“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.” -Mark Twain
Trying to decide what to name this post, it occured to me that we’ve been here for four months! What a ride it’s been (or lack thereof concerning the bicycles). I rode my bike once on the island which amounted to pushing up ridiculously steep paths and carrying the bike up the hill. At the top, I blew out a sidewall on my tire and pushed back home. Lauren was kind enough to send me this meme to cheer me up. Other than that it has been scooters that get us around the island. Sometimes we even get a random island dog who wants to hitch a ride.
Where to begin? Reading the last post from February just now was strange. It feels almost like we were different people then. I’m looking at the pictures, and half the people in them have left the island. We’ve since been to Malaysia, may or may not have 2 brand new tattoos and made some amazing new friends as well as continued the metamorphisis into the people we really are meant to be.
At the beginning of February, we had the most amazing day and night of our lives! It was Goodtime’s 10 year anniversery extravaganza and what a party it was. It started with climbing and abseiling on the mountain. Lauren was on duty showing the guests her stuff while I was dangling 20 meters up hanging from a rope and looking out at the most spectacular view of Sairee beach. Next was rock climbing. I got to see what Lauren does everyday and was humbled and impressed even on the “beginner wall.” The afternoon moved down the hill to the full size flying trapeze setup. We both climbed up the platform (Lauren for the second time) and wow, what a rush! The very first swing, you are upside down hanging from your knees with no hands 30 feet in the air and backflipping to dismount. It was a blast and the instructor Jemma was phenomenal. The daytime activities were only the beginning though. When the sun went down, the party started. There was awesome live music all night and we nearly collapsed the deck at the bar due to the jumping and dancing. There were goodtime tattoos for 500 Baht in the bar… Who were we to pass up a deal like that?
The official party ended, but we were on a roll so we kept it going. There was more dancing and late night swimming in the ocean. We went to bed with the sun and walked away with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. Our place on this island was solidified and we decided that we are staying here. You can call it a home if you like, but we are thinking of it more as a base… A jumping off point for future travels and a place to store scuba and climbing gear.
Living on Koh Tao is wonderful, but one unavoidable aspect of life here is the visa situation, which took us to yet another country. If our trip to Myanmar for visas was interesting, the most recent trip to Panang Malaysia was eye opening to say the least. Without getting into too many details, we need to leave Thailand periodically in order to renew our visas due to weird government tourism policies. The reason we went to Panang this time was because there is a proper Thai embassy and you can get a 2 month extension instead of 30 days. In true Orlosky fashion, we waited until the last minute and rushed to get a joint boat/bus ticket since the train we wanted to take was out of service. The trip began on another night boat and in the morning, we arrived in Surat Thani, Thailand and were shuffled about onto a “Mini Bus” which is basically the Asian equivalent to a church van. Thus began the all day trip through the South of Thailand into Malaysia.
At one point we were told to get out of the van in a city called Hat Yai in Southern Thailand and we waited in an open air room for 2 hours. No one told us what was going on, but we deduced that we were switching vans for the next leg. We wandered around a bit and had some great Thai food for lunch. We didn’t eat anything too adventurous since we still had hours in a van with no idea when the next stop would be. The border crossing into Malaysia was pretty benign and we learned that US citizens get an automatic 90 day visa for free which is good to know for future travels. The difference between Thailand and Malaysia was a lot bigger than we expected. Everything felt a lot more Western except for the calls to prayer on the loud speakers. The cars and the clothes were more familiar and the road signs were in English as well as Malay which uses latin characters.
As we rolled into Panang we laughed at how excited everyone was to see a Pizza Hut. Living on a 21 km sq (13 mile) island makes you forget about a lot of “normal” things. We were told to get out on some street in Panang and pointed towards Jim’s which was our travel agency. It amounted to two guys, a computer and a couch, but they knew their stuff. We had little more than our passports in hand and Jim took care of all the rest. We stayed at a recommended place called Chulia Mansion which was a bit pricey at about 45 USD per night, but there was a rooftop wine bar with a free happy hour every night.
We met some interesting folks on the roof. There was Paul, from the UK who volunteered at the animal shelter on Phuket, and also Peter. He was in his 70’s and expatriated from the US to retire in Chang Mai. He had an amazingly interesting life, serving in Vietnam, driving long haul trucks across the US, and traveling the world. We learned a lot from one another, for some reason our tendency to gravitate towards older folks continues. Maybe it’s their wisdom, or perspective, or maybe it’s ours.
We spent time in Panang doing the requisite dumb tourist stuff like taking an elevator to the lookout on the tallest building which turned out to be hilarious. We were shuffled around and made to stand in queues even though we were the only ones there. At the top, after looking at the view, we decied to have a drink. The bar was very swanky and I hadn’t had a proper martini in ages so I ordered one since it was on the menu. After watching a conference of four employees and a manager trying to make the drink I realized I should have ordered a beer. What they presented was brilliant. It amounted to a glass of spoiled vermouth, a splash of gin, and a handful of black olives and a lemon twist! Lauren and I split her beer and thanked them with a smile.
