If meal-sized portions of altered perspectives and richer morals are the glorious outcomes of our travels, then embarrassing stories are the salt that boosts the flavor. They are unavoidable, entertaining, will encourage you to laugh at yourself, and you'll enjoy a free, wonderful side of traveling. I have had many gloriously embarrassing experiences throughout my travels. Each one has provided a facet of growth that is different than any other.
My favorite story happened in Paradise. Koh Phangan, Thailand may well have been the most fantastic place I’ve set eyes on. Scenic beauty? Yes. Dance beach parties? Check. Five dollar hut on the sand? Uh-huh. Not only was the scenery outstanding, the water turquoise and the bars cheap, but I found and became friends with seven people. We had a blast snorkeling, dancing, drinking and exploring the island.
Embrace the unexpected
My first experience was with Louie; a friendly Scottish gentleman. We went snorkeling out on a small island barely connected to Koh Phangan on the north side by a tiny strip of sand. It was called Ko Maa, and it was beautiful. Only one building occupied this tiny islet. It consisted of several rooms and a deck, with a spread of musical instruments, bamboo bongs, and a handful of young Thai Bob Marley look-a-likes. Everyone was smiling and friendly. The few tourists present were relaxing happily on some cushions in the sun.
The snorkeling in the bay was vibrant and varied, but the bigger and more exotic marine creatures stayed on the opposite side of the island, where the water is deep and murky. For nearly two hours we glided through the water, letting schools of delightful yellow fish curiously swirl around us, diving down to see the coral in its full glory and the entire ecosystem that the reef has to offer. We swam after trumpetfish, played amongst clusters of surgeonfish, and let large silver mobs of fusilier fish dart around us.
Soon I became exhausted. I gingerly made my way back to shore (the coral can be very sharp; we didn’t have flippers on). I rested for a moment. Louie joined me, and we headed to the little bar for a drink, stopping off at a couple bathroom stalls on the way.
The quintessential rural Thai bathroom generally consists of four wood walls, a hole in the ground, sometimes a bucket of water to splash in when you’re finished. This little stall wasn’t too different from the usual, except it had a out-of-place white metal door that could have been in any corporate office. A bright shiny silver knob glinted in the sunlight; it was hot to the touch. Vegetation was growing around the toilet hole, birds hovered overhead peeking in through the open ceiling, and a huge, black, fist-sized spider stared up at me. I could feel all eight eyes boring into me as I emptied my bladder into its home.
After I finished, I turned the shiny metal knob. To my dismay, it fell easily into my hand with one side of the door tumbling down the grassy slope. I swung my full weight into the door, grunting and collapsing into the motionless metal wall. I called out for Louie. I could hear him walk over to my stall door, and peer into the knob hole. He began laughing and pounding on the door to loosen it. I remembered the spider, by now scuttling around my bare feet as Louie’s fists made the walls shake. I backed into a corner, eyeing it and thinking hard.
“I’ll go get help, hold tight,” called Louie. I scoured my surroundings. I turned over the water bucket, hoping to reach the branches overhead so I could haul myself out over the top. I couldn’t climb high enough; I stayed glued to the wall with a wild arachnid at my feet and a redness spreading to my cheeks.
Louie returned with a few foreign voices trailing behind him, giggling fiercely. As they sauntered over to the door, a rush of marijuana smoke drifted into my nostrils. I wondered how these stoned Thais were going to aid in my predicament. Suddenly a long, thin knife slid into the hole; a red, drowsy eye at its hilt. The young lad picked at the locking mechanism, every once in a while looking at me and snickering. He thrust the knife under the door towards my feet. “I think they want you to try for a while,” Louie said. I picked it up. It was light and flimsy, no good for anything but flaying a fish. I’ve never been mechanical; this was clearly going to be no exception.
“No, wait, stand back,” Louie ordered. A giant BOOM immediately shook the door, the walls and the earth around me. It was piercing with a resounding hum that hovered long after the initial connection. I imagined an ice pick the size of a giant’s tongue puncturing the doorway, the bearer’s eyes crazed and manic. My cell became smaller as my nemesis scurried wildly around my feet. Several hacks and one well-place Muay Thai kick later, the door burst inward. I was released into the clutches of a sort of blitzed-out fan club
Four young dreadlocked Thai men accompanied Louie on the other side of the debris holding an oversized axe and tucking a few blunts behind their ears. They were hysterically amused. I too burst into laughter, tiptoeing over the rubble into my compadre’s arms. It was a great story, an interesting beginning to a terrific friendship, and another reason to embrace the unexpected, or rather, another day in paradise.