Going down

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'd intended to ride across Koh Tao (the island is only about 2km east to west and 7km north to south) and find accomodation in one of the quieter, less frequented bays. Before doing so, I stopped in a dive shop to investigate their rates. They warned me that the roads were 'impossible' on a bicycle. I usually take such advice with a pinch of salt, but I was expecting unpaved dirt tracks up and down steep inclines, and there was heavy rain falling. I found, a little way up the road, a reasonably priced bungalow, on a cliff with a fantastic sea view. Having arranged diving for the following day I walked to the secluded bay. I had to concur with the diveshop's advice- my brake-pads would have melted on the descent.

This particular bay, Hin Wong, had a reputation for excellent snorkling, so I asked the nearby restaurant to hire me a snorkle.

-It's 80B, but you cannot rent.
-What! Why?
-Look at the sea! You'll die!
-Ah. Fair enough.

I'd assumed that the good snorkling was just around the corner, when in fact it was in amongst the huge, jagged rocks being pounded by frothy breakers right in front of me. There was a small crew of would-be snorklers confabulating by the bay, so I joined them. There was another bay, more beachy and less lethal, a little south of this one, so we all decided to backtrack and find it. The others were, sensibly, all riding rented mopeds, and were kind enough to offer me a ride. Unfortunately, the tiny engine couldn't cope with two passengers and a 50%(ish) climb.
I had to hike. This was pleasant though, since I had a dirt track through jungle mostly to myself. The snorkling was entertaining at the more sheltered cove. Along with all the usual anglefish and such, there was a huge titan-triggerfish, which I only learned later were a) capable of taking a large chunk out of a defenceless paddler, and b) 'nesting' (don't ask me how) and more than usually aggressive.

In a fit of Keen, I'd arranged to join a dive trip at 6.20 the following morning. This was in order to beat the crowds at Chumphon pinnacle, one of the most popular Koh Tao divesites. Once again the promise of whalesharks failed to materialise, but a huge grey reefshark and an enormous grouper (both at least as big as me) more than made up
for that. I felt my 100USD was well spent within the first five minutes of the day's diving, and considered a bonus the second dive's collection of stingrays, moray eels, more titan triggerfish, and the curious little symbiotic pairing of bulldozer shrimp and goby (the blind shrimp digs a hole in the sand, while the fish keeps watch. When danger comes the shrimp knows about it and the fish has a hole to escape to.)

The afternoons dives were nowhere near so colourful. A plague of plankton drifted over the sites, reducing visibility to less than five meters, so if the fish were there, I couldn't see them. However, this fog made its own excitement. The first dive of the afternoon was to involve more than the usual amount of swimming. The pre-dive briefing included the line 'try to conserve your air'. It's hard to completely relax, when you've been told to descend fifteen stories underwater and try not to breathe.

The fourth and final dive was an example of all that scuba-diving ought not to be. The visibility was farcically poor. Not only could we see no fish, it was a challenge merely to discern the other divers. Meanwhile, my ears, in rebellion at such unnatural ill-use as spending two hours under millions of tonnes of water in one day, were refusing to equalise. With this combination, it was hardly surprising that I clocked my final 'first' of the day- first occasion I've lost my buddy underwater. Fortunately, we were near the end of the dive anyway (and it was entirely his fault for swimming off).

It must be admitted, I'm becoming seriously hooked on this diving lark. Diving, it seems, is like driving. Learning to drive, to begin with you're conscious of every adjustment. The idea of controlling the clutch, brake, steering-wheel and radio all at once seems impossible; before you pass the test, you have the added pressure of being permanently under scrutiny. But you muddle through the test without hitting anything big, and before long you can throw in smoking and gossiping. Diving is exactly the same...

In Egypt, I was constantly aware: bouyancy, fins, breathing, air-supply, the instructor, and paranoia about kicking coral. I was never able to relax and enjoy the show. I'm looking forward to going back to Dahab and seeing it properly.

Back at the dive shop I bought tickets for the 8hr overnight ferry to Surat Thani, (back on the mainland south of Chumphon). This was exclusively a passenger ferry, shaped like, well, like a boat. There was nothing to distinguish it from the generic concept of 'boat'. It was the Platonic Form of boatness. Google 'boat', and this is what you'll get. There were allocated spaces this time. Each single foam mattress was considered sufficient space for 2 sleepers. This made for approximately seventy sweating sleepers occupying the floor space of thirty-five single beds. My berth, number 27, was by the hatch leading down to the toilet, and the reek of raw sewage clung to my nostrils for the entire voyage. I longed for the sweet scent of diesel. This time we arrived early, and I was riding through the silent streets of pre-dawn Surat Thani by 5.30am.
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yolswell on

I'm so proud.

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