I wish it could be said that I woke up refreshed, the power of the island calming and relaxing me. The truth is that night was the worst sleep I have had in years. The quietest creak in the wood, the slightest breeze, a gentle grazing of the bug net would cause me to bolt awake my body mainlining adrenaline. I would lay wide awake, my heart pounding in my ears until I dropped back off into sleep. Around the 6th or 7th time this happened light was shining through my windows and it was time to get up and face the first full day in this paradise.
The beach just in front of my porch had a hammock and swinging chair set up between two trees; the perfect spot to sit a read a book or watch the waves roll in. As I swung back and forth I thought back on my decision to use these short 10 days to really work on myself. The year before I had traveled to New Zealand with the goal to gain control of the depression that has followed me for the majority of my life. I did just that, and before I left on this trip I set myself another goal to conquer. However, it’s one thing to want to think and say that you want to become your ideal self, it’s a completely different beast to go about and actually do it. To do so would require discipline and determination, two thing’s not the easiest to come by when swinging in a hammock in the early morning deprived of sleep. Still, I made a plan, I would go for runs as frequently as possible, I would meditate once if not twice a day, I would focus on my writing, and I would make numerous changes across my day to day life. If I waged the war across all fronts maybe I would be able to break through my habits and dissatisfaction and shatter it to be the man that kid Peter dreamed he would be.
Lost in in this thought I didn’t even notice when one of the older boys, one of สวรรค์ลับ’s eight sons, came down the beach until he shouted “Good Morning!” just a few feet away from me. I nearly tumbled out of my hammock but recovered my wits hoping he didn’t notice how much he startled me. Sweet Eye was his name and when he looked at me I felt as if those eyes looked all the way through me, a goofy smile as he did so. It was as if he could see all that I had been thinking, and only confirmed this more when the first thing he asked was if I meditated. I laughed and told him I had just decided to start meditating mere moments before we started talking. He walked me through some techniques and pointed further along the beach to a large wooden structure jutting out from a cluster of rock; the perfect place for an early morning meditation, to greet the rising sun. At least in this little plan of mine, I would have some help it would seem. Sweet Eye then gestured for me to join him for breakfast and we headed to the kitchen.
For breakfast, I had an omelet made of the most delectable eggs I have had in my life. Forget about free range organic eggs from the market, they are nothing more than plastic easter eggs compared to the eggs on The Island. These were jungle chicken eggs, my mouth is watering just typing about these eggs over a month later, they are that good. I never looked at the menu the entire time I stayed with them because if anything came half as close to this Omelette it would be fantastic; I was never disappointed.
After breakfast Sweet Eyes pulled out a busted up guitar with only four out of tune, rust covered strings and started strumming and jamming. From out of the kitchen, I heard his brother, Champ, start singing and rapping along to whatever Sweet Eyes played. I joined in drumming on the table, forks for sticks, plates for cymbals, a crushed can for a high-
hat. Ghetto island jam sessions were becoming one of my favorite things. Soon enough Champ came out from the kitchen and joined us at the table. When I say he rapped, I mean this fool could rap. He had a supersonic flow legitimately on par with Eminem in Rap God, there was no way Sweet Eye and I could keep up and we soon fell behind laughing and shaking our heads until Champ collapsed from mock exhaustion.
There wasn’t much going on around สวรรค์ลับ’s, granted from what I had seen there wasn’t much of anything happening at all anywhere, but since I had The Mule I went out to do a little bit of exploring. I spent 20 minutes huffing and puffing my way up the hill. Each step forward had me sliding two steps back. Luckily coming down the road to my rescue were two large women from the house on the corner. They may have been heavy set, but they had a great strength to them and we pushed, lifted, and halfway carried the bike up the hill.
“Khab-Kun-Kap” I shouted leaving them laughing loudly back at me as I drove off into town.
