Attack of the Dead Fish and Other Misdemeanors – Koh Tao, Surat Thani Province, Thailand

Attack of the Dead Fish and Other Misdemeanors

Koh Tao, Surat Thani Province, Thailand

The view from my bungalow
The view from my bungalow
There are 28 days until I depart Irish shores for the tropics once again. My parents are worried that I’m heading into what is for them, very unknown territory. I’ve always felt very safe when I am traveling in Thailand and I expect the same will be the case when I am traveling in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and wherever else I may end up. Although now that I have said that I will no doubt get captured by tribesmen and taken hostage until they realize that my family isn’t rich and then let me go free with a fantastic story to tell the grandkids. In fact I never really worry about my safety which I guess some people would think is a stupid. There’s not much point in worrying about things. It doesn’t exactly achieve much. If you don’t walk into danger and act like a stupid tourist you generally get by ok as far as I am concerned. Although I did manage to royally fuck up practically everything just before I returned home from my last trip to Thailand.

I stayed over three months in South East Asia in 2003 and although I had the best intentions of traveling to Laos and Cambodia I never really made it further than Koh Tao. I was traveling with a friend of mine and when we got on the overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani we didn’t really know what island we were going to, we just knew that the beach and the simple life beckoned. It could have been really depressing. We met an Irish religion teacher in Kanchanaburi and he was also heading to the islands on the south western coast. God, what a hellish thought! It’s weird how I sometimes manage to end up with people with whom I have absolutely no interest in sharing my life with. Some people have no sense of situation and don’t really understand if you have no connection. They seem to hang on until you quite rudely have to run away when they’re not looking. Then you have the misfortune of having to live in fear of meeting them again, this time armed with a humble excuse about falling off a train or getting kidnapped.

On the overnight train I met a great Israeli couple who had some even better whiskey, which they asked me to share with them. Whiskey being my drink of choice I jumped at the chance and before I knew it Schmulick and Kathy had invited me to come and stay at their guesthouse on Koh Tao. Needless to say, the religion teacher who had voluntarily taken on the role of my father, was not impressed with my choice of travel acquaintances. This made me very happy indeed and that was the last we saw of him. No humble excuses needed.

Kathy and Schmulick had taken a lease on a charming, run down, bungalow outfit on a quiet part of Koh Tao, away from the diving hoards. We were made feel very welcome and I soon found it very difficult to imagine myself being anywhere else. My friend felt the same. The king of Sunset Bungalow was a German man named Roland. He lived in a blue wooden house and his life was the stuff of dreams. He grew up in Bavaria and was the only male in a family of cackling hens. He soon started to feel the family pressure to take over and run the farm. Instead when he was still a teenager he packed up and moved to Thailand and later Koh Tao. He had a long tail boat which he used to take travelers on snorkeling trips around the island. Roland was a wise man, part scientist, part fisherman and part philosopher. He was a very powerful presence, his face was weathered and tanned and his hair which was once brown had been completely bleached by the sun. He was a spear fisherman and we became friends of sort. I accompanied him on a spear fishing trip and he was quite proud to point out a cave in Mango Bay that he lived in for a stint over 15 years ago. It wasn’t really a cave, more like three great rocks arranged in a way that gave a certain amount of shelter. He brought rice and vegetables there and water from the local market, which at that time was a house with some basic items for sale. No 7-11s in those days. The rest of his time was spent fishing.

My home on Koh Tao
My home on Koh Tao
On that particular spear fishing trip I was sunbathing on Roland’s long tail boat as Roland fished the aqua depths with his high tech underwater fishing equipment. When he finally surfaced with his days catch I looked on excitedly. He hung onto the edge of the boat as he slid what to him was merely one unimpressive Spanish mackerel but was to me a bloody large fish. Only I don’t have much experience with tropical fish and their teeth and I didn’t realize that as the fish slid into the boat, its mouth was agape, its razor sharp teeth were slicing through the flesh on my right foot. You would think that I would have felt something but the teeth had cut right through whatever nerves there were and left a 2 inch gaping hole from which blood was spuriously spurting. Only I didn’t notice until we were happily motoring home. I was naïve enough to think that the fish was bleeding until Roland told me that the fish had been dead for over an hour and its bleeding had long since ceased. I had been attacked by a dead fish.

