Thailand: Koh Tao to Singapore

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Travel Day!  We left Ban’s at 9:00AM this morning in the back of a pick-up to catch our ride to Koh Samui.  The speed boat ferry we took to Koh Tao a few weeks ago was a large, cushy, air-conditioned ferry.  The speed boat we took today was just that: a speed boat.  There were about 25 people on it, including a Thai woman taking her feverish baby to the hospital.  The little girl was adorable, but definitely not well.  The mother had brought a bamboo fan and some wet towels along for the ride to keep her cool.

The weather was sunny and clear, which is nice because riding across the ocean in a small speedboat gets a bit bumpy.  If the weather had been bad we would have had a hell of a ride.  There’s a typhoon off the coast of Vietnam right now and we were wondering if we’d actually be able to leave today.  But all looks well on the east coast of Thailand.

Koh Samui

We arrived in Koh Samui around 11:00 and caught a taxi-thing (pickup with seats in the back) to the airport.  We shared the ride with about 7 other people, one of whom was a brain surgeon from Ontario.  I’m not kidding.  He had a digital camera like our former Canon and was showing us some of his pictures.  It was all I could do not to whine about the Canon.  We’ll see how much they cost when we get to Singapore, but it’s pretty likely that we just can’t afford it.

We got to the airport after taking some 45-minute circuitous route through the island.  The ride should have taken us about 20 minutes, but we didn’t mind because our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3:00.  So when we got there, we went to our “terminal” and they said they couldn’t check us in until 1:30.  So we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

Koh Samui Airport – for those of you who missed it when we arrived – really doesn’t have any walls.  It’s a number of thatched-roof areas called “terminals” and some pretty snack bar and restaurant areas.  It’s very well maintained and obviously caters to the high-class Koh Samui tourist crowd.  The grass and gardens are manicured and is just the type of thing you want to see when you fly into this tropical paradise.  Jon and I sat in the restaurant and watched a flight come in.  A group of Japanese tourists exited the “Arrival Terminal” and immediately took pictures next to some flowers.  I can’t help but wonder what the caption of the picture will be in a photo album.. “Here we are at the airport!”.

Don’t mind me.  I’m still bitter about the camera.

Flight to Singapore

The two and a half hour flight to Singapore was uneventful, save for the guy with the smelly feet sitting behind me.  Singapore is an hour ahead of Thailand so we set our watches accordingly.  I think we’re 13 hours ahead of New York, but I’ve sort of lost track of these things by now.  I’ve also lost track of the days of the week.  If it weren’t for my watch, I would never know what day it was.  We arrived at 7:30PM.

Hanging Out at the Singapore Airport

The airport in Singapore is beautiful, which is good because we ended up spending a few hours there.  No problems, just some things we needed to sort out.  Jon went to find an ATM for money and went to the airport map to figure out where we were.  There was a hotel reservations desk in our terminal (Terminal 1) which we knew didn’t charge commission, so we went to see what kind of deals they had.  The list she gave us was pretty extensive, except that it didn’t really include the back-packer hotels in the city center.  So we pointed to the cheapest hotel on the list and said, “We’ll stay here.”  She needed a $10 deposit, but didn’t have change so we went to Burger King to get some dinner and change.

After getting the hotel sorted out, we went to the Departures floor to catch the skytrain to Terminal 2.  Air New Zealand is located there and we wanted to see about flying to New Zealand earlier than Nov 16.  Singapore is quite an expensive city, and spending 6 days here doesn’t really thrill us right now.  We have a friend who lives in the city, but he hasn’t really responded to our emails so we’re not counting on seeing him.  (Sorry to the Marstalls and Meeks).  But it may all work out in the end.

As it turns out, the Air New Zealand desks were closed but there was an office in the basement.  So we took our trolley of backpacks down two levels.  In the lovely basement were the main offices of each airline and – get this – a GROCERY STORE!  So I went to Air New Zealand and Jon went to the store.  The woman at Air New Zealand couldn’t give me the info I needed, but she was very nice and told me where the offices are in the city.

Then I went to the grocery store to meet Jon.  We bought bread, jelly, water, toothpaste, and Snickers.  What a brilliant idea – putting a grocery store in an airport!  It’s almost as brilliant as creating an Airport Internet Cafe, which no one has had the brains to do yet.  An airport grocery store allows airport employees to do their shopping, but also allows long-term travelers (i.e. US) to stock up on food and snacks for a long plane ride.  So smart!

After the groceries, we were done with our airport errands.  So we went outside to catch a taxi to our hotel.

The Fragrance Hotel

The cheap hotel we selected is outside the city, but we didn’t care because we’re all about saving money right now.  It took us about 20 minutes to get there.  There was a group of girls in short skirts running down the street in their high heels.  Our taxi driver chuckled and said, “Ahhh.. the Red Light district.  You know that phrase – ‘Red Light’?”  Yeah.  We know it.

