From Enemas to Anenomes via Nemo
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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The Narima was twenty minutes back south along the coast of Lanta, and on arrival we sat down with a glass of water and a registration card to fill in. By the side of me sat yesterday's Bangkok Times newspaper with a back page headline of 'Man Utd Out Of Champions League'.
What with my sunglasses being miraculously found a few hours earlier and now this, I was having a very good morning. Life is sweet.
After meeting the ultra-friendly owner, Nopawan, we were shown to our bungalow on the cliff, overlooking Narima's private rocky beach. We'd seen interior shots of the bungalows in various glossy magazines in the UK, including 'Elle Décor', and as you may know by now, anything endorsed by Elle Décor, be it holiday bungalow, shade of paint or do-it-yourself lobotomy, Sophie must have it, and she usually does
The room was one of the largest and airiest we'd come across, with room for a double bed as well as a single bed with fridge and air-con. The walls were made of thatched bamboo and the ceiling was covered by swathes of white cotton. The bathroom was bright white with glass bricks giving it an open-air feel and a wall of glass doors led to a verandah the size of some rooms we'd stayed in with a natty wooden table and chairs and large tie-dyed hammock. At £40 a night it wasn't cheap for Lanta, but having seen what £100 would get elsewhere on the island, this was worth every penny.
It was lunchtime so we headed for the reception area which doubled as a huge alfresco restaurant and tripled as a TV room complete with DVD player and cupboard full of the latest titles . . . and Westlife in concert.
Next to the bar area was a Dive Shop run by a couple of ex-pat Brits called Darrel and Saffy, who'd we be visiting in the not too distant future, and down a flight of steps towards the beach was a swimming pool and jacuzzi. We could have happily lived here for a few years, it had everything.
The afternoon was spent making the most of our bungalow, gently swaying on the hammock while supping Singha beers, and at dinner we ate curry, were visited by Nopawan to see if everything was OK, before raiding their DVD store for a night in front of the laptop watching the just-about-watchable Charlie's Angels II before cranking the air-con up to Arctic mode to catch some zeds in a really comfy bed with genuine white cotton sheets, which made a nice change from our first week on Lanta when we slept under a large beach towel.
After a complementary breakfast we were shown to a little hidden room where two Internet terminals sat for another look at how the rest of the world was struggling along, but after 30 minutes of inactivity we called it a day. Their ultra-slow connection had been the only thing at the resort that could be improved upon.
We hopped onto a pair of the resort's mountain bikes and cycled a couple of miles along the road to another café, where we spent a few hours worshipping the God of Cyberspace.
With our Internet craving fully satisfied, our hunger craving was next on the menu as we pedalled to Klong Nin beach a little further along the coast for some good old Thai stodge, a nice plate of egg-fried spicy noodles, Pad Thai.
After our mini Tour de Lanta it was time to retire to our dream bungalow for a dose of relaxation and a gallon of inebriation followed by a plate of nutritionalisation, two hours of cinemation and nine hours of sleep...ation
After breakfast we met Darrel, the diving instructor and joint-owner of Narima's Dive Shop, where we opted for a DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) two-day course and with a trip to Phi Phi already scheduled for the following day our training would have to begin this afternoon in the resort's pool.
It was a cloudy day so the morning was spent taking turns swinging in the hammock readying ourselves for our training session.
At 2pm we walked down to the pool a little tentatively, stepping into the unknown, but our fears and questions were soon gone as Darrel calmly went through a clipboard by the edge of the pool, explaining a few scientific facts about water-pressure, ear-popping and lung-expansion.
It was time to get in the pool complete with mask, flippers, weight-belt, inflatable waist-coat and air-tank to go through a set of safety exercises
When hand signals were learnt it was time to go under, and after removing the air from our jackets using a device I've forgotten the name of already we settled on our knees on the floor of the pool facing one another in a triangle. Taking turns we each rattled off the exercises, and after each discipline we'd give the OK signal to confirm we were comfortable doing it followed by a congratulatory shake of the hand from Darrel.
Our lessons began with removing our mouthpieces and replacing them while continuing to breathe out; finding and replacing the mouthpiece in the event of it dislodging; the removal of water from your mask whilst submerged and finally breathing from someone elses oxygen if yours failed. Some were life-saving, some weren't, but all had to be completed comfortably before we could even think about jumping off the side of a boat and descending twelve metres into the Andaman Sea.
