On the way, we stopped in Israel, Jordan, Oman, Emirates, Qatar, India, and Indonesia to explore. We walked the streets, ate the food, bargained and laughed with the locals. Every place forced us to reconsider our preconceptions: Israel is small, desertic and has no plastic recycling. Oman has free education, free healthcare, and a guaranteed basic income. The Emirates built itself out of sand – and oil – into an inventive modern country with jaw-dropping infrastructure, and no longer relies on oil as its main revenue source. In Qatar there is no crime: you can set your phone to charge in the street, and pick it up as you return. India overwhelms you with color, sound, and flavor, but the air and the water need help. Indonesians have an easy smile and love taking selfies with you.
Everywhere, we learned things we didn’t know about the people, their lives, and their culture. Everywhere, we learned new things about ourselves.
But, more than exploring the places, this trip was about living the good life. I’ve got to tell you: if you’re looking to live the good life, cruising is where it’s at. Our sea days started with morning yoga on the deck with a soft-spoken guru named Xavier who pretzeled himself into unbelievable shapes for a living. After choosing between smoked salmon and eggs Benedict for breakfast, we lounged and sipped on cappuccinos while deciding where to go for lunch. Then napping, listening to the ocean, followed by painting with acrylics or beading while wondering where to go for cocktails. Then the daily dilemma of where to go for dinner, and whether to go to the show or go to bed. Exhausting. Nothing to break the monotony: no work, no lawn mowing, no cooking, no cat boxes to clean, no dishes to do. Just eat, drink, and relax, then repeat. It was harsh.
The boat was luxurious, the company great, the food abundant, and the wine free-flowing. I’ve gained 10 pounds, and Steve’s liver barely made it. But, as good as it was, we couldn’t take it anymore. We disembarked three days early, in Phuket.
I felt at home as soon as I set foot in Phuket. I’d never been there, but the temples, the markets, the smiles – all were familiar. I fell in love with the airport – and I hate airports almost as much as I hate planes. Six dollars got us a Thai beer and a delicious lunch for two that put to shame every thick steak and fancy French dish we’d had on the boat.
We landed in Chiang Mai two hours later. Another half-hour to our condo. Everything was sparkling clean, and there were flowers, bananas, and the best papaya ever – thank you, Doi. A friend stopped by to invite us for dinner – Thank you, Joyce and Tommi. And we’re back to cooking, cleaning, doing dishes and living on our own schedule. It’s good to be back.
Our enthusiasm cooled over the two days we spent at the Immigration office, dealing with the visa. Three trips and some dead trees later (kilograms of paperwork), we got a provisional visa that we hope to renew in December, then extend in March. Maybe.
We’re back to our friends and old places. Our lunch lady serves Steve his cold beer with ice without asking. My vegetable lady gave me some hot peppers – just because. The miraculous Kad Suan Keaw supermarket is as labyrinthic as ever, and the prices haven’t changed much. The Thai Baht has, however. It went from 33 baht to the dollar to 29 – that’s an 11% increase (or the dollar fell 12%. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.)
We’ve been busy. We hiked, we had coffee at the temple, we cried from spicy curry and soothed our parched tongues with sweet bananas looking like chubby fingers. We inhaled the foul, cadaveric aroma of Durian and bought an armful of orchids for less than $3. Our social calendar is packed. December is busier than an understaffed ER.
I also finished POISON. It’s with the proofreader, and I hope to have it out for Christmas, in case you’re looking for a gift. Same with MERCY, the audiobook. So, now I’m looking for something to do. Any ideas?
Life is good. But I miss you, my friends. I miss our camaraderie, your smiles, and your stories. Please keep in touch. I hope to see you in the spring.
Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas season, good health and lots of love.