Eric and I took an overnight bus to Krabi, which I regarded as a bit of a consolation prize. I had really, really wanted to go North, but we had waited too long and the prices were too expensive. Krabi turned out to be a-okay. We stayed just outside of town in Ao Nang Beach. We had a bungalow that ajoined another bungalow occupied by three ditzy girls from Canada and Australia or England…. Actually they were very nice, but they were 19 and totally unappealing to me companions. The funniest thing about them is that they, like me, have a massive bug phobia. So the first night, when Eric and I introduced ourselves, they warned us that we would wake “covered with lizards.” True - geckos are not bugs, but they’re close enough. The idea of being covered with lizards didn’t sit well w/ me at all.
That day, Eric paid about 30 bucks to have a long tail boat take him to a few choice spots for snorkeling, which would have been a first for me, but I couldn't go because I didn't have a bathing suit and none of the stalls were open yet. Instead, I hired a long tail boat skipper to take me around to all the nearby beaches. The long tails are wooden boats powered by auto engines. I know I already said it, but I love being on the water. I can't get over how surprising that is. I just don't like being in it. In retrospect, besides snorkeling, I would have liked to have gone fishing. I didn't think of it until the day had ended. As it was, I enjoyed the turquoise green water, the ocean spray, watching the rock climbers scale the spectacular limestone (karst) pillars and cliffs. Meanwhile I could not shake the idea of lizards teeming all over my bed as I slept. The thought nearly ruined my day; I found it difficult to stay present in what I was doing.
When I got back to the “hut,” that evening, Eric and the girls decided to play cards w/ the girls. I was exhausted and therefore told myself it was time to be brave. I examined every square foot of our new home before laying atop my bed, and though it was still at least 80 degrees, I carefully wrapped myself in the blanket in such way that I could fling any trespassers across the room in an instant. I fell asleep and woke to yelps of anguish coming from the other side of the thin bamboo wall. The girls had discovered some kind of “giant beetle” in their room and were flailing about. They yelled for Eric and I yelled back that he wasn’t there. They screamed, “Where is he?” I screamed back, “I don’t know – I thought he was with you!” Then they thrashed around more and then I heard whimpering as one of them ran off to find Eric who it turned out was down by the water “thinking.” I heard him come in and then kind of laugh and say, “what do you want me to do about it” and then I heard a towel or what sounded like a towel being snapped in various directions. At long last, the intruder was smashed, but unfortunately on one of the girls’ beds, which brought a fresh round of squealing. Though I found this all to be quite comical, it worried me some. I thought about scoping out our room for vermin, but I decided I was better of staying put and going back to sleep, which I did albeit fitfully for the rest of the night.
The next day, I rose early and meditated for an hour down by beach. I explored our area little bit and then went back for breakfast. Wonder Bread Boy was up by that time, so we decided to head into town together and piece the day together bit by bit. We were supposed to spend two more nights there, but I knew after the preceding one that I wasn’t prepared for two more fright nights. Instead, we went to a travel agency and I booked a flight back to Bangkok, leaving the next day. I got a Thai massage and then we spent some time at an Internet café and then hired a long tail boat to take us around to some of the neighboring beaches. We found one that we liked and took refuge from the beating sun in a little cave in a little cove. We sat there for a few hours and had a really good conversation that erased all of Eric’s antics to that moment.
We talked about the difference between leading a horizontal life and a vertical one. We talked about the difficulty we’ve both had as sort of dreamers or seekers with an inability to properly settle into a “regular life.” We talked about the cost of being the way we are – financial and psychic debts that may never be paid, endless damage to our respective sense of self, self-confidence, even self-love. We traded life stories, etc. Eric really encouraged to look at this trip differently than I have been – to focus on what I want to feel when all is said and done instead of looking for a concrete outcome. I encouraged him to stay in China and keep learning Chinese and studying Qigong even if his family wants him to return to selling cars in Canada. And he told me to quit worrying about disappointing my friends – that they support me because they love me, not so that they can make a return on their investment. We mutually concluded that despite a succession of failures we will both ultimately succeed in finding some sort of sustainable happiness.
