Life on Koh Tao

Definitely not our dog… or our bike!

“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.

Happy birthday Nate!

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.

* Thanks to Charly for the awesome snorkel party photos!

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Being happy is the only thing that matters…

A few years ago in San Antonio Texas, we were out at a bar with our friend Mike. He was travelling across the country and went out of his way to meet us while I was there for some training. We have a running deal that wherever I travel to, he will come visit. We went out for drinks and had a ball. We wound up at “Howl at the Moon”, a dueling piano bar where they had two giant mirrors behind the stage where you could pay money to write a message. The deal was, pay a dollar more than the last person, and they would erase their message and replace it with yours. Our message was, “Being happy is the only thing that matters. If you’re not happy, it’s your own damned fault!”. It stayed on the wall for hours.

We are doing exactly what we want and we’re really happy! Seriously, it’s not some unattainable goal that you can’t achieve because of bills or debt or illness… All that is required is wanting it and taking the first step. We just found what really makes us happy, then took the steps to make that our life! I’ll talk about our journey, but I think the basic principles can apply to anything you want out of life whether it’s travel or restoring an old car or changing careers. Also, yes, you can totally do crazy random shit with kids. We see people all over the place with them. A girl in my scuba class has a 7 year old who goes to the international school in Koh Tao and runs around the hostel or plays on the beach all day! He is guaranteed to grow up and be awesome. We see him playing computer games and being a normal kid, who also speaks three languages. So sit back, grab a beer and listen to a part of our story. Or don’t, either way you should sit back and have a beer because it is Wednesday… I think.

Our lives were very different 5 years ago. The circumstances and details don’t really matter that much, but we both remember when it all started to change. We were on Christmas break from work and school and took a trip to Florida to visit my brother and his in-laws somewhere outside of Daytona. They had a second house on a beautiful plot of land where they kept their harness racing horses in the winter. They suggested a campground a mile or two down the road and Lauren and I, along with my folks, each stayed in the campground “Cabins”. In reality they were park model trailers with wood siding permanently parked on the campground which most resort style camping places will have. The trip was great, but that is not why I’m talking about it. About ten minutes after we got the keys to the cabin, which was maybe 180 square feet with a sleeping loft upstairs, we looked at each other and said, “We could live in one of these!” The trip came and went and we didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward a few months and we were living in an old farmhouse in Mississippi, driving 35 and 40 minutes to work everyday and thinking we had it made. I was flying my ass off in the Air Force and Lauren was finishing up her bachelor’s degree. We had plenty of money and were saving a bit while spending the rest. We spent several months there until one day we realized we had multiple rooms that had nothing in them but boxes and mattresses that no one slept on. We had been living in this house for months and hadn’t opened half of our stuff. Thus, the great idea was born!

It took a few months of brainstorming and ideas, but soon I was calling the campground in Florida to get the information for the manufacturer of the cabin. We had decided to minimize and build a tiny house. We had it custom built and lived happily for 2 years in our charming little cabin on wheels.

Here comes the first lesson we learned: You don’t need stuff! There are a dozen cliches about your stuff owning you and every one of them is absolutely true. We sold what was valuable on Craigslist and had a garage sale for the rest. We kept the toys that took us outside (bikes, backpacks, kayaks etc.) since that is what made us happy. At the end of the garage sale we were giving away hundreds of dollars worth of stuff just to get rid of it. We didn’t miss any of it! Space became our new concern instead of price if we bought something. We just made “compromises” like having the one cup Keurig instead of the giant deluxe model. We actually became stronger as a couple because we were never more than 10 feet away from one another. When we had company over, we had to go outside… Oh darn.

There was definitely some bad with the good, towing the tiny house was awful due to the fact that it was a barn door on the highway. Living in a campground in Mississippi introduced us to some very eccentric neighbors, but also we made some great friends and had some wild times. Overall we loved it. I got a new assignment in the Air Force and we towed it all the way to Tucson, Arizona where we had a sweet gig. We parked it in our friend Mike’s backyard and I paid $250 to have a 50 amp plug installed so we could have electricity. He was a Snowbird and only spent part of the year in Tucson, so we had a million dollar view for the low price of keeping an eye on his place while he was gone. Nothing great lasts forever and he ended up selling the place so we decided to downsize once again and moved into an Airstream trailer so we could be more mobile. The tiny house was a pain to sell but that’s another story.

