Solo Travel in Thailand: Out of My Comfort Zone, Part VI
This is the sixth part in a series about Chandra’s adventures with solo travel in Thailand. Read the fifth part here.
I know it’s been said many times, but I stood in awe of the natural beauty before me. I felt so small standing on the soft sand surrounded by huge bouldering mountains. I slowly walked along the beach, pausing to take photos and even went for a quick dip in the calm waves that gently spilled over the sand. After only fifteen minutes of relaxation and self-reflection, I knew I had to leave and make the reverse commute back to the boat. The second time around wasn’t any easier, but at least I knew what to expect.
I climbed and stepped through the sharp rocks, swam through the rough current and pulled myself up onto the boat. I slumped down on the wooden bench, out of breath. While waiting for the others, I sat observing the struggling swimmers and bemused boat captains. One middle-aged man frantically thrashed about in the water while uselessly kicking. He quickly tired as he was expelling a lot of energy without really accomplishing anything productive. He started panicking until onlookers towed him in and pulled him aboard by the back of his vest, directing him to safety. He collapsed, panting before getting up and walking across a platform created by tied boats to reach his own tour group. I’m still bewildered how a fully capable grown man is able to sink in a life vest. Although I struggled a bit myself, I did well considering I opted out of the clunky life preserver and was simultaneously holding my iPhone overhead.
I started desperately thrashing about through the water trying to get back to the boat, unsure if my foot was still attached.
Having bared witness to a miraculous life-saving situation, we were off again to tour more magnificent landscapes before settling into a cove to go scuba diving. Since I am petrified of sharks, this was the one stage of the adventure I feared the most. However, being as stubborn as I am, I refused to let my paralyzing fear overcome me. I put on my used unhygienic scuba mask and mentally prepared myself to descend into the darkness (approximately 6 feet below sea level). I scanned the surrounding area for looming sea creatures, dorsal fins and dead bodies before taking the plunge.
I splashed around in the water momentarily while fussing with my mouthpiece and goggles. They weren’t properly contouring to my face so when I submerged my head below the surface, I was taking in water. I eventually adjusted them and immersed myself in the flourishing underwater aquarium. I realized I had left my waterproof camera on the boat and wanted to capture my first scuba experience, so paddled back to the boat to retrieve it.
I grabbed my camera and happily flopped overboard back into the ocean. I swam about looking for the perfect underwater snapshot and settled on a school of curious yellow fish. As soon as I snapped the photo, the device made a weird puttering sound before the screen scrambled and turned pink. I popped my head above surface level to investigate the malfunction and was able to take another picture of a lonely longtail bobbing peacefully in sync with the current. As soon as I saw the image appear on the screen it disappeared and turned black. While trying to repair my camera on site, I took a brief pause from treading water and blindly put my foot down on a rock to compose my balance.
Solo Travel in Thailand: Out of My Comfort Zone, Part VI
This minor movement was met with a shocking pain that jolted through my entire body. The instant heavy burning sensation was so intense my whole left foot and ankle felt numb. I instinctively cried out that I had been bit, assuming I was living my worst nightmare. I started desperately thrashing about through the water trying to get back to the boat, unsure if my foot was still attached. I selflessly warned the other snorkelers of the menacing underwater creature, but they appeared generally unconcerned regarding my attack. Seemingly unalarmed they went back to their aquatic exploration completely ignoring my Jaws public service announcement.
When I made it back to the boat, one of the South African guys was hanging on the ladder. He appeared dazed and confused. As there was little time for courtesy, I pushed him out of my way while mumbling something unintelligible about my pending fatality. Since my foot was no longer of use to me, I kneed my way up the ladder and wiggled myself over the side. I climbed onto a seat and positioned myself to assess the situation, relieved to find all my extremities still intact. I picked up my numb foot and placed it on my thigh to inspect the damage and found several tiny black spikes protruding from my bloodied discolored purple foot. Having had only previous experience with Pennsylvania lakes and New Jersey shores, I was perplexed by the assailant responsible for such an unsolicited assault.
While still deep in confused thoughts, the South African floating along the side of the ladder suddenly plopped himself aboard and sat next to me, his face flushed. He lifted his foot revealing similar wounds, but much bloodier and multiplied. He looked completely and utterly stunned. I looked towards the boat captain and spoke far too rapidly for even someone fluent in English to fully understand me. My rant was met with silence and a general lackadaisical attitude towards our dire condition. Alarmed, one of the British backpackers who never even risked getting in the water started dramatically screaming, “Everyone – get out of the water!” They were unmoved by this ridiculous display and continued snorkeling. I couldn’t help but nervously laugh at this entire hapless scenario. I would soon learn I had merely, and rather carelessly, stepped on a sea urchin.
Pleading with the captain to save my sorry life, he walked over and held his flip-flop towards me, motioning for me to give him my injured foot. I obliged and so he beat me with his shoe before a peace offering of rice and watermelon. Google informed me this unconventional method was meant to break up the poison and alleviate pain when resources were lacking. Once I started to regain feeling back in my foot, I piteously ate my food next to my counterpart who was still acting as if his foot had been amputated. He had also received the expert flip-flop treatment followed by a light lunch. He was still not finding any amusement provided by our public spectacle of stupidity.
While rapidly breathing and biting down on my own flesh to displace the pain, I quickly bandaged my foot and hopped over to lay down on my concrete bed and mope.
After the boat had collectively decided to forego the sunset viewing phase of the tour due to injuries, exhaustion and fear, we were island bound. When we got to the pier my foot was still feeling numb and sore, but I was able to put pressure on it and limp onto the dock. My partner in shame had to be supported on the shoulders of his two muscular buddies. Slowly, we hobbled to the only pharmacy in Koh Phi Phi to stockpile some sea urchin wound care supplies. We were basically given vinegar and a few bandages in what seemed like a common occurrence by the casual attitude of the cashiers upon inspection of our punctured feet.
The worst pain would come later on, while alone in my grossly inadequate guesthouse bathroom. I carefully tried not to place my lacerated foot on the filthy tile while simultaneously treating and dressing the wound. Pouring the vinegar substance on the exposed cuts was far worse than the initial incident. While rapidly breathing and biting down on my own flesh to displace the pain, I quickly bandaged my foot and hopped over to lay down on my concrete bed and mope. Woe was I.
I allowed several self-pitying minutes before I decided it was time to get up, get ready, go out and enjoy my last night of vacation. I slinked down to a nearby bar to find my South African cohorts exiting. Sea Urchin Victim the Sequel just could not deal with the pain for a moment longer. He was still limping and favoring his foot as his buddies led him home on their way to get tattoos. I took this opportunity to order a slice of stale pizza before making my way to the beach party. It didn’t taste as bad as it looked sitting in its glass case where it baked outside all day, most likely because I swished it back with Thai whiskey.
I was unimpressed by the beach debauchery and decided it was time to call it a night. Walking back to my guesthouse, I passed the same place I got my ankle tattoo the night before and found a man having his fiancé’s name inked on his left cheek. He was lying on his stomach and had his pants pulled down to his knees, and I’ll let you come to your own conclusions regarding which cheek. Interested, I walked over to witness this MIA (mistake in action).
This fine young man was in the midst of his bachelor party and presumably wanted to prove his affection to his bride-to-be, Jessica. The sentiment would’ve been mistakenly sweet and sincere had he not invited himself back to my place. Somehow I was able to decline his generous offer as he walked home solo with a deflated ego and a sore behind. And I walked home again from the tattoo parlor with another inked foot, only this time it was free and thankfully impermanent.