We looked around.  The area was clean and nice, and except for the large population of men roaming around we would never have thought it was the Red Light District.  But no worries because we’d only arranged for 2 nights in the hotel.  If we don’t like it, we’ll find some other place or leave the city all together.

The hotel was relatively nice and very clean.  The rooms are small and not carpeted, so it’s a bit loud.  But we were happy with it, despite the slight cigarette smell.  More than anything, I just wanted to take a hot shower.  It was 9:30 before we got settled into the room, and we unpacked things wherever we could (which isn’t saying much because there wasn’t a lot of room).  But oh – that hot shower felt SO GOOD!

After showering and relaxing, Jon and I got sucked into the movie “Bicentennial Man” which is a REALLY BAD movie in case you’re ever tempted to waste two hours watching it.  We quickly fell asleep.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master (no longer in training!) – Day #15

This is our last day of diving.  We’re catching a flight to Singapore tomorrow afternoon, and it’s dangerous to dive less than 24 hours before a flight.  So Jon went out for the morning dive, but I elected to take another dry day.  I’ll probably regret this decision later, but my paranoid mental state yesterday proves that I needed an extra day off.

Jon took off at 7:30 for the morning boat, and I did some administrative work in the room.  Not worth going into details, but let’s just say that it was dull enough that I got sucked into some ridiculous Scott Baio movie – and I actually watched it.

Lunch at Babylon

Around noon, I went down to the dive center to meet Jon and go to lunch.  Since today is our last day, we decided to walk into town to Babylon for falafels.  Today was very hot and sunny – a nice change from the previous days of hot and rainy.  So we worked up quite a sweat walking into town.  But it was worth it.  The falafel and schwarma were just what we wanted. 

After lunch, we went to the Internet Cafe to take care of some other administrative stuff.  Why is it that the last days in any location always seem to be administrative days?  Who knows.  We are very, very sad to be leaving Koh Tao tomorrow.  This island is lovely and the people are terrific.  If we could, we would stay.  But in order to do that we have to change at least 4 flights (8 if you count both of us).  And at $75 a pop, it’s cheaper for us to continue the trip and try to come back later on.  We are amazingly low on money right now.

Since I don’t have anything exciting to write about for today, I think I’ll use the space to describe Koh Tao and Ban’s Diving.

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is hardly a developed island.  The roads are all dirt roads, full of craters and tree roots.  Every once in a while, someone will put palm leaves over a particularly bumpy part of the road.  As if this would help the erosion.  But the lack of infrastructure adds to the charm.  Mark told Jon that he waited two years to get a telephone line.  This is because the phone company doesn’t make the trip to lay cables unless they have a certain number of customers waiting.

There are stray dogs EVERYWHERE on this island.  None of them are particularly fierce, but it’s still a bit disconcerting.  When we first arrived, a Vet was planning to come to the island to eliminate any dog without a collar.  After that, the dog population cleared up for a while but then seemed to become just as bad as before.

Hot water showers don’t exist here.  It’s not really necessary because it’s always so hot.  Usually, a hot shower is the last thing a person wants after a long day of diving.  Despite this, I still haven’t become used to the cold water that greets me each time I turn on the shower tap.  I actually don’t think that anyone has hot water here.  I’m not even sure if there’s a swanky resort on the island to boast hot water showers.

Ban’s

Ban’s is one of the two largest dive schools on the island.  However, this isn’t saying much because it’s still a pretty rudimentary place.  Our A/C room was $15/night which included TV, linens, towels, and occasional maid service.  But no toilet paper.  That, we had to buy from one of the various convenience stores.  If we do end up coming back here, we would get a monthly place without A/C.  This lack of air conditioning will either kill Jon or will cause the end of our blissful marriage.  Either way, Jon’s going to suffer.  But it doesn’t really matter because we may not be able to afford the flight back anyway.

Ban’s has a pool which is really used for confined Open Water training although we do see a tourist hanging out on the lounge chairs every once in a while.  The apartments are up a little hill from the beach.  This path up the hill begins with a little gazebo over a fish-filled pond, and ends at the pool.  Halfway along the path, there is a little cage with two pet rabbits.  I’ve never seen anyone feeding or playing with the rabbits, but they look healthy and well cared-for so someone loves them.  There are also stray dogs that have adopted various places around Ban’s as their home.  One of them recently had puppies, so there are three little pups and a momma at the foot of our stairs every day looking up at us as if to say, “How can you resist me?  Feed me!!”

And yet, we resist.

