September 27th, 2004
Subject: What a long strange trip its been....
Its really weird to think that this trip is over now. And from some points of view, perhaps its not. I've heard people say they've been traveling for a year, and when you ask them where they've been, they tell you they worked the whole time in one place. So, is living away from your home still traveling? I guess thats splitting hairs. To me, THE trip is done. Perhaps my time in Ko Tao can be seen as an extension of it, and I can guarantee you that I'll make use of the fact that I'm living near the most convenient and low-cost airport in all of Asia (Bangkok) to explore the area with many more shorter trips.
But the real gist is that I've finished the trip I set out to do. See the world and stay on the move continuosuly for 2 years. It had actually been 2 years and one month. But when I look at that and read it, I cant believe its been that long. 2 years of my life. I'm 2 years older than when I started. Things back in DC have gone along for 2 years, and I havent been a part of them. Things have changed, no doubt, but its hard for me to comprehend that its not the same back home as the day I left.
Its also a real hard scope of time for me to comprehend. It seems like just a few months ago that I left home. Then, sometimes I think back to something near the beginning of the trip and it seems like years ago. Then it dawns on me that it was. I've often said that when you're traveling, time becomes real distorted. In a week of my life back in DC, I'd have so few new experiences, that to look back on a year, you could easily remember most of the memorable things of that year. When you're traveling and each day presents you with new and exciting adventures, its hard to keep track of time in the same way. If you go to a city, then a beach, then a jungle, each for 3 days, and try to think back to 9 days ago when you started, it will seem YEARS ago. I came up with a theory that each week traveling seems like about 2 months. Which is why I found it so difficult to answer the question when I came home after a year "What was your favorite thing you did?". It would be the equivalent to someone asking you what was your most favorite moment of the last 8 years. Too much information to process.
I can honestly say I have no regrets about taking this trip, and dont think that I ever will. It has surpassed every expectation I had about it, despite changing course 180 degrees at the outset with my truck being stolen. This trip was a dream that I always wanted to fulfil, and was always hopeful that I would be able to make it happen, but there were times I had my doubts. Life seems to have a way of grabbing hold of you and getting in the way of plans. :)
I had envisioned this email being real profound. A nice wrap up of everything I learned, and the impact its had on me. But again, too much information to process. If you thought I've been wordy in emails past, that email would blow all the others away. So instead, I'll leave you with this:
The world really is a magnificent place. Its aching to be explored, and its not nearly as dangerous as the media would like you to believe. All of the places that I feared going to were filled with some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
If you're reading this, that makes you one of the very few people of the world lucky enough to have access to a computer. Few people probably realize how high that puts them up on the list of wealthiest % of the worlds population. Compared to the people who live in the mansions and drive the fancy cars, you may not think you're rich, but compared to just about everyone outside of the borders of the USA, you are. And I make this point for a reason. If you've ever wanted to do a trip like this, you probably can, provided you dont have the commitments of a family. So, if you've dreamt about doing it, then do it. Just go. And you'll have a place to stay in Koh Tao.
Yes, Koh Tao. Thats where I'm living now. My plan is to live here for a couple of years or so. Part of the reason I set out on my trip in the first place was that I wanted to find a new place to live. As much as I loved Washington DC, it wasnt somewhere I could see myself happily living the rest of my life. So, I set out to find that place. Right now, I dont think Koh Tao is that place either, but its somewhere I'd like to stay for a little while.
I've bought some land here and may build a small house on it in the next year or so if time and money permit. In the meantime, I've found a nice little house which I rent with a couple of roomates. My rent is $150/mo and that includes all untilities including cable. The place even comes furnished with a big ol TV, and we have someone who comes in once a week to clean the place up.
Aside from my two roommates, the 3 people in the house across from me, and the 3 people in the house downstairs from me are all friends of ours. They're all diving instructors (Koh Tao is a diving island) and at night they run a little bar on the beach called the Deck Bar.
Although its almost fair to say that most people on the island are friends. Koh Tao is less than 21sq km, which is about half the size of Manhattan. And theres less than 1000 full time residents. About half of the people who live here are Thai, and the other half are westerners, most of them being european. Almost every westerner works in the diving industry in some way.
Which is what I am currently doing. For the past 3 weeks I've slowly been doing my training to become a Certified Dive Master, after which time I'll be able to work. As a dive master on Koh Tao, you cna make about $12/day, which isnt a whole lot, but its enough to pay the rent and eat and have some money to go out once in a while.
No one here really eats at home. In fact, its safe to say that we eat every single meal out. The average meal at a resturant will cost about $1.50. Its actually hard to make something cheaper at home. If you buy ingredients, you'll end up spending about the same, so we all pretty much always eat out. Although the Thai food is pretty healthy and darned good. Koh Tao may be one of the last places on earth to not have a McDonalds, which I like, but at the same time I do get cravings for a Quarter Pounder now and then.
Theres no starbucks here either. In fact, its very island-ish here. Theres one main road that runs down the center of the island, and all the roads off of the main road are just dirt tracks, so having a off-road motorcycle is a must. Most shops are just little shacks set up by locals. In every resturant, bar, shop or internet cafe you go in to, its customary to take your shoes off. I love that. I'm barefoot right now.
99% of all traffic here is moped/motorcycle traffic. There are a few trucks used by the dive shops and taxis you can rent out if you need to transport something, or get home late at night. I've bought myself a little 125cc motorcycle with off road tires which gets me around the island just fine and back and forth to the dive shop in under 2 minutes. Nice commute. My gasoline bill is about 70B/week (about $1.80).
So my days basically consist of diving every day, usually 2 times a day. When I'm done diving, or on days I'm not diving, I sometimes go out to my land and clear down trees with a machete, but more often just head down to the beach to play frisbee or go swimming with friends. We usually stay at the beach to watch the sun go down, and never tire of seeing the most amazing sunsets over the water. Afterwartds we'll all head to dinner about 6 or 7pm, after which time those of us not diving early will head to the beach for sunset beers. Theres 4 bars on the north end of the beach which are busy from 5pm to midnight, and face west so you can see the sun go down. Seating is on little cushions in the sand, and music is funky downtempo lounge music played at a volume that allows conversations without shouting - I love that. We'll sit there until about midnight at which time, those of us with energy will head out to the clubs. Theres 3 beach clubs and one more club down in the village of Mae Haad. The one in Mae Haad is only open once a week, the other 3 are open twice a week. This way you dont have any night when 2 clubs are open. On an island this small, thats a nice thing. This way, EVERYONE heads to the same club. No bouncing around to find which one is best. The clubs play awesome techno/dance music and stay open until the last person leaves, which is usually daylight. Taxis home are cheap enough, and the walk back to your motorcycle is short and nice enough the next day to not be a bother.
I've been going running a few times a week, going to the gym a couple times a week, and even dabbled a bit in Thai Kick boxing. Wrap that all up in a burrito, and thats the gist of my life at the moment. Pretty chill.
Sometimes I find it hard to believe its true. I'll sit in the Deck Bar, look at the sand beneath my toes, hear the waves behind me and look up at the bar made of bamboo filled with some of the nicest and funest people I've ever met and wonder what I did to be so lucky to deserve this lifestyle.
If anyone would ever like to come out and visit, you're all more than welcome. I've got a space on my couch just waiting for you. My number here is +66 7 895 4988.
For those of you unable to make it out to this half of the planet, I'll be home October 24th, and will be staying until the beginning of January. I look forward to seeing you all then.
And for the record, the most amazing thing I saw on my entire trip??..... I put a lazy cat on top of a sleeping dog once. That was incredible.