I wander the airport halls pulling my rolly bag behind me. Spotting a cafeteria – I make a quick decision to dip in for some caffeine. As I wait for my order, I scan the room around me. An infant playing with a string on the hem of his mother’s dress. A woman shuffling through her bag. An elderly couple silently slurping large bowls of noodles. A messy haired teenager playing a game on his phone – his seemingly younger sister draped over him watching intently.
“Espresso?” the barista calls out.
“Khop khun kha.“ I nod my head and smile as I take the cup from him.
Continuing down the long glass corridor towards my gate, I feel full of energy as I will be on my way to Chiang Mai soon – a whole new city with a whole new set of opportunities. I walk into the waiting area of my gate and sit closest to the door. I sip my espresso and it burns the top of my mouth. I sip it again and it’s not so bad this time. Someone plops down next to me and I look over.
Martin is from a small coastal town in Spain. He owns his own scuba shop that is only open from May through September. When the season comes to a close, he packs up, travels the world and picks up scuba gigs along the way. He has worked everywhere from Mexico to almost every country in South East Asia. He hopes to one day make it to the United States although his current lifestyle coupled with the inability to work without papers makes the U.S. realistically low on the list. When I tell him how much I enjoy diving, he quickly digs into his pocket and hands me his card. He makes me promise I will visit him in Spain where he will get me PADI licensed.
I ask Martin about his plan for Chiang Mai. He replies that he is meeting his girlfriend and other friend for a short holiday before they travel to Indonesia for work. He hasn’t seen either of them in 2 months. As he tells me about his recent tour in Bangkok, I realize how much I like him already. He is carefree, smiles a lot and believes life shouldn’t be taken too seriously. He has small wrinkles around his eyes and mouth indicating lots of time in the sun and copious amounts of laughter. He is kind and completely uninhibited – offering me some of his snacks and showing me pictures. As we begin to board and move to our seats, he invites me to join his group and share a taxi with them to their guesthouse.
I have no idea where I am staying in Chiang Mai so I think – why not?
An hour and change later – we both walk out of the gate together in Chiang Mai Airport. Martin’s girlfriend runs past me and, like out of a movie, she jumps up on him. She has wild blond hair with dark brown roots and her bracelets jingle as she wraps her arms around him. He drops his bags and catches her and they passionately kiss.
Oh, love. So wonderful to see two people so excited about each other and so unreserved about it.
After what seems like forever, I introduce myself to Martin’s friend who is awkwardly standing nearby. Martin’s girlfriend gives me a huge hug and grabs my hand leading me to the taxi stand. We hop in a taxi and make our way through the city. Chiang Mai lies before a stunning landscape of lush mountains. The air is fresh and I am so happy to be here. After the intense heat, fumes and crowds of Bangkok – I feel like I can breathe.
When we arrive at the guesthouse, Martin’s friend invites me to stay with him in his room as they have two double beds. I decline – I am just not ready to be that open. Instead, I approach the reception.
“500 baht,” the old frail woman behind the counter says. I ask to see the room.
As she walks through the common area and up the stairs, I see wet clothes piled up in corners with lines of ants marching around. I step over one particularly large pile by the stairs and walk into the room. The room has two single beds, stained linens, no windows and flies buzzing about. She stands there smiling as I ponder my next move.
I don’t like the room or the place and definitely don’t want to stay. However, I don’t know where else to go and I don’t have any other friends at the moment besides Martin. My instincts, however, tell me to keep looking so I kindly decline the room. I sit in the lobby and think. Suddenly, I remember the two girls I met on the plane from Detroit to Tokyo. They had written me an email earlier in my trip telling me where they were staying in Chiang Mai. I find the the email and ask the woman at the desk to call me a tuk-tuk.
I say my goodbyes to Martin and Co. with hugs, kisses and promises to stay in touch. I wonder how many people like me my wandering scuba instructor has met throughout the years. And then, as I climb into my tuk tuk and wave back to the woman at reception, I realize how wonderful that is. To enjoy the brief moments with people, with no pressure of past or future. And I am excited for the rest of the day, because there are so many more wandering scuba instructors for me to meet.