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Tag Archives: couchsurfing

Island Life – Tales of Everyday and not so Everyday Happenings!

Bungalow Wildlife

One of the things I loved about my little bungalow was the forest like garden that brought in tons of wildlife. From birds, to reptiles to mammals. I tried my best to capture them in photos. The one I never managed to catch was the little grey squirrel that would bound past my porch around 5pm every evening. It would run along the roof, over to the coconut palm, up to the telephone line and over to another palm and off into the trees. It was a definite highlight of the day.

Beautiful Butterflies by Day

Beautiful Butterflies by Day


Magnificent Moths by Night

Magnificent Moths by Night


A Daily Visitor

A Daily Visitor


A Bird of Paradise

A Bird of Paradise

Some were not so welcome. After finding this fella in my toilet I became fanatical about checking it every time I needed to go…

Not So Welcome A Visitor

Not So Welcome A Visitor

Lantern Festival

Every November (usually) Thailand celebrates Loi Krathong. It is also commonly known as the lantern festival. Loi means “float” and Krathong refers to a usually lotus shaped container. Participants release floats with candles into the ocean (these are often intricately made of banana stalks and leaves, coconuts or bread). Polystyrene has been used in the past but since it isn’t biodegradable it is frowned on. It is a time to release your float and watch troubles of the past float away and then light a paper lantern and watch your hopes for the future float to the heavens.

My Float

My Float


(You had to add a few coins, a piece of your hair and some nail clippings to ensure your message was sent)
Marc and Linda

Marc and Linda


Releasing my Float

Releasing my Float


John Helping me with my Lantern

John Helping me with my Lantern

After all that happened in 2012, it was a festival that meant a lot more to me than it normally would have.

Watching all my future hopes rising

Watching all my future hopes rising

Couchsurfers Cont…

After my fabulous surfers Stephanie, from France and Willy and Daniel from Austria, I thought I had hit a run of fabulous people. Then I hosted an American who was coming to do his Advanced. He had contacted me to ask diving advice and had hinted at finding a host. I happily said I could host him for a couple of days. He said great I show up in the morning…ummmm ok! He called at 6am to say he was on the island!! This was not a good start. He then proceeded to take over my porch and never seemed to move from the chair there. He was trying to reach a dive shop in Malaysia to get a certificate but didn’t have a phone that worked, so I suggested he add money to his skype and use that to call. Turns out his credit card didn’t work. So I offered mine, he made the call and even when my mom was trying to message me on skype during his conversation he just kept talking and talking. He never even offered to pay me back (luckily it was only a $1.50). At one point when I got home from diving he mentioned in an off hand manner that he had tried to use my skype again but there was a password… ummm I didn’t give him permission to use my laptop… About 5 days later, after I had another surfer arrive, I made it clear that I could not host him any longer! It really does annoy me when people take couchsurfing for granted. 9 times out of 10 a surfer will offer to buy dinner, replace the milk or at the very least buy a beer. This guy did none of that and drank a bunch of my bottled water. Oi!!!!

The next surfer to come was from Chile. He was a reasonably good guy and I felt bad that I was in no mood for moochers after the previous surfer. I sort of put out ground rules, which is not something I normally do. He also wanted me to spend time with him and explore the island, but a few dinners were all I could manage as I was very busy with the end of my Divemaster course and volunteering. He stayed 3 nights and then moved on. Later I found out he had decided to stay on the island and helped Ricardo, my instructor, with his band and booking them gigs. Ricardo also roped him into being my victim… I mean patient for my rescue scenario. Let’s just say he was a wee bit bigger than me and I nearly drowned both of us trying to get him to shallow water. But the important thing is… That I didn’t! 🙂

I would have not hosted anymore after this but had already agreed to rather hippy looking couple from Ireland. They were here for the full moon party and so I only offered to host them the first night. I have seen what some full moon revelers devolve into and I didn’t want to have to deal with it. When Selina and Chris rocked up in the pouring rain I liked them immediately. It’s funny how sometimes people just click. They were laid back and relaxed and insisted I come with them to the full moon. I was actually tempted and if fate hadn’t plotted against us as far as planning I most likely would have. They ended up staying with me a few days later and recovering from the full moon, and for Chris, from food poisoning. I truly missed them when they left and hope for the full Dublin tour sometime in the future.

