Saved By My Nickname, Lukchang – The Elephant Child
This is a slightly older 'tale from the seaside' in Thailand. It could possibly help the one or other reader in a similar situation. With me it did work, otherwise I might not be here to write about it. Nice touch when reading reports about close encounters in a blog or travel report – the ones who write DID sure survive the episode…
It was January 1994, and the two-and-a-half people of our family (my son Heinz was born later in May) happily paid a visit to 'Grandma and Grand-dad' in Thailand. We had brought along a few nice friends from Germany. First of all, there was 'Granny Helga', mother of a good friend of mine, who had rapidly become a very good friend of my Thai wife back home, later she stayed all winter with our family in Thailand, until April. A young man from Berlin travelled with us, he had taken quite a fancy to my wife's sister, and then there were two young students from my institute in Kiel, twin sisters. One worked in my department as a student helper, she had seen my slide shows and reports about south-east asia and attended our wedding in 1992, therefore she had asked if she could tag along with us – yeah why not! Her twin sister had quite spontaneously joined her, surprise! These two really nice blond girls/ladies were quite a 'special feature' at the festivities in my wife's village, a marriage and a funeral.
We spent about five days on Koh Samui, staying in the First Bungalow Resort at Chaweng Noi beach, paying some 800 baht for a small bungalow with a fan, directly by the water. Nice. But if you know Chaweng Noi, the shorter leg of the beach on the right-hand side of the cliffs around the mouth of the small river, they you should be aware that there can be, especially when the waves are higher, extremely nasty undercurrents which can be really dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Well, now we know that for sure.
Otherwise our holiday with our small 'travel group' had been just marvellous – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, south to Surat Thani, village and 'life on the farm' just like out of a dream. On Samui, however, I had a slight impression that the two 'girls' were getting careless – I had already been a slight spoilsport at the one Samui waterfall where you can swim real well when our 'blondies' dashed like crazy across the really slippery rocks. Well, sure one can easily feel like invulnerable and extremely strong when 24 year old, without a care in the world, but that may be just so only before a fall…
That evening we enjoyed the waves at Chaweng Noi beach, playing with a ball, in and out of the waves which were up to six feet high. I made sure nobody went in further than to his/her fanny because I did not trust the waves and currents, yeah sure the old spoilsport again. When dawn fell – rapidly as it does some 9 degrees north of the equator – all the older ones went ashore, the girls wanted to stay a little bit longer. I talked to the others, at a small fire on the beach, but kept my swimming stuff on. Typical for an 'old hand from the sea' – relax only when ALL people are ashore, keep an alert eye on the water, and for the time being even go without a beer…
Suddenly then, a faint cry for HELP from the water! I rushed down some 60 feet into the surf, when hearing the second even fainter cry I was already ankle-deep in the water but I did not see anything, too dark, surprisingly quick! There were no further appeals for help, the girls later said they were already far too exhausted for that. God and Buddha be thanked there was a small strand bar and some tourists with powerful flashlights who got the right idea and started to play their beams on the threateningly dark waves rolling in. And fortunately, blondes stick out more under such circumstances than darker types, really. THX again to the lads with the lights, really!
One of the girls I could see real quickly, rushed out to help her, could not really stand where she was but somehow managed to hold and stabilise her and, in the wavetroughs, pull her some yards in the direction of the beach, stretching and struggling and jumping, until she could stand pretty safely and might have walked all the way ashore under her own power. But she turns to me, completely frantic, yells 'Get Heike!' – her sister, and points out into the waves!
Now I can finally see the other one. Quite a long way farther out, right in the process of losing her fight against the waves. Crap. Will be pretty hairy even for me out there, much deeper. Short thought flashing through my brain that it would be unbearable to return to Europe with five people in Economy and one steel coffin in the cargo hold.
Swam out to Heike, stabilised her, told her 'No fear we will make it!'. Unbelievably strong current right out to sea. Water about eight to nine feet deep therefore 'No walking ashore' here. Now I am not a fast or elegant swimmer but I can go on almost infinitely, like a hippo, and as I have never smoked my lungs are something a walrus might be envious about. Ok I managed to get the girl to hold onto my shoulders and then I really fired up my 'overdrive' in the direction of the safe beach. NO CHANCE at all. Probably only succeeded in drifting out even farther. Blindly struggling on like that will only lead to TWO steel coffins in the cargo hold. Crap. Try to swim out to the fishing boats, probably half a mile? Try to fight our way parallel to the beach? I could manage that but only alone. What can I do to keep the 'coffin count' at zero?
Yes, well, if I was really 9 feet tall like the real elephant, my nickname being 'Lukchang' the elephant child, then I could simply walk out of here with Heike on my back. But I am less than six feet tall – but STOP, crazy idea, much taller am I with Heike on my back??? What can we lose! 'Heike, I think I can get us out of here, let us try, I put you up on my shoulders!' Easy in the deep water. But with her weight (about 125 pounds) pushing me down I could firmly anchor my feet in the sand while her head stayed above the water, except for the highest part of the waves. Whereas I grasped a good helping of air in each wavetrough, about once a minute – well it felt like that, was probably shorter but perfectly sufficient for me, greetings to the good old walrus.
The added weight even helped to stabilize us, with each phase of the wave currents towards the beach I took about two steps in the 'up' direction, braced myself against the adverse current and lost about one step every time, no matter, the 'elephant ride' really worked for us!
It did not take very long and we reached Heike's sister Anke where I had left her on reasonably safe ground. Heike dismounted and we supported one another until we were completely out of the water. Wow and I did get a quick taste of cultural differences between Europe and Thailand – my wife was FURIOUS that I had, as she saw it, gone in to great danger for me! I tried to explain that this danger had really been minimal and I could have, without the Lukchang-method, swam out to the boats. Alone, however. Did not say that too loud. Perhaps she was so angry because they all had not been able to see me for quite a long time when I was deeply submerged under Heike, acting as 'sea-rescue-elephant'!
Some people from the First Bungalow told us there had been a young Dutchman, built like an olympic champion, who had faced the same predicament some three weeks ago and had struggled mightily and almost endlessly to get back ashore, only three weeks ago. Did not make it, they found him some days later.
Well, our 'girls' enjoyed the remaining days of our journey real well but seemed to be a bit more reasonable. My wife, my son and I attended Heike's wedding some six months later. Celebrated a thoughtful glass of wine 'To Samui' there. Was sure worth it.
Well, I think it makes sense to talk about our 'elephant strategy'. Never have heard about anything like that otherwise, seems an original creation. No matter what works is worthy not to be forgotten. Just ride out of trouble on the elephant. And maybe this knowledge can help another one (TWO!) to get out of deep water! Better still, however, be careful to keep such situations from developing from the start!
And always keep an alert eye on the sea, for the tricks she may play to you, that is the advice from
Lukchang – 'the young elephant'!
Wow, amazing story and amazing courage!