This was all very different to a dive we did in Turkey a few years ago, when we were given five minutes instruction by a psycho-Turk prior to jumping from a wall ten foot into a washing-machine of a sea that had a visibility of three foot
Darrel was a real calming influence and went through everything clearly and patiently. We couldn't have wished for a better instructor and we were lucky we'd booked a week at the Narima not knowing they had their own dive facilities.
We were then given another thirty minutes to go over procedures ourselves and also to give us a chance of swimming around the pool with all the equipment on.
After our lesson we learnt Darrel was a thirty-something life-changer who wanted more out of life. He had worked in the North East of England doing a dead-end job with Volvo for a long time and having turned thirty decided to take a SCUBA diver instructors course and on qualifying moved to Phi Phi off the west coast of Thailand where he stayed for two years working as an instructor, before meeting his girlfriend, Saffy, also a diver and accomplished underwater film-maker who records customers dives with a digital camcorder. After Phi Phi became overcrowded they relocated to Ko Lanta where they hooked up with Narima who were wanting a Dive Shop anyway
That evening we carbo-loaded on pasta, preparing ourselves for the following day's watery exertions.
Dive Day called for an early start and by 6.45am we sat in reception drinking coffee with Lisa, a jewellry designer from San Francisco, who was coming along for a spot of snorkelling. Our red-eyed slumber soon vanished as she engaged us with fifteen minutes of speed-talking. Solo travellers sure love a pre sunrise natter.
At 7am, Darrel and Saffy left for Saladan in their equipment-laden jeep to prepare things. Fifteen minutes later the three of us jumped into a taxi for the thirty minute drive north.
We arrived at 'Go Dive' dive shop just before 8am and boarded the boat. Soon the boat began to fill up with instructors, learners and snorkellers, and as we pulled out of Saladan there were a grand total of about 12 divers of differing abilities.
The two hour cruise to Phi Phi was spent chatting, having breakfast, being videoed by Saffy and shown pictures by Darrel of fish that could kill within seconds
When we came to the dive site the sea and turned a touch choppy and the skies were a little cloudy but there was no turning back now, the preparation had been thorough and we were ready to confront any problems we might encounter.
Downstairs we began to get kitted up in black rubber, leather belts and fishnet stockings . . . sorry, wrong story . . . black rubber, weight belts and oxygen tanks, where Darrel gave us a briefing of what we were to do on our first submersion.
After a camp little wave to the camera, I held my mouthpiece and mask and took a giant leap for Gaz-kind. With jacket inflated, I bobbed around on the surface as first Soph, then Darrel followed. A short swim on our backs and we were at a buoy with a guide rope that led to a clear spot on the seabed. Each of us gradually released the air from our jackets and slowly descended whilst holding onto the rope, on the way down Soph experienced some ear-ache due to the pressure but with some sustained swallowing and jaw-wiggling it subsided and we finally landed on our knees for a spot of underwater acclimatisation. When we were happy we set off either side of Darrel in mini Red Arrow formation and were immediately struck by the numbers of vivid multi-coloured fish and coral on view, and despite the grey weather, the visibility was clear and far-reaching
Shoals of neon fish swam inches from our face masks and parted in unison as we made our way along the coral reef. Every now and again Darrel would give us the 'look' signal as he pointed out barracudas, octopuses and deadly, camouflaged Stone Fish, as well as unusual coral. At times he would swim on his back in front of us to see if we were alright, giving us the 'OK' sign which we'd then reciprocate.
But the best was yet to come.
Straight from the silver screen, chomping on a nice clump of coral, at least 150 years young, with a happy, chilled look on his face was 'Crush', a huge Green Turtle, and a rare sight for these waters. It was a shame we couldn't talk about it, but with Soph's eyes out on stalks I could tell she was excited about seeing her favourite character from 'Finding Nemo'.
We followed him for a while until our oxygen was below 50 bar and in the 'red-zone' and it was time to leave. We'd been down 50 minutes as Darrel led us back to the buoy and a slow bends-avoiding ascent.
After being hauled back on board we could finally talk excitedly about what we'd seen and couldn't wait until the afternoon for our second dive, but first we'd have a lunch of chicken, vegetables, rice and fish(?).
A short boat ride and we were at the second site feeling a lot more confident with our diving ability, although not that confident about putting on our wet suits as I was caught on camera trying to put a leg through an arm hole
Although dive number two didn't have the variety of fish of the first dive, it did have a greater quantity, with thousand-strong schools of fish lining the walls of coral like wall-paper. The coral itself was more vibrant with bright orange vein-like fans protruding from the rock alongside giant blue vase shaped formations. Once again the best was yet to come as a little Nemo-like Clown fish wriggled around a pink and white tentacled anenome that was another scene from the film.
