Don’t forget to pack your condoms!
The last couple of weeks I’ve been keeping myself busy traveling around the UK meeting friends and discussing adventures of the future.
But before I start informing you about my ins and outs of daily travels, what I ate and with whom, I thought I would give you a background about my relationship with the world.
Now, I have been on so many travels that it is impossible to be able to list these all together in one blog. To make it easier in my brain I have simply listed these as BG, RY and AM.
BG (Before Gay)
From the ages of 18-24 I was super uncomfortable in my skin. Looking back at pictures I question why anyone considered me straight. I first started traveling solo at 18 as a gun hoe solo backpacker. I was a closeted traveler with this murky belief that I was a character from a rubbish American movie and I would suddenly FIND myself while being on a beach in Thailand or climbing a glacier in New Zealand. I refused to wear makeup, wore questionable footwear and spent most of my time doing rather obviously butch activities and telling anyone who stood around long enough that I was not gay.
RY (Realisation years)
These were the years when I have realised that the polite laughter and inability to attract and hold on to someone of the opposite sex was more to do with my attraction to the same sex. Life slowed down rather a lot during these years. I moved to London, I met someone, my priorities change. However, I did still travel and I did create some incredible experiences during these years. I grew comfortable with the version of me. But no one likes comfortable.
AM (After Marriage)
Is where we are now. The future. Because it is still a changing world and there is still allot to discover. I am now 33 and now I realise I am nowhere nearer the profound statement of “I have found myself”
This Blog is set in BG, my first time away alone.
I am one of 4 girls which means a few things…
- My mother was a constant worrier.
- My father went grey very quickly, and
- Since I was one of the middle child and the quieter twin, the reins felt much looser.
To be fair, I was a good student, I worked hard, I was a well-behaved daughter. Claire (my twin) had decided to go to Australia for a year with a friend, so when I approached my parents with the plan to defer university for a year and go traveling myself they had no other choice to support me. The big difference was I wanted to go around the world, on my own. I was 18, this was a type of freedom I had never experienced. I had only been to a big city twice in my life.
I spent months going through routes and deciding where I could go. I decided on Thailand, Australia, America, home. This was big. But big comes with a price, so I had to work 3 jobs in a candle shop and local pubs, over the summer to raise enough money for my RTW ticket and spending money while I was away.
As the time grew closer to the beginning of the trip my mother started acting more frantic. Marching us around camping shops for backpacks, sleeping bags, and safari first aid kits. Sending us to get our vaccinations and even to the family planning clinic to ask for a year’s worth of condoms.
Now being a confused teenager who was still yet to have my first sexual encounter this was possibly one of the most awkward experiences in my life! Especially when trying to convince a nurse that it was necessary for me to have a massive bag of condoms because my Mother said so. When I left the clinic, I wasn’t sure how all this rubber would fit in my backpack as well as my “straight girls” sports hoodies and Bahamas surf shorts.
On a side note, when discussing this story with my sister’s years later I realised that this obsession my mother had that I would go away and come back spoiled only lasted as far as me. My mother’s preparation of my youngest sisters adventure at 18 was a can of deodorant and a tube of extra strong breath mints. She either had greater trust in the youngest or this was the greatest insult.
On the 21st September 2002, 10.50am. There I was standing in line ready to check in at Heathrow Airport. My oversized condom filled backpack weighted me down. It suddenly hit me, I had never been on a plane on my own. Mum in her panic state started befriending other panic struck mothers who were obviously sending their kids off for the first time.
“Rachael this is Kerry, she is going to Thailand too. You can be friends.”
Kerry and I smiled politely at each other, both completely mortified at to what was happening. We both knew as soon as the plane landed we were never seeing each other again. This discussion never happened. (although I did end up having dinner with Kerry randomly one night 2 months later.)
Looking back, I could never imagine how mum must have felt sending 50% of her nest away for the first time.