All you can eat Greek night with Selina and Chris

All you can eat Greek night with Selina and Chris

 

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Popcorn, Farewells and Reunions

Popcorn

For days I had a craving for popcorn, but all I had been able to find were packets of microwave popcorn. There were 2 problems with this, 1 – they little packets were a bit expensive and 2 – I didn’t have a microwave. Many conversations were had over drinks about how to use microwave popcorn without a microwave, but, even if it worked, it didn’t lower the price any. Most folks were certain I could find unpopped popcorn kernels at one of the stores in Tong Sala. But up until yesterday, when the boys had taken me on my mammmoth driving adventure, I had not been able to drive that far.

Luckily 2 days before one of my French neighbors was heading there for a shopping trip and offered to look for some for me. I found it on my doorstep when the boys and I returned from our adventures. Woohoo, it was like a bag of gold and I couldn’t wait to pop some up. I decided to experiment the next day when the boys were off exploring and I had the day off to study.

That day, we all went for our usual breakfast at the French bakery so the boys could drool at the bakery girl. 2 of my French neighbors were there and were also drooling over the girl, leaving the boys muttering under their breath. Ahhh yes all rather bemusing for me to watch while having a cappucino. After, the guys headed off and I started studying, after an hour or so I decided it was time for….POPCORN!! I found a pot, that was reasonably stable on my little burner, poured in some oil and got it going.
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Then I added the popcorn and waited expectantly. The first pop was like music to my ears and I enthusiastically shook the pot. Placing it back down at a slight angle however, proved to be an almost fatal mistake. The unpredictable flames of my little burner lapped around the side of the pot and into the oil setting it alight. Luckily I kept my wits about me, barely, and covered it. The flames went out and in true popcorn addict style, I simply turned the flames down and kept a popping. I didn’t mind the occasional black piece of charcoal 🙂
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The popcorn was delicious, although my salt was strange. I realised a little later that it was actually a shaker of msg type stuff that looked like salt, oops! But hey you do what you can and I was just thrilled to have my little snack back, perfect while reclining in a hammock and studying my Divemaster book.

Final Dinner

The boys returned in time for dinner and we went to have their last smorgesboard of yummy Thai food at our local. They were positively depressed at having to leave the island, and the food (I think more so for the food). They kept hatching plans to pack the old couple up and take them back to Austria along with Bakery girl.
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Even Bobby the restaurant dog was sad to see them go.

Even Bobby the restaurant dog was sad to see them go.

We ended the evening with a double dose of Banana Balls in Chocolate Sauce. Yummy!!!

Farewells

In the morning Willy and Daniel got all packed up and we headed out for their final breakfast at the French Bakery. It was almost sad watching them watching Bakery girl… Poor chaps!

Then it was off to Tong Sala. I wanted to try and drive there by myself but that meant I had to take one of the bags. I got as far as the gas station and decided I just felt too unsteady, so handed bag and bike over to Daniel and took the smaller bag and got on behind Willy. One last ride together. We made it to Tong Sala and they returned their bike and retrieved their passports, leaving it with the shop is required for rental. We found the ferry and after a sad farewell and promises to stay in touch I bid them farewell. I was really sad to see them go, 2 of the best couchsurfers I have had.

What adventures we had!!

Looney Farm Reunion

For those of you who have followed my blog you would remember my fun times on what was dubbed the Looney Farm. That was almost a year and a half ago, amazing how time flies. Ari and James, my two fellow inmates at the farm, and I had stayed in touch and ironically enough, realised a reunion was imminent on Koh Phangan. What are the chances!! It was so good to see them and we immediately fell back into our looney ways. First stop was introducing them to Banana Balls in Chocolate sauce, a must for any of my visitors.
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Poppy Day

John, the divemaster from England, was having a Poppy Day/Remembrance Day at the Gemini Bar that evening and we all decided to go. Anyone who grew up in a Commonwealth country is familiar with Poppy Day. It is the day of Remembrance for all the soldiers who died while fighting for freedom in all wars that have or are going on. Donations for veterans are given in exchange for a paper Poppy flower, and time is taken to reflect. John had seen his time in the service and lost more than one friend, making this ceremony very touching and more than one tear fall. I shall never understand war, but I shall never forget the brave men and women who have fought in them!

