Next morning (1.30pm to be precise), bright-eyed and bushy tailed, we strolled off across the road to Stingray where we met our fellow divers: Mirjam and Marina from Dutchland, Frederico from French-Canada and Phil and Kate from Bristol. A well-rounded and pleasant bunch of people whose true colours we would not see for a number of days. Our first day was spent learning the real basics - modules 1 and 2 of the course through a number of DVDs and knowledge reviews. Not the most enthralling stuff but crucial nonetheless. The next morning we were in the pool for our 'confined water dives', a few hours of practicing the important diving skills like finding our regulators and emptying our masks (not a pleasant experience in a highly chlorinated pool) and then back to the classroom in the afternoon for modules 3 and 4. We did our end of course exam the morning after and in the afternoon were ready to hit the sea! Japanese Gardens was the location, lovely warm water, picturesque scenery and some decent fish too. Our first dive was to 12m, pretty shallow as things go.
Descending down a conveniently placed boy line, I had Ben behind me, and then suddenly he wasn't there any more. When you dive, you have to have a buddy for all sorts of reasons. Naturally Epstein was mine and when he disappeared I was très worried
. Turned out he had mask problems and kept getting saltwater in his eyes (more pleasant than chlorine but unpleasant nonetheless). He was soon back and we continued to dive and see more fishies. The excitement and exhillaration we'd experienced in Cairns diving the Barrier Reef came flooding back and it was great to be down their again! Our next dive was around an hour later and this time it was me who had the problems... my ears were giving me grief. You have to equalize when you descend, basically making your ears pop as the pressure on those little airspaces grows massively with each metre of water you descend. I couldn't do it, so had to come up to the surface whilst the others dove. A couple of actifed tablets later, which somehow I managed to catch whilst bobbing up and down in the water, and things became a little easier. I think it had a lot to do with being told that I wouldn't be able to dive the next day unless I sorted this one out... Anyhow, the ears cleared, I did the dive and all was good. That evening we ventured into Sai Ree, the 'clubbing' district and after a few games of pool, I went off home and left the ever-energetic Epstein out dancing until the early hours when much to my dissatisfaction he knocked on the door at 6ish waking me up from a very pleasant dream...
The last day of the course was rapidly approaching and with it brought two dives to 18 metres
. We had to be ready for the taxi to the pier at 7am - much too early - and after checking our equipment we boarded the rockier of the two dive boats, which didn't bode well for those with a tendency to get sea sick. Luckily I survived without so much as a nauseous twinge and made both the dives without any further complications. The videographer was with us on this dive which meant we got to be really stupid the whole time. That evening we gathered round with our instructor and dive master and watched the DVD in front of the whole bar... a little embarassing but great fun nonetheless and when we get home, you'll all be privy to a viewing... We drunk a little too much that night and once the barbecue was lit up, the kosher nostre left the celebrations to go eat some pizza and naturally made fools of themselves as anyone would do in such an inebriated state. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but my closest advisors (and their cameras) tell me that we got a taxi home and sung the whole way. Then we put the ipod on and continued to sing and dance on our balcony, with Freddy Boy next door and me being caught in some career-wrecking poses which I may or may not share with you in the near, or distant, future.
Ben left for Koh Phangnan the next morning after I'd decided to stay on to complete the advanced open water course. It was an emotional goodbye, me getting very worked up about the fact that he'd left most of the contents of his stomach from the previous night in the sink
. As if his explosive diahorrea wasn't enough, I was now going to have to put up with vomit residue in the sink for the rest of my stay. Very pleasant. Anyhow, he left and I enjoyed a day off lazing by the beach and trying to get my shoulders to tan again after all the colour had peeled off - clearly the aloe vera wasn't being used liberally enough. Carsten, the bright-red German was our instructor for the advanced course and me and Fred were the only two on it, with Phil and Kate preferring to wait a day or two. After a morning of theory we had three dives planned for the afternoon - peak performance buoyancy, where we learnt the tips and tricks of using our lungs effectively, underwater navigation, where we swam off and had to find out way back to the boat, which we did, and later on the night dive. The night dive was the best of the three. Getting on the boat at twilight, sailing out into the middle of the ocean, and then jumping into the sea in the pitch black! The nocturnal fish were crazy although it was the daytime ones who caused the problems, and whilst swimming and looking around, it was all to easy to bump into the fish who were sleeping in front of you...
The second day of the course saw us dive to 30m where we experienced a sensation called Nitrogen Narcosis, where the nitrogen content of the air you breath gets to such an extreme that is causes you to act strangely, like a drunk person
. Unfortunately our experiences were limited and I'm going to have to dive a bit deeper next time just to see what it feels like. Our final dive was slightly shallower but we saw some incredible fishies including lots of Trigger Fish, an extremely dangerous species which lures you in and then sticks its poisonous spines inside of you... we survived to fight another day and that afternoon we were certified as Advanced Open Water Scuba Divers. I'd given up any aspirations of going to Phangnan for the Full Moon Party and collapsed in a heap in my room and slept for a crazily long amount of time. It was great...
Early the next day however, I began the journey to Samui boarding the Songserm 'Express' along with about a million other people. The conditions were cramped, it was baking hot and there was no water on board! We set off late, got in late and arriving 2 hours after our scheduled time I was sure that Epstein had set off in search of some accommodation and thus I jumped on a Tuk-Tuk and set off to Chaweng Beach, the main backpacker area, and the Island's major McDonalds - our assumed rendezvous point. A few hours later he'd still not turned up. Then I receive a phone call - he missed his boat, got another one, walkie talkie didn't work, excuse after excuse. Anyhow, we met up, shared a fillet, caught up with each others news and then set off to find a beach hut. Our remaining time in Samui was unremarkable
. We spent as much time as possible lazing on the beach and split the rest of the time between eating at the local Chabad House, bowling (and buying socks) and wandering up and down the crazy bars with the local whores touching you non-stop. A strange and exhausting experience which was novel for the first day, expected on the second and downright annoying by the third. Ben recognised lots of people from Phangnan but aside from the that, the endless flocks that we'd heard frequented the most popular of Thailand's islands were strangely lacking...
Next stop was to be Chiang Mai, but first up was a mammoth 31-hour journey... crazy stuff. We made it, yes we did. Tune in next time and you'll find out, amongst other things...
- do israelis know much about real football?
- which of the crew from back home we met on the boat?
- whether we managed to get any sleep on the overnight train?
Sleep well and don't drink too much before driving a car.
We left Bangkok Friday afternoon and boarded the 'luxury' coach for the mammoth 12-hour journey to Chumphon where we would pick up the ferry to Koh Tao. Sleeping most of the way and then whilst we were waiting for the boat, the time passed surprisingly quickly and even the 3-hour boat journey was not that unbearable. We were met by the Stingray Taxi Driver, who's converted truck could hold 16 passengers, and driven up the road to our dive centre where the manager and our instructor Matt showed us to our rooms. They were very nice indeed, verging on luxury and only a 30-second walk from the beach. The island was a tropical paradise, sand, sea, smoothies and lots of other words beginning with 's'. We spent that afternoon relaxing by the pool and enjoying our first serious tanning session of the trip and chatting to some fellow residents who told us all about their crazy drinking exploits and about the fact that they hadn't slept for three days... likely story! With 4 days of our Open Water Diving course to come we decided on an early night and turning the two fans in the room up to the highest setting, we settled down and enjoyed a good 12-hours of deserved kip