Damian, a five year old Malaysian boy living in the small jungle town of Taman Negara, entertains himself most days with a rock, some sticks and fire. The last two days however he has been spoiled, Ankie and I enamored by his crooked tooth smile and zest for life, have spent many hours doing somersaults, spinning him around in circles and reliving our childhood. If you asked either of us if we could live in this 15 min across river town and you would get a resounding “no way!” but this child, with his neighborhood school and abundant outdoor space is content, he has never known anything different. I have had many moments such as these while traveling, when you realize how different things are as well as how much similar even though I grew up thousands of miles away. Children are children, no matter where they are raised. Ankie and I share many childhood and life experiences that parallel and have spent many nights discussing those that differ, broadening our understanding of this diverse world we live in. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without these global experiences, I am thankful for the opportunity to continue learning in the many months to come.
When a 2 person dancing venture in front of a seated docile crowd turns into a 30+ all out dance party I can’t help but beam with pride knowing that my interesting attempts at dancing made that happen. However, when less than 20 min later I am laid up with a scar prone injury bleeding on the beach and being carried home and doctored by 5 random strangers you know that I was in my element–it was a typical Maxie night.
3 stitches and sentenced to 3 weeks with no swimming was the verdict of my 15 Ringit ($5) Malaysian clinic experience in a small fisherman village on the Prahentian islands. Coincidentally, I got injured on the eve of one of the biggest holidays of the year–the Had Raya–a celebration for Muslims after 40 days of Ramadan fasting. Everything was closed as locals meandered the streets greeting friends in their best holiday clothes. Restaurants held open houses where friends and family, and luckily poor crippled foreigners like myself, we’re invited to indulge in local cuisine such as colorful rice, curry chicken, and a rice and chicken mixture wrapped in banana leaf. Luckily my limp and their kind natured spirit prompted them to wake the one doctor who proceeded to poke and prod with the most painful needle and sew me back together. Thank god for Ankie, who told me to squeeze her bicep so as not to hurt her skinny hand as I cringed in pain. Laughing off the situation and the ridiculousness of me getting hurt yet again, we headed back to Long Beach where we were determined to keep up our spirits in spite of my inability to walk.
Two dutch guys who we had carried me helplessly the night before after the dancing incident brightened our day by inviting us to a complimentary pineapple cocktail and a comfy beach chair in front of their resort. Chatting the day away, being confined to the beach didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world; but as evening approached and the temporary terrenchual rainstorm passed, I knew that I would struggle against my desires to dance yet again. As if they sensed my desperation, I was startled as they bombarded our room and dragged us to the beach bar and set me propped on two chairs in the middle of the dance floor. Waterproof sack over my foot, I chair danced and received numerous lap dances as all those I had met in the past few days danced around me. Hours later, I was carried to my bed and drifted off to laughter and conversations with strangers that would now become new friends.
Getting hurt may be something that even my parents are no longer surprised to hear about, but knowing that I can make the best out of the situation and surround myself with good people just proves to me that I should never regret my decisions to go big–even if it means going home piggybacked.
After an impromptu rooftop pool party, happy hour on a helicopter pad overlooking the city at night, salsa dancing and ladies night with free drinks all night, and visiting the monkey infested Batu Caves, I am leaving Kuala Lumpur with no stoned unturned. Now, as Ankie and I snake through the river in the jungle of Taman Negara on a skinny long wooden boat, we are embarking on a new adventure. Equipped with copious bug spray, malaria pills, and the brilliant advice of my dad not to get eaten by a tiger, we are trading the city for some jungle trekking. I’ve been banned from swimming until the cut on my leg that got infected heals, and I’m not sure I would chance it anyways; with the looks of it this water is riddled with snakes and I’m not taking my chances.
Someone I met while traveling said that when you travel by yourself you experience higher highs and lower lows. I couldn’t sum it up any better. The lows are lower because quite frankly it’s easy to be lonely. You don’t have anyone to pick you up and challenge you to fight the slump you are in.
The highs on the other hand are often much higher. When you accomplish something, meet someone new, or push yourself to do something you never thought you could.
Take the full moon party in Koh Pengnang for example. 5 minutes in as we barreled through the insane neon painted crowds, I was separated from my friends. As I danced and feigned indifference to flying solo there was a creeping feeling that I might spend the next 6 hours on this crazy beach filled with people feeling all alone. Seconds later I was snapped back to reality as a Spanish couple who recognized me from my club promoting days in Koh Phi Phi, almost ran me over with their enthusiasm and embraces. If only I could remember who they were! That fact played little importance as they dragged me down the beach determined to find all of the Spanish speakers on the beach. I’m pretty sure I only spoke to one person in English the entire night–a cool Canadian guy who was on vacation from medical school that I had met, Dougied with and visited some cool spots in Koh Tao. Even amongst the 50,000 people, somehow this felt like a small world where I was running into everyone I had met on the islands over the past few weeks.
While most spent the next day recovering from the festivities, I, along with 2 British guys I met at the smoothie stand, decided to try our hands at Muay Thai. Our trainer didn’t hold back, and after 1.5 hours I thought I might walk again. The only thing that helped me get up the next morning after revisiting the post full moon party with two southern Californian guys I had me back in Koh Tao, was the prospect of another odd job in Thailand. My Muay Thai trainer offered me a position as a massage therapist for the guys he trains and I could stay and work reception at his friends bungalo resort. While I revel in the randomness of it all, life on that island centers around the half and full moon pre, and post parties. I think there is only one week a month where jungle, waterfall, and beach parties are not overrun buy drunk tourists–I decided it was better as a one time thing. Having overstayed my welcome (aka visa) in Thailand I hopped on a cheap Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sleep deprivation has the effect of seriously challenging your mental prowess. Can you get from point A to B via treacherous night ferry, barter for a taxi, out race other travels for the last spot in a dingy bungalow, and do it all without speaking any of the language? On top of that traveling by yourself means always being on your A game. Meeting new people, challenging yourself to try new things, and trusting your gut feeling about where you are and who your with takes it out of you.
3 weeks in and I think I might be losing it. This morning I woke up talking to a rooster. For some reason I thought yelling “ra” at him would keep him from cockodoodledooing all morning and then I proceeded to throw a shoe in his general direction. I am sure you can guess which one was more effective.
However, as taxing as it may all be, I am having some of the most amazing experiences and meeting some fascinating people. I’m going to Malaysia to stay with a new friend that has a house there and extend my visa; I was invited to go to new Zealand to work with 2 Mexican brothers and a Spanish girl, and a Dutch girl named Ankie has extended her travels to meet me and go jungle trekking. I met a guy who was dead set determined that I was crazy, that talking to everyone, planning nothing, and living in the moment made me an admirable good type of crazy. I’ll take it, being normal is overrated anyways.