John leading Poppy Day Ceremony

John leading Poppy Day Ceremony

Thailand - poppy day

 
 

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Learning to Ride…Uphill!

Phaeng Waterfalls

Well today was the day I was going to drive out of Chaloklum town and down the highway to the main city of Tong Sala. This is only about a 15min drive, turns out it was 23min for me, but that is about 12min longer than I driven thus far. But before the drive, a good breakfast was needed, and the boys had discovered the French bakery, and the cute Thai girl there. So for 100baht ($3.50 US) we got a croissant (chocolate filled for me), a large roll (both freshly baked), a salad, an omelette and a coffee. Once we were all done, we each mounted our steeds, placed our cheesy looking helmets on our heads and headed off with me in the lead at a scary 40km/hr (25miles/hr).

Road to Tong Sala

Road to Tong Sala

I had never actually got the speedometer passed that number yet. They felt it was better that I set the pace, which I did, gripping the handle bars of Lucy Liu, my little purple scooter, so hard that when we did stop I had to peel my fingers off. But I reached 50km/hr at one point, which I was awfully proud of. When I told the others at the shop of course they nearly snorted their tea in laughter. Oh well, at least I was proud of the speed (and so was my mum). The boys were great and stayed behind me, occasionally zipping past to get me used to being overtaken over and over again.

Just before the road takes a sharp turn to the right and into Tong Sala there is a dirt road that leads to the left. Somewhere off this dirt road is a set of waterfalls that we hoped to explore. It took some finding but eventually we came across the entrance. The amusing thing was that every time we stopped to ask directions the locals knew what we wanted before we asked and would point us on our way. The little park was quite impressive, there was an environmental center, and an office for the parks and wildlife people, some cafes and places to get drinks. The best was this one sign though…
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Heading along the little path that was very well maintained we went in search of the waterfalls. It was monsoon season so we expected to see something impressive. Of course, the last rain had been over a week ago resulting in something more along the lines of a watertrickle than a waterfall. But it was still beautiful to explore.

Willy and I looking for the waterfall

Willy and I looking for the waterfall


Daniel and I

Daniel and I

I decided to try come back after the monsoon season had actually produced some rain to see the full force of the waterfalls as the photos on the sign boards showed.

Boat Races

When we reached Tong Sala it was super busy due to the week long boat races, apparently a pretty big yearly event. The boys wanted to get their ferry and train tickets sorted for Bangkok first so we headed to the ferry terminal, where they quite promptly started flirting with the lovely Thai girl behind the counter. Don’t get me wrong, this was all in fun and it was a total hoot as they both acted the part of flirting and she acted right along giggling. Tom Donnelly, an Irish Expat / transport volunteer, who had lived in the islands for over 10yrs came over to help, with the tickets…not the flirting. Although he did tell them what time her shift ended and when she needed to take the ferry back to Koh Tao. Boys, they are all the same no matter what their age.

The boys had wanted a ferry and train, but Tom recommended the ferry and VIP bus, as it was cheaper and he felt much more comfortable. The boys were thrilled at the price of 650baht ($22US). Not too bad really for a 2.5hr ferry ride, followed by a 10hr bus ride with reclining seats.

Then it was time for the boat races, we walked to a tented area and found some seats that we could drag to the front and enjoy a great view. In truth it was all rather confusing as everything was in Thai and you only knew a race was on when everyone started yelling and clapping and dancing. There were numerous groups of Thai’s all in seriously impressive Hawaiin style shirts in amazing array of colors, apparently they were the boat teams and their supporters. There was also food where ever you looked and drinks…lots of drinks!

Willy and Daniel enjoying the races.

Willy and Daniel enjoying the races.

Daniel had a mighty fine camera and I hijacked it to take some pics.
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The kids piled in...

