04/ 05/ 15
It’s 4 am. I’m sleeping on a top bunk in a 20-person dorm in Chiang Mai. My bed shakes and I figure it must be Jamie climbing up my ladder. I bolt upright, remembering we have an early flight to Phuket today. Did I oversleep? Are we running late?
As I hazily focus on the figure sitting before me, I realize it’s not Jamie. I say, “I think you’re in the wrong…” but stop mid-sentence, perplexed, noticing that her eyes are glazed over; blank attention staring into the darkness.
I lay back down, not quite sure what to do. She curls up next to me and wraps part of the tiny hostel blanket around herself. I check my phone.
taken from Jamie’s phone, as mine later fell into the South China Sea
Looks like I’m not the only one who had trouble sleeping. Fifteen minutes later my strange cuddle buddy climbs back down the ladder, never to be seen again. Grabbing my headlamp, I carefully navigate across the room and unlock my backpack. I roll up my clothes and shove them into the nooks and crannies of my pack, a process resembling an aggressive game of Tetris. I realize that I am dope at packing. I also realize that the four shirts that were supposed to last my entire trip are already dirty.
One chilly tuk tuk ride, two early-morning AirAsia flights, one bout of diarrhea at the Phuket airport, one cab ride with a frustratingly fast meter, one boat ride to Koh Yao Yoi, one brief moment of panic thinking we had taken the wrong boat, the second half of the boat ride to Koh Yao Noi, and one more taxi ride later, we finally make it to our destination – Island Yoga, a yoga and meditation retreat in southern Thailand.
We roll up to the check-in desk looking like ratchet ass hoes who just got outta da club. A really chill dude appears with a perfectly coiffed mun and a great pair of flowy pants. He takes my name and cooly informs us that we have arrived a day too early. All we can do is laugh (actually though, doing anything more would require too much energy).
Hungry, dehydrated, and sleep-deprived, Jamie and I grab a map and set off in search of a place to stay. It’s sweltering hot and we’re walking through lush, jungle-like greenery. No sign of modern civilization. Our packs are heavy. Jamie is feeling sicker by the minute. She thinks she has malaria. After what seems like an eternity we see a sign that reads “PIZZA.” More importantly, we see a sign for a café that has wifi. Is it a mirage? No, it’s real!
a scene straight out of Jurassic Park
Overjoyed, we sit down to order food and water. Begin quest for a place to stay. Step 1: Learn to dial Thai telephone numbers. Step 2: Realize that every place we contact is way over our budget, even more so today because it’s Christmas Eve. Step 3: Contemplate sleeping on the bench outside the café. Step 4: Decide to take a boat to Krabi, a larger island with cheaper hostels. Step 5: Meet our savior, a kind lady who overhears our dilemma.
Our rescuer advises us that the boat ride to Krabi would be rough from the storm, and it’d cost us more to get to Krabi and back than it would be to find a place on Koh Yao Noi. She calls us a taxi driver, who graciously proceeds to drive us around the island until we find a place with an available room.
Our room is pretty janky and has a rock-hard bed with Finding Nemo covers on it. We couldn’t care less. Elated not to be homeless on Christmas Eve, we insist that our driver accepts our tip as a token of gratitude. Jamie sleeps for the rest of the day and wakes up feeling much better.
Later that night, we head over to a nearby bar. We listen to a man cover American songs in broken English (it was mostly gibberish), and count down the hours until Christmas with new friends. I have half a beer and one mixed tequila shot. I get a terrible wave of nausea and run to the bathroom, noticing that it’s a squat toilet. Great. I literally get on my hands and knees to throw up the most I’ve ever thrown up in my life. I “flush” the toilet with a forceful scoop of water and saunter out of the bathroom like nothing happened.
I tell Jamie that we need to leave. It takes us longer than usual to make a graceful exit – everyone is wondering why we’re leaving just minutes short of midnight. We finally manage to dip and I tell Jamie that I had violently puked in the bathroom. She had no idea.
I am feverishly sick the next day. It must be malaria. We make it back to Island Yoga and I spend Christmas Day lying in bed with chills, a headache, and cold sweats. I FaceTime my mom and feel sad. I miss eating food and I miss being with my family on Christmas.
I feel a lot better the next day. Our time at Island Yoga is rejuvenating and peaceful. Wake up, do some yoga, make friends over breakfast chatter. Lounge on the beach. Ride bikes around the island. Attempt to read in a hammock but end up snoozing instead. Stretch and breathe deeply during yin yoga at dusk. The days pass as leisurely as the rain came and went.
I realize that the bad days are what make the good days really good. I also realize that traveling teaches you things you can’t learn from a book, or by sitting at a desk at work. You learn to navigate the fragile balance between relying on yourself but also trusting that life will help you find your way. You learn not to be scared of the uncertain, because you’re confident in yourself and what you can achieve. You learn how to create your own happiness, even if you think you have malaria and you’re 8,000 miles away from home.
For the record: Neither Jamie nor I had malaria.