The Last Supper

In the evening, we went to pay our bill (ouch), to finalize Dive Master paperwork, and to make sure that we had emails for all the appropriate people.  Nothing was really going on at Ban’s, and the DMT crowd was talking about going to see a movie.  Since it was a quiet night, Jon and I made our way down to AC’s for our last dinner of Massuman Chicken and a movie.  The movie of the evening was “Reservoir Dogs” which held significant potential for our evening.  Unfortunately, the sound quality was pretty shotty.  So after we finished our dinners we decided to leave.  Back in the room, one of my all-time favorite movies “The Hunt For Red October” was showing on HBO so I settled in for an evening with Sean Connery.  Yummy.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master (no longer in training!) – Day #14

Paranoia Strikes

I think I’m turning into a hypochondriac.  I was CONVINCED – utterly convinced – that I was going to get decompression sickness (the Bends) from my four dives yesterday.  Not that I did anything wrong or that four dives is a bad thing, but I think that (given the Red Sea experience) my body reacts a little differently to Nitrogen than others.  PADI basically tells all divers: “Since little is presently known about the physiological effects of multiple dives over multiple days, divers are wise to make fewer dives and limit their exposure toward the end of a multi-day dive series.”  The Decompression Tables/Wheels are calculated conservatively, but every person reacts differently to Nitrogen exposure.  It’s not uncommon that even the safest and healthiest diver my get DCS sometimes.

So I spent the ENTIRE NIGHT last night completely paranoid that I was showing symptoms of the Bends.  Here was my night at various odd hours of the night/morning:

“What was that?…… Was that a pain in my joint?…. My fingers are tingling….. My toes are tingling…. What’s that prickly sensation on my arms?….. Do my elbows hurt?…. I’ll get up to go to the bathroom to see if I’m dizzy…… I think I AM dizzy…. Ow.  My knee just hurt….  Is my skin bubbling?….  No.  I’m fine.  I did everything right.  There’s no reason for me to have DCS…. But my fingers are tingling….”

And this went on for HOURS!!!!  Jon woke up at one point during the night and I told him that I thought my skin was tingling, but also that I thought I was being paranoid.  He was very nice to me and said that I should try to get some sleep and we’d see how I felt in the morning.  Meanwhile, he was probably thinking, “#$&$#@%&@)!!!  Who is this woman next to me?  Did I actually marry this person?”

After talking to him, I did feel better and fell into a restless sleep.  But I was still paranoid.

In the morning, Jon asked me how I was feeling and I said that I didn’t feel well, but that I wasn’t sure if this was because of the bad night’s sleep or not.  We decided that I should take the day off from diving, and that we would go down to the office to use the Ban’s Dive Wheel to calculate my decompression groups.   Jon – I’m sure – was secretly thinking “What the hell am I going to do with this woman?”.  So I sat and calculated my decompression groups and came up with this:

This won’t mean a thing to anyone who doesn’t dive, but to sum it up: I’m fine. The dives were completely safe and – according to the decompression tables – I should be fine.  So I felt much better after having done that, although I swear my fingers are still tingling.

Jon and I went to the Internet Cafe for a few hours to catch up on emails and news.  I still didn’t feel completely well, mostly because I needed sleep.  So I went to the room and spent the rest of the day sleeping, watching TV, and catching up on journals.  Jon went out for the afternoon dive and came back around 6:00.

Farango Pizza

At 7:30, we met a bunch of people at Ban’s to go to dinner in town.  We caught a “taxi” (read: the back of a pick-up truck) into town and met everyone else who was already at Farango’s Pizza.  We were there to celebrate Andre’s wife’s birthday.  There were about 15 of us total and we had a lovely time.  I ordered a seafood pasta that was much too creamy for my tastes, so Jon and Luis finished it up for me.

After dinner, we caught a “taxi” back to Ban’s.  I went to the room to crash and Jon logged in to the Internet.  Then he rang the room and said that he was going out to a bar with some of the gang from dinner.  He must have had fun, because he came back around 1:00AM.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master (no longer in training!) – Day #13

I was attacked by two trigger fish today!!

Today was a serious dive day for me.  And I’ll explain about the trigger fish on the way.

Dive #1: Fun Dive at Green Rock

Depth: 19 meters

Bottom Time: 32 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

This was Dive #60 for both of us.  We are officially Dive Masters!

I led this dive, which really wasn’t that difficult because it was just one guy named Aaron.  We swam around Green Rock, which is a really nice dive site I’d never been to.  We found a few swim-throughs that we cruised through.  We saw a few trigger fish and Jon found a few eels beneath some coral.  He’s really good at finding them.

We spent our safety stop around a shallow pinnacle that was conveniently located at 5 meters.  So we had a scenic safety stop for once.

Trigger Fish Attack #1: During the surface interval, Jon and Aaron told me that a trigger fish had charged me after I’d past it.  I hadn’t seen it because it came swimming out of rocks behind me.  It bit at my fins and then swam away.  I vaguely remember feeling something at my fins, but just assumed it was some coral or another diver.

Dive #2: Fun Dive at Hin Daeng Cave

Depth: 17 meters

Bottom Time: 31 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

Jon led the dive this time, and we joked before going under whether he would actually be able to find the cave or not.  I know that I would never be able to find it.  We set our compasses for 240° and headed west to the cave.  We ended up hitting the reef a little north, so we swam around for a while looking at the coral.  Then Jon found the cave with no problem at all.  It was a great dive.  On the way out of the cave, Jon also found an eel at the base of the cave.

After we swam through the cave, it was time to head back to the boat.  So Jon navigated our way through the water so that we ended up just beneath the boat for our safety stop.  It was very cool.