The kids piled in…


... and the kids piled out

… and the kids piled out

Now I think I need to get one, absolutely love it, as soon as I win the lottery. After taking a few I turned around to see the boys had been adopted by a group of Thai mamas, I should restate that, a group of very inebriated and happy Thai mamas. They had given them a bowl of papaya salad, usually so hot that it would melt your insides on the way in…and out, and were handing them something to drink in a bamboo type container. Returning, I was immediately adopted into the group and handed the bamboo container. Ummmmmm… why the hell not! It was surprisingly good and as soon as I had recovered from what felt like a mule kick, I indicated as much. This was met with great enthusiasm and I wasn’t allowed to return it until I had another swig. Thankfully they took it back after that cause I think one more and I would have started seeing double. It was a homemade liquor that had a punch 10x that of vodka but with a pleasantly mild honey taste that lingered.
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Throughout the morning and early afternoon we lingered watching the races and enjoying the atmosphere, constantly trying to time the appropriate enthusiastic reactions with that of the people around us. Not easy I can tell you, as we had no idea what was going on. One minute a race would start, took us forever to even figure out where they were racing, and there would be music and fireworks and everyone would go running out and clap and sing and dance… but the next race there might only be one or two mama’s running and clapping down at the shore. Rather amusing, I guess some teams just draw a bigger crowd. Sometimes the crowd would go wild and no matter how we looked we could see no race, we had to assume that it must be warm up practice for the crowd to get them in the mood. All through the day our newly adopted Thai Mama’s kept insisting we eat, that it was free, just go help ourselves. But trying to be polite Westerners we declined…until we got hungry. It turned out it was almost impolite to decline the food, they were so thrilled to see us eat. I was trying to spoon soup like stuff over some rice on my plate when a boy came up holding a bowl, I filled it assuming it was for him. Then he gave it to me with the look of “bloody idiot westerner doesn’t she know soup goes in a bowl not a plate”. Oh dear. But he was also the dishwasher, or collector as he came up to us a little later and picked up all the plates, this time with the look every younger child who is made to do the menial clean up for parents.

The very spicy papaya salad

The very spicy papaya salad

By the end of the morning, the boys had been told to return in one year and they would be part of the Mama’s team, I, on the other hand, was just background apparently. It was an absolutely brilliant morning but we had big plans to find an out of the way beach the boys had heard about, and a road that many had warned us about.

Cute pup watching the races

Cute pup watching the races

The Road To Tong Nai Pan

Feeling ridiculously proud of myself for having driven the almost straight highway from Chaloklum to Tong Sala, we headed off towards Baan Tai, a little up the East coast from Tong Sala. We enjoyed the ride and stopped at a few different spots to see what was around.

We also stopped off at Phangan Divers, as I recognized some of the instructors sitting in the front. They were very bemused that I had managed to drive this far, as it appears my driving abilities were a bit of giggle to most everyone. But it was good to see them and see where the store was. Back on the road, we headed off looking for a road that led off to the left…into the jungle. Finally finding it, Willy consulted his iphone to see where we were and where we were going. I must admit that feature is one that I would love to have, and does make the iphone seem tempting.

To begin with all seemed dandy, the road was relatively well paved and only had minor curves that I was able to pretty much walk the bike around. But then it started to go up, at first this was ok, I mean I can handle uphill right? However, at some point, most likely the point of no return, I realised that it was so steep that stopping might result in me flipping backwards and rolling back down. I leaned forward in a terrified attempt to balance the bike (don’t think I was in any danger of flipping but gravity sure tried to convince me). Putting all effort, gritting my teeth and gripping the handles so hard that I lost feeling in my fingers, I started…relax isn’t the right word…let’s just say go with it. With painful clarity I remember seeing that the road not only began a rather enthusiastic set of curves that would put Marilyn Monroe to shame, but it also started to disintegrate on my side causing me to have to try and swerve..ish to the center of a blind corner all the while praying that no one was speeding downhill. Cause I am pretty certain this road was great fun for everyone on the island, and created the opportunity to drive like a demon, except me and my barely 1 month of riding experience.

Me and Willy

Me and Willy


Note the gradient

Note the gradient

After what felt like hours going up this slope the boys pulled into a little cafe and waited for me. I think it was barely 10min we had been driving, but I am going with hours. Taking a swig of water, me not so secretly wishing it was a different clear liquid, Willy consulted the iphone app. We were half way! Up the hill, but barely a quarter way to the beach. They gave em the option to turn back and tried to sound encouraging saying they could return tomorrow and I shouldn’t feel any pressure, all the while giving me those big kitty eyes that Puss in Boots pulls off in Shrek. As much as my fear of this drive was on the verge of spilling over, I decided the only way to conquer a fear is to ride uphill some more. 1min down the road I pulled off and said “I am riding with Willy”. In front of us the, already 70% gradient road seemed to take a 25% increase and disappear into a sharp right. Yup, am parking right here! Luckily there was a lady in a shack nearby and she said I could leave the bike there.

