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Lizard Chasing

by Daniel Lawton

“Ko Phi Phi is a group of six islands in the Andaman Sea off Phuket Island in Southern Thailand. The area was settled by Muslim fisherman in the 1940s and launched into the spotlight after the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed on one of its beaches in 2000. Despite suffering heavy damage during the 2004 tsunami, the islands bounced back and today few signs of the carnage survive.

On my second day there, I took off for Long Beach, a remote section on the end of the island. There were two ways to get there: a forty-five minute hike or a five-minute ride on a long boat. I wanted to do both, so I decided to take the long boat there and hike back.

The beach was everything that I expected. The water was crystal-clear and the sand stark-white. After frolicking in the waves for a bit, my girlfriend and I gobbled down overpriced club sandwiches, confirmed with a few locals that there was an path to the pier and then started the return trek.

The hike began on a steep incline, winding past the hotels and into the woods, where a wooden viewing platform had been erected to provide a stellar view of the ocean. It was an awe-inspiring sight, but while climbing up the ladder, I dropped my insect repellent in an impenetrable thicket.

From there, we carried on, weaving our way through a few local villages. Chickens sauntered on our path along with the occasional pig. The tiny hamlets we ambled through were composed of modest dwellings and dilapidated shacks. The vegetation was lush, but unfortunately there were a number of rubbish piles adjacent to the trail.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I noticed a giant bowl-shaped excavation on the side of the trail. The depression was massive, at least five hundred yards in one direction, and on top of the crater was a huge tarp. There was absolutely nothing surrounding the hole to provide insight into what it might be. Today, I still don’t know, though I speculate it was the initial stages of a massive landfill.
It was beginning to grow dark, and as we entered a poorly-lit section of the trail, the bugs wailed in unison. We picked up the pace, rounding a bend in the trail where there was a giant trash-filled dumpster. In my peripheral vision, I saw something move and turned my head to see a giant tail slithering through the garbage. It was an alarming sight and I figured I had stumbled upon a snake. My girlfriend stopped next to me and I pointed it out to her.
Then, suddenly, the tail—a good three feet in length– popped out of the trash followed by the head of a giant lizard. It was a huge beast and I must confess that a dash of fear shot through me as the monster lizard rapaciously gorged itself on garbage before scurrying off at top speed. My girlfriend was able to capture this blurry picture of the lizard, which is all we have to remember the harrowing moment.
Minutes later, the trail unraveled on the beach, and we walked along the sand for a few minutes before grabbing a beer at a beach-side café. The whole thing was a bit unsettling, but I’m still glad I did it. This is the second time I’ve gone on a hike in Thailand that took me through a Thai village or community. Shacks, rubbish piles and Dumpsters full of monster lizards aren’t what I’m typically seeking when planning a hike, but the juxtaposition of the nature and habitation makes you think about the consequences of human development on the environment. Plus, it’s not every day that you run into Godzilla with his head buried in a Dumpster”