Back on land, Cristophe found me and asked if I could assist with the afternoon’s Rescue Course.  I said I would, but was disappointed because it meant that I couldn’t do the night dive tonight.  He said it wouldn’t be a problem unless we did a lot of ascents as part of the afternoon’s training.

So Jon an I went for a quick lunch at AC’s and I got suited up for the afternoon boat.

Dive #3: Rescue Assist at Twin Peaks

Depth: 16 meters

Bottom Time: 45 minutes

Visibility: 10 meters

So I was responsible for assisting an instructor named Zoe.  The class only had 2 people, so it was going to be pretty easy to assist.

Trigger Fish Attack #2: At Twins, the visibility was pretty bad.  We couldn’t see the pinnacles from the surface, but descended near the western buoy line.  As I descended, I looked down to see if I could spot the pinnacle or the bottom.  And suddenly – out of nowhere – this trigger fish came at my fins.  AGAIN!  Trigger fish are very territorial and have a V-shaped turf that they guard.  Obviously, I had come in just within the territory.  So we all stuck our fins out to try and ward off the fish.  He went after Zoe’s fins and so the rest of us gave him a wide berth.  

Then we swam away from him and into the shallower water where we could do the skills.  I had to be the victim for Luis and Rick for the following skills: Tired swimmer underwater.  Passive Panicked swimmer underwater.  Active Panicked swimmer underwater.  Unconscious diver underwater.  Then we went to the surface and did some surface skills including tired diver on surface, panicked diver on the surface, and unconscious diver on the surface.  The funny thing is that Zoe really wanted me to go nuts with the panicked diver act.  So I was exhausted by the end of the dive.

During the surface interval, I also had to be a panicked diver on the surface and the guys had to find a way to save me from the boat.  I yelled “Pizza!  Pizza!” and splashed water all around and tried to grab them when they came to “save me”.

Dive #4: Rescue Assist at Japanese Gardens

Depth: 0 meters

Bottom Time: 0 minutes

At Japanese Gardens, I was the unconscious diver on the surface.  So the guys had to mimic rescuing me and towing me back to the boat.  After about 1/2 hour of that, the guys went and did their navigation dives while Zoe and I sat on the boat having tea.

Since I didn’t do much diving in the afternoon, I decided to do the night dive with Jon.  This would be our last night dive since we leave on Saturday and we were both looking forward to it.  Back at Ban’s, I rushed up to the room to get a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then we went out for the night dive.

Dive #5: Night Dive at White Rock

Depth: 12 meters

Bottom Time: 29 minutes

Visibility: 10 meters

 

This was a fun dive just with Jon and me.  We’d arranged ahead of time not to have any fun divers to lead around so we could just hang out the two of us.  We were the first ones into the water and had the entire pinnacle to ourselves for a while.  It was a really nice dive.  We saw a weird-looking fish which we couldn’t identify, a crab, and a huge jellyfish.  No stingrays, though, which is disappointing.  When it was time for a safety stop, we went up to five meters to wait out the 3 minutes.  There, we turned off our flashlights and watched the phosphorescents light up each time we moved.  It was such a cool experience.

 

 

We went AC’s for dinner, where they were showing some movie with Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush.  We missed the beginning of and so didn’t stay to see the end.  

 

I was so tired from my day of diving that I was asleep at 10:30.

 

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master in Training – Day #12

Today is a “Back in the Water Day” and I’m excited.  Jon and I had signed up for the afternoon dive, so we slept in this morning.  For lunch, we went to AC’s for their fish Phad Thai and sat watching the surf.

On the boat for the afternoon dive, Jon and I were given to Australians to lead for the dives.  Helen and Adam both had their Advanced Certification so we could go to a little more depth on the first date.

Dive #1: Fun Dive at Southwest Pinnacle

Depth: 25 meters

Bottom Time: 36 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

The site was a 45 minute ride from the island, and the swells were huge.  A number of people got a bit sick, but Jon and I hung in there.  Jon led the first dive, so he did the boat briefing as well.  This included hand symbols, depth and time maximums, and points of interest.  The funny thing is that neither Jon nor I had been to this site more than once.  Sort of like the blind leading the blind.  But it’s never that difficult – just look at the map, take a compass, and go!  

As soon as we got in the water we all felt better.  The currents were very strong beneath the water, but the sites were still good.  There were schools and schools of fish hanging out, some of them very large fish!  Jon pointed out a HUGE fish hanging out between two rocks which we think was a grouper but never got confirmation about it.  I was all turned around, so I was glad that it was Jon doing the leading.  

After 35 minutes, we went to 5 meters to do a safety stop.  Because we weren’t at the buoy line, this meant that we had to do an open water safety stop, which means we had to hover at five meters above the pinnacle.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the pinnacle because the visibility at five meters was pretty bad.  If it wasn’t for a random pinnacle that suddenly passed us by, we would never have known how strong the current was and how quickly we were being carried away.  So we used the pinnacle as a place marker and spent the three minute safety stop kicking full force to stay aligned with it.  The current was so strong that we used about 30 bar of air just to stay near the pinnacle.

