”Why don’t you take pictures of your food?” he (I don’t remember his name, so let’s just call him John) asks me as he happily snaps some pictures of his dish with his Nikon camera. I shrug my shoulders as I devour my plate of delicious dry curried noodles, camera safely stored in my bag under the table. “I always take pictures of what I eat, at least when I eat out”, he continues before packing up his camera and starting on his meal.
When I decided to visit Amy – a girl I first met in Auckland, New Zealand a few months earlier, and who happened to be one of my first travel clowns – in her hometown Ipoh, I didn’t know what to expect. After the hearty greeting at the bus station late in the evening she took me to some noodles and Malaysian shaved ice at a street stall. Even though the shaved ice – covered in bright colored syrup and put on top on some beans and jelly noodle stuff – wasn’t quite to my taste, the tone was set for my visit; it was going to be all about food.
What do you get when you take a Dutch guy with a tandem bike – on his way from Kuala Lumpur, all the way to Hong Kong – biking to collect money for charity; a Swedish girl who´s pretty good at weaving strips of cloth into a wheel (a lot better than me at least, she did the front wheel, I did the back, do I need to say more?); a french guy who just looks exactly like a french mime when he gets clown make-up on; a beautiful city with loads of old buildings, great backdrops and interesting, curios people; and a Norwegian girl with a crazy clown project?
Well, you get something like this!
I had been battling giant ants the size of my hand and huge, hairy tarantellas – lurking around and waiting to throw their bristly legs around an unsuspecting victim and inject deadly poison at the back of the neck with razor sharp teeth – in the camp bathrooms. I’d barricaded the dorm room doors with bunk beds, trying to catch some sleep while listening to the creatures of the night massacre each other while uttering gruesome sounds (no battery on my ipod to tune out the jungle sounds of course), leaving big pools of blood to tell the tale in the morning. And now I was kidnapped by two strangers, leading me into the mouth of a big cave as an offering to the man-eating Dracula bats.
Okay, maybe the strangers wasn’t really kidnapping me, maybe it was a Malaysian guide and his slightly better English-speaking friend taking me to visit the Wang Burma Cave for some caving in Perlis state park, the national park in Malaysia’s smallest state. Maybe the bats in there wasn’t really man-eating, and even though I’m sure the tarantella hiding behind the water pipe in the toilet booth would have jumped out and attacked me while I was doing my business if I hadn’t seen it first, it might not have been that immensely huge (that said, it’s the biggest, and fattest and hairiest spider I have seen in my life). The ants however, they were giants!
Fuck! I knew I had overstayed my Thai Visa by one day. I knew it would cost me 500 baht. And still, there I was, at a border control office in Padang Besar with only 440 baht in my wallet and two border control guards looking disinterested at me and my not full enough purse. I was so sure I’d put away enough money!
If only I hadn’t had that stupid dinner in Chumpon the day before, it cost me a bit more than intended, and I’d never felt so alone in my whole life – sitting there with a group of people speaking German over my head through the entire meal. Whenever I managed to lure one of them to speak a bit of English with me, another would soon throw a question in German across the table in that direction and I would be all alone again. It didn’t seem to occur to them until the end of the meal that they were slightly, very, extremely annoyingly rude.
(The picture is of a family on a motorbike in Mandalay, Myanmar. My compact broke during Sonkgran on Koh Tao, and my DSLR was very conveniently out of battery)
And then there was the overpriced and unexpected motorbike ride from Hat Yai train station to the bus (or shared taxi) station. I’m pretty sure the guy drove a little detour as well, to make it seem further, and just cashed in and drove away with almost 40 extra baht because he didn’t have change. After some sleepless night hours, and then a few early morning hours on the train, questioning if every slight stop would be my stop – the train ended up being more than three hours delayed and I was so far back in the train I couldn’t see the station signs until we were leaving the stations – I was too tired and confused to protest. If only, if only, I could have had enough money.
But I didn’t, and I was still standing in a small office, with one guy clad in an informal suit, and another in a military uniform, with only 440 baths, while I through the window could see cars coming and going and people getting stamped in and out of Thailand.
