Burma from beneath the sea

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Aug. 17, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

When Tom and Shelley contacted me, it was the first I’d heard of the Mergui Archipelago and the Moken people, though I’ve since read up on both, including a piece on “60 Minutes” after the tsunami. I was fascinated during every minute of our interview. A very exciting journey!!

Tom Schultz and Shelley Reeves in Mergui Archipelago, Burma

Tom Schultz and Shelley Reeves in Mergui Archipelago, Burma (Click to ENLARGE)

WHO: Tom Schultz and Shelley Reeves of Carlisle, Mass., both 52.

WHERE: Mergui Archipelago, Burma.

WHEN: 10 days in March.

WHY: “We’re snorkeling all the great reefs of the world and we didn’t know this one existed,” said Reeves about Mergui (pronounced mer-gooey), a 200-island barrier reef system in the Andaman Sea near the Thai coast. The couple learned of it from the World Wildlife Fund Travel Program, which just started trips there. “When we heard it was so remote and unspoiled and that this was an opportunity to see corals thousands of years old, we jumped on it.”

Shelley at Tower Rock in Mergui Archipelago (Click to ENLARGE)

Shelley at Tower Rock in Mergui Archipelago (Click to ENLARGE)

REEFS AND ISLANDS: The group of 12 Americans spent 11 nights on a live-aboard scuba boat with several guides, including a coral specialist and a naturalist. A Burmese government official joined them “to make sure you don’t go places they don’t want you to go,” Schultz said. The boat’s crew, used to accompanying dive trips, “had never stepped foot on these islands,” he said. They snorkeled several times a day and visited nine islands by motorized Zodiac.

COLOSSAL CORAL: “It was the most amazing snorkeling we’d done because of the undisturbed corals, some of which were 2,000 or 3,000 years old and as big as a house,” Schultz said. Reeves’s favorite fish were the cuttlefish. “Usually they’re small, but these were the size of a serving platter and all shades of purple and green. And we saw some of the hugest moray eels we’d ever seen, in all colors of polka dots and stripes.”

Tom Schultz in Mergui Archipelago

Tom Schultz in Mergui Archipelago

LAND LOVERS: “We weren’t expecting the stuff aboveground to be so awesome,” Schultz said. The biggest island they visited was Lampi where they saw “about 35 species of birds, monkeys, and signs of wild pigs, civets, and, of all things, elephants. It’s a protected marine park, but we saw Burmese fishing boats. They left when they saw us.” On another island they saw Burmese military officials “protecting their interests” in an area replete with swiftlets. “They take the nests and sell them to the Chinese for bird’s nest soup.”

Shelley with Moken (‘sea gypsy’) children on Lampi Island in Mergui Archipelago

Shelley with Moken (‘sea gypsy’) children on Lampi Island in Mergui Archipelago

RARE SIGHTING: “We had several encounters with the Moken, a nomadic people who live on small boats and a totally fascinating culture to get to meet,” Schultz said. “We were reluctant to introduce ourselves and approached cautiously, but they were welcoming,” Reeves said. “Their dugout boats had a little cover and a charcoal grill. In one we saw, with a family of six, they were drying sea cucumber and grilling eel. We traded pencils and little things for a piece of eel.”

ON THE ROCKS: On their last day, the group spent a few hours at the only resort on the archipelago, the Myanmar Andaman Resort. “Here’s this guy mixing mojitos,” Reeves said. “It looked so strange.”

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One Response to “Burma from beneath the sea”

  1. Karen Says:

    Unfortunate juxtaposition of “corals thousands of years old” and “we jumped on it.” And yet another wonderful read. I gotta go!

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