Dive #2: Fun Dive at White Rock

Depth: 16 meters

Bottom Time: 36 minutes

Visibility: 15 meters

I led the second dive, which was a much easier dive at White Rock – a site I know pretty well.  Except that we moored off a buoy on the south side of the reef which was a pinnacle I’d never been to.  But no worries because it’s still an easy site to navigate around.  We had a nice dive.  The current was very light and visibility was pretty good.  We saw a couple of stingrays hiding under the ledges.  They’re not hard to find if you can spot their tails.

After the dives, we took showers and then quickly headed into town for dinner because we were starving.  Jon was craving falafels again so we went to Babylon and hung out on the terrace.  I had the Chicken Schwarma, which I thought was very good.

We’d brought our flashlights with us, which was smart because the walk back to Ban’s was very, very dark.  Two guys ended up walking with us because they couldn’t see the road and so the four of us used the light from our flashlights.  It rained most of the rain back, and we were soaked by the time we got to the room.  

We checked out the scene at Ban’s before turning in, but no one was hanging out at the bar.  So we went to the room, read, and slept.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master in Training – Day #11

I did nothing today.  My ear infection is better, although not quite gone.  Hopefully I’ll be able to dive tomorrow instead.

Lunch in Town

One of Ban’s Dive Instructors – Roland – is from Israel.  He recently opened an Israeli restaurant in town and we’d heard the falafels were excellent.  By the way, a very large percentage of the divers here at Ban’s are Israeli.  It’s funny how that happens. A friend tells a friend who tells a friend, and the next thing you know half the diving population in Israel ends up in Koh Tao.  They’re all very cool, and I’ve learned to say “Sa Baba!” which basically means “It’s all good!”.

So Jon and I walked into town to find it.  The “road” was a 10 minute walk along a sand/dirt/concrete road.  We passed a few other bungalow places and restaurants on the walk, and even passed the Koh Tao elementary school.  When we reached “town” – which is really just five blocks of shops and dive places next to the pier – we didn’t know where the restaurant was.  So we walked around for a few minutes and then stumbled upon it.  “Babylon” was a little place with a blue railing and only two other people there aside from Roland and the cooks.

We each ordered a falafel on pita and a sprite.  Ela told us that the falafels make her Israeli heart proud, but that the hummus could use more garlic.  I can’t vouch for the latter, but the falafels were superb.  We really need to learn how to make these things!   Jon was in heaven. 

Rain in Koh Tao

It rained a bit while we were there, but we didn’t mind.  The rain in Koh Tao, by the way, is different from anywhere else.  It doesn’t drizzle here – it only pours.  And the downpours last for about 5 minutes.  But the interesting thing is that you can hear the downpour approaching.  The weather will be dry, but cloudy and then suddenly you can hear the rain moving closer.  It gets closer and closer… and then you’re in the middle of it until the downpour suddenly moves away.  Imagine a rain cloud heavy with rain moving through the sky.  There is no “light” part of the cloud, only the heavy part.  So the movement of this cloud determines where the downpour happens.  

The other day, I quickly went to the convenience store for some water.  I was walking back to the room when I suddenly could hear it – the loud pattering of a downpour on the rooftops to the east.  I started running as if some evil force was after me and my life depended on it.  The faster I ran, the closer it came.  I barely made it to the overhang when the downpour hit.  Whew!  It only takes 10 seconds in one of these downpours to get soaked.  I walked up the stairs to the room and Jon said, “Hey there!  Did you make it?  I heard it coming and figured you’d be soaked.”  Not me!  I’m too quick for these silly rainstorms.

After lunch, Jon went back to assist in the afternoon course and I went to the room to read.

For dinner, we went to AC’s because Jon had a Night Dive.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master in Training – Day #10

Jon and I slept in really late and chilled out in the room reading for a while.  Then we went down to the diver center and equipment room, where Jon packed up his gear for the afternoon dive.  I ordered some lunch and hung out with Thomas and a guy named Daniel who was considering a new tatoo.  Daniel compared tatoos to a drug addiction.  He says that once you have one your body craves more.

Mmmmm..hmmmm.

Jon spent the afternoon assisting another of Mark’s Advanced Open Water courses.  I went to my final lecture with Kate.

Equipment Lecture

At 1:30 I met with Kate, Lee, and Yinon for our Equipment lecture.  Kate talked to us about tanks, valves, first stage and second stages of the regulators, nitrox tanks, and other scuba-related stuff.  After about a two hour lecture, we all took the exam along with the “Scuba Environment” exam.  So now all my exams and lectures are through.  After grading the exams, Kate and I talked about what paperwork is left for the DM certification.  Today is Kate’s last official day at Ban’s.  She’s leaving in a few days to travel and work at dive shops in different places around the world.  I can think of worse ways to spend my life, that’s for sure.

