So at this point, I’ve gotten out of the hospital and been taken to a nearby guesthouse in which the only English speaker in town owns and lives. I have no bags, no passport, no change of clothes, no glasses, and no idea where I even am.
The innkeeper was a white, middle-aged woman with shoulder length brownish-gray hair. She had a tan and spoke English with what sounded like a German accent to me. Her name was Gabi, and she asked me if I wanted a room with or without air-conditioning. With air was around $15/night, and without was around $10 (the prices were actually in Thai baht, of course). I wanted to be comfortable since I was already pretty miserable, and $5 isn’t that much more, so I got a room with air conditioning. She asked for how many nights, and I wasn’t totally sure. My plan was to just stay one night, and then find a way to get to Pai. There didn’t seem to be very many, if anyone else, staying at the guesthouse, so I figured could play-it-by-ear how long I would stay. She showed me the room, and apologized that the television only had stations in Thai. Gabi then said this wasn’t a place where they saw any Westerners… “Only Thai’s come here”, she said. The t.v. stations at the hostels I had stayed at in the country probably got satellite feeds or something, because in addition to the Thai stations, they had plenty of stations in English as well… BBC, CNN International, and a few sports channels where everyone but the Americans and Canadians were interested in soccer games. (Yes, I know it’s called football by everyone else).Gabi left me to get settled, and I just kind of hobbled over and collapsed onto the bed. I was left alone to my own thoughts for the first time since the accident. My left leg was now a hinderance. My knee had been sewn together, and the layers of bandage wrapped around it made it impossible to bend. I wasn’t really in pain at this point, but I was just very uncomfortable, miserable, and a little worried how I’d get out of this. This was without a doubt the lowest moment of my entire trip. It made me question everything about traveling by myself such a long distance. I really just felt like going home at this point. I wanted to be back in Ohio with my family, resting in my own bed (in the house I no longer owned). I felt like such a fuck-up. I had gotten too confident and comfortable with what I was doing, and now I was in a bad spot. I really couldn’t do much more but just feel sorry for myself at that point. It really sucked.
About half an hour after getting the room, there was a knock at the door. It was Gabi, and she had a toothbrush and one of those little travel tubes of toothpaste (they were both new, and in packages, not like someone’s old toothbrush). In that moment, other than my glasses, this was the thing I wanted most. I hate going to bed and not being able to brush my teeth. Something so small and trivial like that made me feel a little bit better. Gabi asked if I was hungry and wanted any food. I told her no, I wasn’t. Food was the last thing on my mind. She said she would come back in the morning to see if I wanted breakfast. I said that would be fine, but what I really needed in that moment was to be able make a call or use the internet. The guesthouse had no WiFi (I was so spoiled from all the hostels I had stayed in). She said she had WiFi in her unit, and would let me use it. I was so grateful. This was an emergency. I needed to call Sam to give him an update and figure out the situation with my bag. So I hobbled over to her part of the complex which was basically a small one-story home on the same grounds as the motel-ish guesthouse area. I don’t remember much about her home, other than she had a dog who didn’t seem to like me very much. Gabi gave me the password to the WiFi, and that gave me the ability to make a phone call. In hindsight, I probably could have asked if she had a landline, and since Sam had a Thai number, I probably could have called him that way. But I used my Skype account instead. If you call from Skype to Skype it’s free. But if you pay for Skype credit, you can call any phone number for a flat fee that is ridiculously cheap (I used $20 of skype credit in 13 months, and I called home regularly to give them updates). Sam had given me his number right before I left with the policeman and doctor to go to the hospital.
I felt a sense of relief hearing Sam’s voice on the phone… it was like I had some communication back with what was going on. Sam said the group had made it to Pai okay. He asked when I planned to come up. I told him I wasn’t sure, and that I was pretty banged up. There are some details here I can’t quite recall… I think Sam mentioned something about how I might have to pay a fine for my bike to get collected by the rental company. I can’t remember exactly how that got sorted out, but I’ll have more on that later. I think when I wrapped up that first phone call with Sam, all we knew was that the group I rode with had my bags, and I was going to try and make it up the next day. However, I remember being worried about the future of my knee. I really wanted to get to a good hospital or doctor and get a second look at it. I talked with Gabi about finding a good medical facility, and she said one of the best private hospitals in the country is actually back in Chiang Mai. The only photo I have from that day (after the accident) was a photo I took of the name of the hospital Gabi had brought up on her computer. Not much else I could do at this point, but wait and see what the next day would bring.
After getting an update from Sam and finding a place to get my knee looked at, Gabi made me some tea and we talked a bit. I was curious about her life there and how she ended up living in the middle of nowhere in Thailand running a guesthouse. She said that twenty years ago, she had been a backpacker like me and she just fell in love with Thailand. She was from Germany (which confirmed what I had guessed). She apologized for her English and said she doesn’t get to practice it much. Honestly, it was near perfect, and I was so happy to have landed in her guesthouse after such a terrible day. Gabi told me that she never gets any Westerners, only Thai’s visited her place. She did mention one other Westerner who had been there… another backpacker who had been injured in a motorbike crash. I had a good laugh. Maybe she should rename her place, “Idiot Busted Up Backpacker Inn”. She went on to tell me after her trip, she back to Thailand to live, eventually learning the language and marrying a Thai. I saw her husband briefly, but I’m guessing because he didn’t speak English, he didn’t come out to talk. Gabi said she would come by in the morning to check on me and see if I wanted anything for breakfast. We said our goodnights, and I hobbled back to my room.