My second time in town proved that yesterday wasn’t a fluke, that this island was empty and only would get emptier as it faded into the extreme low season. I had heard at the very bottom of the season that food can’t even be found on most of the island, and the only shops for locals would remain open. Since there wasn’t much to see at the dock I headed east at the crossroads and towards the more, shall you say, developed parts of the island; สวรรค์ลับ’s called them chicken farms. The jungle had been clear cut leaving large, dusty scar where natural beauty had once been. Rows and rows of identical bungalows lay completely empty, concrete and hideous. A large sign advertised them as Luxury Resorts complete with Wifi, AC, TV, all the bells, and whistles, but all I saw were barren husks with an asking price five times what I was paying for my beach Bungalow. The only locals who wandered this part of the island were a few various dog packs each vying over each other’s territory.
I sat with one of these packs of dogs at the entrance to Long beach, the famed surf spot of the island. As it must be apparent from now, it was completely empty, running a few kilometers in either direction and there wasn’t a soul on the beach. For a lack of people to interact with I turned my attention to the pack of puppies that had gathered around my feet. Just a few moments spent with them and the individual personalities of the dogs started to become apparent. There was the pretty dog who acted like she was above everybody else. The black rebel dog who constantly fought off the other dogs as he chewed on a fish he had caught; he would be the leader of the pack one day. His father constantly fought and played with him, showing him more attention than the rest of the puppies. There was a culture here, a feral intelligence that I hadn’t seen only owning solitary dogs. This wasn’t the first time I had seen this pack mentality though. In Bali gangs of dogs ruled the tropical city at night, vying over territory, and each dog, each pack had its own personality and attitude. Since traveling restricted me from actually owning a dog I figured the next best thing would be to hang out with the packs out here.
I headed back to the Hippie Bar and found Santa Claus swinging in his hammock smoking with a far off look in his eyes. He was far less erratic than the day before, calm, lost in a world of thought. He talked in a low voice of his life, revealing tiny pieces of the rich life he lived. Earlier in his life, after a personal tragedy, he became a monk. When family intervened in his life in the monastery he left and found himself joining the military. Don’t people usually go the other way on that, being men of action and then looking for the simple recluse life? I listened and what Santa Claus kept coming back to was where he found peace, out in nature. His life wasn’t easy, in fact, it had far more tragedy in it than I care to write about on this blog, but he always seemed to find moments of peace. These moments always came to him when he immersed himself in nature. In many ways, he reminded me of my own father’ they were about the same age and had both found a sense of connection and belonging later in their lives in the beauty of our mother earth. I could imagine the conversations they might have should they ever meet.
I left the bar and started walking the half kilometer down the beach to my bungalow lost in my own self-reflective thought. All of a sudden I was hit with an intense revelation, so much so that it made me stop mid step and sit down in the sand. All day I had been thinking about what I wanted to improve in my life. In an instant, I saw clearly what I needed to do if I was truly committed to making a change. The setting sun was illuminating the sky in a rich tapestry of pinks, yellows, and oranges; almost as magnificent as the sunsets of Albuquerque, almost. I sat there in the last rays of the sun and my body filled with a warmth and clarity I hadn’t felt in a long time. A smile spread across my and sprung to my feet filled with an energy jogging the rest of the way back. I had just made a decision that had the potential to radically change the direction of my life.
That night instead of jumping at every crack, snap, and buzz that I heard I sat still and truly tried to listen. After a few moments of focusing on my breathing and using the meditation techniques, Sweet Eye taught me I became intensely aware of the vicinity directly around the Bungalow. The rustling of leaves outside my window must be a gecko hunting down one of the hundred chirping insects. The bird calling from the canopy was most likely a toucan. I closed my eyes, let out a long breath, and found that inner calm. I could practically see the world surrounding my room in my mind’s eye (yes I’m fully aware of how this sounds.) I watched the breeze coming in off of the ocean as it rustled leaves and sent the toucan flying off on its powerful wings. I could see the gecko stalking through the leaves, the bugs in front him growing quiet as he moved around the back of the shack. I pulled my vision back further and could see the roll of the wave as it crashed down the shore side, mapping out the different points where it hit. Then the sharp crack of a coconut falling from a tree zoomed me back closer to the Bungalow. I spent nearly an hour listening and exploring the night world around me. When I finally rested my head against my pillow I fell asleep instantly, not waking up once throughout the night.