Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The compass

How did I ever end up here?

My trip to Europe in many ways was significantly easier than Asia, at least in terms of my expectations. We always stayed along a very well known path, saw very well known cities, and spoke very well known (for us at least) languages. I had grown up seeing pictures of white stucco walls of Greece, and romantic street light lit movies in Paris… I could easily point to each city on a map. Every new city I experienced a feeling of “I can’t believe I’m actually here! A place that I’ve seen so many times but am actually experiencing for real…” A bit like seeing a movie star.

My time in Asia, however, has been considerably more unexpected... More like meeting some strange individual that you’ve heard bits and pieces about, but need to spend time with to really to get to know.

One feeling I find myself repeatedly experiencing is wondering how I even got myself in certain situations. I know how I physically made it, but it’s as if my consciousness needs time to catch up with me… as if there is such a high level of new stimuli which I have no frame of reference for that I need to pause, take it all in and realize that this is truly happening to me. Getting to “The Sanctuary” in Koh Phangan was definitely one of those situations.

To begin with, I’ve realized that every time I leave for a new location on my own I become quite apprehensive. A few people have, amiably, told me that I must be brave to manage such a trip by myself (well at least bits of it on and off), but I can't ignore the fear of the unknown before I strike out on my own. After spending almost a week with some friends in Koh Samui and Haad Rin, I did my best to let this anxiety slide off my shoulders and I headed towards the pier for The Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary, a yoga retreat on the same island as Haad Rin (better known for its infamous full moon parties), is quite remote, and most easily accessible by boat. Unfortunately, however, the waters were too choppy and I was informed I need to take an off road taxi. What they neglected to tell me, when I asked a few hours prior, is that these “taxis” have set times.

Once I made it to the pier, the taxi drivers told me one truck had just left, and I would need to wait until more other travelers show up. Pardon? I just need to wait some unspecified amount of time until a few more yogis heading in the same direction simply “show up”? The closest estimation they gave me is "maybe in two hours", at 7:30pm, when the last boat from Koh Samui comes in. At this point I was already exhausted after trying to sleep in (what I considered) quite filthy, raucous and humid bungalows on the beach in Haad Rin and was feeling entirely disgusting… Combine that with my fear of the unfamiliar and my western expectations of travel times (quite a high demand on a tropical island I am aware) and I nearly gave up on the whole idea. Luckily they decided my business alone was worthy of a trip over, and shortly I climbed into one of the pick-up truck “shuttles” that would take me to Haad Tien.

With my backpack bouncing along in the back, we pushed our way through a trail in the Thai jungle. Now this was an adventure, at least by my standards! The craziness of the bumps and hills, and the fact that I was going to the middle of nowhere on a little island, in a pick-up truck, with some random Thai driver, alone, somehow brought a smile to my face. Every second airborne (yes, that kind of ride) brightened my mood. How did I even get here? Where am I? How am I actually managing this?

Forty five minutes later, I ended up at the Sanctuary. 
The reception area


I kicked off my flip flops at the reception (the inside, if you can qualify it as such as it’s open air, requires bare feet, which I love) and landed myself a dorm for 200 baht a night,roughly $6.50 cad. 

My dorm room
and the view

The main area is built almost entirely of bamboo and being on the beach, you can feel the breeze as you sip on coconut water in a hammock (love fulfilling those stereotypes) or eat some of their (naturally) vegetarian food. Though the food and classes are expensive by Thai standards, it’s still reasonable enough for a backpacker. Their array of choices from a little Japanese style futon on the ground in the dorms to upscale air conditioned bungalows cater to variety of people.

And is it ever a variety of people! My first impression of the place was like a Thai version of the Naam crossed with Wreck Beach. I suppose I expected a bunch of health conscious granola types, which they are, but I didn’t quite realize the level of eccentricity I would find here. Everyone here seem to own only sarongs, tie-dye, fisherman pants and feathers… Many clearly enjoy psychedelics, and greet one another with hands in prayer saying “Namaste”.  Of all the places I choose for my week alone in Thailand, I end up here. Clearly I have more of my father’s bend toward unconventionality in me than I realize!

Most notable of the individuals I’ve met have been a very spiritual Norwegian yoga instructor, S, and a Torontonian named River. Usually I don’t include names in my blog, but when you change your name to something like that... Well I couldn't help but to use it to illustrate the kind of people I’m meeting here. My first night the two of them had such surreal conversation that my fatigue seemed to melt away.

Needless to say, River was quite adamant that I try something to “connect with the universe” and that I could later use that experience as a reference point, or something along those lines… Not really a choice for me personally, but interesting to hear his point of view! S, who, having put sunscreen on my back two days in a row, declared my skin felt better today. Had I practiced yoga? My energy was different. Yogis I tell you.

I met another Canadian, J, here, who had just spent the last three years teaching English in Korea. Definitely a bit more Commercial Drive than Kits (loving my Vancouver references in this post), but she had danced her whole life too, so we got along well. After chatting for a while, she was very sweet and gave me her compass as she was heading home in the next few days. What a useful tool! I never thought of it. If ever I’m lost in a city (always), in a taxi that may or may not be heading in the right direction (likely), or in the middle of some random island, I can always have a little bit of direction. I feel much more prepared to deal with those “how did I ever end up here and where the am I??” moments.

Check out the Sanctuary's website :