Island Musings

There's something poetic about my thoughts since I've arrived on Phi Phi. The feelings and things I'm experiencing are being documented in my head in a way I've never done before. My thoughts are quieter, slower. Less deliberate, but more genuine. Maybe the slowness of our first few days here have allowed my brain to process more completely, more eloquently. The beginning of this trip I struggled with an underwhelmed feeling I can only attribute to severe jet lag. It's a fog I have only recently been able to shake. I came out of the haze slowly, experiencing certain moments that even lack of sleep couldn't fog: seeing the island for the first time from the deck of the ferry that brought us here. We arrived at dusk and the shadows made the island look mysterious and full of adventure. Then again, hearing the native birds sing their foreign song for the first time. It seemed like they had more to say; a more involved and interesting story to tell.

I think about the way the sky looks above the mountains here: a solid royal blue during the day that shifts at dusk into a soft yellow that covers every surface like a warm filter. Then the colors deepen and change (oranges to reds to purples to blues) so rapidly at sundown you have to pay attention closely or you'll miss the whole thing.

I think about the strength I feel in my legs as we walk everyday. And the little bit of aching in my calves from being slightly overworked. With no motor vehicles allowed on the island, and choosing a hostel far off the beaten path, our feet have taken us up and down pathways to shops, restaurants and occasionally to look out points that I've only ever seen on postcards and Google searches. By foot, you smell the food, grilling on grates in the street, and you feel the heat of the sun on your shoulders as you pass locals offering their trade. The sweat, in an unending stream heading downward all over your body, a constant reminder you're far from home.

This island is not paradise like you see in westernized tropical areas, where the towels are crisp white and the pathways and sidewalks look like they were poured yesterday. Where the ugly parts are hidden and only accessible by a city bus that takes you miles from your resort. It is not paradise, thanks to a lot of pollution and poverty that is not trying to be hidden, and sometimes even spills into the street right in front of you. Most of the island is polluted in one way or another, which, for some, wouldn't matter, but it pains me. Such a shame to have that black smudge on an otherwise impeccable masterpiece.

I don't blame the people for this. They are hardworking and just trying to feed their families. There's a desperation in the streets here that's palpable. As if the influx of tourists was this island's equivalent of striking gold, and now everyone wants a piece of the pie. We all have to make a living somehow.

Despite this curious rat race involving taxi boats and fruit shakes and scuba diving lessons, one of the most endearing and noticeable things I've seen on this island is the patience and love shown to children. Hugging, playing, chasing. Not sheltering them from life, but letting them make believe and run and ride bikes in the streets. What a life to live, having people from all over the world at your doorstep everyday.

In its own rustic way, this island reminds me of going away to summer camp as a kid: flip flops in the shower, the fan to move air around you while you sleep, the mattress that's just slightly too stiff. The bruises and cuts, the sunburns and bug bites, all badges of your courage to just live a little. The strangers you meet that so quickly become pals, having more in common after every passing hour. And the wifi that is only sometimes available reminds me a lot of the "no phone calls home" rule at sleep away camp. It's purpose was to keep us from getting homesick, theory being: out of sight (sound), out of mind. "It's only one week," they would tell us (as if that made a difference).

But I've never been homesick in the company of nature. So much of my love of home and friends and family ties into a love and comfort at the hands of a beautiful landscape, or an up-close sighting of an animal. Nature makes me let go and feel vulnerable. It makes me grateful and curious and intrigued. Something I can wholeheartedly thank my parents for.

This island can feel unwelcoming and commercial (in a way that is still so not commercial in the Western sense of the term) but it's beauty makes the sales pitches in the street fade away quietly, and your gaze becomes focused on a horizon line that glitters, and stirs your imagination about pirates and sailors and unfinished maps. I always kind of thought of islands as a mistake; these random places created with no real origin or ancestor. It feels very special to be here, knowing we're miles away from any major landmass. It's like we stumbled on a secret in a corner of the Andaman Sea. Our secret place in plain sight. One that we know will be just a memory in a few days.