Exit From Paradise?
December 21, 2009: Koh Phangnan, Thailand.
So, here I am, lost and alone in the dense jungle, surrounded by thick overgrown vegetation as far as the eye can see. No trail, no opening, no landmark… Shit! Fuck! Just trees and shrubs and flowers and vines. Of course I have no compass or map or any real sense of direction. My water bottle is almost empty and to make things as difficult as possible, I have no boots… Only flip flops and this particular stretch of jungle has a great variety of poisonous snakes. Great, just great; how do I get myself into these situations? And more importantly, how do I get myself out?
Yeah, I know, I’ve used a similar opening before, last winter in the desert. As it turned out, I wasn’t as lost as I led my readers to believe. And the same is true, more or less, this year. I’m on the island of Koh Phangnan after all. And although the jungle is rather dense here, this island is not that big and there are lots of guesthouses and some roads. If I walk in one direction for enough hours, I will run into a road or a guesthouse or the ocean from where I can get assistance. So I’m not lost as in totally lost never going to find my way back lost. I just don’t know where I am at the moment and the poisonous snakes are a problem for my flip flop clad feet.
So how did I get here? The same way I always get lost. I got stoned out of my mind and went for a walk. I was perfectly comfortable and relaxed taking it easy in paradise. There’s a reason Koh Phangnan is one of the most popular backpacker places in the world. This island really does have it all. For the last week or so, I’ve been staying at a place on Coral Beach. The place is pretty much perfecto. Decent bungalows only cost 25 baht (8 bucks) and they are within a stone’s throw of the beach. Hammocks to swing in, a sea kayak to use, good snorkeling and a damn good inexpensive restaurant; given such luxuries and such a bargain price, why go any where? Why do anything?
Honestly, I have been thinking about this question a lot lately. No doubt, a hammock on the beach and a nice bag of weed give a man good environs for thinking. Why leave paradise? Why choose to get lost? I realize I am very lucky to be even able to ask this question. Most people seem to be still searching to find their first paradise while I get to travel from paradise to paradise all over the planet. Maybe that’s what life is all about. Searching for paradise, finding it and then leaving it behind to search for it again. It’s the search that counts….the quest….the adventure. Because the truth is, after a while, paradise gets boring.
I am comfortably stoned and lying in a hammock. I have a good book to read and a view of the ocean. I alternate between reading and watching the waves tumble onto the shore. The white foam sparkles and glitters in the sunlight. A good cheap restaurant is close by. It’s Thailand, so if I want a woman, all I have to do is ask. All my needs are taken care of. There is no reason to do anything. Why not spend the entire winter right here doing nothing? Why risk foot infection and illness and injury or even death. Why suffer through hot and sweaty public transportation? Why risk kidnapping by terrorists or robbery and murder? Why risk anything now that I have it all?
Actually, it’s the same question I asked before I even left Oneonta this year. I’ve been traveling for 11 winters in a row now. Why keep going? It’s not as if I’m unhappy at home. I have an awesome new woman in my life who I really like. I have a good apartment and enough money to survive the winter doing nothing. I have lots of friends and no shortage of social events to attend. So why not stay home? I could cuddle up with my sweetie to escape the cold and spend the winter relaxing doing nothing. Why risk everything to go somewhere where I know no one and don’t even speak the language? It’s hard to explain really but I guess I can’t help myself. I have a compulsion to go. In a way, I am a living breathing rejection of the myth of Adam and Eve. I was not kicked out of Eden by an angry God because of my disobedience. No, not at all. Instead, I chose to leave. Freedom over slavery, action over inaction…life over death. I will have plenty of Perfect Peaceful Paradise when I want it in the future. But right now… I want to live!
So I rise from the hammock and head into the jungle. There’s a makeshift trail that theoretically heads over a small mountain to reach a beach in the next bay. I’ve been told the walk only takes an hour and a half. There’s a trail and I’m stoned so I don’t bother to change into my boots. Flip flops are all I need. I’ll make my way to the next beach, go for a swim and make my way back.
But alas, the trail is not easy to follow. It’s not well marked and it peters out occasionally only to start up again a short distance ahead. The jungle is beautiful, magical, and intense. There is thick vegetation, beautiful flowers and butterflies and the sound of animals that I can’t see moving around. I pass a couple of small waterfalls. I stop at one to smoke another joint. I continue on. It’s sort of a trail, but not really. It peters out again and then starts up again. After awhile the trail is gone for good and I am lost. No sign of a beach ahead in the distance and the way that I’ve come seems grown over with trees. How do I do this every damn year? The winter solstice is here and once again I am lost.
Yeah, I know. I’m not really that lost. It’s an island after all, how lost can I be? The snakes are a problem for my almost bare feet. They might bite or, even worse, offer me some forbidden fruit. But sooner or later I will find my way. I stumble through the jungle. Trip and fall and crawl. I’ve given up on finding the next beach and now head back generally in the direction I think I came. But I can’t see the ocean or even the sun. The vegetation is so thick it’s hard to orient myself. I don’t have a compass and my water bottle is almost empty. I start to get worried. Not a lot worried but a little. The uneasy feeling works its way into my core. Is this why I travel? To feel this way? Do I crave the sensation of being lost? The anguish, the fear, the lurking notion of panic? Do I like this? Is it something I long for? NO! No matter how you slice it, being lost really sucks…
I’m probably only lost for an hour or so before I come across a small waterfall. In my universe, waterfalls are good luck. I soak my head in the refreshing splash and I suddenly feel a whole lot better. The panic fades and calm returns. No worries Pat…you will find the way… I follow the stream down hill. Some minor rock climbing is required but it’s still easier than stumbling blindly through the thick vegetation. It doesn’t take very long before the stream crosses the trail… And the trail leads back to my bungalow. Oh the joy of being found.
That night in the restaurant, as I eat a delicious feast of green curry chicken, I realize the answer to the question I’ve been pondering. No, I don’t like to be lost. I don’t go traveling to lose myself. I like to be found. But you can’t find yourself unless you lose yourself first. That’s it really, the yin and the yang, the light and the dark. We can’t truly experience being found unless we are lost first. And we can’t appreciate paradise unless we suffer to get there. So no, I’m not going to sit here in this hammock eating good food and watching the waves roll on the beach for the next four months. I’m heading out into the great big world!