I went back to the room to work on the journals until Jon came back from the afternoon dive.  He took a shower and we went to AC’s for dinner.  Then we went back to the room until 10:00 PM, when we were due at Ban’s for our final DMT exam – the snorkel test.

Ban’s Sunday Night Party

Every Sunday night, Ban’s has a party on the deck.  They break out the DJ system and the place rocks on until about 1:00AM when everyone heads to ACs for the rest of the night.

Sunday night is also the official snorkel test night, and there are 5 of us DMTs who were on deck.

The snorkel test is purely a hazing ritual.  They make each DMT put on a mask with blacked-out lenses.  Then they put on the snorkel which has a plastic funnel attached to the other end of it.  This, they fill with some horrid liquor concoction and the DMT has to drink it in one go.  Sounds like fun, right?

I’d been dreading it all day.  It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve been hazed like this and I barely drink anymore, much less a snorkel full of alcohol.  But throughout the day we’d seen the weekly flyers posted for “Ban’s Sunday Night”.  On them, the highlight was – and I quote – “5 Newly Certified Divemasters Drinking Snorkels Full of Whiskey!”  So I could whine my way out of it (“Wah!  I’m on antibiotics!”… “Wah!  I don’t drink anymore!”) or I could do it and laugh about it later.  I chose the latter.

Jon, Thomas, Marcus, Aaron and I all wandered around the party aimlessly for a while, wishing they would get it started so we could get it over with.  Then, we could finally relax and have fun.  We joked about running to the beach after the snorkel test so we could get everything out of our stomach.  (Sorry, but this is a true account of the evening).  We each strategized the perfect place to run to and laughed about the different methods of doing this test.

Around 11:00 – to much fanfare – they started the snorkel tests.  The entire place stopped and crowded around us.  Marcus went first, then Aaron, Thomas, me and then Jon.  The trick was to stick your finger up the mask to make a little air hole to breath.  If you think about it, the mask makes it really hard to drink because there’s no air.  So that made it a little easier, but it still was gross thinking about all that alcohol going straight into my stomach and then into my bloodstream.  Nasty!  So I spit out the snorkel twice, once when I was halfway through the funnel and once again when it was closer to the end.  The brilliant end result was that most of the drink ended up on my pants and in my hair (no idea how the latter happened).  When we were all done, four of us posed for a “post-snorkel” picture.  (Aaron wasn’t there because he had already run out to the beach.)  So we snapped the picture and then we each disappeared for a few minutes of privacy.  Jon says that he went out to the edge of low tide, and I found a quiet little place near some rocks.

It turns out – as I found out later – that Kate had pity on me and my antibiotics so there was almost no alcohol in my drink.  She said it was mostly Red Bull fruit drink and Sprite.  I wish I’d known that going into it because then I wouldn’t have spouted most of into my hair!  Bygones.  Still makes for a good story, right?  I have no idea how I did this for four years of college.

After the snorkel test was over, we all relaxed and had a great time.  Jon and I hung out for a few hours more and then went with everyone to AC’s around 1:00AM.  We stayed for a little while and stealthily snuck back into our room to go to sleep.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master in Training – Day #9

I have an ear infection.

It’s one of the worst things that can happen to me during this last week of my DMT.  I’m four dives short of my 60 dive requirement, and I still have another in-water skills circuit to complete.  So I’m pissed off.

(Sorry, but I couldn’t find any Clip Art for a real ear)

I took a Cipro as soon as I woke up and felt the pain, and then went down to the dive center with Jon to talk to Kate.  She said that I shouldn’t worry about it, and that I’ll be back in the water in no time.  Worst case is that I dive 4 dives in two days.  As long as they’re not deep dives I’ll be OK.

Hanging Out

So I spent the morning running errands and laying around (not simultaneously, of course).  I walked down to Ban’s 2 to see the nurse for some ear drops.  Unfortunately the sign on the door said she wouldn’t open until 11:30.  I went back to the room and waited for Jon to come back from the morning dive so we could get some lunch.  He was assisting in and Advanced Open Water course with Mark.

He showed up at 12:30 and we went to AC’s for Phad Thai.  Then Jon walked me back to Ban’s 2 to see the nurse, who did a little bit of poking and then gave me some antibiotic ear drops called Tarivid.  She says that I’ll be better in 5 days but I’m hoping for 2.  We’ll see. 

Jon went with the other DMTs to finish the second skills circuit with Kate and I went back to the room to sit with drops in my right ear.  What a pain in the tushie.

Night Dive

After the skills circuit, Jon came back up to the room and we chilled out for a while.  Then it was time for the night dive for the Advanced Open Water course.  I decided to go out on the boat with Jon and the gang just because I missed the water for a day.  But I also wanted to do my “Emergency Plan” which is a requirement for the DMT.  So I lugged the laptop out to the boat, and once everyone had gone under water I turned in on and got to work.  Lin and Tom were enthralled with it.  Tom pulled up a chair next to me and just sat and watched me type.  Then Lin wandered over and did the same thing.  I wasn’t even doing anything exciting, but they were completely content to just sit and watch.  When I started adding colors to it, I turned to Tom and said, “Blue or Yellow?”  He thought about it, looked at me, and with a huge grin said, “Blue!”  So blue it was.  They hung out for a while watching me until the divers started coming back in.  I put the laptop away and helped the divers put their gear away.

