Leaving the Land of a Thousand Smiles

The last month in Koh Tao was a whirlwind of activity.  Upon returning from Bali, I moved into a house with Gemma, the super fun owner of the flying trapeze school on Koh Tao.  Life was pretty good having the amenities of a normal kitchen, a flat screen tv, and a hot water shower.  Gemma shared my fondness for Korean barbecues and Hong Thong, and many nights ended passed out on the couch after an eventful day.  But what made life exceptional was reuniting with Gabe, my brother in arms who started the trip with me a year before.

Gabe completed a thai massage training up in Chiang Mai and then swung down south for a tropical rendezvous.  Waiting on the arrival docks, pacing expectantly between the uneven planks, I saw the top of Gabe’s head rising above the ferry procession.  “GABE!!!”  A big bear hug later, I introduced Gabe to my bike and we headed off to the dive shop.  We grabbed some great massaman curry and shared stories; it was hard to believe that almost a year had passed since we had last seen one another.  A lot had changed in both of our lives, yet it felt like only yesterday we were hiking among the Himalayas, most likely talking about what food we were craving.  It was evident from the get go that the time had served Gabe well and he had grown into himself as a man.  Time to show him what it’s like to be a merman and experience life underwater.

With less than a week on the island, we packed as much adventure into our time as we could.  Gabe completed his open water certification under the instructions of my boy Al, the ginger who is appropriately referred to as ‘the smartest dumbass you’ll ever meet’.  I was super stoked to join Gabe for his first diving experience and we had some chilled out dives, capturing lots of underwater footage.

Even better than diving was snorkeling along the east coast of the island, where the water conditions were much more favorable.  We did a little bit of freediving along the coral formations and decided to mess around with a big triggerfish.  It decided that I was on the lunch menu and aggressively chased me as bubbles rose from Gabe’s gaping, laughing mouth.  I’ve been triggered many times before and was really hoping to see Gabe get attacked for the first time, because friends always want what is best for one another.

We spent a couple of nights at the live jam sessions held at the bar Raw Art Movement.  Every Sunday night locals gather to listen to live music, where anyone can pick up and instrument and lay down a beat or some riffs.  The owner of the bar, Denny, is one cool cat and plays guitar and is learning the drums.  He appreciates a good song as much as anyone else, and is quick to show his appreciation with some complimentary drinks.  The first night that I played, I wound up behind the set late until the night, barely aware of the time slipping away.  My hands were so unaccustomed to rocking out for hours that I wound up rubbing deep bruises into my hands, but I couldn’t care less.  The exhilaration of playing is addictive, and I rarely missed a jam session along with my boy Carl (who is sick on the axe) the last few months on the island.

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Sunday night groove fest.

The end of our thai time quickly approached and we definitely saved one of the best activities for last: the flying trapeze.  Gemma ran us through how to complete a couple of basic tricks on the low ground and then we harnessed up, ready for the real deal.  Taking turns we climbed up the 30ft ladder to reach the platform, grabbed the trapeze swing, and swung like a pendulum, following the barking commands from Gemma to complete mid air skills.  My favorite part is the release of a trick, where you let go and fall into the safety net suspended above the ground below.  Usually you get to backflip off and then float down.  However, if you miss time the release your momentum will take you in whatever direction you are traveling, as Gabe learned in epic fashion.  Hanging from the bar by his legs, Gabe released too soon and hurtled forwards, his force causing Gemma to shoot up into the air as she controlled his descent.  I wish I had more time on the island to play around on the trapeze, but knowing myself that would have been a recipe for trouble.  If you find yourself on Koh Tao, definitely give the trapeze a try and give Gemma a big hug for me!

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Ready for takeoff.

Unfortunately the trapeze lesson marked our last night on the island.  I said my goodbyes to people who had become more like family than friends, celebrating the good times we’d shared.  I watched my motorbike ride off to the touch of someone else manipulating the throttle.  (It is interesting how we can develop a relationship with a piece of machinery.  I guess everything is relative and I relate my strongest feelings of freedom with my bike.  The bike cannot think; she can only act in response to how we feel fit to instruct her; essentially becoming an extension of our thoughts.  Yet each bike seems to have a personality.  Our relationship mimicked that of many human relationships.  We lived, loved, and laughed together.  We had our highs and our lows.  Our relationship was even slightly abusive at times.  She would refuse to start, I would push her too hard and we’d both end up bruised.  Just like any relationship, you have to nurture it with love and respect to keep it healthy.  There are so many life lessons that I take along with me, taught by much more than twisting pieces of metal and electrical wires.  They were passed along by a dear friend who I will always hold close to my heart.)  Speaking of dear friends, it was especially hard to leave behind Jo and Gabs, my two fellow weirdoes with whom I shared so many good times. I hugged Jo and Gabs tight, hopefully not for the last time, before strolling down the docks and onto the ferry.  And eventually I watched the palm trees recede into the horizon, waiting to welcome me back home.

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