Angry waves and happy people in Mui Ne
Normally, when I think of the ocean, I think of fun and relaxation. But, lately, I’ve been reminded all too often of the fierce and terrifying power of the waves.
We visited Mui Ne Beach this weekend, and arrived after dark. We couldn’t see the beach, but could hear the waves. They weren’t the light, swooshing waves of noise machines though. They were deep, thudding waves crashing on themselves before they even got to the shore.
In November, we slept in one of the only hotels on Ko Phi Phi that survived Thailand’s tsunami. Between that and the recent disaster in Japan, I couldn’t help but think what it would be like to be sleeping peacefully in bed and suddenly have your whole world washed away.
The next morning, we saw that there wasn’t much of a beach. The resort’s lawn ended with a four-foot drop down to the sand. During the day, the tide was high and the waves came right up to the sand wall. It seemed they were trying to take over.
Tanya and Joe rented boogie boards, and I climbed down onto the beach to take pictures and laugh at them. The waves were merciless. I was only taking pictures, and it took all my strength not to get knocked over. Even if I stood right at the sand wall, the waves would still occasionally come up to my knees. The strength of the receding wave was sometimes stronger than the incoming. I think Tanya and Joe’s scrapes from being rolled around in the sand may have outnumbered their actual rides on the waves.
On our second day there, we noticed the people next door filling bags with sand. They had spread a tarp over the beach in front of their building, but, by early afternoon, it had become a pile of plastic in the sand. The concrete steps in front of their building were crumbling. Roots were exposed in front of our place, and we could see sandbags further down the shore, attempting to slow down the erosion. The day before we had walked around the end of the wall to the place next door for lunch, but on Saturday we couldn’t. The ground was all gone.
Locals and foreigners alike could be seen standing on the edges of what were becoming small cliffs, looking and I’m sure wondering how much more sand was going to wash away. How much time before their buildings were affected.
The place next door offered cooking classes and kite surfing. We could see from the advertisement that the beach used to stretch far in front of their building – not just a short bit of sand pounded by waves. We talked to the wife of the family who ran our hotel. She is from Dalat and has only lived in Mui Ne for six years, but her husband said the same thing happened ten years ago. The entire beach washed away, even worse than now, but it all came back. No one seems to know why. On Sunday she said if it didn’t stop they would be sand-bagging their property that night.
Seeing people’s livelihoods on the verge of being washed away is really sad. I hope the erosion stops soon and their lives go back to normal. I wish the same could be said for the Japanese people. It’s a sobering reminder to be thankful for the safety of my loved ones and home, and of how quickly it can all be lost.
This was not meant to be so depressing. I am very curious about what is causing the erosion. Mui Ne is known for being windy, which usually includes big waves. Kite surfing is a popular activity there, and we had a great time watching people hop around on the waves – sometimes floating twenty feet in the air. But, there must be something extraordinary going on to make the sea come in so far.
In spite of their worry, the family that kept the hotel seemed to be very happy. In fact, people outside the city seem much happier in general. The hotel family had a three-year-old son who was always doing naughty things. He and his sister took the hose from the vacuum and pretended to use it on the sidewalk and instead of scolding, their father tickled and played with them. The boy was playing with a huge car cover, dragging it across the yard, and, when his father tried to take it away from him, he wrapped his whole body around it, refusing to let go. I thought for sure such stubbornness would get him in trouble, but the dad just started rolling him up in it like a cocoon. They laughed so much.
When he wasn’t causing trouble, the little boy, like so many boys, did everything his father did.
On the way home, I saw a couple out the bus window. As he was washing his motorbike, I saw her take his cap off, shake it around – I’m sure along with their conversation, and playfully put it back on his head sideways. You could tell in a few seconds passing that they were having fun together. I rarely see this in the city, and it was refreshing.
PS. Since I had to wait to post this, I was able to get more information from our friends who stayed in Mui Ne a day longer. They said because of the recent super moon and the moon being closer to the earth than usual, the tides have been much higher around the world. As recently as New Year’s Even, the beach was big enough for the restaurant next door to hold a huge beach party. I browsed a few articles that seemed to confirm this, but they also said the last super moon was in 1993, which does not correlate with the last time they say the beach eroded. If anyone has any more information about this (including my new friend – oceanographer and writer Danielle Meitiv) please let me know.
Currently reading: Lizzie’s War by Tim Farrington