So, I discovered my old diary which I kept during my travels, It is the rambling thoughts of a sexually confused super awkward teenager. Who wore 3 quarter cut off jeans with walking boots and occasionally sandals and socks. I could pretend I haven’t spent my morning cringing at my own awkwardness but that would be lying. A book full of people I barely remember. Food I ate, sites I saw, boys I failed to interest and girls I admired.
I will always remember seeing Bangkok’s night skyline for the air for the first time. Strokes “last night” played loud on the headphones as we banked towards the city. This was definitely like some scene from the movie I imagined. This song will forever be etched in my mind as a reminder of my new found freedom. Upon landing I was met by taxi drivers, touts and travelers, different smells and expressions. People talking in Thai, People screaming in English Thai.
I followed the other backpackers like a bunch of fresh zombies until we were hit by evening’s warm air like a wall. I managed to get a tuk tuk to my hotel on the Kho San Road. The driver charged me 20 Baht (at the time it was 60 Baht to the £1) and I was incensed that the journey only took 4 minutes. I checked into the very plush hotel which would become the best accommodation I would stay in for the following 5 months.
I did, however, share my room with a scary looking spider that was using my mirror most of the stay and a beautiful barrel of piglets heads that sat directly outside my window.
So far Thailand was AMAZING.
The next couple of days I got on my feet, met some European travelers on the Khao san road, saw some temples, and made a plans to go trekking. It was all rather simple. What was all the fuss about? We headed up to Chang Mai on a sleeper bus. I remember it was rather cheap and easy but reading back in my diary I describe this as “the worse trip of my life” a statement that was soon beat when traveling with my sister and two Israeli surfers across the Nullarbor in a car, we didn’t quite fit in. (this story will be featured in a future blog)
So after 3 days of traveling from Bangkok to Chang Mai, I managed to have my first European poop and blamed the blockage on my new travel mate Julia. I never fully admitted it was me but hey if you ever read this Julia I guess you now know why the cleaner was so pissed off with you.
We went trekking, we climbed mountains, we swam in lakes, we sang songs next to burning fires and watched stars in front of epic waterfalls. We had an amazing experience.
But as all these trips go, I soon grew restless with the company I was keeping and started doing things on my own. This is when I met Heather. The frizzy haired, barefooted Canadian who was watching terrible chick flicks in the hotel bar. She was traveling on her own and In such a short time she became one of my life long best friends.
We spent the following days exploring the temples of Chang Mai until she decided to head to the islands in the south of Thailand. It was 3 days later the group I was with made the decision to head to Koh Pha Ngan to prepare for the full moon party a whole three weeks before the actual full moon! Understanding that this may become rather a messy affair, I decided to leave them and head off my own again.
What I soon discovered is you’re never really alone on a Backpackers trail. During the following long hours of none sleep and mindless boredom on the comedically named sleeper buses, you learn a lot about your fellow travelers. By the time we arrive in Koh Pha Ngan I had met a British couple who ended up changing their travel plans to entertain my notion that there was a hidden paradise beach a crazy haired Canadian had emailed me about on the other side of the island away from tourist glare.
But when we arrive, I had no idea where I was going. The bustle of swarming touts surrounded us. Suddenly like a life rope being thrown into a pit of snakes someone was calling my name and in a crazy turn of fate there was Heather, she had traveled to into town that morning and had a feeling I may have been arriving with no warning.
I was so relieved as I grabbed the Brits from the arms of a convincing tout and got them to join us on a harrowing journey on cliff edges, in the back of an open top pickup truck across the island to Dolphin bay. The trip was worth it when we arrived at this little piece of unknown paradise, years later I heard this area is now developed and rather popular with tourists, I am ever grateful we got to experience it in pure form. By the evening the 4 of us were sat under the stars on a deserted beach with a bottle of Sangsom and a barrel of cokes. The following week was bliss.
So for all those who have never visited Thailand, Sangsom is a type of Thai Rum. It is possibly one of the most popular Spirits drank in Thailand. It’s the type of stuff that puts hairs on your chest and makes you lose the use of your legs. Often serve to backpackers in a typical children’s sand castle bucket with a bottle of rocket fuel Redbull and a can of coke.