Willy was an excellent driver and very considerate the whole way, making sure that I was completely comfortable as I crushed at least 2 ribs, possibly more. Round the corner of the bend the paved road disappeared and became something I would more likely refer to as thin islands of soil between rain runoff channels. However, it soon became a challenge to hit all the holes and go “ahhhhhhhhhh”, which resulted in Willy and I breaking into hysterical laughter at the fact that we sounded like we were driving over a cattle grate or something due ot the vibration. We passed some stunning landscapes, the interior of the island was lush with jungle. Unfortunately, sections of it was lush with date palms and deforestation, that was not so stunning.
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Out of nowhere we came across a section of gorgeously paved road, as smooth as a baby’s bottom (at least as far as asphalt goes), and trust me after being able to giggle at the how the vibration made us sound the past 20min, this was heaven. In the middle of this seemingly random piece of road there was an all mighty round about, that split in 3 directions. Better than many I had seen in developed countries. Not sure whether to go left or right we stopped for directions and were directed right. At the same time we saw another couple on a bike looking about as lost as us. We yelled out and they said they were looking for the beach. So following us, we now had an international convoy in search of the beach. If this had involved crossing a body of water, or if Di Caprio walked past, I might have felt like I was in a movie or something.

The road continued and just as suddenly as it appeared it promptly disappeared. Literally stopped and turned back into the channel riddled dirt road from before. How very odd! We continued until we reached what appeared to be a cliff, in my opinion. In truth it was the road but instead of going uphill at an 85% grade, it went down instead, and so did much of the recent rain taking the road with it. Willy, the ever present optimist, was game. Daniel, being of sounder mind, reminded him that they had tried something similar before, and going down was one thing, but essentially having to carry the bike back up was another. The Spanish contigent and I sided with Daniel. So back on the bikes we headed off to try the last of the 3 roads that split off from the ginormous round about statue. Again the road continued for a ways and then, it too, stopped and became dirt. I honestly think that road could be an argument for aliens, I mean who else would have plopped a perfectly good road in the absolute middle of no where???

The Beach, I See The Beach

After an agonizing, yet strangely amusing, 1hr+ journey, we saw the beach…and it was glorious to behold. Mainly because I knew I could get off this bike and get feeling back into my butt cheeks and knees.

In truth I had to hand it to both Daniel and Willy, Tong Nai Pan was worth it. It is probably one of the few beaches that does actually look like it’s postcard photo. The bay was calm and water warm, the sand was white and the sun was bright. Willy and Daniel attempted some snorkeling and then, to the bemusement of the Spaniards and I, started acting out some play or show or something. I love those 2, always good for a laugh.

Unfortunately, it was already 4pm and with the sun going down at about 6pm, we couldn’t spend too long, unless we planned to spend the night. Looking at the prices of the drinks… there was no way in heck that we could afford a bungalow, and sleeping on the beach in this ritzy neighborhood might be frowned upon. Taking some time to just enjoy the view and the beauty we finally mounted our steeds and headed back.
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The Ride Down

Driving back to where we had left my bike, was actually enjoyable and I don’t think I did any more damage to Willy’s ribs. Maybe a few finger shaped bruises but nothing too serious. Getting my bike and thanking the lady profusely we headed back.

Now the one good thing about going up is that gravity prevents you from going too fast. However, going down means gravity has the opposite effect. So riding my brakes all the way and losing feeling in my fingers once again, I attempted to slowly inch my way down. Even with the brake almost full on, I was still going about 40km/hr. Heaven knows how fast I would have gone if the brake had failed. The boys of course zoomed past, having the time of their life. Even stopping to chat with a mahut and his elephant.
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At some point the road appeared to level, and I was thinking, thank god I made it and I did it without too much trouble. Then I turned the curve and saw that I was only half way. Eventually though, with much self encouragement, and focus, I made it to the end, and without stopping continued towards home. I could not believe I had done that, and I also do not believe I could have done it without Willy and Daniel. Without your encouragement, I don’t think I ever would have got over my fear, and never would have discovered Tong Nai Pan. However, next time, I am taking the canoe!

