|It's either the effects of the sun, or from hearing the miscreant mispronounce famous Thai dishes, but I'm not feeling 100% this morning. In order to cover all bases, I sleep in as long as possible.
I pack the remainder of my items into my bags and head off to meet Delicatino.
As I make my way across the 6 town blocks to Jamie's hotel, I am solicited by, at least, 30 taxi/tuk-tuk/moto drivers. The thing that amazes me is that if I am not stationary, arms prepped for hailing, chances are I don't want your cab; I am choosing to walk. Can you imagine? I'm actually starting to enjoy lugging 50 lbs of luggage on this torso (heavy pack on back, laptop sac and camera on front). You see, back home, I try to get to the gym at least 4 days a week (any less and my mood gets seriously affected). Being here, on the road, exercise is what you make it. This is how I choose to burn my rice induced calories. The whole push up routine has gone down the toilet. It seems that the further along I travel, the smaller my rooms get. Yes, so anyway, quickly this whole 'TAXI? TAXI?' routine grates on my morning nerves.
When I arrive at his hotel, Jamie is shockingly ready. He is sporting a full recovery and eager for the next bus trip out of town.
We head to the beach to catch the local bus to Phuket town (home of the bus station leading to the outlying provinces).
Instead of grapping a quick yogurt, Jamie has his eyes set on a luscious breakfast of egg and bacon. Apparently, the bus to the next town is every 40 minutes. So yes, there's time to grab something, but my only concern is catching the additional bus to Khao Lak (a small town 2.5 hours north). I have tried to hunt down a bus schedule, but all the booking offices in town seem only to sell package tours and only offer ridiculously expensive private transport to the surrounding areas.
While Jamie is figuring on a breakfast spot to drop his spotty ass, the bus approaches. Jamie agrees to find something in Phuket town, some half hour away. Thank the Lord.
We get dropped off at the main bus terminal and notice we are 40 minutes away from catching the next bus north. Perfect.
Jamie asks if I want to join him in his search for a beef burger, sandwich, or egg and bacon breakie. I reiterate my need for local street stall food. It's as though he's hearing this news for the first time.
"You don't want a cheeseburger?"
The best answer I can give is:
"Why don't we meet back at the bus at noon?"
I simply walk across the street to find stalls serving iced coffee, fresh shakes, and a glorious buffet of Thai curries. The smile, which Phuket so violently removed from my face, instantly reappears.
Happily satiated, I greet my 'is this a mistake' travel mate and board the bus north.
The ride is largely uneventful, shy of the luxe interior and spacious leg room.
During the journey, Jamie explains the rather sore looking welts on his arm. Of course, like a good observer, I had noticed them, just thought it better for him to bring it up.
Here goes my paraphrasing:
"Well, I was on Koh Phi Phi and I went to put up my hammock. The string I had to tie it up with was too short, so I put the hammock on the ground. Then I got really drunk. I wake up a few hours later and there are all these red ants crawling on me. Some were biting. I had to run into the ocean to get them off me. The next day I had these sores all over my arms and legs. What do you think they're from?"
"Don't say that, don't say that. Do you think?"
"Either that or sand mites."
"Don't...don't. Really? Ooooo, that's horrific. Don't."
Jamie is like seeing Barbara Bush at a buffet, you just can't turn away.
Just before 3PM, the bus drops us off in the centre of Khao Lak.
The town consists of the main highway being bordered by jungle to the east and the ocean to the west. It is on the verge of tourist saturation, but for now, it is exactly the respite I am looking for. (i.e., they only have two 7-11)
Being such a small town, most guidebooks neglect to include a map. The only source of accommodation information is from the Dive shop, so we hunt around to find Sea Dragon.
As divine intervention would have it, the booking office is across the street.
Jamie, a man of malleable plaster, eagerly follows.
The booking office, a satellite to the nearby centre, is a long, narrow room with a desk, 2 couches, staffed by 3 shirtless, 25 year old Euro-hunks. Where to look? Where to look?
Before receiving their hellos, I jump in with:
"Hi, um, I am taking a dive course with you guys and, uh, well, you know-"
I completely lose my ability to speak. Jamie cuts in with:
I regain my composure.
