Journal Entry (In-flight) 8 May 1988: “Once again, the never-ending problem of too many beautiful women, and too damn many fascinating places – unable to decide where to go next, where to stay, and with whom. The flight attendants are cute – one is Oriental, the other two are Islanders, but I’m trying not to think about them because soon I will leave again – far away, but we already know that story. As usual, I want to have it all — to eat it all up. But there comes a time to stop and digest a bit. I feel as though I need a lifetime to live in each place I go. And here I am again, leaving with a heavy heart. Oh man, I die a hundred times leaving. Someday, I won’t leave alone.”
Departing the USA in May 1988, I flew via Hawai’i to Western Samoa for a wonderful reunion with far too many friends to see during my short visit there. Simply magical to free-dive in the crystal clear waters of Palolo Deep lagoon.
On Manono island with my Samoan family – the warm, moist air sticking to my skin, a few mosquitoes, delicious island food, lush tropical undergrowth, adorable kids, the family so loving, the sea so soft — waves lapping against the beach, and the early morning smoke of the rock ovens (umus) hanging in the air. Re-living the warm, gentle life in Samoa-I-Sisifo.
Returning to Samoa and the South Pacific was like living a dream. It was hard to believe that I was back in Apia seeing old friends and soaking up the sun and sea at Palolo Deep – although a coral infection in my foot was a painful reminder that it was no dream. I had forgotten how warm and cheerful the Samoans are. Everyone seemed the same, although many had become even bigger – some even twice the size they were just two years before!
The relaxed pace can brew up some frustration if you try to keep to a strict schedule. But as usual, the physical beauty of the place was astounding – the clouds, the sea, waves breaking on the far reef, lush forested mountains; the absolute silence of Apai village on tiny Manono Island.
Drinking a fresh coconut by Robert Lewis Stevenson’s grave atop Mount Vaia — not to be confused with the raucous Mount Vaea Night Club — a bottle smashes, then you duck to miss being hit by a table flying by.
Transiting through Tokyo to Seoul – back to Asia again — an adjustment from the USA as well as the Pacific, but it felt good. Beautiful women dressed in high fashion, a wonderful reunion with my friends at the Seoul YMCA, and day trips through beautiful countryside and small towns.
On my last day, I was interviewed on the live TV show “Good Morning Korea” for a spot they were doing about backpackers at my guesthouse. I was leaving for the airport and wearing my suit and tie – totally out of character for the budget traveling crowd – but the camera crew seemed drawn to this and came rushing over to interview me.
Then, bathing in the memory of Han Mi Sook – her smiling face and gentle ways – my heart breaking again as the plane lifted over misty mountains, flooded rice paddies, green hills and residential sections of Seoul, Korea.
On to the Philippines – and back to my delightfully dim, airless (and cheap!) pension house room in Manila where the only mirror in the place stretches along-side the bed. Sadly, I missed Jessie – she had married her former American boyfriend and was already living in the States. But I did manage to score a fine, locally crafted guitar.
Arriving at last in Thailand, this travel weary soul headed north to Chiang Mai city – which seemed so small and peaceful after Bangkok, Manila and Seoul – deep green reflecting in the quiet canals, tricycle rickshaws (samlaw), tiny back streets, beautiful old Buddhist temples – a wealth of history in plain view with a dramatic backdrop of forested mountains. And of course, our memorable ‘haunted’ teak wood house behind the spectacular old temple, Wat Santitham.
Reunions with friends from the Chiang Mai YMCA, and a trip to Chiang Rai province and the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos and Burma intersect at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers – an area known also for its extensive opium and heroin production.
After 15 Asia-Pacific countries and a visit to the USA, I had settled high in the rugged mountains in the extreme north of Thailand to manage a primary health care project in cooperation with the Thai Ministry of Public Health.
The journey to this remote outpost — from the USA to the Pacific islands and back to Asia — was like living the most wonderful dream. Thoughts drifted back to warm lagoons, smiling faces, beautiful girls and so many wonderful friends in grand reunion – yet, with a breaking heart — as happy reunions ended all too soon.
But again, the circle had come full. Two years on the road, living out of two small bags. Traveling now in a sharp business suit and dress shoes, and clinging to the back of a wildly pitching pickup truck slip-sliding its way up the deeply rutted muddy track to my new mountain home. It was going to be nice to stay put for a change.
Rain had been falling steadily since my arrival at Thoed Thai Highland Health Center. Settling into my spartan, but comfortable room, orientation with the out-going Project Director, meeting the (43) mostly local staff, speaking Thai language — and feeling really good.
Stay tuned for “The Warlord’s Hospital” – coming soon!