This post is for me. I’m writing it simply because I will find great joy in doing so, which, in my experience, produces my best writing. So, all the better if you enjoy this story about four Germans, a half-German Canadian and a Thai boat skip named “Mr. Butt”.
After a couple of lonely, beautiful days on the island of Koh Kood, Thailand, I was craving a cup of real coffee and pulled into Coffeeat for an Americano.
I write the following to show you, and to remind myself as I go on this journey, that a single encounter while traveling can change your entire trip irrevocably. Important, however, is that you make yourself available to the experience and ride the waves of opportunity that are thrown into your path instead of fearing them and turning back.
At Coffeeat I met a Slovakian family over a cup of the best coffee I’ve had in Thailand, and I learned quickly that they quit their jobs just a few months earlier and were traveling around the world for an entire year as a family of four. We hit it off, exchanged information, and I met the coffee shop owner, Ja, who was about as kind of a woman as I’ve ever met in my life.
Soon, Coffeeat became home for me on the island, and it became my first stop every morning for the next three days.
As we all became fast friends, I noticed one day that Ja was swamped with an entire shop of customers. She was stressed out, running around as she took orders, made the artisan coffee and prepared the food for eight tables of people all by herself. I was just sipping on a coffee, trying to stay out of the way, when Jurya (the Slovakian father), mentioned to me that she could really use some help during peak hours. My ears perked up, and I immediately saw an opportunity that would benefit both Ja and myself.
After things slowed down, I told her that I could work for her a few hours a day if she provided me free room and board in one of the massive tents she had set up in the jungle. At first, she wasn’t sure, so Ja told me that she would pray to Buddha before bed and ask for an answer in the morning.
I went to bed that night on the beach, saying my own prayer to a nameless god, asking that she would accept my offer. I saw a unique experience, a free room and a chance to help out a beautifully-kind woman, and for some reason I knew my life would change in some substantial way if she just said “yes”.
The next morning, I crawled out of bed and went straight to the coffee shop where Ja was waiting for me, smiling as she told me her answer. The words were like sweet music:
“I pray to Buddha, Dustin, and you work, uh huh. Show you how to make coffee. Come.”
“Uh huh” and “no no no!” became Ja’s unique and hilarious way of communicating to me at first, and just like that I became her barista in training. It opened up the world to me.
The Slovakian family left their loft to spend a few nights on a yacht between Koh Mak and Koh Kood, so I knew I had to make new friends. You see, on an island with many solo travelers, everyone is looking to talk but not everyone knows where to begin the conversation or even has the gusto to fire up a chat with a stranger (myself included). But when you’re serving, the conversation begins naturally by taking an order, and I was fortunate to make pleasant, often-hilarious, conversation with almost everyone that came through there, which is where my story truly takes off.
Across the street is a backpacker’s hostel named Eve’s House. It’s kind of a party spot on Koh Kood that blasts 90’s pop music (aka: Backstreet Boys/Spice Girls) all day long and gives zero shits about people trying to have a conversation. Some of their clientele ended up shuffling over to our little spot at the coffee shop, and in this way, I was able to meet two German fellas (both traveling solo) that were more than happy to shoot the shit with me.
After a few quick conversations, Tobi, Martin and I soon found ourselves at Coffeeat every morning and evening, chatting about everything and working side-by-side on our writing and other creative pursuits. I’ve never made faster friends in my life, and, this too, was a welcome, learned lesson for me:
I believe traveling is akin to the college experience. The people you allow yourself to meet are all going through new things for the first time, and through that shared experience life-long friends can easily be made. The trivial quickly becomes that shared joke, and the act of doing new things in a foreign land together creates a comfortable bond just not available to most people spending time at home in their own city or town.
I didn’t know this when I left Canada and traveled 26 hours by plane to a land and culture I knew nothing about.
Fast-forward a few days and the three of us decide that we HAVE to go on an ocean fishing trip together. We’re all in agreement, and we spend the next day tracking down leads on the best deal and best experience possible. I failed miserably, but Tobi learned from another German, named Benjamin, that a vessel in the fishing village of Ao Salad provided five-hour fishing excursions for the price of a fucking dinner back home. We immediately said “yes” and scheduled our voyage for the following afternoon.
The next day, we meet up at three o’clock in the afternoon, load up on beer, rum and cigarettes, hop on our scooters and motorbike thirty minutes to Ao Salad. Two more Germans join the group, Benjamin and Stephen, and all of a sudden, we’re four Germans and a half-German Canadian boarding a tiny fishing vessel made for maybe three grown-ass men.
Already the trip is funny, and the five of us quickly bond over beers and a flask of rum as our diesel-powered, glorified kayak chokes off into the middle of the ocean while the sun begins its descent.
None of us knew what to expect out there in the great blue yonder, and that was, perhaps, the best part.
After forty minutes of cruising, the boat stops, and Mr. Butt (the Captain’s first mate and a jolly ol’ fat Thai) throws in a line, cackling as he does so. The Captain looks at his sonar, shakes his head and then immediately fires up the boat again. He says, “no good. We move!” before the rest of us even get our lines in, and the anchor gets brought up and we move maybe one-hundred yards further into sea. All I’m thinking is:
“Really? We’re in the middle of the god damn ocean, and a hundred yards is going to make all the difference?”
