OK so I'm on the ferry now back from Ko Samui to Surat Thani to make the reverse journey back to Bali again - night ferry to Surat Thani, minibus to Hat Yai, flight to Kuala Lumpur, overnight in Kuala Lumpur, and finally another flight to Bali. I've spent a fabulous week with my friend Jenni living it up island stylee. She actually got me to loosen the purse strings a little bit and live large. After leaving the Sanctuary, we went and stayed in Had Rin for a few nights. Had Rin is the center of the full-moon extravaganza. Jenni was quite disappointed with how trashy it was. I had actually been there almost ten years to the day before and while in many ways the place is barely recognizable from then, the garish, overtrodden tropical paradise vibe still remains. Back then there was no paved road from the main ferry port on the other side of the island and I think there might have been one or two places where you could send email for extortionately high rates. Now every second shop is an internet cafe/travel agency, the road is paved (though still not too well), and the Sunrise beach is barely visible underneath the mass of hotels and bungalows lining it and the rubbish strewn all about. Nevertheless, we found ourselves quite a nice room on the other side of town complete with A/C, 24 hour power, a hot shower, and a nice porch looking out on a picturesque tropical garden where the lawnmower consisted of a horse tied to a different tree every night munching on the grass and chasing various dogs around that would yap at its feet.
We were both feeling a bit under the weather so we didn't really do much for several days except read, soak in the atmosphere, and make occasional jaunts around town for sustenance and a daily dose of BBC news for breakfast. I did actually rent a motorcycle to cruise around the island one day. Unfortunately, the roads out of Had Rin are quite steep passages that hug the cliffs around there and while the motorcycle was just powerful enough to manage that on my own, having Jenni on the back was a bit more than it could handle. Combine that with the fact that after the inevitable stall going uphill, the tires did not have enough purchase on the road to keep us from sliding downhill even with both brakes fully utilized, and Jenni was soon marching back to town rather than risking her life on the back of a two-bit motorcycle with a maniac like me. Fortunately, as I mentioned, the motorcycle did seem capable of handling the load of just one fat bastard American and after the initial steep bits, the road turned much more manageable. Outside of Had Rin, there's tons of little nooks and crannies of the island to explore - there's a bunch of waterfalls and loads of tiny little inlets and bays each with their own little tropical resorts promising escape from all the pressures of everyday life without having to give up the modern day conveniences that many of us are used to. For that, it's just brilliant, but at the same time it does all have the feel of Western escapism pasted onto a tropical island paradise and could be any number of postcard perfect island getaways, just exchange the subservient wait staff with other dark-skinned natives and you could be in one of any number of similar type places. If this all sounds a bit cynical, it totally is, and it's a beautiful place and I'm glad I got to check it out more fully but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I prefer places where more of the local vibe comes through.
After Had Rin, we returned to Ko Samui which is more of the same but just amplified. Once again, though, Jenni came through and got me to open up my wallet and stay at a very nice hotel on the beach and sent me off with an exquisite seafood dinner where we chose the items from a cart of fresh seafood at the entrance - huge king prawns, crabs, squid, shark, rounded out with a bit of eggplant, all grilled up on the barby and served with scrumptious spicy Thai sauces and washed down with a nice bottle of Australian sparkling wine. It doesn't get much better than that.
