From the Andaman to the Gulf: west to east as our time in Thailand begins to unwind.
In an eternity pool on a hillside somewhere above Mae Nam on Koh Samui, we spend two days excitedly and nervously broaching the subject of what comes after the trip. We take a long walk on a golden beach where lazy palm trees bow to us. Hands are fidgety and voices unsteady; the unknown is closer, closer, and will soon be upon us.
From Koh Samui we move on to Koh Tao, where cheap and memorable — memorable not always for the right reasons — diving is at hand. Some dives are amazing: underwater pinnacles are swarmed by silvery schools of barracuda, look up and the surface is a dark cloud of movement, there’s a flutter on the sand and it’s a stingray, boneless, birdlike, gliding in rhythmic starts; look elsewhere and a triggerfish darts off — a flash of colour, gone quickly into cavernous coral gardens. At other times, the currents are so strong and water so murky that the dive is a waste of time, not to mention dangerous, and unforgivingly tiring swims against the current back to the boat become the norm, divers lose sight of their buddies underwater and must surface, yet still the boats beat on into the current, happily taking money from anyone (like me) who doesn’t know better.
After one such dive I walk the long walk back from Sairee Beach to Shark Bay at the southern end of the island under a scorching blood orange midday sun, cutting along back roads and through rural areas where a chicken auction takes my fancy for a while. At least it’s a place to stand in the shade for a few moments. Past bike repair shops and travel agents, up hills and through fields I walk. I’m lost but heading in the right direction. Heat and thirst grip me; I haven’t eaten yet and have spent the morning fighting currents in ill-fitting and uncomfortable dive gear, literally and figuratively out of my depth. A steep hill lies before me. I ascend sharply and then descend, aching calves and shaking knees carry me down to a strikingly beautiful beach — only, it’s the wrong beach. Doubling back and giddy under a cloudless glare, I find my turn and hobble down the right road this time. Red and wobbly, drenched in a sweat that has wrung every drop of fluid from my body, tired but happy to have seen so much of the island, I order a meal from the bar behind me, flop down onto the beach next to the only person in the world I want to see at this moment, and barely move from that spot for the next few days, and as I gaze out at tautly buoyed boats floating — it seems — toward a phantom seamless horizon I do not appreciate, not yet, the aptness of this day’s experience, and what a sound metaphor it has been for the past few months (years?) of my life.