Well it did. No sooner did five minutes pass when three of us had fish on the line at the same time. There were hoots and hollers and excitement and fucking elation as barracuda, groupers and tiny little colorful fish flew out of the water left and right over the next hours, and soon there wasn’t a sober, somber person on board. We were like little children, squealing as we played in the tub and squeaked our rubber duckies. Except the tub was the Indian Ocean and the squeaky rubber duckies were two and three-foot barracuda with razor-sharp teeth and the cold, dark eyes of a predator. We didn’t squeak them either — instead we were taught how a quick jerk of the wrist could break their spines.
As the evening rolled along, and the sun set over Koh Kood, a feeling of calm and serenity overcame the boat, only interrupted by another fish, and then another big fish, and we floated along knowing that what we were experiencing together was special, because even the Captain and Mr. Butt were happier than pigs in shit. Before we knew it, we were almost out of hooks and bait and the pails were spilling over the sides with fish.
Darkness overtook us, and the ship’s single green light flashed on, clouding all of us in a mysterious light that will forever remain in my memory:
The fish kept coming, our asses and arms were sore as all hell, and the rum had run its course. As 8 o’clock hit, the Captain told us to reel in, and we all looked at each other, wondering what the fuck we were going to do with all of these fish. Because, here’s the thing: unlike many deep-sea vessels, Captain and Mr. Butt allowed us to keep the fish!
In total, we had twenty-seven barracuda and a few other larger, tasty fish. It was 9 PM when we arrived back on shore, and we were all starving, so we gave the Captain half of our haul, loaded the fish into two plastic bags and, after dropping four barracuda off with Benjamin’s favorite local Thai restaurant as a token of gratitude, we motored on over to a small, backpacker’s pub on Koh Kood called the Eco Bar.
This place was surreal. The Eco Bar is up a huge set of stairs, up against the rising jungle behind and overlooks the ocean, and every night a two-piece band plays 90’s alternative/grunge rock for the hippies, backpackers, tourists and locals that like that kind of thing. We sat down on the cushions on the floor, hung out for a bit with a cold beer, and then we asked the owners if anyone knew how to cook up some barracuda.
Immediately this young Thai woman stands up and says: “Feed me beer and you’ll have your barracuda!” and we all cheered, agreed on the fair price, and threw five beers her way.
An hour later, after cuddling the cutest fucking puppies you’ve ever seen (see below) and hanging with some hot hippies sipping on mixed drinks and eating nuts, the barracuda came out with rice and a specially-made sauce that I would KILL someone for to get the recipe. There was a lot of fish, so we invited the rest of the bar to come join us and eat, and everyone packed in, nice and tight, and started salivating over the overwhelming smell of cooked fish in lemongrass, garlic and ginger.
We peeled back the skin and I was shocked to see that barracuda are pretty much a hunky, slab of meat swimming in the water, because after the bar was finished with them, there was literally nothing left of the thing except the head.
Well, not a whole head, mind you. We took their eyes out, and I, along with a few others, munched them down (I guess it’s a Thai delicacy?!). They tasted like a salty booger and the middle looked like cheese and had the texture of a marble.
Not recommended. As we say in Canada: “That’s a hard no”.
After we devoured the food, we kicked back, chain smoked and shared war stories. Benjamin told us the funniest, most disturbing story I’ve ever heard. I don’t even know how it came up or even how to tell it right.
He casually remarked that he once ate a monkey in Cambodia.
It was so out-of-nowhere that none of us knew how to respond. After we took a moment to gain our composure, we each pried for information, and he told us that once, long ago, he was touring the jungle on his motorbike when he found a remote Cambodian village, saw they were going on a hunt and then, naturally(?!), asked to join them. After much convincing, they allowed it, and he was led through the thick jungle, following a bunch of barefoot, parkouring Cambodian’s with slingshots as they chased down some unknown prey.
Long story short, six hours later he found himself around a campfire with “leg of monkey au jus” dripping from his mouth, and I don’t think any of us will ever look at him the same.
But fuck did we laugh.
After a few more less disturbing, but no-less-interesting, stories, shared by people from Sweden, Germany, Canada, Thailand, the United States and Russia, we decided to pack it in for the night as the clock-hand passed midnight and the Eco Bar was looking to clean up and shut down.
As we hopped back on our bikes and meandered through the moonlit, empty streets back to our hostels, four-and-a-half Germans left the night smiling ear to ear with bellies full of fresh-caught barracuda, and when we got back to Coffeeat/Eve’s House, we all pulled in, sat down, froze the rest of the fish for the following evening, and then decompressed as we polished off another mickey of rum. It was the perfect end to a night that none of us will ever forget, and I am just so fucking grateful for it in its entirety.
The lesson for me was simple: life is filled with chain reactions, and any interaction, any simple decision really, can lead to greatness and memories that will last a lifetime. You need only to be yourself, and to be open to the experience of meeting new people. Everything else will fall into place. Everything will be OK.
I pray and know that more stories come, and I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Here are a few pictures, just in case you’re interested.
Enjoy the tale? Do you like adventure?
Then check out the rest of my blogs on SE Asia!
Also, for an account in German from my good friend and adventurer-extraordinaire, Martin Bremer, see his beautiful blog HERE. He is also an amazing vlogger, for people that want the full-meal deal.