It started off as a day of exploration! We were going to learn the island and decide what we wanted to do with our few days here. We walked the beach, took pictures and made our way up up up to the look out point. It was a hot, energy-zapping climb but well worth it.
At the top we enjoyed the view of both beautiful bays and partook in a much needed bottle of water. We ended up having a conversation with the mMuslim gardener of the property we looked out on, a self proclaimed rockstar named Pinoi. He came the the island 30 years ago as a fisherman and never left.
We had a great time with Pinoi. His English broken was surprisingly understandable. We chatted about the funny relationship between humans and monkeys on the island (each needing to respect each others space). We talked about the massacre in the DC Naval Yard that took 12 lives. Pinoi thought I was Ukrainian (that's a first).
Then Stephen asked about the Tsunami. Pinoi demeanor went from playful silly island man to slightly uninterested. I couldn't tell if he was just extremely sick of the question or if it was too painful. But with a body posture that screamed "change the subject!" we went on quickly chatting about tourism, Pinoi's lazy work ethic, and how the weather patterns are changing on the island .
After another few minutes he surprisingly jumped back to the 2004 Tsunami and shared his story.
That morning, no different from any other, he woke at 5:30am to do his gardening. Around 6:30 a black cat unknown to him approached him and began talking to him. He said, “Hello kitty. What are you saying?” Then, also apart of his morning tradition, he walked down the mountain to a pulley system that he bought food from and pulled up to lessen his heavy hike back up.
This man is a character. Born in inland Thailand and loving the freedom of life that the island provides, Pinoi is a free spirit. As he shared this deeply horrific story he talked with such lightheartedness. Itt was at points almost confusing if we were truly talking about the same thing. Okay, back to Pinoi's story.
As he was pulling up his groceries from the pulley he could hear the rumbling and soon saw roof tops sliding on top of each other in a sandwich like manner. The black water was rushing in just below him and the water was swirling violently. Pinoi was shocked at what he was seeing and so closely. “It was silent during this time. Because everyone was whomped out. They were all dead,” Pinoi said then smiles big and laughed like he made a joke.
Throughout the rest of the conversation bits and pieces of Pinoi's experience spilled out. After the Tsunami he was trapped for days without an idea what type of major disaster had hit. Later he learned that the mainland had been hit 45 minutes earlier than the island. With great sadness he stated how that would have been ample time to evacuate the lowlands and move everyone to safety. 20 mins is harder, but they had 45 minutes. Why weren't they warned? Pinoi shakes his head in frustration, then smiles. After sleeping on trains in India for months, he returned home. He is a self proclaimed rockstar. "People know me all over the world.” But he doesn't want it. Pinoi loves the island life.
Koh Phi Phi Don Island, Karbi Thailand