For the first time in my entire life (excluding wee, wee infancy), I am NOT starting school today, this Tuesday after Labor Day. Wow. Today, for the first time, I am NOT a student, and NOT a teacher. Rather, I am just me, sitting on the porch of my $7 bungalow on a Thai beach, blasting Toto’s 80’s ballad, “Winds Down in Africa” to ease the aches of my ridiculous misadventure today.
Pause: HUGE SHOUT-OUT TO BOSTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS STUDENTS AND STAFF! I adore you and wish you the best of years!!! Be in touch, my dears. While I’m at it, love to students and teachers across the country and world. You’re at the heart of it all. Get it done!
Resume. What happens when you try the “Wander approach to tourism” on a crazy Thai island– specifically Ko Tao? Ha. Ok, first off: it’s a stupid idea. If you still want to do it, understand that “small island” does not mean “cool, you can walk across it”. Similarly, “path” on the map actually means: “jungle– no path”.
Clad only in a black bikini and a giant gay flag (long story having to do with Brazil), you stride out of Sairee Beach (the hoppin’ main drag of the isle), and start to burrow into the palm trees. Massage parlors crowd every few feet, and mo-peds threaten your each step as they zoom through. Following the map, you end up on an extremely hot, dusty main highway though the center of the island, upon which you plod (inhaling chicken kebab smoke) for an hour.
Success! A beach! Ohhh, so pretty! Two feet deep and algae-choked, but so lovely! Snap those pictures, feel dizzy from heat and “swim” by lying down wading. Two scuba schools are giving intense scuba safety lessons on benches around. Feel a little left out cause everyone on this island is doing Scuba but you. Onward, ho!
Find a jungle path. It’s become a rock path. It’s become awkward tree-root “steps”. Slip. Get stung by red ants. Lose hope. Find a giant trash heap of tourist refuse: water bottles and beer bottle Andes. Every time you take a wrong turn you know you’re in the seedy hidden underbelly of Ko Tao because it smells like manure. Turn around and try to find the path again.
COOL hidden beach. Take some photos of a French couple for them, then let them snap some of you. Realize when you flip back through the pics that your belly has expanded significantly from $2 Green Curry overdose. Dammit!
Back on the path. Burn those calories! EVEN COOLER, MORE HIDDEN beach. Rocky coral shards! Suddenly deep. Three people snorkeling. You are crazy dehydrated and your giant gay flag has gotten soaked with sweat. Swim swim swim, AVOID THAT CRAB FLOATING AND PINCHING!, and for the love of heaven, buy some water! You are a dehydrated pancake. Drink almost two liters, then collapse into a stupor on the sand, saying “I should not be in the sun anymore.” You remain in the sun.
A bedraggled Italian couple emerges from the jungle on the opposite side, covered with leaves and mud. (This should have been a warning sign.) “Can you walk back to the pier that way?” you ask, because fundamentally, you abhor backtracking of ANY KIND. “Oh sure!” the couple says, brushing cobwebs from their hair. “At first it doesn’t exactly look like a path, but actually it is.” (Warning sign number two.) “Cool!” Off you go.
You find the key is to focus on inhaling, then exhaling, and then the ache in your legs from four hours of walking diminishes and you remember that actually there is no other way to get home but sucking it up and walking because no vehicles can get down the crags to this beach. You. Must. Go. On.
“Where you go???” asks a shocked Thai construction worker you smash into at some point in the path/jungle. You point to the map. He is extremely nice, given that you look like an absolute putrid wreck, and points you to something that slightly resembles a way to go.
At a certain point, it’s just you, chickens, and a bull. “Snort!” says the horned beast. You are fearful. At a later point, it’s just you and Thai farm people burning their trash, plastic and all. Noxious fumes smudge the stunning blue expanse of ocean and green palm fluffs. Check the sun to see how long ’til it’s dark. A few hours, max. Pick it up, man, pick it up!
Here comes the insanity. Somehow, you get yourself onto a mountain path. Somehow, you end up walking for forty five minutes up a mountain. Just you and the altitude. You are trying to write this here story in your head to stay sane. You are hearing people reading it react: “Stupid girl.” Sand + sweat + stress + so much sun = dizzy. Push on!
On top! Radio tower, spinning view down to some sort of civilization that is, unfortunately, ridiculously far from your hotel. You gotta go down, though; what else are you gonna do? Almost slip ten million times and kiss your Chaco hiking sandals for their power. More ants, a clump of which are devouring a three inch dead curled centipede. Sometimes blazing fast mopeds make you sprint to the gutter. How do they even get UP that mountain?
And at last, four hours later, you are back at some sort of main road! Civilization!!!! Collapse onto the steps of a hotel and watch the women at the massage parlor scream and wave at the Western men on mopeds like girls shrieking at the Beatles. “You come! You come!” they scream to the boys, almost making each crash their bikes. Thank the women for ignoring your ridiculous self. Breathe! Mopeds blaze past. You will find a way home. You will! Sit, breathe, and feel the universe coursing around. You will find a way home.
Sun is setting soon.
A pickup truck rides by and beeps! Nod your head. They stop and you scamper up. This is how awesome your haggling skills are:
Hop in the back and kiss the smooth black pickup truck back with your full palms. Ease! Smooth wind!
And then, some time and 150 Baht later, you are in your very own shower, a red lobster from the sun, so very, very excited to pass out in your bed. Yes!
And then you realize that you’ve been hiking for six hours and are starving. Go eat some Pad Thai with your sweet little roommate on the beach and watch the fire twirlers!
Sometimes I think you like to make trouble for yourself to keep things exciting.
Sometimes it works :)
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!