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stranded in koh samui
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This is hilarious content, but I don’t want to be living it.
Five hours after touching down in Koh Samui, I found myself in a Cowboy-esque standoff against one of my sworn, mortal enemies—street dogs. If you’ve lived in a developing country, you know the difference between a sweet pet and a trained assassin.
One runs up to your lap, rolls around, and offers their paws in return for treats. The other nibbles locals and pinches pennies off anyone who trespasses into their arena. One is cute and cuddly and wants to shower you with affection. The other wants to inject fear, pain and intimidation into your veins.
So how did I get here, staring down the snout of a gnarly dog?
My flight from Bangkok arrived into Koh Samui around 8am. In the arrivals hall, there’s a desk that assists travelers with booking taxis to their hotels or Airbnb’s. I walked over and showed the attendant the address I was looking for. She seemed a bit confused.
“What’s the name of the villa?”
I scramble through the Airbnb reservation looking for an official-sounding name but I can’t find anything. I text the owner. No response. Hmm, this is gonna be an adventure, huh. I step aside and try to call the host. After three failed attempts, I reach out to Airbnb customer service for help. Eventually, we get a hold of the host and she describes the destination to the concierge attendant. OK, she knows the place now, here we go.
I put my luggage in the car, put my seat belt on and prepare to be wowed by the island scenery. But the driver never hits the gas. He sits there mildly confused. I ask what the matter is. Then he asks me to clarify my address.
Oh no, I have to repeat this song and dance.
I call the host again and have her speak to the driver. She switches to Thai and explains the directions. He seems to get the gist. I double check Google Maps to make sure I’m not about to become a blood sacrifice. I review the Airbnb reviews and there’s no mention of a sus location. Hmm okay vamos.
Twenty minutes into the journey, it starts raining and the driver asks me to call the host again. Ah man, I get it, I should’ve known something was up. Why is this place so hidden? Why does nobody know where to go?
She gives directions and he turns a corner. Five minutes, we barrel down what appears to be a nameless, indistinct road. A flash of screaming white paint in the distance assures the driver we're on the right track. Moments later, an eager Western European lad flags us down. I later learn his name is Jeremy, the husband of our host.
I drop my bags off and ask Jeremy for the nearest grocery store so I could buy a few things. He did that thing people do when giving directions when they barrage you with so much information that it’s impossible to retain anything. I try to remember the first two steps (get on main road, then turn right)—and plan to ask someone for directions from that point. He asked if I had a bike, as in motorcycle.
Uh, no. I didn’t want to brave a bike. I’d seen a few crazy tourists who obviously didn’t have licenses or any practice zooming through the windy roads with reckless abandon toward broken bones in a foreign country. That didn’t seem fun.
“Well, I can drive you to Fisherman's Wharf, Tobi.”
Jeremy drives me through a winding, confusing network of roads away from the villa. I try to take mental notes so I can return alone. Like blood vessels, those interwoven roads ferried people from finger-like threadbare roads to the well-signposted, annotated busier streets. Seven minutes later, I’m dropped off in Fisherman’s Village.
An unassuming pearl jewelry store on the left side of the road compelled my attention. It was spacious, well-lit and had attendants that seemed they would leave you alone to browse unencumbered—instead of the vendors who jump on your back and stare you down with bated breath. I bought a bracelet that has since fractured into lovely pieces.
A little further down the street, I found a restaurant with a welcoming vibe—three seating areas (an upstairs, a middle section and beach cushions). I ordered a duck curry and asked the waitress if she could charge my phone since my battery was at 28%. After an initial struggle, she found a working socket to plug my phone into.
I was blessed with that rare breed of freedom that only exists when your phone is far away. Alone with my thoughts and the ocean breeze, I grabbed my notebook and scribbled a few lines and gazed into the beautiful ocean until my food arrived.
After paying for lunch, I asked for my phone back. The waitress returned with it in her hand dangling from my charger. I picked it up and realized that my battery was now at uh…20%. So the socket did not work. Twenty per cent felt low enough that I probably ought to start heading home. Then, all of a sudden my stomach started rumbling. Yeah, I had to get back.
I ask Jeremy how to find the villa in Google Maps. He offers to drive me back home. But I refuse. I’m in a new place, I need to ditch the training wheels and figure out how to get around the city by myself. So I rely on his directions and my memory, but once I got onto those winding roads—it was anyone’s guess. Left was right. And right was left🤷🏽♂️.
He sent me a picture of a path with some red annotations. Like I’m Tomb Raider or some geographical whizz. I wrestle with Google Maps and find a destination that seems promising—close enough that I could look around and find the villa.
I put my headphones on and waltz over to the main road and turn right onto the main feeder road. Two more turns and I was home. But which two? I followed the Google Maps suggestion and it took me to a cul-de-sac where I could see my villa, but I was blocked by a wall that didn’t want to be climbed. I considered it for the sake of my stomach, but it didn’t seem a good look to be scaling fences in a foreign country. I return to the feeder road.
My phone battery has magically drained to five per cent. Hmm not a problem, I have a charger in my bag. I try a few more secondary roads and they all lead nowhere. I weave between hens, cocks, sleepy dogs and barefoot children as I peruse through side street options like someone swiping through people on Bumble. I ask the local mechanic if he knows the direction. He says he’s never seen that address before. The road name is correct but he’s not sure about the number. I ask him where the road is. He says something unhelpful. My phone battery dies.
I feel I’m in the right zone, so I whittle down my options to three-ish side streets. I consider returning back to the main road where I could find a cafe to charge my phone and either do my recon or I could wuss out and call Jeremy. But remember, my stomach is on fire. I need a bathroom. I don’t have time to play dice with roads.
