That Day I Went Hiking Barefoot

There are some days when you know you’re up to doing something crazy, but you never quite know the degree of crazy. That day, apparently, the sky was the limit, because I did what I wasn’t even planning to do: I hiked the Lagoon.

The Lagoon is a sort of a myth among the locals of Railay bay: everyone has heard of it, but no one ever attempted the hike. My little masseuse only giggled when I crashed on her mat the evening that followed my adventure. I can also certify that it was the most eventful day of the entire trip. But let’s go back to the beginning.

I’ve read about the Lagoon. It’s a little lake hidden within a mass of rocks, like an old pirate treasury. The hike was reviewed as “strenuous”, “slippery”, and simply “impossible”. I wasn’t sure I wanted to believe that, at least before I saw it for myself. But indeed I was not intending to go all the way. So I told my mom not to worry (an innocent, innocent lie), packed a bottle of water, some sunscreen and my iPhone, swung my crossbody on my back, and flipflopped towards the trail. Of course I haven’t brought hiking boots or any sportive clothing to Thailand. How would I know Railay was such a great hiking and rock-climbing spot? Yeah, let’s just say I wasn’t paying enough attention to the Web.

The trail started from a walkway to the famous Pranang beach. From time to time in the earlier days I could spot some excessively dirty individuals descending the red-clay hill, clinging to the slimy ropes. I was relatively determined to join their legion. So I left my flip-flops under a pavilion bench right across the trail, and looked up at where I was to go. 

The vertical path looked a mess. I tugged on the nearest rope. It was covered in clay, and my hand slipped immediately. And I’m supposed to hold on to this?

The tree roots sticking from the hill proved much more helpful. Somehow they remained dry, and I was able to pull myself up a few meters. The more I looked at the climb ahead of me, the more it formed a familiar puzzle, a riddle to solve. Each movement, each step and pull had to be calculated and thought through. I didn’t want to break a leg, after all, and skip the second part of our vacation. I like that clear state of mind when you don’t need to think about the path ahead or behind, when your body responds to the quick impulses of the brain, and it’s just you and the road, the challenge, in each root and stone, leading higher up. My bare feet took to the clay; besides, it was easier to keep my balance and cling to the little bumps and holes of the hill. My legs were soon brownish red from the clay, but the shorts somehow stayed intact – not for long.

Another hiker caught up with me, but I was faster. My bare feet confused him, as did the speed with which I was ascending. Well, he couldn’t have known of our kayaking adventures of the day before! I felt invincible. He called me a spiderwoman. I think I was flattered, only I was too busy climbing to deliver a nice response. I was up at last, and we took a left turn towards the viewpoint. That’s the farthest I was planning to go. 

No need to go all the way down – after all, the best view was right there. And what a view it was! A magnificent stretch of green, and both eastern and western shores, and the green-clad mountains were all in sight. “No jumping or parachuting”, read the sign nearby. We made fun of it, for sure, but I couldn’t help wandering if some people actually tried to parachute from the viewpoint. A scary thought, especially when the tide is so low…

As we stood there with Dan from Amsterdam, overlooking the peaceful bay, time froze. There was nothing but the gentle wind caressing the skin, and the rustle of shrubbery, and the distant sounds of the waves. And then we moved on.

I don’t think either of us was planning to go all the way even then. But each step down the muddy pathway sparked curiosity, and the further we went, the further we wanted to go. “We’re here already after all, aren’t we? Now we gotta get down”, – said I. 

The path took an angle, and I had to watch my feet slipping down the clay road with ease. Then there were fat palms whose dry branches threatened to cut my soles. A bunch of girls emerged in our way. “Don’t bother, it’s impossible”, – they said. “Too slippery, we couldn’t go down”. We looked at them with some amusement and kept walking. 

It was easy to see why many people turned back. The way down consisted of three rock falls, three giant steps, each more strenous than the other. To go down the hillside with nothing but wet dirty ropes to support you – no, that’s not the most attractive idea. And yet we went.

The first step wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t that steep, and the rope had knots. The second made me raise my eybrows. It was quite a drop, its angle going into the rock and not towards the lagoon. The ropes looked sketchy. Rocks cut into my bare feet. Dan caught me at the bottom, where I was swinging on the rope unable to find a spot to put my feet.

The third step made me whistle. It was a higher and a steeper drop, looking bad enough to go up, not to speak of going down. I had to find another way. I examined the cliffside, searching for little holes in the rock to hold on to. I might be able to make it. But if I think too long I just won’t go anywhere. So I started down the cliff, the wall adjoining to the drop, watching each step, each hole I stuck my feet and fingers into. I could feel my muscles vibrate, and I knew how dependent I was on them. Am I fit enough to be doing this? Can I make it all the way down, no safety, no rocks to support me? A few times I was hanging on the tips of my fingers, feet trying to find solid ground. And when they finally were on solid ground and I looked up to where I came from, I started giggling. My my.

We dropped our stuff and clothes on the rocks and plunged into the lagoon. It was so much more beautiful than any photos could convey, still and salty, surrounded by cliffs with a hole for the sky far up. I laid with my back on the water and thought how much I liked that it was so hard to access. I imagined helicopters bringing heaps of tourists with their wide sun hats and big cameras, tourists leaving trash and mudding the water, taking selfies and leaving scratchings on the walls. Or a great tall bridge from the shore, for anyone willing to use it. Or elevators. Thank god there were none! 

The lagoon was so calm and still, so peaceful. There were but three people besides us, and the couple soon left. The bottom of the lagoon was full of sharp rocks, so I slowly swam in shallow water to the opposite side. A Swiss guy who was in the lagoon joined me, and we found a small cave entrance, and inside a kind of a second floor where one could sleep. People obviously have camped there, but camped rather carefully. The guy told me there was a big cave on the left side of Pranang beach, and that people camped there. A real big cave! I haven’t been in one since Mallorca almost ten years ago! 

Dan had to go back for his rock-climbing session and offered me to join. It sounded tempting, as aching as my body was, but I wasn’t quite finished with the lagoon. I wanted to soak in the colors, and stalactytes and stalagmits, and the blue circle of the sky above me, and the echos our voices left. When at last I decided to go I found my bag completely wet. Someone must have knocked it into the water. My cellphone was wet and dead. Well, shit.

Going up wasn’t as much of a struggle as going down. We caught quite a few glances when we emerged on the pedestrian pathway half an hour later, again head to toe covered in clay. I found my flip-flops and we headed to Pranang. You should’ve seen the faces of those ladies and gents lazily sunbathing in the beds of that damned expensive resort that occupied half of the bay and didn’t let anyone walk through. How they stared when we walked by! And we we laughing out loud, looking at them and at ourselves.

It took a long sink in the sea and a thorough shower to wash off all the clay. In the evening me and the Swiss guy did go to the cave, and it was big and dark and dusty and full of echoes. We had to make our way with a single small flashlight, climbing up rocks and thin bamboo stairs. At the end of the cave was a balcony with a view on all of Railay West, and a lovely view it was. We watched the sun sink into the water, and I nearly fell off the balcony when bats started to wake up and make their way out of the cave. They were brown and tiny, and fast as comets, and they were everywhere. We had to go down talking loudly and making noises to let the bats know we were there and we had to move. 

I padded barefooted down Pranang and back home, and met my mother at the massage salon, best we found on Railay. Ain’t nothing like a good Thai massage with elements of deep tissue after a day like that! And a large meal afterwards made a perfect conclusion.

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