By this time, the sun had set but we were loathe to climb up the pier back to street-level. Instead we followed the beach for as long as we could and eventually came to a wooden ramp leading to stairs that cut a path through a mangrove forest. It seemed like a good idea to go with flow and stay on the path, so we began the ascent. It wasn’t long before I felt like we’d uncovered the secret passage behind the wardrobe as in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It rapidly became clear that we’d gone too far to turn back and yet the staircase kept getting more and more rickety and more and more steep. Furthermore, it was now dark enough that it appeared non-ending. I kept giggling with nervous excitement and I counseled myself not to look to the right or the left lest I should see some strange animal. Immediately afterward, I ignored myself, as I am wont to do, and I in glancing to my left I did see a large round fur ball – think of a meatball that’s a foot and a half in circumference - moving towards me. It had no head that I could see. I don’t know what it was because that propelled me forward at breakneck speed despite the precariousness of the staircase. As I ran, the forest grew thicker and I wished I’d brought a machete. Where the hell were we? In the not so far off distance, I heard a large humming noise – like that of a diesel engine. I slowed and waited for Eric to catch up. “Do you hear that?” I asked him. He too thought it sounded like an engine or generator. At long last – and I’d say we’d been traveling for about half an hour – we emerged into light. I looked down and saw a military-looking security booth encasing a man in a uniform. He waved us down. When I reached the door of the booth, he smiled and asked in English, “Where you going?” I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I don’t know.” He pushed a book toward me. Other people had recorded their names and the time of signing, so I did the same. Then he smiled at us. We stood and stared like two retards, and then began shuffling past the booth.
We found ourselves at another beach, but it was beach that was part of an immense resort. On one side were immense resort edifices and on the other was the water. In between was a walkway. And on the walkway was another security guard! She got on her radio and then pointed to the beach. We were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, but we could walk on the beach. Interesting! We strolled along the beach and watched all the rich people being served at little tables and being shown a movie on the beach – Ratatouille of all things – family night – and strode on. As before, we kept walking until we ran out of beach. At that point another security guard corralled us towards him. Unlike his peers, he was very unhappy to see us. Meanwhile I was unhappy to have run out of beach because we now appeared to be cut off. He pointed for us to go back from whence we came, but there was no way in hell I was gonna do that staircase again. I pulled out a map of where we were staying and tried to get him to call us a taxi. He kept shaking his head but it was unclear as to whether he understood what I wanted or if he was simply nixing my request. Eric pointed to the end of the pier, where a motor boat was moored. The security guard shook his head no, but then another motor boat pulled in and passengers for the resort disembarked. The security guard called out to the driver, who came over and then a pow wow took place – the boatman, a couple passengers, more security guards all conferring about our situation. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed the card from them, and Eric and I headed back from whence we’d come, much though I dreaded the staircase-to-and-from-nowhere, as I had dubbed it.
Now this is where magic comes into play. Shannon knows this well because she and I experienced it in Chicago last year. We were looking for her sister-in-law Sara’s address and it was nowhere to be found. We drove down the right street a few times and it wasn’t there. We even stopped and called Sara to make sure we had the right address. Then giving it another shot, the building magically appeared as if it’d been there all along. Nobody believes us, but it was true. Luisa know it as well. She told me about a trip to New Mexico last year in which she was looking for some stones with which to build an altar. She and a friend looked and looked and looked in the vicinity that had been described to them but naught were to be found. Then after giving up the search and reseting their intention, they arose to see the stones all around them.
In our case, the magic was that the same trip that had taken us half an hour, with all the bushwacking and the headless creature and that had left me pouring with sweat – took less than five minutes and was totally and completely painless. The facility of the reverse travel was actually disappointing. Strange. Back on our beach, everything as it had been before. I fantasized that the stairwell and other beach might not even exist, but they do. Somewhere near Ao Naang. If you ever find yourself there, look for my name in the security guard’s book.
After that, the rest of the night was pretty mundane. I did get accosted by a couple of fellows with a baby monkey. They steal them from the jungle and then train them to be photographed with tourists. I got yelled at by another tourist for paying for the photo, but the monkey was already in my arms before I could say or do anything about it. It was cute but unlike Zachery, it had teeth. I paid for the picture before it had a chance to bite my face off. Actually, I felt sorry for it, but what could I do? Call the tourist police?
