I stumble out of the Mason’s Arms and into the night. The sky is a huge grey and black dome lowering above me. A half moon sits at its apex seeping its milk light out into a saucer of cloud. The faux English pub exudes a warm glow at my back as I begin my slow walk home. My gait is halting and heavy as I shuffle my weight from one sore leg to the other.
Any passers by would be forgiven for thinking me drunk, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but the truth is I have had just one solitary pint of Guinness. Obviously my tolerance level these days is embarassing. I have clearly neglected to practice, and the heat here is a very effective dehydrator. It is past 8pm and the temperature must still be in the high 20s. I walk slowly along the quiet road towards my little chalet, my little home, here in my little island paradise.
Once home I throw on the fan, throw off my shirt and play some Portishead on the tablet. My 8inch LG is by far the most irritating thing to write on, and indeed shares no small amount of the blame for the irregularity of my blog posts (though I am humble enough to admit that maybe, possibly, a tiny percentage could be attributed to my own laziness). The gap in the timeline of the record of my travels now spans about three months. I have said nothing of my whirlwind tour of North India, a trip I made in the company of some very wonderful people. I have reported next to nothing about my month and a half in Nepal, though I have a combined total of twenty days without reliable internet to blame for that one (also more laziness). I have also been silent on my more than eventful trip to Malaysia and my arrival and subsequent month in Thailand. I had thought of trying to catch up. I suppose the historian in me wanted an exact chrinological record. However, at this stage I figure that is just not possible (also lazy). So I shall have to plough on and try and incorporate things as I go.
In light of such an inexcusable blog backlog strangely enough I currently feel I have little news to impart. Home has been much on my mind since I got here, due in no small part to the wonderful news of the referendum result. Whilst I somewhat anticipated the joy that a yes vote would create I was not anticipating the knock-on effect the referendum has had on politics in general. It seems a generation of Irish people has had that rarest of experiences, a moment in time where it felt their voices counted, that the system actually could work and positive change could be effected. It was startling to see the difference between the hopelessness of British friends after the recent general election and the pride and confidence of my Irish ones after the referendum. Long may that special moment and special feeling continue.
It is now almost exactly four months since I left home and I will have to admit to the odd pang of homesickness, though these have been rare. More recently I have become very happy indeed in my own company, which is one small reason for my infrequent drinking mentioned above. The other is something I have consistently rubbed up against on my travels, and something that was brought home to me very strongly during the first of my many perilous experiences – I hate not being in control. I think this is the major reason I have never really done drugs (I’m sure my parents will be relieved at that sentence, though the really might raise some eyebrows…). I can be a bit bonkers at the soberest of times – I think it’s the extrovert in me – so I was always afraid of what I might do under the influence of something stronger than alcohol. This has been tested once more in the party atmosphere of Koh Phangan, the Thai island I have pitched up on for the past month. Where friends around me are happily smoking joints and doing MDMA or worse for big nights out, I find myself at best uninterested in their effects and at worst terrified of what they might be. I don’t say this in any way smugly. I’m sure if anyone has been bothered to read this far they will be more likely to laugh at me for being a coward and a nerd but it is – perhaps regrettably – the truth. Besides, had I any desire to be, or even appear to be “cool”, I probably would have done the complete opposite of everything I have done since I left school…
As to the aforementioned perilous experiences, the first was when a taxi I was in nearly went down a 200m cliff in Rishikesh, India. The second when the path I was trekking in the mountains disappeared under a landslide and I had to climb across loose rock with a dry river bed below. The third when I was forced to ford a river with all my gear, ala Into the Wild, and the fourth, fifth and sixth all happened on the one bus journey in Nepal. I intend to talk to a professional at some stage about that particular experience…
I am in Thailand now, on the island of Koh Phangan, which is apparently “the” notorious party destination. As with most parties though it seems I haven’t been invited. Or I’m just in the wrong place. As my Dad used to say (repeatedly, like so many of his jokes) “The day my ship came in, I was at the airport.” I am staying on the west side of the island in a little chalet with my own toilet, shower, sink and fridge. Whilst at first glance this seemed quite luxurious in comparison to some of the places I’ve stayed I have since realised there are a few minor flaws. The water in the shower frequently smells like egg. Whilst the toilet faithfully flushes anything you put in it, too often it responds with an equal and opposite olfactory reaction. The drain is in fact a hole in the concrete floor which allows for efficient two-way traffic between my shower water and whatever cockroaches, lizards, frogs and other local residents who choose to come and have a look around. The sink also has a tendency to just fall off the wall. All that being said, it is in fact one of the most cleverly designed toilets I have ever used as I am able to shower, brush my teeth and go to the toilet all at the same time, without compromising the quality of or commitment to any of those individual tasks.
It’s been particularly charming having my own fridge again and it’s funny how such a little thing can have a big affect on you. For me it made me think of my time in London, of buying bread tins and assorted kitchen equipment, of getting a box of vegetables delivered to the door at 7am every Wednesday morning, of living under my own roof and by my own rules (obviously worked out in consultation with Nessa, and our two other flatmates). More than anything else, having that fridge in the corner makes me want to start life again. I am enjoying travelling and am looking forward to seeing many other places as I go but I have this sneaking suspicion that the real adventure will only begin when I dig my feet in the ground and call a place home.
So maybe I should talk more about Thailand. The island here is beautiful, white sand, turqoise water, emerald hills. The people are happy and laidback and welcoming, with a few exceptions, notably a rather curmudgeonly street vendor who, in her defence, sells the most delicious crab claws. I am spending my days eating vast amounts of pad thai, drinking copious fruit juices, trundling around the concrete roads on a little scooter, learning a bit of Muay Thai kickboxing, reading and lying by a beach. I have done the Full Moon Party which I can report was much the same as most parties in that a) I drank too much whiskey b) I sweated like a pig and c) I removed my shirt and made a complete tit of myself dancing on a stage for four hours. Where it differed was in the fact that a) it was on a beach in Thailandb) everyone was covered in multi-colour paint and c) I got kissed by a ladyboy. I had initially planned to get some substantial writing done when I got here but that idea fell by the wayside pretty quickly. In fact in the three weeks I have been here I have read the entirety of Game of Thrones, the terrifying true story of The Amityville Horror, re-read the LA noir of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo and I am currently embarked upon Max Hastings’s account of Churchill at war. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been reading so much but what I do know is that by not writing I have fallen very much out of practice. I am beginning to bore myself here. If you’ve courageously – or maybe masochistically – made it this far, I feel an apology is in order.
I will say one final thing. The two occasions I have properly addressed myself to writing this post have both come during bouts of that homesickness I mentioned earlier. I feel I am writing out of frustration, mostly with myself I suppose. Perhaps I have spent too much time thinking about home this past month. Too much time talking with old friends rather than making new ones. I’ve probably just been here too long. As Sam Cooke used to sing though, a change is gonna come. This Sunday I leave for Cambodia and I leave behind me here some unfinished business with Thailand. I haven’t properly seen it yet in all its glory, but I will, someday.