Dinner Trends

Finally arriving home just as night was falling we went and had dinner at the local again. The boys absolutely loved their food, we also got a beer to celebrate the crazy adventure that the day had brought. For desert we rode to the other side of town, 2min away, and I introduced them to deep fried banana balls in chocolate sauce.
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A trend was started!

 
 

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Avoiding Decompression…

Waking up at 6am every morning due to the glorious sun shining through my window is one of the best things ever. The boys were still asleep and I tiptoed out of the bungalow so as not to wake them…especially Willy all wrapped up in the hammock like silkworm in it’s cocoon.
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Assisting the French

Today the shop had 3 French students doing their Open Water Course and their first ocean dives. In cases where we have students with a language that is not covered by the instructors at the shop we hire in a freelancer. I think being a freelance dive instructor would be a great way to have a dive career, especially if you have another skill that can be used to fill in the financial gaps between dive jobs. Shops call you in and you can either decline or accept without the pressure to take it as it is your place of employment. But again, you must either be in high demand, have another skill or be financially independent otherwise you could go through long stretches of ramen dinners.

Richie, our freelance French instructor, had me help him with his dives today. As soon as we reached Sail Rock he sent me in first to go set the float line. I had done this once before and was still mastering the strangely difficult task of getting it tight enough. If it is too loose then it could get caught up on the coral or tangle with another line, if it is too tight and waves develop it could be yanked off taking the chunk of rock with it and causing damage. Swimming out to the rock and dropping down at the appropriate spot I just hoped that I would drop down where some of the tie lines were. CORE SEA, a local non profit studying the coral and working to protect it, had set these nifty loops at certain intervals around Sail Rock. Of course there are always the days where the current forces you onto the less frequented side resulting in a difficult search for a spot to tie the line. Luckily, this was not one of those days and I managed to find a tie line and tie it up. Of course, even though I had battled to pull it as tight as I could with the surge constantly pulling it from my hands, I discovered it was still too loose. Luckily it was ok for the students to complete their skills and when we dropped down I was able to quickly retie it tighter.

I was buddied with the 3rd member of the trio and he was a dream student. Completely natural in the water and no issues what so ever. If I didn’t know better I would have thought he dove before, but he swore he this was his first time… I bet you that’s what they all say 😉 . The other 2 however, were not as dreamy. In fact just after we dropped down, less than 5 minutes after Richie had explicitly said not to touch anything, one them got my attention and pointed to his hand. I saw around 5 small puncture wounds trailing blood in what appeared to be a sea urchin inflicted wound, as if he had tried to pick one up.. on the surface we discovered that is precisely what he had tried to do. I guess he didn’t realise they are just as prickly below the surface as they are above!

Prickly, definitely prickly!

Prickly, definitely prickly!

On the up side the dive was pretty good. There were tons of large groupers everywhere and we saw 3 scorpion fish, the most I had ever seen in one dive. The students all seemed happy when they came out and enthusiastic for the next dive.

Scorpion Fish (courtesy of Michael Devlin DiveMaster)

Scorpion Fish (courtesy of Michael Devlin DiveMaster)

As I clambered aboard, Marc told me that he needed me to dive with his group on the next one as the male half of his couple had “sucked” his air. This means that he had breathed too heavily and depleted his air much faster than expected, in fact he was down to the limit after barely 20min. With only Marc as a guide he could not send the guy to the surface alone nor could he leave the wife to dive alone. So he had been forced to return after a very short dive. Most dives last at least 40min.

Avoiding Decompression

Marc planned to drop back down within 20min, which would give me around a 40min surface interval instead of the usual hour. In these circumstances you have to keep an eye on your computer to watch your time for DCS (Decompression Sickness). Most computers will tell you how many minutes you can remain at a certain depth before the risk of DCS, and as long as you move to a shallower depth and be sure to surface before these numbers are too low then you should be fine.

I ended up having almost an hour but to be safe I dove a few meters above them and thoroughly enjoyed just hanging out…literally. 30min into the dive Marc signaled to me that the husband was down to 50bar, the minimum preferred amount of air to surface with a 3min safety stop at 5m. Acting as calm and professional as I could, this was the first time I was taking a diver back to the surface alone, I guided him back the way we had come hoping I would surface at the right spot. We hung out at the 5m mark, all the time keeping my eye on a rope I hoped to heck was our boat and not a Burmese fishing vessel on the other side of the rock. When our 5min were up we surfaced and, just as I had expected…., there was the boat (thank the heavens!)