Our neighbors.

We continued to downsize, even though we really didn’t have to. It became a habit to go through our closet every few months and get rid of crap we didn’t wear. We realized we don’t need 3 skillets, we need one. People in the Air Force gave me shit all the time for being weird, but I just smiled as they drove away in their brand new cars to their giant houses that were costing them thousands of dollars a month. Our cars were paid for with cash and I made another great discovery.

Mr. Money Mustache is a quasi famous financial blogger who is less about finance and more about living a reasonable life and not blowing all your money on stupid stuff. He retired at 30 and is living a dream life in Colorado on $25,000 a year with a family of three. Check out his website for the details. Loosely following his philosophy, we we were putting aside over half of our take-home pay to pay down debt and when that was done, we were saving that money. We made reasonable choices and didn’t buy things that didn’t increase our happiness. We weren’t living destitute by any means though. The small RV fridge was always stocked with top shelf IPAs and Lauren cooked gourmet dinners most days of the week. We tried to stick to a policy of only going out to eat for things we couldn’t cook like Indian and Ethiopian food. We obviously had moments of weakness, but overall the principles worked. The plan was to finish out my commitment to the Air Force, then go travel the world on bicycles, taking breaks when we ran out of money and doing part time work like caretaking, bartending or maybe becoming a scuba instructor. In the meantime, we spent a lot of time outside and made awesome friends. Life in Tucson was good!

This has been hanging in my office for years.

Crashing a random wedding rehearsal with Luu, a warmshowers guest and Ben n Kelly!

Things do not always go as planned. I got hit with a curveball as I was finishing up my training in the A-10. I found out I have arthritis in my back and wouldn’t be able to fly fighters anymore. Long story short, I was medically discharged, and our adventures would be starting a little earlier than planned with a little less cushy financial cushion. We could have stayed in Tucson. I could have easily found a job with Raytheon making good money or flown for the airlines, but we didn’t want more money, we wanted to see the world. Sometimes life happens… You can either bitch and complain about how things aren’t fair, or you can not do that and find something else that makes you happy… We chose the latter.

I don’t know very much. I’m 32 years old and just trying to live the best life I can. I have had some shitty luck and some good luck. Actually no, there is no luck. You’ve got to make your own luck. Anything else is just an excuse. What I do know is that even if I had a billion dollars, I’d be sitting on the exact same island I’m on right now with the exact same person riding the exact same bikes. I’d still be drinking a Cha Tri Thai IPA and probably still typing this on a bluetooth keyboard on my cell phone.
Space has become the ultimate commodity for us living on bikes and we make all of our purchases (not many) based on that more than price. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m happy. The journey to that happiness was an unexpected one, and certainly didn’t happen overnight. You don’t need to sell all of your stuff and go ride bikes in a foreign country to be happy, unless that is really what you want.

What you do need to do, at least if you bothered to read this far, is take that beer in your hand, walk away from your computer and go outside. Sit on the cold ground for a few minutes and think about what you would do if you didn’t have to work anymore. It sounds like a high school guidance counselor exercise, but honestly go do it. Whatever the thing is that you came up with, make it your priority. Make it a financial priority over the new car you were going to buy or the trip to an all inclusive resort in Cancun or even that $60 steak from Ruth’s Chris (Unless it’s your birthday, then eat the most expensive steak you can find). Make it a time priority instead of wasting time on the internet or spending time at lame office parties with people you don’t like.

If you think it is unachievable, or retirement is too far off, the next time you are going to check facebook or watch cat videos on the internet, read a Mr. Money Mustache article or find some other way to get closer to that goal. Or don’t… Do whatever you want.

As I write this, am sitting here on a tropical island in a room that costs less than $9 a night. The air conditioner is not even connected because we don’t need it and my biggest problem in the world right now is the fact that we have to run to the border in Myanmar tomorrow night to re-enter Thailand so we can stay longer. Actually, that’s my second biggest problem, the first is deciding if I want to be a scuba diving instructor, or ride my bicycle with my wife up the Eastern coast of Myanmar. And it’s Thursday… I think.