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     Volume 6 Issue 1 | January 12, 2007 |

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Paradise Restored

Just another day in paradise.

Nabeel Atique

DEC. 26th, 2004 was an ominous day over parts of Asia and Africa. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives to a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia and to the Tsunami it caused. On that fateful day I was hanging from a wall, four feet from the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. What saved me from becoming a statistic was the yells and screams of people who had seen the tidal waves coming. Since I was rock-climbing I was lowered by my climbing partner and outran the waves. We took refuge up in the hills. Several hours later we came down and witnessed death and destruction. Railay Beach was completely in shambles. Boats had been thrown into the resorts - there were boats in the reception and swimming pool of our resort. Some smaller shops and structures had been damaged. Several boatmen had died.

Two years later I told my mother I was going to visit her and would stop in Thailand for some climbing. She was not thrilled to hear this news. It had perhaps taken her two years to recover from the trauma. I myself had been affected for about half a year. My climbing had suffered somewhat I was being too cautious and tentative, especially while lead-climbing. But I gathered the nerve to bring things back to normal. Railay beach is a climbing utopia it deserved another chance.


Tsunami hazard evacuation routes posted now

Railay and I have a checkered past. I have been evacuated from Railay not once, but twice. In April 2003, the night I arrived with my friend Andy on Railay, Andy developed a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Normally it would not have been too much of a concern. But we had just arrived from China and SARS was spreading there. So Andy and I had to be evacuated in an ambulance boat with a flashing red light. Andy was quarantined on the mainland for two days and luckily did not have SARS.

As my long-tail boat pulled into Railay on Dec. 17th, 2006, I wondered “would I be kicked off this peninsula once more?” My reception was ominous. It was overcast and soon I was in a downpour. All I could think of was “why am I back to this disastrous place?” I don't think my sole reason for returning was to climb next to crystal blue water and sandy white beaches. I think part of me wanted some peace with Railay for once I wanted to leave Railay on my own terms!

Railay Bay two years after the Tsunami.

To my amazement, nothing seemed to have changed at Railay beach. All the shops were back in business. There seemed to me more climbers than I remember and the same throngs of European tourists with a few North Americans here and there. I met Ipp, my climbing guide who was belaying me right before the waves struck two years ago. Gone was his long hair and bloodshot eyes. He seemed a changed man clean shaven with neatly cut short hair. My climbing guide on this trip Rit told me that Ipp had calmed down. He had an eight month old son and was not the wild man he once was. Was it the Tsunami that changed him? Who knows. I am sure it affected several people profoundly including me.

I did a lot of climbing in the next three days occasionally I did look back at the sea this time. The water was as blue as ever, but thankfully tranquil. I went back to the climb that was rudely interrupted by the tsunami. I climbed it with focus and determination. However, this time I still didn't finish the climb. Last time it was the tsunami this time it was my own limitations I wasn't strong enough. At least I have an excuse to go back. Someday I intend to finish that climb. My little victory this time was being able to leave Railay on my own terms.

Nabeel Atique is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Antelope Valley College in Los Angeles County. He is an avid mountaineer and has climbed in the Alps, Andes, Africa, Cascades and Rockies.


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