All in all a great day and I liked the feeling of the responsibility of taking the diver to the surface and tying the float line.

Introducing the Local to the Surfers

Back home I studied my dive books and waited for Willy and Daniel my two couchsurfers to return from their escapades around the island. After a few hours I went to fill Lucy Liu bike with gas, the farthest I had gone on my bike. A full 5min away from home. When they weren’t home by 6pm and I was famished I popped down to my local and got some of my favorites.

Reclining in the hammock, reading and killing mosquitoes while periodically watching a great episode of gecko tv on my wall, they arrived, it was barely 7.30pm and they felt bad I had waited. But it was all good and I took them over where they bought me a beer and told me about their day while eating. Both of them are huge foodies and could not believe how good the food was. They planned to come back the next day, Willy with his notebook to take down how to cook all the delicious dishes.

Willy and Daniel

Willy and Daniel

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and planning our adventures for the following day. At the boys encouragement to improve my driving, I had decided to take the day off and attempt to drive all the way to Tong Sala, a full 20min. Mmmm this could prove a make it or break it moment in my bike driving career…

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Diving and Nets….

Diving With Marc

Finally, after a 5 day self-imposed exile from diving to get myself healthy, I signed up to dive again. It appeared as if arriving on a humid tropical island, followed by immediately starting my Divemaster training, still suffering jet lag and diving for 5-6 days in a row after a year of not diving, had taken it’s toll on me. Not to mention that after living in Eugene, Oregon, I had not seen the sun in years, we get it occasionally for a few months over what is supposed to be summer. Don’t get me wrong it’s beautiful there, but I always miss the tropical sun and beach like where I grew up in South Africa. But now I was prepared, I planned to make sure I drank enough water on the boat, that I stayed out of the sun as much as possible, and that I ate properly. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the basics and then you suffer greatly.

I was paired with Marc, Divemaster of over 3yrs, he had a pair of open water divers doing a fun dive and a friend of the owner who was joining us. Bic, a Thai Graphic Designer, had been diving many times, but he was not certified, so I went along as his buddy.

Netted!

The weather was glorious as usual, although the visibility was not the best. I was thrilled to be back in the water, 5 days is way too long!

Me Descending The Line

Me Descending The Line

We saw a number of bull sharks and on the second dive we had one, around 3m, come really close to inspect us, from the angle I was at it almost looked as if Marc was going to tickle it’s nose when he reached out to dissuade it from coming closer. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t reach any appendage out when a shark is nearby.

It might not be a Bull Shark, but it is a great pic of a "deadly" Rabbit Fish (feel free to insert Monty Python Jokes Here)

It might not be a Bull Shark, but it is a great pic of a “deadly” Rabbit Fish (feel free to insert Monty Python Jokes Here)

I had told Bic to stay close to me and well, he did just that, staying VERY close. It was all rather amusing, but he was a perfectly capable diver and it was a great day to dive.

Bic and Me

Bic and Me

The sad thing was seeing another fishing net that had been caught on the rocks and left there by local fisherman. Since Sail Rock is not a preserve, fishing is allowed and we fear that at night there are some rather intoxicated fishermen who misjudge locations and end up snagging rocks and pinnacles. Without the ability or drive to try remove them they simply cut the rope and drop the entire thing below the surface, trapping fish and causing untold damage.

Net

Net


Net on other side

Net on other side

In fact, it is believed that such an event a few months back, that had covered most of the rock below the surface, trapped thousands of fish and had taken the efforts of divers from both Koh Phangan and Koh Tao to remove, had attracted the now ever-present bull sharks back to Sail Rock. They arrived 3 days after the net had been removed and had not been seen in the area in over 7yrs… The only bonus being that it was almost a certainty to see them, hanging out in the murk layer of around 18m. So far there had been no incidents, and we all planned to keep it that way. Considering Bull Sharks (known as Zambezi’s in South Africa) are listed as the 2nd to 3rd most dangerous shark (depending on sources and just how big that Tiger Shark is that is gunning for the higher spot) in the world, let’s hope these are friendly??!??.

By the time we left the net was still there. But plans were in the works to organise a “Rock Rescue” Party to remove it. For the time being divers were cutting holes in the net to release fish trapped beneath it. It might seem easy to just cut and remove it, but trust me, it’s a lot more complicated and is just safer to organise a net recovery.

