Hello! I'm Renee Garland. I've been traveling to Asia for the last 13 years in order to escape snowy Maine winters, hoping to live sunny adventures. My company began 11 years ago with $250 worth of chopsticks. I started selling them at craft fairs and festivals all over coastal Maine. Unfortunately, many people didn't know much about chopsticks! (or Asia for that matter.) Nonetheless, I trudged through the festival scene for several years expanding my inventory to clothing, accessories, gifts, and art. The mission has always been the same; to work with individuals, women's coops, and small home-based businesses to help support and encourage small enterprises. I opened my first store in Portland, in 2006 called "Waterlily." It's filled with Waterlily brand handmade gifts produced both from my travels abroad, and by local artists. I still go on buying adventures, 'cause that's what it's all about. . .

Sunday, September 30, 2012


It was scary! I was awakened from a beautifully tranquil nap in my grass bungalow on the beach by a blaring cell phone ring. I jolted up, answered, and listened...
Oh whoa, Renee Renee!!! Renee!!  My friend screams across the line from Bangkok that there was a major earthquake in Sumatra a few hours before, and a tsunami warning to evacuate immediately! Is this a joke? Still groggy from the nap, I proceed to giggle and not take him seriously.
He tells me hurriedly that there is a one hour warning. We must evacuate the beach before the tsunami (estimated to be as devastating as 2004) hits. One hour. I get serious.

Leaving the island is not possible. We are a four hour ferry boat ride from the mainland of Thailand. I look outside our simple digs, and see fellow travelers departing on foot with their backpacks as fast as they can. All we can do is head for the hills. The stats on Koh Payam Island; It's very tiny, pretty flat, and roads are only wide enough for motorbike traffic. It's main source of income is cashew farming. Mostly, the only problem you are likely to face on Koh Payam is being hit on the head with falling cashew fruits. Today not the case.

Our bags were already packed, thankfully, as we had just arrived from Bangkok that morning.
(Hence the mid-day nap) Luckily, we are out the door in minutes. My friend Sara traveled with me this year to Asia, her first time. She is shaking next to me and (rightfully so) panicked. I must keep it together for us! I'm the seasoned SE Asia traveler, this is my responsibility to keep her safe. Because of this, I find myself strangely calm. I grab her arm, and we walk together toward the road. The man of the guesthouse has decided to stay. I suppose he might be thinking that he can protect his investment somehow and weather the wave coming. Crazy! But he provides Sara and I among others, a motorbike side car taxi situation for as many as can fit at once. Maybe 4?

We jump into the sidecar, and zoom as fast as we can up to the middle of the island which has the most promise for a hill. Our destination should be to the designated evacuation center, (which was set up after the devastating 2004 tsunami) which is a school. On the way over, I spot a rather large crowd at the top of a hill hanging out at the "Chicken BBQ Bar." I insist that the driver stop for us there. It seems jolly actually, a better idea over the converted school/evacuation center. Yes, if it is our time, I should think that we should spend our last hours at a party, rather than a cry-fest.

We climb the hill, and enter. It started pouring just then. There are at least 100 Thai's and foreigners. The place was super simple and open to the outdoors completely, but we had a roof, and electricity. We all sat around watching the rain, while people played guitar or their iphone radios. ( I remember someone was playing Prince) There were introductions and card games, while we all sat and waited. Many have gathered by the TV. The news report is bleak. We try to remain hopeful for each other, and the children. To be completely honest, I am hopeful. I didn't have a bad feeling. But who knows. I can't claim to know how it feels before you die. And Partly I had Sara to protect, so I wasn't allowed the luxery of being scared. I am definitely not a big drinker, and kinda vegetarian, but found myself enjoying a shot of whiskey and some chicken bbq, in this situation. Geesh, live a little if it's gonna be your last few moments!

As time passed, the reporters kept moving the arrival time back. We waited for at least four hours in the storm together. Then suddenly the news changed. We held our breath as reports came in. The first waves had hit the coast and were definitely less severe than had previously estimated. A mere two feet or something was reported. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief, and waited it out for another hour or two just to be sure. In that time the food ran out, as did the beer, and people started feeling brave enough to go back home.

People were in total shock, but so happy to leave our staged relief center.
The next day we were all recounting the event and walking around in a PTSD stupor.

Stunned, yet glad to be alive, we went on living. Swimming, eating banana pancakes, yoga on the beach. Totally surreal experience.