The Vomit Comet To Koh Tao
I awoke to a pounding on my door that echoed the pounding in my head. I stumbled out of bed and peeled open the door, doing my best to shield myself with it from the bright Thai sun. I was greeted by the hostel manager as he wedged his face into the gap between the door and began to screech at me, informing me that I had slept past checkout time and that I needed to leave immediately. I told him that I was sorry and that I would be right down, and began to pack my bag. It was the morning after the Full Moon Party on Koh Phan Ngan, and I was in rough shape.
I gathered my bag and sat down in the hostel’s small restaurant to order a much needed coffee. I looked at some of the patrons around me, and felt a perverse pleasure in seeing that my fellow travelers were in just as poor condition as I was. A gang of Australian men, who probably hadn't been to bed yet, sent a round of breakfast beers over to a group of queasy-looking British women still covered in neon paint from the night before. The beers were politely sent back and I wondered if the Aussies would have had more luck if they sent had over a round of Tylenol.
I settled my bill with the hostel and hailed a cab. It dropped me off at the docks, and I bought a ticket for the ferry ride to Koh Tao, the next destination on my trip through South East Asia. The population on the island of Koh Phan Ngan can quadruple for the monthly beach party. I had anticipated an exodus of people trying to get off the island, so I arrived at the ferry terminal early. I took a seat on a bench and waited as crowds of hungover travelers staggered out of cabs and bought ferry tickets to the mainland and the surrounding islands.
The departure time for my ferry was fast approaching, but as I scanned the waters around the docks, I couldn't see any vessels on the horizon. I couldn't see any ships at all besides a thin boat that was struggling to moor itself to the dock as waves batted it around like a leaf. It wasn't until people started loading their bags into it that I realized it was my ride to Koh Tao. I was more than a little surprised; the ferry that took me to Koh Phan Ngan from the mainland was a monster. It wasn't exactly the Titanic, but it had twin smokestacks and plowed through the ocean like a battering ram. The boat that pulled up to take me to Koh Tao looked more like a canoe with a jet engine strapped to it.
The sailors managed to get their ropes looped on the cleats and threw old rubber tires along the side of the boat to protect it as the ocean tried to dash it against the dock. With their vessel as securely tied as possible, they raised a rickety board and started loading up with hungover and nervous riders.
On unsteady legs, I walked down the gangplank and wiggled into one of the seats with my fellow passengers. Most of them, including myself, still smelling sour from the night before. We were given a brief safety demonstration in Thai that no one understood and, before we knew it, the boat was roaring toward the open ocean. It fought bravely against the waves, but once it left the shelter of the island's reef, it began to struggle against the swells. The climb up each wave, and the inevitable slide down the other side, turned the ocean into a seemingly infinite roller coaster, and passengers that were only a little queasy before turned an alarming shade of green. I was fine, for a while, but soon the waves got to me as well, and within half an hour, most of the passengers were volcanoes of misery and nausea. There were limited numbers of barf bags to go around, and any maritime code of conduct regarding women and children first was hurled over the side like so many breakfasts as a free-for-all began for the remaining bags. Those without tried to improvise with plastic bags and small paper cups, and when those ran out, I began to notice streamlets of puke running down the deck and between my sandaled feet. The smell was horrible, and I came close to throwing up myself. I closed my eyes and rested my forehead against the warm plastic of the seat in front of me, and tried to shut out the terrible scene around me, but I could still hear the retches and mewling of the weak, lacking the courtesy to suffer in silence like the rest of us.
I remained in that position for most of the trip. I began to feel a little better and opened my eyes, hoping to see our destination on the horizon. I didn't see Koh Tao, but what I did see almost made me throw up right then and there. Men and women, who hadn't slept in days, clutched plastic bags filled with the contents of their stomachs like dripping purses. People took turns doing the Technicolor yawn outside the few portholes in the cabin, and the whole time vomit sloshed back and forth with the rise and fall of the waves. The level of spew splashing about on the cabin deck had gotten to such a level that I feared we would soon have to grab buckets and start bailing before we were sunk.
I started looking around for potential bail buckets, but every basin, bowl, cup, urn, tin, and container capable of holding liquid was already filled with people’s regurgitated groceries. Luckily, it never came to that because one of the passengers, undoubtedly staring out to sea and considering jumping in to end the whole emesis filled nightmare, spotted a dot on the horizon.
“I see it! I think I see Koh Tao!” they cried.
And everyone let out a collective groan of relief. I looked out the window and saw the dot and watched it grow until it jutted out of the middle of the ocean like a jade jewel. Warm golden beaches ringed it and colorful fishing boats circled it like satellites. It was beautiful. I would have been filled with awe if I weren’t already completely topped up with nausea.
Our boat steered into the calm, protected waters of the island's bay and nestled against the dock with the gentlest of bumps. The crew raised the beam to the dock and their half-dead cargo of passengers began to disembark. I crawled across the gangplank, brushed a spot clear of cigarette butts, and flopped onto the dock. I reveled in the solid ground and promised myself I would never drink again.
Well, maybe not until the next full moon.