The morning of November 19, 2011, we gathered in front of the Grand Mercure hotel to board the busses for the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket Mai Khao Beach. SRMT over, we were in HEAT mode, in our lovely military style uniforms and ready to train. The lime green busses were waiting to take everyone to the new venue in luxury and comfort.
The journey across Phuket island would take just over an hour traveling North back towards the Phuket International Airport. During the bus ride, while looking at the scenery, instructors would provide some instructional information to the participants.
When were close to the hotel, just before turning in, we hit the “Ganton” check point. This was a part of the course, where all the participants are checked. It is like going through a real check point, only this is simulated. Participants are here required to show their ID and some are questioned as to why they want to enter the “Republic of Ganton”. Some are asked to hold weapons for a photo shoot with the soldiers, which are used against them later.
By far this was the most luxurious version of “Ganton” that I would ever see. The hotel is a 4.5 star resort right on the beach. All the participants and instructors were in the lap of luxury for this particular training. Even though we were in the normal hotel part, the resort also had two and three bedroom villas. Our illustrious leader would be staying in one of the villas, perks of being the big boss. This was also the “party” headquarters, stocked with beer and spirits for the course of the training.
Pretty much all of the scenarios and exercises outside of the conference room would be on the hotel grounds. The only exception was the last day’s hostage scenario, this would be at a different location. This location was in an area that was badly affected by the 2004 tsunami, that all but decimated Phuket. There was a movie about this called “The Impossible” in 2012.
This part of the course was pretty fun, a lot of the scenario took place in some of the abandoned buildings. There was a part of the scenario that took place on the beach, which was the place to be. Here the participants would do useless tasks, such as filling bottles with sand using a teaspoon. Other tasks involved digging holes and filling them in again. At one point, one of the participants thought he would make a run for it…straight down the beach. When we eventually caught him, he was informed that in a real life situation, he probably would have just been shot as he took off down the beach.
As per all courses, the finale is the graduation. A fine dinner was had followed by a beach party of sorts. This was held at the Ton-Tan restaurant that was next to the resort we were staying at.
The facilitators for our HEAT course had helped with the evening’s activities. There was to be live music and dancers from a local company to come and perform. What we did not realize was that the performers were local lady boys. Some were very realistic and you would not know if they were male or female, almost scary. Some got a bit over zealous in approaching us, to a point where one of our instructors had to barricade himself like a lion trainer fending off a lion!
After the show and when all the performers left, we sat back and relaxed. Several drinks later, we had realized that we had a lot of fireworks. Jim, Tris and I set off to the beach to set them up and start our little fireworks show. Not sure this was wise in our state, but luckily no one suffered any injuries.
Like all courses, there are definitely good times to be had with good colleagues. This was no exception as it was the best of every world. At the end of each day we would spend a lot of time on the beach with a cold beverage. Some four kilometers down the beach was the Phuket International airport. It was fascinating to watch the planes coming in over the beach to land.
Some of the team would go for a swim in the ocean after each day, but I refrained. It turned out my staying out was a good idea for the ocean was full of sea lice. Those that did go into the water were affected, but it was not severe, more itching and rash like appearance.
On the last day, some of us were just lounging on the beach watching the aircraft in the distance landing. We had decided that it would be interesting to walk down the beach and see how close we could get to the airport. Turns out we could get right up to the end of the runway. From the hotel, it looked much closer than it was, but as mentioned above, just over four kilometers.
It was amazing watching the planes approach and pass overhead. But what was more impressive was watching the planes take off. The would start at the end of the runway not 100 yard from a berm we were standing on. As they throttled up their engines to take-off, we were literally thrown off of the berm! What a rush, the sheer power of these aircraft as you can see in the videos below.
On November 24, 2011, I began the long journey home to Costa Rica. My return had me flying via Seoul and Atlanta on three flights. What is really nice is that flying East, I got back the day I lost by arriving the same day I left Phuket.
This would be my last traveling adventure of 2011 with the Christmas break coming. All that was left to do was plan and prepare for the GRRT meeting in January followed by the specialized HEAT course. Both of these events would take place back in Cape Town, South Africa. But before I venture to Cape Town a second time, I had to fly through Cyprus.
Next – Cyprus – 2012