Later that night we went to a tourist bar called Luna Beach Bar Disco. It was kind of gross – lots of young folk with their heads screwed on backwards. The music was horrific. The booze was overpriced. We stayed only long enough for Eric to get approached by a very short Thai woman who said she loved him and refused to leave his side, even when I stood next to him. We also struck up a conversation with a British expat whom we’d seen in a retail stall earlier in the day hawking waterproof covers for cellphones and cameras. He was the epitome of what I would fear about staying too long in Thailand. He’s been in the country for eight years, has learned enough Thai to get along but doesn’t feel he’ll ever be part of the culture but he feels too estranged from his homeland now. He claimed to have girlfriends in different parts of Asia, but I suspect he’s gay. He also claimed to be 30, but I think he was closer to 50. He seemed very unhappy. I asked him what he was thinking about and he said that he never meets anybody interesting anymore and when he does, they leave. I didn’t ask which category I belonged to as I politely said goodbye and walked out the door.
We took a tuk-tuk to McDonalds for a wee hours snack. It was a bit surreal – the Thai manager and counterpeople were very very smilely and eager to please but the clientele was all drunk foreigners with surly bad energy. There was one group of guys who I was convinced were neo-Nazis. I tried to stay out of their line of vision and urged Eric to hurry up and finish eating.
At long last, we were out on the street and unlike the "backpackers' ghetto," Kao San Rd. in Bangkok, Krabi does die down. I worried that we’d find a ride back to the bungalow, but we managed to talk a tuk-tuk driver into taking us. It was only a 10-minute ride, but the last portion is down an unpaved road without lights. Eric lamented that for all things I could have wished for while in Thailand, I had kept talking about how fun(ny) it would be to ride a tuk-tuk on this road in the middle of the night. Well, I enjoyed it. It was like off-roading in four-wheel vehicle without a helmet. If we’d taken a tumble, we’d all have been done for. For five dollars, it was the cheapest thrill of a lifetime.
Back at the homestead, I packed up and got ready to head out the next day. In the morning we went back to town, ate, did some Internet and then I arranged for a taxi to drive me to the airport. Krabi International Airport is very small – smaller than Grand Rapids Airport but bigger than the airport I flew into on the Big Island in Hawaii. I had no trouble checking in. At the gate, they were showing an American film, Ray Liotta's Comeback Season, on tv monitors spaced around the area for waiting passengers and there was a free coffee stand. I watched the last half hour of the mildly entertaining movie - emphasis on mild - and then boarded my plane. The flight was only an hour, but we were served a full meal, something that you don’t get in the U.S. anymore.
I was very impressed by Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok's new international airport – it’s one of the most beautiful [check out photo gallery at http://www.bangkokairportonline.com/node/23] I’ve seen, and it was very easy for me to maneuver from my gate to baggage claim to tourist aid to a cab. Now, I could have spent the night in Bangkok and then caught the free shuttle the next afternoon the ship, but I had had enough of Thailand, believe it or not. I hate to call the ship home but for now it is, and that’s where I wanted to be. Home. So I paid to have someone drive me the hour and a half to the Laem Chabang, one of Thailand's two ports (the other is in Bangkok proper on the Chao Praya river). Here’s the deal: I could have stayed at another hostel, but after five days of essentially being on the road, I wanted a little comfort. I thought about checking into a nicer hotel, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I just wanted to be able to change out of the same pants I’d been wearing for a week and lay down and not have to hear other people or worry about what might be crawling beside me. So I decided if I could talk a driver into an acceptable rate, I’d go back to ship. In the end, I paid 1,000 baht which is twice what I paid for the six-hour ride to Krabi and half what I paid for the plane ticket back, but I didn’t care. $30. Big whoop. I mention this because most people where shocked that I would pay so much. You see how we get warped? $US30 for an hour and a half ride is not a lot of cash, but relative to the cheapness of everything else, it sounds exorbitant.