"Yes, I was told that you guys have an accommodation list. I was sent one; I just couldn't print it off. Do you have one?"
"At zee main shop, vee do. We take you. Have coffee, relax" the head attached to one of the torsos pipes in.
In this moment, I am glad to have Jamie here, to have someone to giggle with.
Three sips into our coffees, a shirtless French man, in his 20's, whizzes up in a motorbike with sidecar. He introduces himself as Eric. My instructor, perhaps? I suddenly feel like a librarian at an all inclusive who's crushing on the activities staff.
He loads our luggage into the side car, then, based on the amount of luggage between us, suggests that one of us share his bike seat. Uncharacteristically, I jump at the chance, sweating over where to place my hands. By the time I comfortably choose his waist, we arrive at the Dive Centre. Crap!
We bring our luggage into the spacious lobby, whereby I am greeted by a woman named Rebecca. I tell her about my course etc., and she gets the eager Eric to sign me in and get me started. Jamie takes this time to dip in their training pool out front.
Eric is sweetly slow and deliberate in his protocol.
"Ah, Kristen Anderson, is this you?"
"No, there was a confusion when I called. My name is Christian Lloyd."
"So, Kristen Anderson, no?"
"Yes, that's a no."
He looks confused and erases Kristen Anderson from the course list. Does no one communicate in this office?
After about 20 minutes of filling out forms, collecting course materials, paying deposit, and showing proof of current certification, I am given the list of accommodations. While Jamie and I are skimming through the options, Eric passes me a receipt for my deposit.
The dive shop kindly allows us to us the phone to pre-call some of our circled choices. Things are looking grim. Places are either full or have rooms with only one bed. I am just about to offer to go separate ways, when Eric informs us of a place, 2 doors down. They allow us to store our luggage while we hunt out a room.
The Sri guesthouse is offering a double room for under 20 bucks a night, including AC. We jump at it, as it is the last room available. Currently, the room only sports one double bed. However, the manager promises that a second bed will be carted over within the next hour or so.
"Shotgun!" screams little one, "bed's mine."
What can I say? Well I guess it will be a more comfortable place to strangle him later, if it comes to that.
We go back to the Dive shop to retrieve our luggage. I turn around and bump into, who, who? Why Aster, dear readers. She is debriefing with her group over an upcoming Wreck Dive. We chat it up and make plans to have a beer later in the evening.
The delicate one and I grab our bags and stow them in our room. Without any fear of me peeking, we change into our bathing suits and head to the beach.
The walk is longer than expected and, by the time we hit the brownish sand, I'm sodden.
The water is less clear, yet more refreshing than Patong Beach in Phuket.
We swim until the sun begins setting, at which point I grab my camera in order to snap it up.
Thankfully, the walk back to the hotel is devoid of idle chatter. Don't get me wrong, I love to chat, but, as this trip is further proving, I equally enjoy silent episodes.
When we return to the room, the promised additional bed is in the form of a twin, Donald Duck mattress (with a well advertised 6 year warranty). It is the width of a 1980's Russian Panty Liner. Aaaarrrrggghhhhh!!!!!
We spend the next hour relaxing; I flipping through my course book and he, through his all but blank diary.
"What are you supposed to put in your diary?" he asks.
"You're kidding me, right?"
"Stuff from your day."
"How do I make it interesting?"
"Eat more Pad Thai."
"I don't know...write about what's happened. Chances are it's interesting."
"Yis. Thank you."
I spend the next 20 minutes reeling from his naiveté. Wow!
Once the hungries are too much to bear, we journey out for some grub.
"So, what do you feel like for dinner?" he asks.
"I wouldn't mind hunting down a good stall."
Yes, you heard him alright; sure.
"Great, let's go!"
Within a five minute walk down the main strip, we spot a bamboo Pad Thai station, adjacent to a pub. I order up some noodles with fresh, local shrimp, and order a beer. Jamie orders a Mai Tai.
"You're not eating?"
"Not this food."
"I thought you were okay with this."
"I am. When you are done, we can go find some European food for me."
"Why don't I just eat here and you, across the street?"
"I can't eat alone."
