Written for my Travel Writing class 2021
Perfectly matte. No moisture anywhere to be seen. Not one drop. I was staring at my server’s face in awe. Here I was, makeup dripping off, sweaty face, sweaty butt, and my hair expanding every second. It was 90 plus degrees, like the feeling after tasting the Thai chili, sweat building on your upper lip, with humidity through the roof. We missed the water festival by a few days, but I could’ve used a hosing down. I was sipping a crisp mojito, extra lime, in Koh Samui, Thailand. Koh Samui is known for its turquoise beaches and diving sites, particularly Sail Rock.
Earlier that day, I had a once in a lifetime experience of diving amongst whale sharks. My friend Michael and I had been diving the day before, and were hoping to get a glimpse of these gentle giants prior to moving on to the Elephant Hills. As everyone geared up for our dive, an excited shout rang throughout the boats bobbing up and down around the rock. Whale shark! No hesitation, I jumped into the salty water, and frantically searched the endless underwater horizon. Finally, we saw her. A juvenile, but still approximately 13 feet. She maneuvered her way through the swarm of divers, and made one more pass before saying goodbye.
On our way to the Elephant Hills we stopped at a roadside shop complete with gas pumps and questionable bathrooms. I timidly approached a stall, praying they had toilet paper and not a hole in the ground. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Western toilet, although instead of toilet paper they had a trough of water. A scoop drifted around in the water, like cilantro in a soup, something I cannot stomach due to an apparent gene problem. I quickly decided I did not have to use the bathroom, and rushed into the store to buy some snacks.
Three little peanuts stood behind me, their school uniforms perfectly pressed, staring up at my blonde hair with beaming eyes. I doubt they had seen many pale, blonde, blue-eyed women in their lifetime. I smiled at them and paid for my Thai candy bars. Just a little sugar to keep me going for the hour long drive ahead.
After settling into our luxurious tented room for the night, we headed to the dining area. A spread of fruits and other snacks awaited us. Mango, pineapple, melons, and red papaya, which I soon found out was not the only type of papaya that could be eaten. After a lovely dinner of traditional Thai dishes, we were entertained by a group of local girls who performed a ceremonial cultural dance.
Next on the itinerary was a cooking demonstration. Papaya Salad. I pictured a sweet fruity dish. The woman displayed all of her ingredients in organized piles. The only red ingredient I saw on the table were cherry tomatoes, not the juicy papaya I was expecting. After muddling all of the ingredients together, she dished out a small sampling for everyone in the audience. My mouth exploded with flavor. Sweet, salty, savory, with a lingering spice. I was in love. Who knew fish sauce, green papaya, and peanuts could taste this good?
After we devoured our share, she asked the audience if anyone would like a spicier version. She split the remaining papaya salad in half. One half was given to those who could not handle the heat. The other half was zhuzhed up with additional Thai chilis. I of course was all for the additional chilis. Closing my eyes, feeling the burn, and smiling. Some just like it hot.