Back on board it was time to head home with weather worsening into a drizzle, and we were back home late afternoon. At the dive shop we bought the t-shirt and stickers, the DVD would follow later that evening after a spot of editing from Saffy.
At 5pm we were back at the resort knackered but proud of ourselves, but Darrel's day wasn't over as he had a pool session to do with another customer, but he wasn't disconsolate, it's not exactly an office job. The ocean is his office, cringeworthy statement I know, but it's the truth.
At dinner that evening Darrel presented us with our certificates and Saffy completed the final touches to our personalised DVD which was shown on the shop's TV in full view of an audience
After the embarrassment-induced blood had drained from our faces we retired to the lounge to watch 'Finding Nemo' for a new world record 48th time along with Lisa who was a Nemo-virgin, but by midnight she too became a disciple of the Nemo cult.
Our two day's diving complete with DVD wasn't cheap. The wrong side of £150 to be exact, but it was a small price to pay for an unforgettable experience and life-long memories that will be hard to match. 'Crush' the turtle couldn't have put it better. Awesome dude. Totally.
The weather today was a lot better but still a little cloudy. We said our good-byes to Lisa who was off to India and she gave us the promise of free lodgings in San Francisco if we were passing through penniless
We hired mountain bikes again today to take us up the coast for some Internet, lunch and stockpiling of Singha beer for the fridge.
At dinner we had a chat with a guy called Travis from Seattle who was currently doing an 'Open Water' course with Darrel that would eventually qualify him to dive solo. He talked of the day he had diving with three other Brits, one of whom was a bit of a flash-Harry expert who was back-flipping non-stop, another was a four and a half foot tall girl who had breast implants and were afraid they'd explode under pressure and another cock-sure beginner who swam off on his own with knuckles grazing the seabed and almost head-butted a dozing Leopard Shark. It was a typical cross-section of the British public which laidback Travis found hard to cope with.
Darrel appeared later and took a seat with us looking clearly stressed and explained to us how he had to lecture them between dives on nautical etiquette and how he had to keep hold of the silcone enhanced girl as she kept floating to the top.
Nopawan, the owner, visited us aswell showing us Dutch magazine spreads on the resort aswell as a potted history on the development of Narima from the architect to the make of bed linen they use. They had originally bought the land as a place to retire but figured they may get bored so changed plans to open a 25 bungalow resort.
It was another overcast start to the day, the weather in our third week on Lanta wasn't matching our first two weeks here, but then again, no weather on Earth could have matched those two weeks.
Still, to the beach we headed hoping for a break in the clouds but by 11am the rain came down. After twenty minutes huddled under the parasol the clouds started to break and by 12.30pm the sky was clear for the first time this week and some much needed skin-browning was to be had for the next few hours, before a spot of lunch and a half-hour in their pool-side jacuzzi.
Before going back to the beach we headed for reception where I'd seen a poster advertising Thai boxing training at the local gym. After another month of relative inactivity it was time to kick ass so I booked a 90 minute session for the following morning. Soph declined the offer of sparring with a fifteen stone sweaty Thai boxer to concentrate on photography and filming.
Keeping with the past few days fishy scenario we trawled the DVD cupboard for an evening movie and opted for the fishy film to beat all others, Jaws
Breakfast would be at 8.30am this morning to give my stomach a chance to digest the raw steaks and egg whites I'd need for my twelve round championship bout this morning
Back in the bungalow I began to focus and prepare myself so I'd be in the 'zone' (stop giggling, this is serious). I risked being the biggest English embarrassment to enter the ring since Frank Bruno so everything had to be planned to the nth degree.
To have a shave or not to shave, that was the question?
Do I leave a three day growth so as to look really scary and terrifying to my opponent, or do I shave, thus aiding my cuts man in cleaning any wounds?
I shaved. It could get rough in there.
Then it was to the wardrobe to choose a flashy but sinister kit to help me gain a psychological edge.
I chose black. The colour favoured by Mike Tyson. Say no more.
I was nearly set. All that was needed now was some stretching and firing up, and after six knee touches, a wiggle of the neck and a minute of staring at myself in the mirror in a psychotic but hilarious manner I was ready to leave the dressing room for the spotlights, baying crowd and emcee introductions.
