He’d only have one shot at the target, so he’d have to aim right.
Tola came into view standing at the side entrance to her restaurant - a slightly-built Thai woman with a broad open face and beaming smile… Which froze as Robert took aim.
“Stop stealing my staff!”, shouted the six-foot tall Frenchman.
And threw his banana, right at Tola.
It was March and approaching the end of the peak season on this island close to the Burmese border. But even before the weather started to break up ahead of the rains, and before exhaustion really hit the cooks, cleaners and resort owners - tempers were already fraying in the 40°C heat.
I won’t name the island for selfish reasons. It’s lovely as it is. And it won’t stay that way very much longer. The creep of mass tourism from island to island, off every Thai shoreline, is well-established, and continues.
The choice could be to embrace the crowds and make a big turnover. Or to offer the niche, the special, and charge more for it. But a choice is seldom made. With little strategic planning, development is often in the hands of determined outsiders, and well-meaning but amateur locals.
So this beach, which supported just two hotels five years ago, now supports eight. Its sister beach - on the other side of the island is now a place of clamour and bustle. Still nothing on the scale of Phuket - but people who come looking for tranquility now pass on.
“What sort of man would throw a banana at a woman?” Tola asked us…
…”And why? We didn’t complain when he built one of his bungalows overlapping our land.”
Listening to Tola - and later Robert - produced a tapestry of stories of ambition, good faith, misunderstandings, arguments and reprisals.
“We paid over-the-odds for this place”, says Robert “But the original landowners burnt through their cash and see us making good money. So they come back asking for more.”
If they have the backing of the local police, that could be an offer which new owners have to accept. Generally, though, incomers make sure the cops are on side - and try to keep local families happy too.
Dutchman Jan runs his resort on green lines - minimising his impact on neighbours and the environment. But he’s running out of water. The reservoir in the middle of the island is under stress. Each new block of rooms built means people flushing hundreds of litres of extra water down the drain.
“So, now I have a bodyguard for the water which I truck in from the reservoir”, explains Jan.
“I bring every litre by trailer attached to the back of a scooter. Recently the scooters have been stopped by guys with knives. Sometimes they say I’m carrying the water across private land, when I’m not. They’re just jealous, and they know I’ll be crippled in hours without water.”
Cutting down virgin forest to make way for new resorts or shops means that rainwater is flowing straight into the sea instead of gathering in aquifers. French tourist Veronique said she woke up one morning in her hut in the middle of this island surrounded by trees, hornbills and monitor lizards.
Then the chaps with chainsaws arrived, and stayed until eleven that night. They had to be persuaded to leave. Now her veranda looks over an inflamed-looking scar of earth. The rustling and the calling of creatures is a lot less.
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Nearer the shore, the erosion of the land is just as obvious.
“It was perfectly safe”, said Sunan. “We heard the tree groaning for weeks. But this time it was really loud. So we stood around keeping people away for a while while it fell.”
In this photograph, imagine sand covering those rocks by about a couple of feet - 60 cms.
That is what it was like a couple of years ago, according to locals.
Maybe the dogs on this beach are warning of the dangers of change too. In the couple of months we stayed, four bouncy new pups were born and welcomed alongside the two tribes of dogs that live here.
Until recently, one resident or another would have taken care of them. There was a neutering campaign once. But now the dogs are “someone else’s problem”, and whose exactly is hard to figure out.
Maybe that’s what these dogs are singing about, in their farewell to the sun…
Names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike.