Sleep with the Fishes

Sleep with the Fishes

It was about the size of a golf ball, translucent, purple rings concentrated in the center, like small little tussock bellflowers. The water was a bit murky, clouded with sand, but there was no denying that the thing bobbing at the surface was not trash, it was a jellyfish.

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Moon Jellies. Photo by ArielleJay on MorgueFiles

We were staying in a resort at the docking point of Ao Muong Bay in Ko Tao, a world famous snorkeling site and the beach was all ours. It was before 9 a.m., the tourist boats started arriving each day around 11, unloading hundreds of people onto a beach that was only about 100 feet long. Mornings were our time to try to beat the crowd, be the only people in the water swimming with the wildlife.

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Before 11 a.m. © James 
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After 11…view from our balcony

Only the full moon and the tide had different plans for us.

“James, there’s jellyfish.”

“I think we’ll be fine. We’ll just go this way,” he said walking around the other side of the pier, snorkel in hand.

Hmmm…curious. But I let fear stop me in the past, many times over and I thought why not let his confidence buoy me up. We would be fine. And I wanted to see those fishes. After all, aren’t some jellyfish fine to swim with. Maybe these little guys would be of that variety. Ignorance is bliss right?

I stepped in. So far so good. No jellies. The water was clear. The sun was coming out from behind the morning rain clouds. This was going to be okay. My goggles were on, snorkel in mouth and I was off.

There were little electric blue fish that popped against the brown and green rocks. Bright orange fish that looked like plastic toys that could be found in a child’s bathtub. Large parrotfish  nibbled the rocks below us, the crunching sound echoing through the water. Skinny angelfish cruised between rocks and coral. There were flat, skinny fish, translucent with only a thin line of neon yellow racing along their side. They were almost invisible and it felt like a treat when they came into focus along the bottom of the ocean floor.

We were taking in the sights. Enjoying the calm of the water, still the only two people to be floating around this patch of paradise. Maybe we had been in the water for twenty minutes, no more, when I heard a popping sound in the water. It got louder and started to fill my ears, like Rice Krispies when milk enters the bowl. Then suddenly I felt a searing pain on my arm. I shot up, treading water to stay afloat. My neck hurt, my arm. The jellies!

James popped up at the same time.

“I’ve been stung!” I yelled then magically propelled myself back down into the water and took off like a torpedo from a submarine. I could have probably matched Mike Phelps with the speed at which I swam to get back to the shore. I saw little white spots of light start to form in my eyes and I started to worry that I might pass out in the water. James wasn’t far behind and we both made it to shore, no fainting. It seems he had been stung as well.

I had a giant white welt slashed across my upper left arm like a whip lash. My neck was covered with small red dots. A similar rash was spread across James’ torso at various locations. The jellyfish had attacked after all.

An attendant of the hotel came over to fix our umbrella and James motioned to our stings trying to ask the man if they’re the type of jellies that kill you. The man looked confused. James made the motion of slicing through his throat, you know, the universal sign of being killed, whacked, put to death, sleep with the fishes, then pointed to my arm. The man shook his head and said no and kind of laughed, walking away, leaving us with our self-inflicted injuries. He was probably thinking, “If you chose to go swimming with jellyfish, you deserve to die. Darwin Award.” But you know, in Thai.

We laid on our beach chairs admiring the view and licking our wounds, so to speak, when we began to notice that no scuba boats showed up that day, no water taxis full of tourists looking to snorkel. Apparently we didn’t get the memo that today was not the day to go in the water.

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Later that night, I woke up with a start, convinced that I had been stung by an eel, as well as a jelly. It didn’t make sense that I heard electric popping. The sting on my arm was much larger, one solid oblong shape and white while all the other stings were small red dots spread out like a rash. I had to have been stung by something else. I searched and searched on the web but could find nothing about what an electric eel sting looked like. They didn’t even seem to live in Thailand so that removed them from the location altogether. It was just one mean jellyfish. I later learned that it was a moon jellyfish, one of the most common jellyfish to be stung by. 

The next day the jellyfish seemed to be gone. We took the early morning boat over to to Koh Nang Yuan. The water was the temperature and color of a bathtub. We paddled about, took pictures, laid in beach chairs for 75 baht a piece (you can’t use towels as it will take the sand away from the beach–or so they say) and decided to go snorkeling. The coral was mulch, just shredded under people’s feet in one long gray coral boneyard, but somehow there were still fish swimming about and munching on the leftovers.

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Koh Nang Yuan devoid of people. So lovely before the onslaught of bodies.

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We cruised out towards the scuba divers and suddenly (irrationally) I heard the popping sound again. I was traumatized, hearing things that probably weren’t there and freaking out. Later that afternoon, I was determined to brave my fears. Our “private” beach was full of tourists again, everyone splashing about in the water. Everywhere I turned I saw jellyfish, or what I thought was jellyfish. It was just the detritus of a busy tourist day, plastic trash bags or plastic food coverings of one sort or another were bobbing in the water. On previous days I had tried to scoop anything out that I had found, but this was too much and it was making my heart race every time I spied one. I went to the shore. I would be safe at the shore.

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And the shore gave me a treat. A school of small silver fish were swimming in circles right between the water taxis. I could sit in the water and they literally did circles around me, every time I reached a hand out, the school would conform and push it’s collective body out and away and then come back again like there was a magical barrier that protected the fish from me. Sparkles of yellow, green and blue would glint off their silver scales. The circles they did made me feel like a Disney princess in an underwater tale, like they were going to spin so hard that I would rise from the water and flick my hair back while being held aloft by their sheer numbers. It was beautiful and mysterious and magical all at the same time.

I’ll never know where that popping came from, and I’ll try to remind myself that jellyfish come in at the full moon in the future, but I’ll forever be thankful for the little glimpses I got of ocean life before I was stung. I will also be extremely grateful for the fact that it wasn’t the type of jellyfish that makes you sleep with the fishes…permanently.

Featured Image by Agarianna on MorgueFiles

Race to Gaggan

Race to Gaggan

It was 5:35 pm. We were standing on the corner in front of our hotel. A wall of cars in front of us, not moving.

I tapped the Uber icon again, the car spun in circles, not moving from the same spot, just spinning in space like an icon that tells you your computer is slow.

He was so close we could walk to him. But then what, sit in the car for an hour, not moving, waiting for everyone in Bangkok to leave?

Our reservation was for 6 p.m. at Gaggan. The number 1 restaurant in Asia. The 23rd best restaurant in the world. The one that I had emailed for weeks and called at 1 in the morning multiple nights in a row from America, trying to get a reservation after seeing it featured on the second season of Chef’s Table and learned that I would be traveling to Bangkok.

I made sure I booked our hotel within a safe distance of the restaurant. Without traffic it would have only been five minutes away, but nothing was moving. All my punctuality nightmares were coming true.

My boyfriend used his American phone to call long distance and let them know we would be running late. This is a restaurant that times dishes for a three hour seating. There is no late.

A man answered the phone, “How long are you going to be?”

“Thirty minutes.”

James was answered with silence.

“Realistically 30 minutes,” he repeats.

“Try to get here sooner,” the man hung up.

I canceled our Uber. I would try for another. 8 minutes and spinning. I watched the minutes creep by and we were still on the same corner. All the cars were moving in one direction but the road on the other side was completely empty as well as the direction we needed to go.

We crossed the street and I hailed the first empty tuktuk that passed by. I had my map at the ready. “Here. Can you take us to here?” I point to the restaurant on my Google Maps app, “Gaggan.” All the taxis drivers in Thailand always want to call the place that you are going and have someone explain to them in Thai where they have to go. We didn’t have time for that. We needed this tuktuk driver to know Google Maps.

He looked at the map. He nodded his head.

“How much?”

“400 baht.”

Way too much, but I didn’t care. We hopped in and started down the road, my hope that while not as fast, a tuktuk could maneuver between the cars like a motorcycle.

A minute later we were stopped again. A new wall of cars. Another blockade of traffic. There was a wide gap between two cars, motorcycles flooded all around us with girls in miniskirts hanging off that back.

“Can’t you go between them I asked?’

The driver just laughed then turned his motor off and waited like he had all the time in the world.

“Why go so far?” he asked in the rearview mirror. “Good places to eat here. I can bring you.”

“No, no we have to go to Gaggan. We have reservations.”

He just shrugged and calmly turned back to stare at the rear lights in front of him.

I watched our non-movement on Google Maps. Our driving trajectory was still thirty minutes away and it was already past 6. I switched it to walking. We could literally walk to the restaurant in twenty-five minutes. I looked down at my nice dress, my heels, thought about the hour I wasted getting ready, doing my makeup. Could I do it? Could I really run to the restaurant in this Bangkok humidity. What other choice did we have?

We came up with a plan. We would walk until we got to the next clear road, the blue one only five minutes away, then hop in another tuktuk until the end of the park and walk the last five minutes. Easy.

“We’re going to get out.” I told the driver. We had only made one turn and had maybe been in the tuktuk for five minutes, at most ten, not even half way, not even a quarter to where he was suppose to take us. “How much?”

“300 baht.”

I have never been a haggler. I hate haggling. I understand the concept but I have never in my life been able to confidently do it.

Until now.

“What? You said 400 for the whole way. We haven’t even made it half way. I will not pay 300 baht.”

“200.”

Every minute that I spent arguing was a minute wasted.

“Fine.” I pulled out the bills and we hopped from the cab into the stream of, essentially, parked cars and began our run down the road. James took my hand to pull me out of the way of another onslaught of motorcycles. (I can never get that driving on the opposite side of the road thing down–always looking the wrong way.)

As fast as a pair of Tom’s heels could take us, we ran down the tourist-crowded streets. Me muttering under my breath at old white men to get out of my way and him checking to make sure I don’t get myself ran over. At a six lane intersection we turned back to take the pedestrian overpass and I clipped my ankle on a pillar. I couldn’t concentrate on the pain but as we made it to the clear street without a taxi or tuktuk in sight, I could feel the ankle start to swell.

We kept moving, turning to look back every few feet. Is there a taxi yet? My dress was soaked with sweat and clung to my chest. We just had to keep moving. It was already 6:30.

Would they give the reservation away? Did people wait for cancellations like buzzards circling a fresh kill?

The park ended. The final street was in our sights. We could do this. We could run through the streets of Bangkok from our hotel all the way to the number one restaurant in all of Asia. We had to. What other choice did we have?

We were so close. I watched our blue dot move closer and closer, two minutes, one minute…we passed it. We turned back, in an unassuming alley was the large sign reading “Gaggan.” We were there.

At 6:45 p.m. those doors pulled back and air conditioning never felt so good. Not one but four people greeted us, laughing at our spent breath, our soaked clothing. They happily took us to our table and brought us chilled, wet towels and the first starter, a pickled plum soda with cherries. It was the best thing I ever tasted, not because it was Gaggan, not because it would cost us 200 dollars a head, but because we had worked so hard to get there, because we wanted to be there more than anything, more than the pain in our feet, more than the price to our clothes or our dignity. We wanted to eat at Gaggan enough to run through a city to get there.

I propped my swollen ankle up against my other leg, sat back, had a chug of water and a sip of wine, and I enjoyed every single one of the 18 dishes we were served over the course of the next three hours. Because I could.

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A few courses from dinner
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A dish named “Charcoal”

Side note: We later surmised that we could have rented a ride on the back of one of those motorcycles as if it were a cab and probably should have done it. We also saw another group of girls come running into the restaurant late and equally soaked so we weren’t the only ones and it must be a common occurrence with the regular traffic of Bangkok.

Travel: the Stuff of Dreams

Travel: the Stuff of Dreams

Things always happen when I’m sleeping. I have the opposite of FOMO. I have no fear of missing out, I have complete acceptance, preferring my world of dreams over reality more often than not. After all, in my dreams I’ve danced with dolphins and lived in a glass house at the bottom of the sea with orcas poking their heads around my windows. In my dreams, I’ve seen the eye of the universe open above a cathedral at night, the galaxies unfurling before me, nebulas swirling above pointed steeples. No, I do not do drugs, if you were wondering.

And maybe that’s why I like traveling so much. It is the stuff of dreams. The colors, the smells, the experiences we have never had before. Aren’t the glow worm caves of New Zealand as brilliant as a galaxy above you? Haven’t I dipped my hands into the spray of water from a boat with dolphins gliding at the helm? But this leads us away from our tale, or perhaps towards it.

Because while I was sleeping I missed the male lion. Three days on safari and I thought what more could I see here, what could really pull me away from my dream bed at 6 in the morning? Only the king of the jungle, of course, but I couldn’t have known that then.

It was 2006 and I was traveling with my family and a group of family friends for a volunteer trip to a village outside Nairobi. To welcome us to the country, our group was shuttled off to the Serengeti for a safari adventure.

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Safari! What? Can’t leave without me.

This was a last minute trip for me. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I heard my brother was going with my dad to Kenya and I thought, “Why not me?” I also learned that my dad’s best friend was bringing three of his four children and then I really thought, “Hey, wait a minute! Why am I not invited?” With about a month to go before departure and without being looped into any of the communications, I had finagled a plane ticket and a spot on the trip. No one thought to tell me that we would be stopping in the Netherlands in the middle of winter for a night before heading to the hot climes of Africa and I ended up wandering through the snow of Amsterdam in my sweatpants and sneakers.

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Wearing all the layers. That ladies like…do you belong here?

It was a small price to pay to be seated in an open land cruiser on the Serengeti plains a few days later spotting not one, but practically all five, of the big game animals on safari. It took two days of driving around and singing at the top of our lungs while our driver did circles tracking down all the wild animals, but it was well worth it!

There were cheetahs relaxing in the shade of small trees.

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Baby lions lapping up the blood of a fresh kill.

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Baby elephants trailing after the herd with trunks reaching for elephant tails.

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Hippos lounging in the river and buffaloes grazing in large packs.

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Back the F* up! We’re not playin’

We saw everything, I mean everything, except the pride of the pack, the male lion.

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Migration in process and the elusive rich white male…can you spot him?

And that’s when my mistake was made. I chose sleep over getting up at 6 a.m. for one last try at the King himself. My brother and dad headed out in the morning and there he was, the male beast, a face covered with flies and scars from claws digging across his face at some point in his life. The real thing, not some CGIed representation of a lion, but the actual animal. Sure I got to see the pictures later and I had my share of female lions and their babies the day before (something I was ecstatic to have seen) but I could have been in that car as well if I had just set an alarm.

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Someone’s looking pretty proud.

What is my point here? Wake up. Get out there. Do the thing that may be your one and only chance to do it. You paid to get halfway around the world to see cool shit so go see it. Dreams be damned. Is this a lesson I always remember to follow? No! I like my sleep. Did I get up and go swimming in the ocean while the sun rose over the sea in Thailand? No, I slept. But did I get some nice pictures of that sunrise from my boyfriend? Sure I did!

What’s my secondary point? Listen to your own advice sometimes and do that thing that might feel difficult in the moment but have larger pay off later in life. Go see that sunrise. Go meet that lion. As Nike told me in my youth, “Just do it!”

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From an evolutionary perspective, zebras don’t make sense.

All images either taken by Michael Goode or Kenneth Goode…can’t remember who did which. Thanks guys!