This post is part of the new series on this blog: travel bloggers share their unforgettable travel experiences. Article by Barbara Weibel
I arrived in Kuraburi, a village on the west coast of Thailand famous for its production of fish sauce, just as the sun was setting. Nursing a bad knee and hip, I cautiously climbed down the crumbling concrete dock into the leaky wooden long-tail boat that would carry me to Ko Phra Thong Island for a week-long Yoga retreat. One hour later the boat puttered into a shallow bay and the non-English speaking crew motioned for me to jump out into the hip high water, handed over my backpack, and pointed to the string of lights on shore.
I had come in hopes that a week of Yoga would help my aching joints but I soon learned that the program was Ashtanga, a particularly physical form of Yoga meant for those in much better shape. Feeling out of place and foolish, I laid my mat at the rear of the Shala each day tried to master the advanced poses. Despite attempts by the other Yogis to include me I sat alone at dinner each night, so it was a tremendous surprise when the group invited me to join them for a second week of Yoga at Klong Long Wildlife Sanctuary, a little-known jungle lake in Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park.
It meant a long boat ride, followed by a 45-minute hike up and over a small hill, which in my condition was intimidating, but everyone was so positive that I finally accepted their invitation. On the appointed day the group presented me with a specially carved bamboo walking stick and bracketed me front and rear as we trekked through slippery mud on the hillside. At the bottom I struggled aboard a rickety wooden raft for the final paddle to Praiwan Raft House, a series of bamboo bungalows strung together like railroad cars that floated on the lake.
click on the image for larger view!
Each morning I arose before dawn to watch the surrounding limestone pinnacles emerge from the mists and reflect in the mirror lake. Families of Gibbons hooted as the rising sun dissolved low-lying clouds that wreathed the highest peaks. After Yoga and meditation each morning, I grabbed a kayak and spent dreamy hours paddling around the lake, investigating limestone caves with pools of emerald water, and listening for wild elephants crunching through the dense vegetation. In my kayak, I was alive and limber, able to move on the water in a way I could not on land. My fellow travelers dubbed me “Kayak Girl” when I was able to steer a particularly difficult wooden kayak that had most people going around in circles. I was sad to leave at the end of that week but I had made some friends for life, who taught me that it is OK to ask for and receive help, a priceless lesson that I still carry with me today as I travel the world solo.