It’s been wonderful getting off the beaten path a bit in Thailand. It started with Ko Lanta, which was a stark contrast to the crowded and drunk streets of Koh Phi Phi. Koh Phi Phi is one of the famously photographed bays, and even includes scenery from “The Beach”. But I wasn’t at home here. Leaving the island after just one over-priced night, I found myself on the larger and much less populated island of Ko Lanta. I found my way to the place I had booked the night before, a small dorm room in the back of a Greek restaurant on the shore. It was back to $4 a night, and the island was among the most beautiful I had seen yet. I rented a motorbike for the day, which is significantly cheaper than taxis. Unfortunately, only about 5 minutes into driving it I got into another accident. I was driving in the middle of the lane (usually motorcycles stay to the side) because there were a few people on bikes just starting up their engines to come into the road and I was giving them space, when out of no where a mini bus hit me from the side. It hit my handlebars and my mirror, but I was able to steady myself and came to a stop. The driver of the bus had gotten out and was yelling at me in Thai pointing to a scratch on the side of his van. The van was packed with tourists being taken to their hotel. I was quiet and just sat there while he yelled, shaken up, and unsure of what to do. For a minute I was thinking “oh man, I did that. I’m going to have to pay for it.” Until I realized, no. This isn’t fault. Im not going to fork out a bunch of money. He just hit me from behind by trying to pass me way too close and threatened my life by doing so! I had to use my voice. I was glad I did, because an Australian couple heard and came over. They helped me call the tourist police and waited with me for the regular police to arrive. We waited for a full hour with no one showing up before he finally came up to me and told me that it was ok to leave, and he would go too. Relieved but still shaky, I left the bike and crossed the street to the beach for a little while. “That makes two for three.” Each time I rent a motorbike, something terrible happens. This was my second accident, and the other time I might as well have had an accident because the motorbike broke down twice. But somehow despite that little voice warning me each time, I can’t resist the fun and convenience of these vehicles. I stayed on the beach for about 5 minutes before getting back on my motorbike.
I had the thought as I was driving the other direction now, at what point is it fear and at what point is it intuitive guidance? This is a bad time to be arguing this, right after an accident and all, but if I always heeded to all my fears I would never have highlined. If I always heeded to all my fears, I never would have thought it was a good idea to travel the world solo for a year. And then there’s not that little voice of intuition, but just plain logic. “You really are a spiritual person for also being a biologist,” I tell myself. But the truth is, I’m much more a fan of philosophy. I just like to understand life, but also I am vastly impressed by how little I will ever understand.
I thought, I’ll around the island in a big loop, which was supposed to take about 3 hours. 1 hour in, it started pouring. Some of you may have heard about the floods in Thailand recently. It will be just a beautiful sunny day and the out of no where- torrential downpour. I had little on my person. I was wearing a skirt, a tank top, and a long sleeve button up as a sweater. Being completely soaked didn’t bother me, as it was still 80 degrees. But it’s really hard to see when it’s raining. I was initially wearing sunglasses and my helmet had a sun shield on it too, but with rain and no windshield wipers, you can’t have a windshield. But then the rain is just smacking you in the eyeballs, so that’s not particularly means for the best driving either. Determined to make it to at least one viewpoint, I etched up the mountain. For some geography of the island, there was one big road that looped around the coast and the center of the island was mountainous. There was a road that went over the mountain in the middle and at the top was a view point. I thought I would cross over this way, and then head back to my hostel from the other side. I was almost to the viewpoint when I finally turned back. The road had no more gravel on it, and was now just dirt. Well, mud now. That was enough for me to turn back.
Back at the hostel, I sat soaking wet on the floor because I didn’t have a towel, had just sent the remainder of my clothes to the laundromat, and when I asked the restaurant waitress, “Uh, does my bed come with a towel and a blanket?” She, frantically, holding several receipts, said, “Yes, yes, can I bring it you later?” Looking at the crowded restaurant, of course I understood.
In to the room walked Côme, who would soon be my new friend. With limited English, he reached down to me on the floor and shook my hand. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking and smoking cigarettes, and then bought some coke and rum at 7/11. It was dark now and we found a place to sit along the beach. He agreed to my request to swim, and next thing I knew we were running into the water.