“Can I pay in dollars?” I finally ask – remembering my 100 dollar note I’d tucked away in my backpack for emergencies – the uniformed guy shakes his head “In Thailand you pay in Baht”.
“Is there an ATM nearby then?” Read More
Sick, how could I be sick? It was the 13th of April, Songkran, Thai New Year, I’d decided to overstay my Visa and stay an extra day in Koh Tao for this day, and I was sick. My body was aching like I had a fever, I was feeling limp and on top of that my ears were still blocked after the dive the day before. I’d felt a bit bad the night before, went to bed really early and hoped it would be all right in the morning, it wasn’t. I decided to go out and give it a go; I needed to get some water to drink at the very least.
People were waiting with their buckets and water guns, my plan of getting to 7/11 and back without getting wet were soon splattered. When heading back I met up with Sarah, a German girl I first met in Auckland and one of my first clowns, and some other people staying at the same place as us and doing their diving course with Roctopus. We had breakfast together, but soon my wet clothes had me freezing and I felt worse than ever. I figured the best thing would be to head back to bed.
I couldn’t really sleep, so I sat in my little room watching the most depressing movie ever, Grave of the Fireflies while I could hear music and cheering and people having fun outside, needless to say I felt very, very sorry for myself. When the movie ended I’d had enough. I popped a few painkillers, waited for them to work their magic and headed out. A massive water fight was probably not the best for my health, but I could be sick on the train, today I was going to have fun.
By now the water fight had taken on new proportions, big containers with water where people could fill up their weapons were placed everywhere, everyone was out and it didn’t take too long until I bumped into someone I knew. Trucks with people and water loaded on the back were driving around soaking everyone on in their path, people were pouring water from verandahs, it was pretty much water everywhere. The great thing about Songkran especially in a place filled with foreign travelers, like Koh Tao, is that everyone is in on it, everyone pours water on each other and everyone has fun together.
A part of me knew that I probably shouldn’t have been diving that day, but it was just a tiny cold, barely a cold, my nose was just running slightly. I blamed it on the rain the other day. I’d gone out diving (after my diving course I just couldn’t stop), with Sammy as my guide this time, and when we were heading back to shore it started raining terribly. By the time we reached the dive shop we were all soaked and I was sitting there, filing out my log book and having lunch, in my wet clothes for a while, waiting for the rain to stop, or at least slow down a bit.
I should have known. But this day I was going to join in on a wreck dive, my first, and it would be my last chance to do one in Koh Tao before leaving, I wouldn’t let my non-significant cold stop that. I noticed early on, after less than 10 meters, that I couldn’t equalize my ears, especially my left one, as easily as I normally could. I had to wiggle my jaw and swallow quite a few times for the pressure to go. By the time we reached 20 meters I had problems with both. I could see the wreck down there, just ten meters to go, but my ears wouldn’t pop, they just wouldn’t equalize properly. I signaled to the others, already quite a bit ahead of me, that I had problems with my ears, that I would take it slowly.
I’ve always loved being under water, swimming around, being completely engulfed by it. The first time we went to Greece when I was a kid, I spent most of the summer swimming around the ocean floor, practicing holding my breath and do the mermaid swim, it wasn’t really much to see there under water; mostly sand, stones and a shell here and there, but I just really liked the feeling of it. After four weeks of island hopping I was in the best holding-breath shape of my life. Though, by the time we went for another trip I’d gotten more into sun-tanning and was too cool for splashing around in the water for hours, there went my free diving career I guess.
(Make sure to check out the video from Sail Rock at the bottom of this long post)
I still liked the feeling; I just didn’t pursue it as much, only a bit of snorkeling now and then. Before I went on mytravels I knew that I wanted to try diving, I even bought an underwater case for my compact camera, a Canon S100 before I started off. A part of me knew – or at least hoped – that I was not only going to like it, but love it. The thing is, you can think you’re really gonna like something but you can’t know for sure until you try it (for example, I’m really glad I tried to surf in New Zealand, and I had loads of fun even though I didn’t like it as much as I would have hoped I would). So I went to Koh Tao to give it a go.