I ask the truck driver who’s on a smoke broke sitting by a pack of stacked rubber tires.
“Hey, do you know where The Greys is?”
“Yeah walk twenty yards further and turn left.”
I’m unsure if he understood me or wanted to shoo me away like an unwelcome fly on a plate of duck curry. But I’m low on options. I walk to the next junction and see a red banner in Thai. Was I remembering correctly or was this wishful thinking? I needed to believe in my options so maybe my mind was tricking me to keep the optimism high and cynicism low. I turn left and it seems plausible. A roughly hundred meters-long road with reddish houses on either side and a few dips in the road. It seems vaguely familiar. I start my crusade through it. Maybe he was right after all.
Twenty meters in, I’m greeted by the sudden, raspy barks from two dogs who each sauntered in from outside my peripheral version. I freeze.
Uh, hello gentlemen.
What brings you here on this blissful day? Have I trespassed onto your territory? Do I need to pay a toll or offer a blood sacrifice to gain access to your gates?
I stood there and calmly negotiated with those two dogs from a distance via a dialect of patented, inter-species body-language. I felt comfortable and in control if a little shaken from their sudden entry. But I was probably twenty five meters away from them and they were only barking. So I was fine. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words…even doggo words can’t hurt me.
From that period of relative comfort, an uninvited intruder barged in. A third dog rudely rushed into the scene and joined his brothers. Only thing is, this dog didn’t get the memo. He didn’t read the meeting agenda. He didn’t understand we were having a mediated conversation. He chose violence.
The dog leapt forward and the chase began.
Ladies and gentlemen—it was at this precise moment that I lost all manners, decorum and all cool—and returned to the most primal, survival-hungry mammal you’ve ever seen. I let off a scream in an embarrassingly high pitch, turned around and fled like a thief. The very stomach that was crying found a way to instantly shut up and wiped its own tears. I ate up terrain like a long-legged antelope trying to spend another evening in the savannah.
I probably ran for only a few seconds but it felt like an eternity. I looked back and found the f—ing dog had let off. Phew. I caught my breath again and I started laughing at myself. “Big man like you, running off like a child. Nawa o”. Flashbacks from my childhood—when I was seven or eight walking with a group of friends through VGC estate in Lagos and being chased by German Shepherds. Not a fun memory. A Thai girl in front of me looks over to make sure I’m OK. I gesture “Yes, fine” in a hardly-believable signal.
I quickly walk away and try another road, turn back, and stare down the road I’d come by.
The Thai girl sees I’m clearly lost.
“Hey, are you looking for something?”
“Yeah. The Grey’s…do you know it?”
“I’m sorry, no”
“Can I show you on your phone?”
I type into her phone and she lights up. “I know this place! Yeah you were on the right road before. Just go down that road and turn left at the end. You will see it”.
“But those dogs want to kill me.”
“Don’t worry, I live on that street—those dogs are all bark, but they never bite. Calm down, you will be fine”
I’ve seen this movie before. Someone swears a dog is harmless and then it proves otherwise. I absolutely have trust issues here. Remember I spent my teens in Nigeria, where dogs are security apparatus. Living, breathing mafia men that ensure rules aren't broken. So I thanked her for confirming the directions, but I plotted an alternative solution—I’ll get a bike to drive me to the end of the road.
I return to the junction of the crime. Looking for a ride from Grab (think Uber) or local driver. My stomach rumbles. A lady driver in a green and white uniform drives over in my direction. I noticed she worked for a food delivery company and I flag her down. She shows me her phone and it shows she’s heading to The Greys—my villa! OK this is good, my third confirmation that this treacherous road was the path to my home.
She had one of those square food delivery bags behind her. But I’m desperate. So I ask for a ride down the road. Since we’re going to the same place. Her English isn’t great. So I try to explain that there are dogs in the road. So I literally woof like an idiot. She laughs. I can’t blame her. Imagine someone in a foreign language woofing at you in the middle of the workday. Anyway, I let her go.
I take another look at the road—it’s empty and I decide to walk. Thing is—I felt an extraordinary calm like I would be fine. Like I have a pact with God upstairs saying—you’re not going to die in a ridiculous way, my boy. I would get home if I calmed my self down.
But you can't really sneak past a dog. Their senses are far too attuned to the sounds, smells and sights of the road. Plus, they can feel fear. So how was I going to make it home?
Faith man. The same unexplainable substance that makes people do things they can’t articulate. I didn't have a choice—I wasn't going to sleep on the road, so I had to scale that hurdle. I control my breathing and focus on my feet. I take the first step. Left foot. Right foot. Like a paranoid cheater, I'm scanning in every direction to make sure I'm not being watched. Halfway in, I notice I'm doing the thing and try to remain myself that while I've made good progress, I'm now firmly in no man's land. So there's no time to celebrate. Move your feet, Tobi.
I get ninety percent down the road and as I scan behind me, I notice the Thai girl–the same one who encouraged me to do this…was at the tip of the road. Like an excited toddler walking for the first time, I look over like "I did the thing". She does not see me. But who cares. I escaped the hoodlums.
As I make it to the end of the road, my other faculties return. I curse the location of this villa and consider moving elsewhere. If this is day one, what madness would the week bring? Realising that danger had been overcome, the war in my stomach resumes. I sprint to the apartment, open my Notes app and dump my trauma into bullet points. Because what's what writers do when faced with crazy situations.
Looking back, it's a testament to what our minds can make us do. The muscle fibers in my legs, which carried me home would’ve been utterly useless if I didn't first believe I could make it there. It's a timely reminder to focus on what you can control (your mind, your breath, your steps) instead of worrying about outcomes. A lesson I often need to heed.
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