“The ocean is hers and only hers!” Côme shouted. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I liked the sound of it. I later found out that he meant “ours” instead of hers.
Swimming in the water in Thailand is amazing. It’s warm and clear during the day. At night though it’s not clear, it is equally as warm. The darkness of the water did scare me, although Côme seemed to not be worrying at all. I was in a state of anxiety the whole time, especially because I felt kind of in pain. It felt like something was gently stinging me all over. I’m just nervous about swimming in the dark, I kept thinking.
Until I realized it kind of wasn’t dark. How is the moonlight reflecting like that. Each time I would make bubbles by swimming there was this wonderful florescence. Until I realized it wasn’t the moonlight or the bubbles at all- there was actual bioluminescense in the water that lit up with movement! “Oh my god!” I looked at Côme, “move your arms, look! There’s light!”
And sure enough, “What! That’s amazing!!” We couldn’t believe it. As we were swimming, I kept thinking how I could possibly describe this to anyone, and this is what I came up with: stardust. Like the pixie dust, Tinker-bell sprinkles on Wendy. It was sparkling. You move and it glows the brightest gold, and then fades. Hundreds of little specks just along my arm glowed little halos into the water around them. Iooked behind me, and my hair was full of them, sparkling and shining, like a well put together burning man costume. I would swim and they would fall off my fingertips leaving a path of light behind me in the water. I couldn’t stop swimming, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen… in my life maybe. It felt like it at the time, but it also felt like there was light shocks all over my skin. Is this dangerous? I kept feeling anxiety about it, but it was so beautiful. The ocean is hers and only hers.
“Raleigh!” Côme shouted, “have you tried opening your eyes underwater? They land on your eyes!”
“What??” Let me remind you, we are talking about salt water, which I avoid getting in my eyes at all costs.
“Yeah! Try it!”
Breathing deep, I ducked underwater like I had been doing, but this time, I opened my eyes. It was incredible! It wasn’t painful and I could make out blurry golden arms, swimming in front of me. Then, my vision went white with two little specks dancing on my eyeballs. Letting out all my remaining air, I gasped, “You’re right! They landed on my eyes!!”
There was a few times that night I lost Côme. We were so fully entertained, we explored our own ways. I couldn’t get enough. I just kept gawking and swimming and being in awe. I would come out of the dark water and shout for him with no response. Eventually though m, if I waited long enough I would see a silloutte far away or eventually he would hear me.
Côme grew up in Paris and had never left France before. He was a little taller than me, with blue eyes and blond hair. He was a chain smoker, and (I counted) smoked 6 cigarettes that night in just the few hours we were hanging out. I swam over to him,
“Uhm. Do you feel any stinging?” I asked when the pain was getting kind of unbearable.
“What?” He asked confused.
“Oh nothing,” I said. I was sure I was imagining it.
“Oh the stinging! Yeah I feel that.” He said joyfully.
“Oh!” It was different now that it was confirmed, “Uh do you think it’s bad?” Bad was a modest word for it. My fears were shouting other words, more like are we going to die??
“No?” He said with a shrug. That was actually somehow reassuring.
I will tell you that night would have been perfect of Côme hadn’t tried to kiss me. He pulled me over in the water to him and planted one right on me. Way to kill a platonic evening of swimming in stardust. But it was my first experience this trip with deflection and I’m happy to report that it was no problem. Simply pulling away and a “Well… let’s go?” seemed to be enough. If I could have done it again, I would have thrown in a “what are you doing?” I always feel so bad letting people down, but that’s not a reason to let someone kiss you! There’s never anything wrong with liking someone, as there’s never anything wrong with simply not being interested. But it is very important to use your voice, and make those words loud and clear.
I’ve had two lessons with voice today. One with explaining my side in the accident, and the other with getting out of a kiss. I expect to have many more over the coming months. I kind of avoided Côme the rest of my stay there. All of the fears that many people, including myself, express about being a woman traveling alone are often most rooted in fears about unwanted advances. I’m happy to say that in my first three weeks of traveling, I have had only one, and it was from a place of maybe just different expectations and understandings of the night, not from a place of violence. I will continue to be cautious and alert, as well as continue to strengthen my voice.