Queue a trip to the local medic in Chalock Ban Khao, the giant Roland carrying me on his back over the sand like an overly romanticized war movie rescue. His logical brain explained to me that if I was to get sand in my large wound I my foot would become very infected. The medic poured some painful antiseptic on the wound and then stitched me up right there and then, 10 stitches. Very impressive.

I didn’t take too kindly to the inhibitions of my new affliction. I couldn’t get my foot wet and I couldn’t get any sand in the wound for fear of infection and I was now walking with a new quite affected stride. Very glamorous if you can imagine and perfect considering I was living on an island. Before I lapse into realms of self pity I should get on with my story. Eventually I left Koh Tao and my friends and I traveled on my own to the island of Koh Chang where I spent time reading and avoiding the sand and the water and laughing to myself at the situation I had gotten myself into. My wound had become infected and was quite painful and had no signs of healing any time soon, and my limp was now more fitting to a spaghetti western than a tropical island. On the night that I was leaving the beautiful Koh Chang I asked my guesthouse owner to wake me at 7 a..m because I had to get the ferry to the mainland at 8 a.m. the following morning. He assured me in the way that only a Thai person can that I would indeed be awoken and in plenty of time to get a taxi to the ferry port.

When I awoke I was quite happy that my body clock had adjusted to the day ahead and I was awake before my alarm call. I read for a bit and decided what I was going to wear that day and strolled to the restaurant to grab a bite to eat. That’s when I saw the clock. It said 7.40. They had forgotten to wake me. My ferry was departing at 8 a.m. and I had yet to pack my bag and get to the port which was about 20 minutes away by car. Frantically I explained this to one of the staff who thought the situation was amusing but were very helpful. It was quickly arranged that I was to be brought to the port by one of the staff. Spurred on by my obvious state of panic my chauffeur speed and swerved around bends and I can safely say that I am responsible for instilling road rage in a more often calm and peaceful Thai man. We arrived at the port but the ferry had already departed. If I had gotten the next ferry I would have had to get the next boat and then arrived in Bangkok too late to get to the airport and on my flight home. I could see the mainland from the port. I called the office that was connected to the ferry and minibus service and they agreed to wait for me. I arrived to the mainland the dramatic way, in a friendly fisherman’s boat, much to the dismay of the other passengers who were made wait until I arrived.

When I arrived in Bangkok at 3.30 in the afternoon I had relaxed enough to laugh at the morning’s chaos. My state of Zen didn’t last too long however as it seemed that the man who had packed the bags onto the minibus had forgotten to pack mine. My flight was leaving Bangkok airport that night at 00.10 and my bag was six hours away by bus. My first thought was to go to the office where I had booked the ticket and ask for help. They looked at me as though I was a madwoman and told me that I they were not sure if they could have my bags back until the following day. A few phone calls later it was confirmed that my bag was definitely still in the office of the minibus. Out of sheer kindness and perhaps pity some arrangements were made to get my bags to Bangkok that very night. Only problem with this situation being that my bags would not arrive until 11 and my flight was leaving just over an hour later and I still had to get to the airport. The kind man in the travel agents helped me further by suggesting that we call the airline and confirm that I was going to be checking in late and ask if they could keep the gate open for me. It was a slim chance but I didn’t really have many options. So my travel agent took my ticket and was about to call my airline when he told me that my flight had left already. To this day I have no idea what absent mindedness led me to be so stupid as to make my final mistake. The icing on the cake I suppose you could call it. My flight was leaving at 00.10 on the 14th. It was the 14th when I stood in the travel agents office. In my head my flight was that night at ten minutes past 12 a.m., that night which of course was not the 14th but the 15th. I have always had some kind of retarded inability to understand the time or any matters numeric for that matter.

I walked like John Wayne down that Khao San Road, dragging my foot behind me, tears running down my face, bagless and homeless with 500 Thai Bhat in my pocket to get me home. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry so I did both. Blubbering I realized that I was one of those freaks that so often frequent that street. The people you see and wonder to yourself about, asking how they ended up in such a royal mess.

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