do you think? The green ones are usually harmless aren’t they?” I said drawing on my knowledge from Sir David Attenborough.

“Looks like a nasty one to me,” said one guy; that decided it, this was a job for a professional.

Stomping loudly en route to the owners’ house I wondered what I was going to say, if it was harmless, I didn’t want it killed just relocated. I waved at their open door to draw attention. “Snake!” I cried.
Blank faces.

“You know, snake, ssss.”

Vacant stares.

“Ssss,” I hissed manically aided by hand and arm gestures like an extra in Austin Powers. I pointed to our hut.

After some debate by the family there was a yell and a man of about 70 emerged with a washing pole. He was wearing those traditional Thai trousers that take the idea of loose crotch to a new level and put Leeds’ homeboys to shame.

At the hut he received an excited welcome and soon got to work. He tapped the beam with his pole and the snake seductively lowered its head like a shower cord. Suddenly it seemed so harmless and introverted compared with the group of five larger beings. “Is it dangerous?” I asked but no answer came. Whack!

The snake flew several metres through the air like a javelin as I uncontrollably let out an unearthly noise somewhere between that of a dog and a vampire off Buffy. I was horrified and taken aback by the result of my actions but I still had to have a shufty around the edge of the hut to see what was going on. The old man sauntered over to the beast and, to show his first aim was no fluke, he took his pole and slammed it down on the soft head finished off with a twist. That night marked the end for the snake and a new beginning for me.

A few mornings later, as we headed for a small boat to take us part way to Ko Tao, we heard a rustle in the undergrowth. We froze, it sounded big, it had to be a wild dog – probably rabid. I gripped the Lonely Planet in my hand ready to defend myself at all costs – a use that they surprisingly don’t mention. The rustles got louder and slowly emerged a long dark body; it was a whopping great Monitor Lizard.

I held my breath in anticipation of its actions. As it leisurely swayed in front of us it glanced in our direction then, in a particularly unimpressed manner, looked away and dawdled off. A chance encounter that ended peacefully, I was proud of myself, it was a huge leap along my path to being the next Mrs. Attenborough. Maybe this nature lark wasn’t so hard after all, maybe man (myself) and beast (anything with no legs, or more than two) could live together – no washing poles involved.

Two triumphant weeks later we had encountered and survived jellyfish, turtles, scorpions and spiders and for our final evening we were heading out to snorkel with black-tip reef sharks. We were residing on a lush hill-backed rocky bay that turned into vibrant coral where it met the sea bringing life and marking the edge of one way of life and the start of another; one with different rules and rulers.

The damp air had cooled but the gulf still felt warm as I carefully submerged my, now browner, body and pushed myself out over the eerie colours. As I skimmed towards the shark-infested parts I watched Clown fish timidly retreating and pink and blue anemones pull their feather-like hair into their sturdy trunks as their atmosphere was stirred. I felt like an honoured guest, welcomed to watch and learn.

I leisurely rounded the corner; the sharks were putting on an impressive show. With a flick of their muscular tail they secretively shot past always leaving a mystical and elusive air. Their elegance and power were overwhelming. They dominated their medium like no human could ever attempt and all I could do was float in awe.

As dusk drew, we scuffled up a high rock at one end of the bay and watched. A topsy-turvy moon hung low in the mauve sky and stars began to pop from nowhere. A symphony of crickets filled the air and bats swooped and swirled to their crescendos. A fishing boat bobbed on the ripples of the bay highlighted by intermittent swishes of twinkling plankton.
I suddenly felt a sense of belonging, of being a small part just as important as any other in this 3D world. It was an immense home filling its atmosphere and even bursting through the ozone’s hole. Perhaps, playing my small role, I was never going to embrace nature but I thought now maybe I could live alongside it, even be more than an observer – no embracing involved though.

In Britain urbanisation and money had literally crushed nature and animals were forced to adapt, or not, to the human world. In Thailand, humans still lived in nature’s world. Yet there was something wrong with this idea. That journey had made me realise that these weren’t in fact different worlds, just different societies in the same world; societies that occasionally conflict but ultimately can abide by the other’s ways and warnings.

By the time we reached the precariously balancing ‘restaurant’, it was dark and a strange combination of Manu Chao and Celine Dion attempted to drown out the crickets’ melody. As we solemnly awaited our final plate (thank God) of Pad Thai we were entertained by a thousand-strong group of Daddy-long-leg look-a-likes swarming around each table it turn. Their party clearly hadn’t bypassed the kitchen and once again I found myself uttering those words, “what’s that?” as I picked something unidentifiable from my noodles.

“It’s one of those.” Tom gestured to a bug crawling in my hair. “There’re some more just there,” he said pointing his chopsticks at my dish – and together, listening to our society’s rhythms we slowly removed the fried remains of that parallel society from our dinner and ate up.

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