So now, as I mentioned, I'm on my way back to Bali. The reason I'm going back to Bali is that in the four days that I spent there, I managed to meet a local Indonesian girl (originally from the island of Sumatra, actually, not from Bali itself) that has really piqued my interest. She's smart, beautiful, almost exactly my own age (four days younger), and shares a lot of my cynical sense of humor. She's also quite the terror on her motor scooter, zipping through and around traffic, taking me to many places that are only known to locals and longtime residents. She also has a two-year old son. Her husband died two years ago in a motorcycle accident and she tells me she has not dated anyone since. There are many signals that I should have just enjoyed the brief time we had together and move on to the next leg of my adventures. She is quite open about the fact that she is looking for someone to settle down with and in many ways provide for her and her son, while also taking care of that person in the ways that she can. While I'm certainly open to that idea, it does seem to be quite a giant leap to be even considering those things with someone you've known less than four days. Also, I hate to say it, but I do get a bit of the feeling that she likes me more for what I can provide for her than who I am. From the start, she's been less than shy about asking me to buy things for her and whenever we go to buy anything together, inevitably a few items end up in the basket that are for her own personal use and needless to say I always foot the bill. I'm not sure how to feel about this. I know that in Indonesia, making a decent living is very difficult, especially for a single mother, especially on Bali when you're from another island, and that she and I both know that the money I'm spending is much more significant to her than it is to me. At the same time I can't help but feel a bit uneasy, to say the least, when someone assumes so easily that what's mine is theirs and spends my money so easily especially when I, myself, am admittedly very tight with my money while travelling around for an undetermined length of time. I hate the fact that stuff like this enters into the equation at all, but there's no denying the fact that it is part of the equation. But basically I still think there's enough potential there in our relationship that I would have regretted not giving it a go and there's still not much to lose at this point. I just hope that as long as I'm careful and keep my eyes (as well as my heart) open, then I can avoid causing damage to the three of us involved. Stay tuned for the next installment of As Pedro's World Turns to see how it all develops.
OK, so my aspirations of writing this blog while on the go came to naught. I'm still a bit wary about busting out my fancy laptop in public and besides there's plenty to absorb while cruising through the Thai countryside on the train (and a cute Thai student to chat with to boot). But anyway, I managed to meet up with my Aussie friend Jenni, who had just flown in from China and had bought her flight from Bangkok to Ko Samui two days before while we were chatting online and I had told her it's my birthday. My Irish friend, Orlagh, who I had originally planned on meeting up with for my birthday is still MIA. The last email I had received from her was ten days before my birthday so countless things could have happened in between that could have waylaid her. I just hope it wasn't anything bad.
It was actually a fairly long but smooth day of travel to get out to the islands. I started my day in Kuala Lumpur, took a short flight to Hat Yai, just over the border in Thailand. From there, I grabbed a train just in the nick of time for the 6 hour journey to Surat Thani. In Surat Thani, I had enough time to have some dinner and then grab a motorcycle taxi (cuz I was to cheap to spring the extra $1.25 for a real taxi, even with my 3 bags, oy ve) to the port, where I caught the 6 hour night ferry to Ko Samui. The ferry ride was actually very smooth (in contrast to my last ferry trip to Ko Pha Ngan 10 years ago which made me quite ill) and I actually managed to sleep pretty much the whole way on the comfy mattresses provided. Once on Ko Samui, I grabbed a taxi to the airport there to meet up with my friend Jenni. After hemming and hawing about where to stay on Samui, we finally said fuck it and decided to head over to Ko Pha Ngan. We caught the one hour ferry to Had Rin and after asking around about the elusive New Moon Party and not being able to get a definitive answer from anyone, we decided to head for a new age resort type place a 20 minute water taxi ride from Had Rin called The Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary was apparently started by a few Brits some 12 years ago trying to escape the chaos of the Full Moon party. They hired a boat and ended up on a then unsettled beach called Hat Tien. They liked it so much they decided to set up shop there and the Sanctuary now consists of a bunch of bungalows, gourmet health food restaurant, meditation center, spa, and general new age paradise retreat. But it's all very tastefully done and only as new agey as you wanna make it. The prices are pretty steep relative to the rest of Thailand but still very cheap by western standards. So we finally got there, got settled, and had a good nap. Then it was off to the spa for a deep tissue neck and shoulder massage followed by a traditional Thai massage. My neck is quite sore by now from the combination of less than ergonomic sleeping conditions, bad sleeping position (on my stomach), and carrying around my three backpacks on the back of a motorcycle taxi for instance. So the expert touch of the Thai masseurs was welcome relief indeed. And the food is just phenomenal. It's almost all vegetarian - a mix of Thai, Indian, Western, and even a bit of Mexican. But everything is prepared exceptionally well, it's all very fresh, very healthy, and very delicious.
OK, I'm currently in Kuala Lumpur, headed to meet up with a few friends on Kho Pha Ngan in Thailand to celebrate my birthday at the "New Moon Party" they have there. Have loads of stories to tell about Indonesia. Hopefully I'll have time to put them down during my flight/train/ferry ride out to the islands. In the meantime, there's loads of new pictures from Indonesia in the Photo Gallery