The cab ride was largely uneventful until we arrived in the port. (On the drive to the port we passed the Hemeraj Industrial Estate, which bills itself as “The Detroit of the East.”) Remember what I said about maps? I had showed the address to the woman who arranged the ride. She had shown the address to her boss. Her boss had shown the address to the driver who drove me in a minivan to a location about 10 minutes from the airport where I was shuttled into another taxi. That driver saw the address and that location on a port map. They all said no problem. When we got to the port, there was a problem. We drove around for an hour just inside the port, unable to find the International Ro-Ro Terminal, one of 11 different terminals. At various times, I could see the ship, but even when I’d point it out, the guy would nod and then go in a different direction. He pulled over and asked for directions at least five times, but that was only after he became exceedingly frustrated. All the port people looked at the map, but they all scratched their heads – and it’s their port! It was maddening. We called the emergency number on my card and reached the TSS officer on duty. She gave the phone to a Thai speaking person who gave the driver directions and even then, we zipped past the ship. I was highly amused in the beginning but it began to get dark and I realized that we had to use the daylight to our advantage, plus I began worrying about missing dinner. I really, truly wanted to have the guy pull over and let me drive. Finally, as he muttered at me in Thai, I yelled for him to stop. I could see the ship. I walked around to his side of the cab and made him get out. I pointed at the ship and then at my eyes and then at the ship and then at the card, all the while saying “There! There! That’s the ship!” Then we got back in and he slowly maneuvered to the ship. I couldn’t understand everything but he wanted more money – 100 baht - that much I understood. There was a Thai person outside of the ship, and I asked him if he spoke English. He said he did, and I said, “Tell him ‘no way.’ It’s his fault that we were lost. I pointed the ship to him and didn’t drive there.” The man smiled at me and said that the driver hadn’t understood. I said, “I don’t care. Tell him it’s his fault.” I was very angry by then and it felt imperative that this man know that I was angrier with him than he was with me. But the other fellow would not translate for me, and I started to feel like a heel, so I gave the driver 40 baht and he instantly cheered up and tried to hug me, but I felt like slapping him. I am an ugly American, and sometimes I don’t care.
Now remember what I said about how depending on one’s perspective, $US30 was not a big deal? I later thought about the driver asking for 100 baht. That’s like $3.30. If I had given him $3.30, he would have felt compensated for what seemed to him like my fault or at least more than he bargained for. Meanwhile, I condescendingly gave him $1.10. I felt big casting 40 baht in his direction and refusing to be friendly afterward. Yet, that 40 baht made everything alright for him, and I still feel like an ass, albeit a self-righteous one. And the dinner I’d been so worried about? It sucked. : )
This last day in Thailand, I went to Pattaya. By all accounts it’s an ugly, seedy place. The sex trade is huge there and particularly known for it's plethora of "ladyboys," although the tourist board has been trying to turn it into a family-friendly destination, kind of like Las Vegas's image change. But it was much closer than Bangkok, and I wanted to go grocery shopping. The shuttle took about half an hour. I went straight to the grocery store and but 18 1L bottles of water for 83 baht or less than $3. I would have bought more but I couldn’t carry any more. I also bought some dried seaweed, honey roasted peanuts, roasted pumpkin seeds, a package of almond crackers, a package of yogurt covered wafers with grape crème inside, a six-pack of soy milk with black sesame seed, a package of corn/cheese crackers, a package of seaweed crackers, some sesame peanut candies, two bottles of chrysanthemum tea, a bottle of tamarind drink, some hard candies for the library, a glade air freshener for my room, a bag of caramel popcorn, a six-pack of pepsi for one of the crew members and some headphones for my ipod for a whopping total of 300 baht. It is unbelievable how cheap things are here.
I’ve got three mosquito bites total - not bad for the number of mosquitos I saw, especially in Pattya. My foot swelled up during the bus ride to Krabi but returned to normal after a few days. My pants are so filthy the can stand on their own. My shoes are on their last legs. My hair is more unkempt than it ever has been. Eric is gone – a bit of a relief truth be told. And the journey continues.
Next stop: Chennai (Madras), India.