The first glimpse was at breakfast. Shade from the awnings kept the flies from the fruit, the ants could be brushed away whilst over there, in the knuckles of warming boulders, the bay, now azure, now turquoise, now sapphire, played upon by the sun’s whitest rays, those of innocent morning hours, its secrets, unquantifiable by the green reams of home realms, welcomed the delicate imagination of early onlookers, welcomed plans to cut the lapping surface and swim excited in.
- ‘Whole bay is one reef,’ one local said.
- ‘Fifty baht one mask,’ another.
- ‘I’ll come back this afternoon,’ one tourist said, swatting at a bluebottle.
The midday sun fires across Koh Tao setting waves of crickets calling frenzied to its lengthening heat. Escape for some is met under a bungalow porch, in the swing of a hammock, the turn of a page. For others the bay glimmering below the hillside portrays its crystal waters as a better getaway. A gull wheels through the cloudless sky as palm trees whisper to the offshore breeze, murmurs of the draw, the pull, the impatience to be in the ocean.
Once the trade is made one local points to a path and the heat of those boulders is felt underfoot. Alone amongst the clicks of crabs one tourist turns to look up the hill and spot the slip of white arm hanging from a hammock but the distance is too great, so to the lapping waves he turns. Closer, the rocks are sharper, the water darker. Folding his clothes he negotiates a way in and the water comes quick and cold; it’s much, much deeper than it looked and paddling he pulls on his mask, spitting salt.
To the blue world, to the faint sound of breath, to witness, to watch; creatures float just beyond fingers from reef to reef; scale and fin, pecking at stones they pass in mimicking shoals, in wandering pairs, a lonely swimmer here, and there another, another; another in yellow pink grey, another in orange blue neon, and behind there are others; others which seem wary, others which were missed in the deeper blue of the peripheral; it’s unnerving to turn, to try to see the unseen, but the traffic draws the eye away from the rocks to follow a school, a wandering pair, a lonely swimmer into the blue, over the deep, above ancient eyes in the sand – some which keep their distance, others which are curious – to the faint sound of breath whilst fingers wrinkle, and always the unnerving deeper blue behind, until, there, ahead; a slender fish floats surveying the reef; a predator; a long spike of silver, sparkling in blue shafts below the shimmering surface, long as a leg, straight like a sword, jaw poised in the quiet beneath bleak eyes that peer and ponder. To turn to see how far the rocks have drifted is unnerving, to swim back to the faint sound of breath is unnerving, then to look back again and see the slender silver predator, hanging motionless in the water, speculative, watching the mimicking shoals, the wandering pairs, the lone swimmer, is unnerving. Swimming back, the weight of the ocean’s indifference sinks the secrets of the bay, and breaking the surface to climb back onto the rocks one tourist catches his breath bewildered.
With night comes darkness to the waters of Hin Wong Bay so complete it is impenetrable by all but imagination. One tourist sits in the whispering breeze with beer beneath the buzzing light of the awnings picturing the reef, seen serene in the blue just hours before, a place of blackness now.
©James Bruce May, 2014