This elixir of misery is the only drink I have ever consumed in my 33 years that gave me forceful dehydrated uncontrollable muscle spasm at 4am followed by the wailing screams of pain, which left fellow travelers believing they would wake to the scene of a bloody murder. Instead, what they were met with is a 5ft2 hobbit wearing dark glasses and drinking bottled water like it was going out of fashion, walking like a toy soldier in and out of the sea.
Heather and I stuck together for the following weeks, traveling to Kho Sok national parks, tubing in rivers, climbing to Buddhist temples, learning how to wear those damn Thai around pants, canoeing in mangrove forest in Karbi, eating in local markets, we had such a great time, even after all these years we still laugh at the random memories of this super fit Candian followed around by this sweaty panting Brit.
This brings me to wildlife…growing up I always had a phobia of creepy crawlies, I would sleep with cotton wool in my ears a freak out at even the mention of insects. But in Thailand you have no choice but to embrace the wildlife, I once slept with a fruit bat hanging over my head, a massive monitor lizard on the wall next to me. A flea infested dog on my front step, An orangutan shaking our treehouse bungalow, bed bugs became a way of life. But the worse by far was scabies. I spent weeks tearing my skin apart at the horror to Heather, with a blotchy blood blistered chest which I couldn’t leave alone. Trying to communicate to the Thai ladies in the makeshift pharmacy that this was not sunburn while throwing my arms around like a crazy person was not my finest hour. There was no escaping it.
Heather eventually left me in Kho Lanta she claimed to head home but I suspected the sound of my nails on my skin had became too much, so I found a new group to hang out with. It was during this time that I realised I had not physically spoken to my parents for about 6 weeks.
It was different times, I didn’t carry a mobile, I wrote letters and sent postcards. Photos were physical memories taken on disposable cameras carried across the world. There was no social media, only email and even then you paid to use the Internet for 15-minute blocks and it was dial up. This strangely made being away from home much easier than I anticipated.
I remember finding out I could reverse charge calls in a dodgy Internet café in Ko Lanta and thought this was a great way to contact Mum and Dad. So on Christmas day, I did just that. I did not consider the time difference or the fact Dad being woken by a call from an operator simply saying …
“someone in Thailand would like to reverse charge a call”
would have put the fear of god into him. Calling them from a normal payphone would have been easier and cheaper. But I felt like my parents would like to pay to hear my voice and oh boy they did, months later Dad informed me that the 15-minute phone call, which I conducted under the suspicious eyes of an old local with questionable personal hygiene, cost him a staggering £60. MERRY CHRISTMAS.
For the locals, Thailand was not always easy on the backpacking trail. But they were such wonderful friendly people, from the two 4 year old children selling chewing gum to travelers at a maui thai game (who both knew 6 languages each fluently.) to the ladies on the night we met while out drinking. The local shop owner and her friends who spent all day singing Karaoke, the local restaurant owners that joined us to tell us about their lives.
My Christmas present to myself was my first diving experience, on New years day after spending a surreal night watching drunken worldly people dancing to the music in their own head while attempting to juggle fire, at a full moon party I headed to Kho Toa. I loved this island. Full of backpackers and scuba divers, It was like a safe haven for people who wanted the quieter life from that of the neighboring island of Koh Pha Ngan. Within a couple of days, I had made friends who were much cooler than me. I had a scabby dog that followed me around which we called flea. I felt like I belonged and decided that diving was my future, who needs money when you have the silence of the sea, so I called my parents I inform them I wasn’t coming home and wanted to defer university.
Of course this never happened, I eventually decided I had to follow my path into university and thus I had to carry on with my trip. However, I do often think about that day and wonder what sort of person I would be now if I had just followed my heart and not my head.
So with a heavy heart, I eventually decided I had to repack my bag and head onwards…
Thailand 2002 was more than I had ever expected, I made friends I still speak to years later. I still have stories I keep secret for those random dinner parties as conversation fillers. I still look at Buddha and remember the colours, the smells, the silence of that little temple, the peace I felt under my awkward exterior when I was 18 and worry free.