He can travel alone, but not eat alone? Oh, that makes sense. Needy McHold My Hand. I feel like a weight has been put on my chest. Not to sound like an ass, but I don't have it in me to double dinner. Besides, if I am going to spend the next few days with this guy, I'll need some 'me' space, 'me' time.
Just then, the waitress passes by with a Tupperware container filled with meaty ribs. We watch her as she opens the lid to a converted barrel BBQ. She places bits of the carcass on the grill.
The smell is divine. Out come the tin foil wrapped baked potatoes. Another waitress approaches and informs us of the party happening tonight. We immediately assume private party. Great, now I'll have to wolf down my noodles.
My order arrives and I begin to wallop them back. I am maybe 10 bites in when a paper plate with BBQ goodness appears in front of me.
"Happy BBQ." the waitress announces.
It turns out it's part of their Valentine celebration. I forgot it's "Hey Loser, You're Single" Day. Ah, and I'm spending it an English Rose! Help me, please, anyone, ANYONE!!!
I dig in and it's the perfect complement to my, rather small, portion of Pad Thai. Jamie's eyes light up when a similar plate is passed his way. I can only pray that this will constitute a meal for him.
There is something so wrong, yet so perversely enjoyable in watching my new roomie take man sized bites of his charred flesh-on-bone only to have him wash it down with delicate sips of his girly drink, complete with umbrella.
After Jamie's thwarted attempt at a second helping, we leave in search of European food. Luckily, there is a place across the street that fits the bill.
Delicatino orders a cheeseburger and fries. When it arrives, he goes to town; very Oprah during a commercial break. (At most, he weighs a hundred and 10 pounds and is, maybe, 5 foot 9). With his mouth largely full of food, conversation ceases, allowing me to people watch. There are a crap load of Germans in this town. Not surprising though, given that Thailand is Europe's Mexico.
After dinner number 2, we head to an internet café to catch up on some emails. They are on the verge of closing for the evening, so quickity quick.
On the way home, Jamie confesses to an increasing tiredness. We bid each other farewell and I head off to meet Aster for a nightcap at the bar adjacent to the dive shop.
Aster is sitting with a group of friends she met while diving last year (same location, same outfitter). They leave tomorrow evening for the 4 night trip that I was originally planning to do. To prime themselves for the upcoming marathon (13 dives over 4 days) they did a couple of wreck dives, earlier today. The pics that Aster took are fantastic.
David, also from Glasgow, shares the day's horror stories. It turns out that he was inching towards the wreck, searching out a spot to rest his hand. In true diver form, he waved his hand back and forth, to agitate the water, causing any dormant life to swim away. After a few said hand strokes, no life presented itself. He was about to grab hold when his Dive Master's eyes flare into a wide open panic. An inch from David's outstretched hand, a stonefish resists relocation. He pulls away just in time.
For those unaware, here's what Wikipedia has to say about the little guy:
The stonefish, Synanceia verrucosa, also known as the reef stonefish or dornorn, is a carnivorous ray-finned fish with venomous spines that lives on reef bottoms, camouflaged as a rock. Its dorsal area is lined with spines that release a venomous toxin. It is the most dangerous of known venomous fish and its venom causes severe pain with possible shock, paralysis, and tissue death depending on the depth of the penetration. This level can be fatal to humans if not given medical attention within a couple of hours. Immediate first aid treatment requires the immobilization of venom at penetration site.
Suddenly, an intense anxiety comes over me with respect to my upcoming dives. It only increases when I hear that Stone Fish, Scorpion Fish, and venomous Sea Snakes dominate the Similan Islands. Excellent!
Aster laughs off my fear. I feel like I'm sitting next to that guy on the plane. You know the one who, during a bout of nasty turbulence, says 'if it goes down, it's not like you can do anything about it', while grinning an unforgivable grin.
I tune out much of the remaining conversation. Am I ready to upgrade my certification? I do only have 9 dives under my belt.
Everything will be fine; I'm just psyching myself out. Right?
Aster and her gang search out other bar options once the one we are in closes. I am exhausted, so I call it a night.
I walk into the room and smell the familiar mask of Jamie's air freshener. Maybe the BBQ dog ribs did him in.
Poor little guy. I mean it. How awful to not enjoy the indigenous offerings without riding the porcelain Honda.