I’m in yogic paradise…a hippy heaven…or a character in Alex Garland’s The Beach, I can’t decide.

I arrived on Haad Thien beach two days ago.  Battered and bruised from a roadside accident on Koh Samui, still hungover from Bangkok, an explosive head-cold rendering me humourless and antisocial – not quite the vision of health and radiance I‘d anticipated for this stint of my journey.

Still, the breath-taking beauty of this place would cut through anything.  We arrived on a red paper-mache boat, the hand steered propeller spinning perilously behind us, shrouded in an environmentally unfriendly brown smog.  Ooohs and ahhhs, and erratic bouts of laughter escaped we three passengers of disbelief.  What did we do to deserve this wonderful place?

The turquoise water smacked the side of the boat, dampening our skin with a cooling white spray.  The island stretches high, with its hills of greenery, pulsing with a positive, life-affirming energy.  I was impatient to get settled into one of the many clusters of bungalows scattered up and down the waterfront.

The Sanctuary, Haad Tien resort full, or WAY out of my price range, I requested to leave my backpack by reception and made the trek up the rocks, past the Muay Thai bootcamp, and down towards Haad Yuan.  By the time the 5th place rejected me, “sorry, full”, I felt that burning sensation of frustrated tears behind the eyes.  I wasn’t well.  The mid-day sun and exertion was disorientating.  I sat down for a bit to catch my breath.  Closed my eyes, ujjuyi breathing, the gentle, deep rattle at the back of my throat.  Listened to the sound of the waves melodically unfurling up and down, against the sand, slowly awakening the Island-girl in me.   The sea is healing.  Its waters, its air, its motion.  I could sit there for days just listening to it moving.  But must find somewhere to sleep.

Finally, a small wooden hut available: dark, but relatively spacious, a single fan smoothly rotating, geckos the size of komodo dragons scuttling through holes in the floor.  Brilliant – I’ll take it.  Passport copied, down-payment settled, all I needed to do now, was trek back up the rocks, and pick up my backpack.  Oh – my backpack, weighted down by the thick novels I’ve brought with me.  How unbelievably grateful I was to bump into Sam, Salmanyek Sam, who’s about to fast and detox.  “I’ll carry your bag if you like?”

“Are you sure?”  I tentatively questioned…don’t give him too much space to retract for god’s sake.  It might be the death of me.

“Absolutely!”  So, off we went again.  Sweating and panting up and down the rocks, my thighs were beginning to tremble, and the fever was really starting to set in, but with Sam there and his generosity of spirit, I knew that in a few short moments I could finally stop everything and just relax.

We bumped into Gabriella, the third person from the paper mache boat.  Her beaming smile and Chilean enthusiasm lifted the final remnants of exhaustion-induced apathy, and all the excitement of being here, being on this beautiful island, came flooding in.  Bikini on, water bottle in tow, we trekked back over the rocks (oh my – I wasn’t expecting this) and settled in for an afternoon of swimming and drinking coconut shakes, courtesy of the Sanctuary.

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15th March 2012

6 am – awake and restless.  Waiting for the sun to come up so I can venture out to the beach.  Sneezing lots, with headache, but don’t seem to mind so much anymore.  Two days until the intensive starts…SURELY I’ll recover by then.  Will try doing some yoga.  Still traumatized by the sweaty horror-show of self-practice in Bangkok shoe box, roll out my mat outside.  Ahhh – isn’t this nice.  Slowly warming up, gently stretching into my practice, congestion starting to ease up… AH!  Mosquito frenzy around every inch of bare flesh…perhaps I’ll do it later…

7.30 am – sitting on the steps, watching the waves crash against the sand.  No-one around, except for a few people setting up shop, a kid playing with a dog, a lonesome man with a suitcase waiting for a water taxi.

8 am – mmmmm, porridge and bananas for breakfast – with a fresh coconut.  LIFE IS GOOD : )  Oh, wait a sec, is that Matthew Sweeney over there?  I cower behind my book – a ridiculous feeling of guilt sets in.  Why for god’s sake?  Is it the teacher/student yes sir-no sir inferiority complex I suffer from, or simply not wanting to intrude on what is most probably his time before the course starts?  If we pass each other do I introduce myself?  Or do I just feign ignorance?

9 am – time for a swim.  Beautiful, wonderful, refreshing sea!  Waves crash, crash down on me!  I venture towards the sun, arms reaching and pulling through the strong tide.  How liberating!  I glance back to the distant land, smile to myself, yes this is heaven!  And then I think of The Beach.  How similar this scene could be to when the shark strikes, and reality comes tearing in.  What would I do out here if something happened?  I turn back, riding and tumbling with the waves back into shore.  Caught out by a sudden surge, I fall, face first, breaking the surface glimpsing the gentle undulations of a white, translucent cloud.  Pain, unbearable pain, as it folds its venom across my eyes, nose, forehead.  I start to panic.  Clambering to shore, can’t see.  Is it the venom, or the salt water?  Not many people are around, do I ask for help?  Is somebody meant to piss – on my face?  Somehow I make it back to my room, burning welts forming in fine lines, like the lashings of a poisonous whip.  I weep.  The frightened tears of a child in a pain they don’t understand.  And then I breathe.  Ujjayi breath.  The deep, soothing rattle at the back of my neck.  Jeremy Knowles, a school friend, swam 30 miles from Abaco to Nassau when he was 16 years old.  He was stung many times, all over his body, and face.  He was ok.  I was going to be ok.  The tears stopped.

11 am – Recuperating with three chocolate balls and a cup of Wellbeing leaves, in the Tea Temple.  The chocolate balls are glorious, absolutely glorious.  I like the quiet, welts are going down.

1 pm – lunch with Gabriella on the rocks.  Hilarious conversations about life and love.

6 pm – Meditation in the Buddha Temple.  Free sessions every night, with different styles, different guides.  This time its Kitran.  Guitars and chants, mantras and singing, sometimes in English, sometimes in Sanskrit.  English cynicism aside, I have to say I loved it.  Not all that different from drunkenly singing and swaying with family and friends to The Fairytale of New York, at Christmas time.  Something I’m learning about meditation is that it’s not something that can be taught.  It’s not some spiritual mystery that takes monkhood to uncover.  There’s this abundance of channels all around us.  The sounds of nature, the 50th lap in a pool, singing your heart out to your favourite song, sitting in the dark watching the flames of a candle…writing this blog in a quiet corner of a cafe.  We just can’t always recognise it as such….sometimes it takes someone to point it out to us.

8.40 am – eating breakfast again…in that quiet cafe.  Looking out to sea, and wondering whether I should brave the waters again…