I have no memory of how well or if I slept at all that night. I imagine it was a lot of tossing and turning. The next morning, Gabi came by to ask if I was hungry. I was actually. She apologized for not having anything like a continental breakfast, and said she only had Thai food… noodles, shrimp and rice. I kind of laughed… a hallmark of my entire trip was to always eat the local food. I had eaten shrimp and rice several mornings back in Bangkok at this little hole-in-the-wall place around the corner from the hostel. I said a noodle bowl would be fine, and about half an hour later had some breakfast. I began to reassess my situation. The toll my body had taken the day before wasn’t pretty. I felt broken, and when I took off my shirt, I could see all the bruising and road rash on my body from when I rolled after spilling my bike. I was in no shape to continue on to Pai and meet with my friends from the trip. I really needed to get back to Chiang Mai. I needed to get my bags and my passport and get situated in Chiang Mai again. That became my focus.
After breakfast, I asked Gabi if I could use her internet again to call Sam. I got ahold of him, and told him that I was too messed up to make it to Pai, and I just needed to get back to Chiang Mai. I asked if he could have my bags sent back there, and I’d work out a way to pay him, maybe through paypal or something.
(MEMORY FOG ALERT – So it’s been two and half years since this happened, and I can’t remember some details, but think this is around the time I figured out how the bike situation was going to be handled. I think the police had notified the rental bike place they had my bike, and in turn, they told Sam what was going on. Sam then told me… basically, I would have to pay a fee when I got back to Chiang Mai for the bike to be transported. My bags and passport would be waiting for me at the same motorbike rental place we had left from the day before. It would take about a day for all this to happen, so even if I got back there that day, I wouldn’t have had any bags or passport, and a lot of guesthouses ask for your passport when you check-in). It’s never a good situation to be in a foreign country without access to your passport. You have almost no way of proving who you are and when you arrived. It’s the only time in my entire trip that this happened.
Since my bags wouldn’t be in Chiang Mai until the next day, and because I wasn’t in any mood to travel, I told Gabi I would stay another night. I hobbled back to my room to sulk again. I had been given some pain meds, and I took them as my knee hurt like hell. This was a pretty boring day. I tried watching TV… it was all in Thai, and appeared to be news and local interest stories. I ended up just laying there staring at the ceiling and wondering how the hell this was all going to work out. Gabi came by at lunch and dinner with more noodle bowls. I was actually pretty hungry and eating gave me something to do. I would try and get some rest that night, and reassess my situation the next morning.
The next day, I woke up, and I had this kind of new attitude and resolve… I was getting the hell out of there, and back to Chiang Mai to recover. Gabi had been an awesome host, and I was immensely grateful for her help, but I was tired of being in the same dirty and bloody clothes for three days without the ability to see properly (remember, my glasses were destroyed when I wrecked, and I recall Sam telling me that fact during the call the previous day). I asked Gabi how to get back to Chiang Mai, and she said there was a bus that picked people up about a kilometer away. I could barely hobble out of room, let alone a kilometer. Gabi said I could get a ride on the back of her assistant’s motorbike. The assistant was a Thai woman, probably 30 years old with short hair. I had seen her around the last couple days at the guesthouse. The idea of getting back on a motorbike (even for just a quick trip) wasn’t appealing. Gabi could see my hesitation, but read the situation in a completely different way. Thailand is a very patriarchical society, and she assumed I was above getting on the back of a motorbike driven by a woman. She responded with, “Oh, don’t worry, she’s a lesbian. She’s good with the motorbike”. That might have been the strangest line I had heard my whole trip. I thought about how offensive it was, and tried to explain that my worry was more around getting back on the same type of machine that had put me in this awful mess. I realized it wasn’t worth the effort, and conceded to having her assistant take me to the bus stop. I paid my bill for the room and food, and I might have even given Gabi a hug and thanked her for helping me out in this situation. She had been my guardian angel during that time, and I wanted to reach out again to her at some point in the future. I didn’t even know where I was in Thailand, and asked Gabi several times. She said the name for the area, but It was such an unremarkable name to my native English tongue that I just couldn’t remember it. I really wanted to know where I had been so I could look it up on a map. Gabi gave me a business card for her place, but it was all in Thai (at least I thought at the time). I would figure out where I was at some point, and maybe write Gabi a message of thanks some day.
At that point, I hopped on the back of the bike with the guesthouse assistant, and off we went to the bus stop. What was called a bus stop was really the side of the road. There was no one else there, but I was assured the bus would come by there. I gave the assistant (whose name I never learned) a tip of probably like $5-$10 (in Thai baht, of course). I remember her eyes lit up, and I realized that was probably a pretty big tip for a 1 km ride. I didn’t care, and was happy to give it to her. She left, and there I was, left on the side of the road with my busted knee, alone. About 5-10 minutes later, a woman showed up at the “bus stop” as well, followed shortly by another. This was likely the right place. A bit later, a white pickup truck came by. These types of cabs are common in Northern Thailand. They’re pickup trucks with covers on the back, with benches on both sides. There’s room for probably a total of eight people. The driver asked where we were going (I’m guessing). I said “Chiang Mai” and they quoted me some price. What else am I going to do? I hopped in the back and tried to situate myself so my unbendable knee wouldn’t be in the way. On the way to Chiang Mai, a woman on the “bus” noticed my bandages and looked at me with her arms gesturing a position one would have riding a bike. “Motorbike?”, she said to me. Was I that obvious?
The ride from a few days prior from Chiang Mai to where I crashed had felt like all day, but we had been stopping. Without any of the delays, we arrived in probably an hour on the bus. I still had my functioning iPhone, and I had cached a map of Chiang Mai in there before leaving. The GPS radio on most smart phones works without a carrier, and so I was able to confirm from the blue dot on my cached Chiang Mai map, that I had indeed arrived where I requested. I was making progress, and was now more resolved than ever to get through this. I was going to get everything sorted, get better, and then figure out my next move as far as travel plans.
I’ll wrap-up the story in Part 4… promise!