Back on land, I sat and talked with Juliette – one of the other DMTs for a while.  She’s going to Bangkok tomorrow to get certification to be an English teacher.  But she recently wrecked her rented moped and had to pay 7000 Baht to the owners (about $160.00).  So now she’s low on money and isn’t sure what to do.  So we sat and talked for a while and then went into the bar to hang out with the gang.  Jon was with some students from the Advanced class, and they decided to try some Japanese place for dinner.  I wasn’t really in the mood to go because my ear hurt so bad, so I went to bed and Jon went out until pretty late.

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master in Training – Day #8

First, I have to send a big kiss to my new niece Samantha.  She arrived yesterday with a bit of difficulty but it looks like Mommy and baby are doing OK.  We’re praying for you so hurry up and get home!

Physiology

We started out the morning with a physiology class with Kate and Ela.  What a great way to start the day, right?  Basically we learned about circulation, lungs, ears, sinuses, and the various problems that can occur with these areas when diving.  The lecture lasted about 2 hours and then Jon and I decided to take the exam to get it out of the way.  We both scored just fine and are quickly checking off the DMT “To Do List”.  If all continues as planned, we’ll be done with our DMT within the next few days and will be leading our own dives very soon.

Of course, I’m not sure that any of this matters.  The reason why we wanted our Dive Master Certification was so we could get “cash-in-hand” jobs in Australia at a dive shops.  But it turns out – from what we hear from the DMs and Instructors here – the insurance requirements on the Great Barrier Reef are so strict that most shops won’t hire people without valid work visas.  Of course, we don’t have valid work visas and probably can’t get one so it looks like we might be out of luck.  We’ll see when we get there.

Jon and I had a quick lunch at Ban’s Restaurant and then headed out on the afternoon boat for more diving.

 

Dive #1: Open Water Dive at Twin Peaks

Depth: 16 meters

Bottom Time: 35 minutes

Visibility: 10 meters

So we hit Twins again (I think I go to this place every day) but at least I’m getting to know it better.  Flav did some skills on the bottom and then let me lead the class around the pinnacles.  We didn’t go to the western one because Flav wanted to keep the dive in shallower waters.  And after 35 minutes we ascended to our safety stop.  Nothing exciting on this dive, just a nice quiet swim around the rocks.

Timed 100 Meter Tired Diver Tow

During the surface interval, Thomas, Jon and I did our “tired diver tow” for two laps around the boat – which is approximately 100 meters.  I snagged one of my students – Jarrod – to be my tired diver.  We both suited up and I pushed him around the boat.  The current was pretty strong on the south side of the boat which was a bit of a problem at the stern because we almost got sucked under (or at least I felt like it after two laps).  The strange thing is that none of us needed to worry about the “timed” part of it.  We all had a total of at least 12 points which is considered “passing” for the DMT.  We had to complete this exercise, but we each could have done it in an absurd amount of time and not worried about it.  But there’s something about being timed that makes you push yourself.  So I finished in 3 minutes and 45 seconds and ended the second lap with a variety of very colorful four-letter words because I was so exhausted.  Jon did it in 3 minutes 15 seconds.

Dive #2: Open Water Dive at White Rock

Depth: 16 meters

Bottom Time: 32 minutes

Visibility: 15 meters

This is the last dive for the Open Water class and is their final “certification” dive.  We went down to the bottom, did a hovering skill and an easy navigation exercise and then Flav led us around White Rocks.  We saw a huge trigger fish and a file fish.  The latter was very difficult to see because it blended in so well with the rocks, but it was very big and lovely.

Then we headed back to the mooring point, we waited for the speed boat and then sped back to shore.  There, we put equipment away and then celebrated with our students.  Jon also bought some “chicken on a stick” from a little woman with a mobile grill who parks in front of Ban’s every evening for the afternoon boat.  Her chicken’s good, too!

Jon and I went to AC’s for dinner, but I was having a hard time hearing because my ears were blocked up.  So we headed to the Internet Cafe to catch up on emails and turned in for a good night’s sleep.  

Thailand: Koh Tao

Posted Posted in Asia, Round The World Trip, Thailand

Dive Master in Training – Day #7

This morning, I went to the equipment room to set up equipment for the Open Water course.  The group came at 8:30 and started putting on their gear.  We had to continue with yesterday’s “Confined Session” because we didn’t get through all the skills yesterday.  

Another Confined Session

As soon as we were underwater and the skills started, Kirsten motioned to me that she wanted to go up.  I signaled to Flav and went up with her.  On the surface, she was obviously upset and said she just didn’t feel comfortable.  We talked for a while and Flav came up.  He spoke to her in Dutch for a bit and then suggested that she and I just go for a swim around the coral.  So we did.  It was a lovely little swim.  She got the hang of it after a while and was doing just great.  But since she didn’t complete any of the confined skills, she wouldn’t be able to dive with us this afternoon.

