When I returned to Boston, my boss, Mark, asked me about the most dangerous thing I’d done on my trip. My response was that I’d been in a motorbike accident. He was less than amused.
“Jenni! I said dangerous, not stupid.”
We stayed on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta in the Krabi province for three days of our trip. It’s an island that only recently (in the past 20 years) acquired electricity, and this year it made the New York Times’ list of up-and-coming destinations. Although it was beautiful and quiet, we struggled to get from one end of the island to the other without paying high taxi prices. This meant that on our second full day on the island, hoping to explore, we rented motorbikes.
There were four of us, so we sat two-and-two on the motorcycles. Da, the owner of our hotel, was hesitant to let us out of the parking lot, watching as we almost took out the row of parked motorcycles with our red and blue bikes. She warned us to move slowly and to turn quickly. We agreed, big-headed from our travel successes thus far, and ventured out onto the island.
The first crash was minor. Becca and I were on one motorcycle (she was driving – I had proven to be incapable of balancing and steering at high speeds) and Emma and Dana were on the other. After a few hour spent paddle boarding on the Indian Ocean, we headed back into the populated areas for lunch. Becca took a turn slowly, I leaned, and we tipped into a bush. No harm done, we righted ourselves and continued on our way.
The island is probably 20 kilometers end-to-end (10 miles, or so), but we moved slowly, heading for the cave in the middle of the island that a nice British man had instructed us to visit the night before. We arrived just before sunset, hoping that we still had time to tour the newly-discovered, million-year-old, family-owned cave. The Thai family spoke no English, but a man handed us headlamps after we parked our motorbikes, and for the price of $6 American, we spent the next hour spelunking.
He led us up the side of a mountain (if we’d read any sort of guide book, we would have known that flip flops, bikinis, shorts, and tank tops were not the ideal outfit choice for the excursion), grabbing ropes to pull himself past steep rocks and bubbling streams. We followed, unable to ask him questions and unsure of what we were hoping to see. He finally stopped, glanced at us, then dropped into a hole in the side of a sheer rock face. And we followed, scrambling down a bamboo ladder into pitch darkness. There were stalactites, underwater pools, and bats. He took several pictures of us, dripping with sweat from the humidity. At one point, I army crawled through a tunnel no bigger than my torso for 30 seconds, emerging at the other side breathless and panicky. Because we couldn’t ask him questions, we followed unquestioningly. Perhaps I should live my life like this more often. I’m not sure that I would have gone on the excursion if I’d known what it would be like, but I’m incredibly glad that I did. As we descended the mountain with him 30 minutes later, the sun setting in the distance, we were exhausted and proud. This is what we had come to this country to do.
So it was back on the motorbikes to find a place to get some dinner before showering and falling into bed. Dana and Emma set off first, with Becca and I following close behind. “On the road again…” I sang. And then Becca and I were on the ground, our bike on top of us, Thai women running out of the hut where we had previously bought bottled water. Becca’s knee was bleeding. We were covered in red, chalky dust. We had taken the turn too fast. My leg had “motocycle burn”. We tried to leave quickly, but the Thai women wouldn’t have it, pouring iodine on Becca’s knee, dusting off our bike, hosing off our legs, and even following us slowly, shakily, back to the main paved roads.
It was only when we got home that we discovered how bad Becca’s knee was. It was a gnarly wound, with rocks embedded in it. She’s a nurse, so after a couple of Singha beers, she got out the alcohol wipes and cleaned the wound like a champ, packing it and medicating. We sent a picture to my doctor father for confirmation later, and he said she didn’t need medical attention. And for the next several days, all of the Thais on the beach pointed and laughed at our wounds.
“Motorbike,” they would say knowingly, motioning to the red road-burn on my thigh.
“Yes,” I always replied. “Motorbike.” I felt like one of the club.