The rest of the trip was a lot of fun. We went to a mall to get Lauren some climbing clothes and a few other little things and boy were we ever lucky. There was a giant video arcade on the top floor. We raced motorcycles, shot zombies, played drums, danced and flew fighter jets all afternoon. It was good clean family fun!
We ate amazing food the entire trip. From schwarma to Indian to traditional Malay cuisine, it was all so full of flavor. We had such a good time that we stayed an extra day and can’t wait to go back. Duty was calling back on Koh Tao though.
After returning to Thailand via van we had a nice dinner at the pier market in Surat Thani. Next we boarded the boat which had side by side mattresses covering the entire floor with no aisles. It was not what I would call a modern vessel. The constant creaking and groaning of the hull made for less than stellar sleep. In order to use the bathroom at night you had to step over sleeping people in the aisles. Oh well, just another night in Thailand. We made it though and were welcomed back to the island by our amazing friends!
The next few weeks were the definition of amazing and we’ve been the happiest we’ve ever been in our lives. There is something special about this island. It is not the beautiful beaches and mountains, although they are gorgeous. It is something deeper than that. It’s in the people, it’s an attitude that nearly everyone shares. The people who don’t share it don’t stay more than a day or two. No one here seems to care about trivial stuff. Of course there is some gossip and occasional drama. We’ve been robbed while swimming late night, but the thief left our phones, wallets and bank cards. It might sound weird but I wasn’t even mad.
My arthritis has even improved here. It may be the climate or my diet, but I can’t help but think the lack of stress in my life has helped immensly. Not every day is perfect, and we still have problems, but by and large, life is the best it’s ever been. Also, I just finished my training to be a divemaster.
In a flying squadron in the Air Force, there is a right of passage known as the
“naming”. Once you achieve a certain level of experience and acceptedness, the boys deem you worthy and are given a callsign. (ie. Maverick/Goose) You spend some time in front of the crowd whilst being berated and demeaned for all the stupid things you’ve done since being in the squadron. At the end, you drink a shot in some ludicrous way and are given your callsign. Needless to say, the night involves heavy drinking and no one I know remembers much from their naming. Little did I know when starting this new venture that the diving community has a similar tradition.
The dreaded snorkel test is not meant for the pleasure of the person experiencing it. It is purely for the entertainment of everyone else. My test was at Goodtime’s bar with a select group of dive pros and some local friends. It started with myself and my fellow DMT (Dive master trainee) Polina, being dressed in ridiculous outfits and paraded in front of everyone while they cheered. Next, we were subjected to dive trivia like converting metric depths to standard while drinking and other questions we clearly would not know. Things are a bit foggy in my memory, but there were charades to act out different fish, being dunked in a bucket of ice water with a scuba regulator in and having to fill up a mask and clear it. There was also a scuba strip tease for our lovely spouses. All the while, our performance was being evaluated and a concoction of booze and disgusting mixers were being poured into buckets conveniently placed behind us.
The coup de gras was the actual snorkel test. I was given a specially modified mask and snorkel with a giant funnel atached to the top and just for fun the mask had prescription glass suited for someone with 20/500 vision so I could not see anything. There was a countdown, then the bucket was poured into my funnel and I had to chug it as fast as possible before drowning in booze! I remember thinking, “I’m 32 years old, what the hell am I doing?” The Blue Curacao, gin, vodka, and tequila were not the problem. It was the Baily’s Irish Cream mixed with lime juice! For all of you scientists out there, dairy curdles when mixed with citrus… Surprisingly I got the whole thing down, I didn’t realize this at the time becuase once I finished it, they poured the remainder of my partner’s bucket in mine which included among other yummy treats, spicy Thai rice soup from a styrofoam carton, M150 which is Thai Redbull on steroids and more lime juice. Once that hit my throat my literal gut reaction was instantanious and I gagged and spit up all over my wetsuit… Which by the way had the sleeves and pantlegs taped shut. During this whole ordeal, I also had a giant bucket of ice water dumped down into the wetsuit which was now completely sealed. Thinking I failed miserably, I took my mask off and was greeted with two dozen cheering laughing faces! I was presented with my professional diver certification and could not have been happier. Somehow I managed to continue the night and though the details are hazy, I’m pretty sure I had a great time!
Lauren is about to finish her rock master course also and our next adventure is starting soon. What started as a two week break from cycling on has turned into an incredible life changing experience. We’ve got amazing new friends, a new place to call home, new careers suitable to traveling and genuine happiness.