Thursday, December 9, 2010

Backpacker's Koh Tao

“How much further do you think it is?”

Sean side stepped down the rocky hill. Every few feet, his traction would slip and he’d slide uncontrollably down the dirt path sending a wake of rock and foliage tumbling down behind him.

I slowly inched down the trail cursing Air China once again; had the airline not ‘misplaced’ our backpacks, I’d have on my hiking sandals instead of fifty cent flip flops I picked up at a night market in Chumphon that were two sizes too large and made from cheap plastic that carved into my big toe with every painful, tentative step I took.

“About 200 feet!” yelled a disembodied voice.

Sean had slithered out of sight as I stopped to consider sliding on my butt to avoid falling face first down the only path to Ao Leuk Bay.

Deciding against putting holes in my only outfit, which I had been wearing for seven consecutive days in a humid climate, I carefully clambered down the cliff. Turning a corner, Sean came into view and with him Ao Leuk Bay. Large boulders stacked against the beach, crystal blue water sparkled in the sunlight, and white sand beckoned.

Throwing caution to the wind, I ran the rest of the way down the pebbly path. Thankfully, Sean stopped me from pummeling into a palm tree.

“We made it!” I cried, diving into the aquamarine water.

A flash in the water caught my eye.

“Did you see that?” I demanded, scrambling for shore.

"You had better believe it!" Sean said, quickly donning his snorkel gear so he could pursue the two foot green eel that ambled by.

Not fond of sea creatures except for the ones served on my plate, I finally mustered up the courage to get back into the water. It was the perfect temperature against my sunburned, sweaty skin. Schools of brightly colored fish swam nearby and occasionally jumped from the water and gracefully landed right back in it. I watched the scene amazed by the variety of life in the sea.

After swimming to our hearts content, we began to walk back up the vertical hill.

“We so should have listened to Nina,” I said, out of breath and trying to find my next foot and hand hold. Nina, the mid-twenties server at our bungalow’s restaurant, told us we were crazy for going to Ao Leuk Bay.

“You fall down hill! Go to Sairee Beach-- very fun, lots of drunk.”

Heeding her advise, we headed the opposite direction from Sairee Beach because we had no desire to watch other American, European, and Australian backpackers drink until they met oblivion and then proceed to trash the beach, which is exactly how we found ourselves scaling a nearly impossibly cliff wearing flip flops and soaking wet clothes with nothing more than a day bag with two water bottles, a flash light, and some sunscreen and bug repellent.

“I’d rather be here than on the beach with a million drunk people in various states of nakedness,” Sean said, sweat dripping down his face.

Yesterday, we walked two hours from our secluded bungalow into the main town called Sairee. What we found there disgusted us: college aged students strutted around with two foot plastic cups full of booze and many with no tops on at all enjoying the catcalls of other drunk backpackers as the local Thai tried not to notice or look as bothered as I’m sure they felt.

We rented a dirty white scooter in disrepair but it was a trustworthy steed as we zoomed from one side of the island to the other, exploring intriguing dirt roads and pebbly paths. As Sean gunned the gas, my hair whirled in the wind and I closed my eyes and felt unmitgated happiness.

Watching other scooters zoom by, the world a blur of colors, smells, and sounds, my mind wandered.

Vivid memories of driving through Bangkok for the first time at 6a.m., the streets clogged, loud, and completely polluted, occupied my mind. We watched whole families head off to work and school on small scooters. The suffocating smell of chili powder coiling in the air from woks burned my nose. The heat penetrated me to the very core, stifling and never ending. Above all, I remembered the feeling of being gobsmacked that we actually made it to Asia.

Sure, I had planned the trip, bought the plane tickets and made reservations but some things can’t become real until they smack you in the face. Southeast Asia is quick to land a blow. Nothing looks familiar, nothing sounds familiar, and nothing tastes familiar.

From the back of the scooter, I knew we were in for a bumpy ride as we explored Southeast Asia.

The thought made me glow.


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