Rough Return

I’ve been back in the San Francisco Bay area for a few days now, but I have to admit, I still feel like a mess.

My right knee is bruised, swollen, and really hurting me, thanks to a motorbike accident on my last weekend in Thailand.  (See video I posted. Yes, Mom and Dad, I'm ok.) 

Ko Jum has one main paved road running north and south, but a dirt road skirts around to the west along the beaches and cliffs.  The dirt road is tough to navigate by scooter.  In two months, I had tried twice and turned around twice because of ruts, rocks, and mud.

On my last weekend, during my final ‘goodbye’ ride around the island, I decided to try the dirt road a third time.  I was determined to make it all the way.  About halfway through the trip (the uphill part), I noticed the rear brake on the motorbike was not working. That left me only the front brake to get down the hill.  Any motorcycle rider or bicyclist will know the danger in this. I took the downhill really slow.  Inevitably, the front wheel slipped out from under me, and down I went.  I banged my knee on the engine (or maybe a rock?). The next day, with pain, swelling, and stiffness, I visited the island hospital, where the nurse barely even looked at my knee.  She had just stitched up some other tourists who had had a much worse accident than I.  She gave me some ibuprofen and elastic wrap. (I have since visited my doctor at Stanford who confirmed that it is nothing serious just a severe bruise.)

In addition to my sore knee, the transition home has not been kind to me.  I've caught a cold, probably due to the severe change in climate (from 90 degrees in Thailand to 50 degrees in San Francisco); and I'm suffering from more jet lag than usual.  I guess my body and biological clock had really adjusted to Thailand time over the three months.  Since being home in San Francisco, I’ve been falling asleep at 9pm and waking up at 3am.

I've also lost about 10 pounds of weight that I didn't need to lose in the first place.  (However, if any of you need to diet, I highly recommend small, poor island living.)   The simple ratio of calorie intake vs. calorie expenditure was out of whack during my stay, kind of like those survival reality TV shows... Survivor, Naked and Afraid, etc.  I did shave and shower though.

I know all of these physical conditions will improve with time, so I’m not too worried.  I did go sailing the other day, which probably wasn’t the right thing to do to get well… But we always eat well on the boat, so hopefully it helped me in terms of calorie count.

On top of the physical adjustments going on, I’m also experiencing a bit of culture shock. Coming back to Silicon Valley, USA, after living on a rural island for three months, is quite a change. 

First, I have to agree with what my friend Melanie described when she visited the United States after an extended time in Costa Rica. The variety of choices we have here is overwhelming if you aren’t used to it.  Grocery aisles seem endless.  Houses seem huge.  Cars seem countless. And everyone seems to be in a hurry. 

Second, I have become accustomed to lightweight and simple living.  Not quite minimalist, but close.  My travel gear fit into a 46-liter backpack and 20-liter daypack, although the latter was mainly my DSLR camera, lenses, and computer.   I’ve come back to a 10 foot x 20 foot storage unit full of my “stuff.” Why am I keeping my college intramural champion t-shirt?  Why am I saving my class work and textbooks? Why do I have two snowboards and four pairs of rollerblades?  Why do I own 12 pairs of jeans?  While I am not ready to sell everything I own, I am ready to downsize and simplify.

Third, it's hard being here in Silicon Valley jobless and homeless.  I'm reminded constantly how expensive this part of the country is.  I've been tracking my spending habits before traveling, while traveling, and now after traveling.  As you might expect,  the difference is dramatic. Fortunately I know an excellent financial planner (i.e., me), and I have a budget I manage to.  (For anyone thinking of doing what I'm doing, I urge you to have your own financial plan and budget.) Thankfully, I have great friends who are sharing their homes with me, which helps me contain my costs tremendously while I'm back in town.  Regardless, I can't wait to get back on the road...

And that brings me to the question a lot of people have asked me. "What next?"  

I'm not ready to divulge any specifics yet.  But here's an obvious hint:

I remember my last day on Ko Jum.  I was sitting in the Tiki Hut just off the beach, with a strong, warm breeze blowing from behind me.  Maybe the strongest wind we'd had during my visit.  I sat there, staring out across the sand and sea, wondering myself what in the world I was going to do next.  Jobless and homeless, I felt like I could do anything.  And yet I also felt a tinge of fear.  Maybe I should just go back to a "normal life."  At that moment, a sailboat appeared on the horizon.  I watched in fascination as it made its way across the horizon, past Ko Phi Phi, down toward Ko Lanta, almost racing against the setting sun. I knew what I was missing, and where I wanted to be.  

Stay tuned for 2016!  The adventure continues...