Our stomachs still full from the Amita Thai Cooking Class, we settled into a sleeper traincar bound for Koh Tao. As we drifted off into much-needed sleep, our plans were interrupted by the skittering black blur of a large cockroach hustling across the floor. It disappeared out of sight–the worst thing that could have happened. Mandy’s imagination raced frantically: Where is it hiding? Where will it turn up next? How will it sneak up on me? She’d finally began to relax when a second, smaller, cockroach zig-zagged into view. I smashed it with a flip-flop.
“Got him!” I said and quickly attempted an ingenious cover-up. “Guess he won’t be back to bother us again,” I reassured her, implying, but not lying, that the two cockroaches had been one and the same. Mandy looked relieved, but not 100% reassured.
“Are you sure that was the same one?” she asked skeptically. I quickly assessed the situation. She didn’t want to know the truth and besides, the truth was one of her worst nightmares. The immediate appearance of two more cockroaches relieved me of any moral dilemma. It was an infestation.
For the first time in her life, Mandy took the top bunk. She stood guard vigilantly, ceaselessly scanning our compartment from her high perch. Personally, the cockroaches didn’t bother me and I drifted off to sleep in between their raids on our compartment. Mandy called out each cockroach sighting and I’d swing a flip-flop at it sleepily, rarely hitting the target much to Mandy’s dismay. After seven and a half hours of this madness, we stumbled out wearily in Chumphon, a small coastal town. We sat in the dark train station for one hour before a shuttle arrived to take us to the dock. It was 5:30am and we stood in line for another hour and a half before finally boarding the Lomprayah high-speed ferry.
Our tribulations continued out at sea. A passing storm churned the ocean waves and the ferry began rocking violently. Somewhere to our left, a passenger succumbed to the elements and emptied his stomach into one of the transparent blue barf bags that the crew were handing out, igniting a furious chain reaction as the sight and smells of sea-sickness reached other queasy passengers. A wave of vomiting surged through the ferry and demand for the little blue bags exceeded supply.
Mandy and I had Meclizine for motion sickness, but it was packed deep within our backpacks, which in turn lay piled in a heap of luggage at the front of the boat. Rather than risk moving, we stared determinedly out at the bouncing horizon, grimly holding our still-empty blue bags, until a rocky island with a dark green cap of tropical vegetation finally appeared in the distance: Koh Tao, our saving grace.
As the boat steadied in the protected waters of the harbor, the sun broke through the thick layer of clouds. The steel grey day suddenly gave way to a vivid blue sky, while below us the dark, swirling ocean transformed into an inviting turquoise paradise–its crystal clear waters teeming with brightly colored fish and coral.
Soon we were sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, soaked in sunshine as we bumped along a solid gravel road. We were staying in a small cottage ten minutes up the hill from Sairee Beach, the beautiful, but highly touristy, hub of little Koh Tao. Although we wanted to explore our surroundings, the comfortable bed beckoned and a 30 minute nap stretched into most of the afternoon.
That evening we ambled down to the beach looking for sustenance. The flames of a remarkable sunset engulfed the sky; its deep orange, pink and red hues shimmered in the advancing tide. After dinner we walked along the beach as nightfall came and darkness gradually settled over the island. When the sky’s last traces of color had been extinguished, we turned away into the warm and welcoming night, slowly making our way back towards the cottage. It was quiet. Nights here are filled with the deep sleep one finds in small towns nestled against the vast ocean.
Tomorrow we would explore in earnest.