Physics Schmisics

Back on land, we disassembled the equipment and I put the stuff into bags for the dive this afternoon.  Then I went to get my physics notes and to take the physics test.  I sat in the dive center with Kate taking the test, Jon and Ela were also taking it in the restaurant.  We waited around for the tests to be graded.  I swear, this is just like Corporate Finance all over again: Here I took the time and effort to study, but everyone else did better than I.  It’s so freakin’ annoying, but I guess I’m used to is by now.  And it’s fine because I still passed with flying colors.  We all did, actually!

Timed 800 Meter Snorkel

Thomas and Jon decided that they were going to do their 800 meter snorkel before this afternoon’s dive.  This is another water skill we have to complete for the DMT.  Since they were so motivated I decided to join them.  Kate yelled “GO!” from the shore and we all took off.  Thomas and Jon were taking their time because they didn’t need the points, but since I haven’t officially done any water skills I really needed a good score.  So I hauled my butt out to the buoy and back to the shore in 10 minutes and 30 seconds.  Jon and Thomas – for whatever reason – went past the buoy and around the boat.  So they came in around 16 minutes.  But Kate took some time off their scores since they went so much further than necessary.

We ordered a quick lunch (yummy tuna salad sandwich) and got everyone’s gear ready for the dive.  Then we all boarded the speed boat and went out to the boat.

Dive #1: Open Water Dive at Twin Peaks

Depth: 16 meters

Bottom Time: 35 minutes

Visibility: 15 meters

We dove down the eastern pinnacle and had the guys do the skills on the bottom.  They did their mask clearing/removal and regulator recovery, in addition to practicing their hovering skills.  We swam around and played with the clown fish.  We also avoided a huge trigger fish.

Timed Water Tread

During our surface interval, I did my 15 minute water tread which is another water skill that must be completed for DMT.  The last two minutes had to be done with my hands out of the water.  So for 13 minutes I floated on my back (which is allowed) and sang to pass the time.  Since it was in my head, I sang “Build me up Buttercup”.  During the last two minutes, my hands were in the air and fingers were snapping to keep rhythm.  Then I looked over at the boat and they were all laughing at me which made me sing even louder just so they could enjoy the song as much as I.

Later, when we were getting suited up for the second dive, I heard Flav whistling “Build Me Up Buttercup.”  Hee!  Hee!

Dive #2: Open Water Dive at Japanese Gardens

Depth: 12 meters

Bottom Time: 40 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

Dive #2 was more skills on the bottom: alternate air breathing, hovering, and a CESA.  While we were kneeling on the bottom doing the skills, Flav suddenly pulled David and Jarrod away and started kicking at a rock on the bottom.  Only it wasn’t a rock, it was a scorpion fish about 6 inches away from their knees.  Scorpion Fish, by the way, are very very poisonous.  Not really deadly, but its bite swells-up badly and gives days and days of pain. So Flav pushed it away with his fin.  Scorpion Fish don’t actually swim – they scoot.  So Flav actually made it “scoot” away with his fin.  Then we went back to doing the skills again.  At one point, Flav looked up at me and loosely shook his hand as if to say, “Whew!  Close one!”

Timed 400 Meter Swim Back to Shore 

I wasn’t going to do the 400 meter swim because I’d already done two water skills today.  But the water was calm and the timing was right so I decided to go for it.  I had Mark time me and jumped in.  My watch has broken and so I couldn’t time myself, but Mark told me later that I made it in 9 minutes and 30 seconds.  I guess all that training in a wetsuit really helped.  So I did 3 out of 4 timed water skills today.  The only one left is the timed 100 meter “tired diver tow” which Jon and I will likely do tomorrow if the surface is calm.

Evening Out

We helped put the equipment away and then went to the room to shower.  Jon showered first and rushed down to the restaurant to take pictures of a glorious sunset.  I followed soon after.  We hung out at Ban’s each with a Chang Beer.  I sat with Flav and the students from the Open Water course and Jon hung out with Thomas and Alanna.  When the “Apres Dive” crowd began to thin out, Jon and I went to get some food and then back to Ban’s to meet Alanna and Mark for drinks.  They had already left but told us beforehand that they would be at a bar down the way called “Simple Life”.  

So we met up with Ela and walked 10 minutes down the road to where the bar was located.  She took a right to where she was staying and we took a left to the beach to find the bar.  We walked past it, but since no one was in there we continued walking along the beach just to see this part of the island.  Then we went back to Simple Life and walked in.  There were two guys sitting at a table and they looked at us, smiled, and said, “Sorry – we’re closed!”.  Well, that explains why no one was in the bar.

Jon and I walked back to Bans and went to the room to hang out for a while.  We toyed with the idea of going to AC’s, but it really doesn’t start hopping until 11:00 and we were beat.  Give me a break.  I swam almost a full mile today.  Timed.

We were asleep by 10:30.