I thought that the adventure in this trip was all over, Red Rover, and that on this final day of my year overseas, the time for surprises was long behind. Well, I thought wrong. Although I was originally meant to fly my final leg home (Bangkok to Sydney) with Qantas — as I have a Qantas / BA round-the-world ticket — I ended up conceding to a ticket with the budget carrier Jetstar. This was because, when I finalised my ticket bookings back in October, they were already sold out of seats on Qantas flights. Anyway, when I rocked up at Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Int'l Airport last night, the check-in staff informed me that I was flying via Melbourne. WTF?!
First night on Ton Sai. Ko Tao is now behind me, and it's been a week since I saw any of my diving friends from Sairee. And who should I happen to bump into — walking right past me on the beach — but Caroline! Turns out that she's been here — along with all the Canadian dudes from the course — for a few days. Naturally, I was obliged to join my old buddies for a few drinks tonight: especially since it's their last night in Ton Sai, with their destination for tomorrow being the island of Ko Phi-Phi. It seems that there's only one thing, and one night, that everybody remembers about me from Ko Tao — when the crew first saw me this evening, they all greeted me with: "hey, it's vomit boy!" Uhhh... yeah, thanks guys :\.
After a quick brekkie, this morning I jumped on the 8:30am minibus out of Pai, and headed back to Chiang Mai. For the third time. I'm getting to know this city quite well: too well, in fact. But what can you do? It's the gateway to northern Thailand — there's simply no avoiding it. I was pleased to find, upon my return, that all my old haunts are still alive and well in this city: I found the same good-value guesthouse that I stayed in last time; and I returned to the same cheap Internet joint that I previously frequented. There wasn't much left for me to see here: although I did meet Adi and Maria, so I spent a bit of time with them today. I also booked the package ticket, which as of tomorrow night will get me started on my long journey south, direct from here to Ko Tao. Chiang Mai's a nice enough place; but I think I'm just about over it.
It's been a while: but having now finished my stint in upmarket, "iz too expenzive fohr us" Europe, achim sheli are back! Like South America, Thailand too is one of the world's hotspots for young, IDF-complete, weed-smoking, shag-seeking, stingy-as-hell hordes of Israelis looking for a good time. And in Bangkok's Khao San Road, the yehudim do make themselves known. Reminiscent of such cities as Cusco and La Paz, here in Bangkok you can see Hebrew cardboard signs in shop windows, you can hear Hebrew being spoken as you walk along the street, and you can eat a falafel for every 50m that you cover (if you're crazy enough to not take advantage of the cheap and delicious local food, that is).
I met him a long time ago in Mexico. I saw him again in Peru, and ended up travelling with him for two months straight (making him my only real travelling companion on this trip). And I last saw him four months ago, back in Argentina. Today, I had yet another reunion with my buddy Chris: only this time, it was here in London, on his home soil; and since we're both going to opposite sides of the world very soon (and staying on those respective sides indefinitely), today's reunion really was our last (I'm serious this time — I swear). But before we parted for good, Chris and I had time for one last lunch. And since the food was some of London's finest Indian cuisine, there really wasn't anything sad about it at all.
Katharina is one of the many European travellers that I met, whilst backpacking down in South America. I must admit: until I met her again this evening, I'd kinda forgotten who she was, or where I'd met her. But seeing her again sparked the recollection that she's a fluent Spanish-speaking German girl, who volunteered for several months in Peru; and that I met her while chillaxing on the beach in sunny Máncora, in northern Peru. Katharina lives here in Dresden (where she's currently wrapping up her master's thesis in geography), and it was primarily to catch up with her that I came here.
Christian is the last of (no less than) four people (or groups of people) with whom I've had a reunion in the past four days; of whom three were people that I met in South America. I met Christian while doing the Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike in Peru, back in April. He lives in Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) with his wife Nancy, and his two daughers Marine and Florine. I had a great time this evening, enjoying dinner with Christian and his family, and catching up on old times.
This afternoon I arrived in Turnhout (northern Belgium) to see my friends Stef and Annick, who are half of the original Belgian Front. As with seeing Regine in Cologne last night, this was a reunion with 2 of my 10 amazing companions from the Salkantay hike, that I did in Peru back in April. Stef was there, waiting for me at tiny Turnhout train station when I pulled in; and soon after, I also saw Annick, as well as the couple's little niece Karlijn (who they're looking after for the weekend). Good to see that The Front is as crazy and as fun as ever.
Regine lives in the city of Bonn (next-door neighbour of Cologne), and she's one of the amazing 10 companions with whom I went on the Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu, back in Peru in April. She came up to Cologne for the evening to have a little reunion with me, and to show me the sights and sounds (and food and drink) of the city. She hasn't changed since Peru: she's the same warm and friendly person, who always looks like she's ready to dance, and who's amazingly a vegetarian in Germany. We ended up going for some great Indian curry here in Cologne, which we followed with some delicious Kölsch beer.
Although he grew up just like me, in Sydney Australia, my mum's brother Mark hasn't lived there for more than 25 years, since he wandered off around the world, met his Swiss-dwelling wife Susi, and became a qualified dentist. My uncle Mark and auntie Susi have now lived in Zürich for over 10 years. This is the first time I've been to visit them, and also the first time I've seen them, since they last visited Sydney about 7 years ago. It was very nice to see them again, after all these years, and to enjoy their hospitality while here in Switzerland.