The seriousness of the situation meant Nopawan would take us to the ring in her 4WD hummer with blacked out windows. The perfect entrance.
Round 1 to Gaz.
As we pulled up it was clear I wasn't the only one training today, but as I stepped from the darkness and flexed a skinny but sinewy bicep most of them suddenly made their excuses and left.
Round 2 to the young pretender aswell.
I was on a roll, but I'd need to pace myself.
I met the owner, an ex-Champion who'd started his own gym and occasionally taught in London.
I told him I was from London. He gave me a knowing look that spoke volumes for the pedigree of fighters from the capital.
Round 3 once again to Gary 'The Cobra' Cordery.
While stripping down, a Dutchman with a body covered in tattoos and piercings and a face marked with a lifetime of scars wandered over and said hello. As my t-shirt was being pulled over my head I caught sight of him.
"Hellooooo" I squeaked in a BBC weatherman style. Damn.
Round 4 to the opponent
I was then handed a skipping rope by a heavyweight corner man and after a quick look around to see if anyone was watching proceeded to skip in school playground style. As my midriff bounced up and down Soph let out a squeal of laughter at the sight.
Another round lost. Round 5 to the opponent who was now making a comeback.
After 10 minutes (and five rounds) I'd worked up a sweat. Correction. I was knackered and needed oxygen.
There was no let up though as I was called into the ring by the owner who would be my trainer today. As I stood on the edge of the canvas outside the ropes, testing the tension, the temptation was too much as I sprang into a hand-stand on the top rope and flipped into the ring landing on my feet while skipping past my trainer with a soft shoe shuffle and a good long leer in his direction.
Round 6 to the young English pugilist.
Slapping myself out of my daydream I crawled through the bottom rope.
Round 7 to the opponent.
I was joined in the ring by a young Swedish bloke who had obviously kick-boxed before. I told him this was no place for boys and he showed me a 1-2-3-4-5-6 combination.
Round 8 lost aswell. Three-quarters of the way through the bout and it was four-all.
The trainer started showing me some basic moves involving simple punching, hooks, knees, kicks and defensive positions. They were supposed to be simple anyway, but making sure hand-feet positions were correct was a whole new kettle of fish. I was starting to realise that learning to box was a lot more trickier than learning to dive.
Round 9 lost.
It was time for a bit of rough and tumble as the trainer began to get padded up with a chest protector, hand pads and shinguards, while I tried on a pair of boxing gloves for size. I was beginning to look the part at least and it wouldn't be long before my trainer would feel the full force of the 'Cordery Windmill', before being dumped on the canvas.
Round 10 to The Cagy Cobra.
All that I had learnt would now have to be repeated in contact-mode as the trainer yelled out combinations for me to follow. I started tentatively punching, kneeing and kicking at the pads. He called for more aggression but I told him I was afraid of hurting him. He laughed.
A psychological Round 11 to my opponent.
I'd have to pull out the stops for the final round as everything began to click, including the bones in my knuckles. Beginning with a few left-right combinations, we went through the whole repertoire of what had been learnt, finally ending with a left-right-rightknee-leftfoot-righthook-leftknee-rightfoot-rightknee-kitchensink combination, and I was spent. The trainer limped out of the ring while exchanging a 'this-kid-is-good' glance towards his cornerman.
After a late flurry the final round goes to the challenger, and the judges score it an honourable draw.
Blood splattered I leaned on the ropes crying out for my wife:
Soph duly obliged and jumped into the ring to hug her brave challenger.
But once again I slapped myself out of a daydream as the cornerman jumped into the ring and began going through some stretching exercises before finally dousing me down in the centre of the ring with a bottle of cold water. All very professional.
It had all been a real experience as my 90 minutes in the big time ended, and it was probably the best £4 I'd ever spent.
Back at the resort I topped-up my lost fluids with a small crate of Singha beer and demolished a kilo of curry, and the afternoon was spent flat out as muscles began to stiffen and twinges made themselves known, while Soph treated herself to an hours massage in the Spa.
That night, after dinner, we chose a DVD that had had rave reviews, a David Lynch film, Mulholland Drive. I know his films are weird but what was that all about? Answers on a postcard please.
The next morning we were packing once again and leaving the island of Ko Lanta to make our way to Langkawi, a Malaysian island. For once we wouldn't be flying as our trip would take nine hours and involve cars, boats and vans. Finally we've become true backpackers.
The Cobra & The Surly Mermaid