You Know You’re a Local When…

For dinner I decided to pop down the road to my local place. I really love their food there and the couple who run it are awesome. Also it is open air so you can enjoy the breeze. Tonight’s dinner was my usual favorite of Cashew Nut Chicken (sometimes with more cashews than chicken), the total was 70baht. Unfortunately I realised I only had 40baht on me, having forgotten to fill my wallet. But the owner was not stressed and said “just pay rest next time”. He had no fear that I would return… Yup I am a local..ish!

Diving With Gem

The next day I was paired with Gem, the Thai instructor. She had a couple of DSD’s (Discover Scuba – first time divers) and needed me to come along to set the float line and be there if needed.

It has also become my task to do the boat briefing, something I rather enjoy and am rather good at. It all came about when Marc said, “you like to talk! Up you get and do the boat briefing”. I have even had some other shop instructors on the boat comment how well I did. And it is true, I do like to talk…

The first dive went off fairly well, my float line was a little loose but as we descended I went down to tighten it. The 2 DSD’s completed their skills without too much trouble and were actually very comfortable in the water. Other than a bit of current the dive was very pleasant. Unfortunately, the net was still draped over the rock.

One of the weirdest sensations when surfacing is when you are suddenly faced with about 5 times as many boats at the rock compared to when you descended. It’s a little disconcerting as you try wrap your head around which boat is yours. On this particular day we descended the 1st dive with 2 boats, when we surfaced after 45min there were over 10!! Most of them were boats from Koh Tao island, they usually get there a little after us as it takes almost 2hrs to get to the rock, vs our 45min from Koh Phangan. The reason for so many is that divers had rallied to remove the net, and all the shops that didn’t have clients and even some that did had organised to remove it.

They did a great job too, ’cause when we descended for the 2nd dive they had all but removed the entire thing, and it was a very large section of net. However, there was one little piece being carried off by a crab, Gem spent a good 10min having a tug of war with it and finally won. You could almost hear it grumble off and see the frown (if crabs frown). A great day of diving and returning knowing the net had been removed made everyone breathe a sigh of relief.

Meeting Strangers

At my local place for dinner, indulging in my 2nd favorite dish of garlic pepper pork and rice, I met a girl from the US who had just arrived on the island and was planning on studying yoga here and in India. We chatted a lot about travel and she asked me a lot of questions about traveling by myself and where I had been. She seemed amazed that I had been, seen, and explored so many places alone… the strange thing is, it just feels normal to me, or maybe I just don’t know any other way to travel through life! One thing I know, is that one of my favorite parts of travel is getting to meet new and interesting people, especially those just starting out on the road and willing to learn.

Couchsurfers…round 2

Back at home I passed out utterly exhausted, setting my alarm for 8pm as there was a farewell for Kla, Thai divemaster, who was moving to Phuket for the next dive season. I also had 2 couchsurfers arriving at some point, but ferry delays and mishaps had pushed their time later and later. At one point they felt so bad they offered to find a place near the ferry terminal. I told them not to worry as I would be up any way at the Omega bar for the farewell.

Being the Schmidt I am, I arrived on time which meant no one else was really there yet. But Kla was and was practicing his guitar. So I grabbed a drink and hung out with the few there. At 9pm a text came through that my cs’ers had reached the ferry and were taxi bound. Saying farewell to Kla, I jumped on my bike and putted back towards home, stopping at the dive shop, the designated meeting point. When the taxi pulled up I had them follow me to my road and then had the boys jump out and walk the last few yards.

Willy was from Italy and Daniel from Austria, but they bothed lived in the same town in Austria and worked in the similar field of music and movies. I could tell they were going to be great fun to have around, super chill and always up for a laugh. The local was closed so I whipped up some of my favorite green curry ramen for them and what ever fruit I had left. Then Willy passed out in the hammock, Daniel on a few cushions on the floor and me in bed.

Green Curry Ramen!!!

Green Curry Ramen!!!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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You Don’t Get Much More Italian Than That… ;)

Monday 16th April 2012

Jetlag

Kate was supposed to go into work at 9.30am but decided to work from home today. Thank heavens as jet lag was kicking my butt and after trying all the tricks I knew to get to sleep, it had finally only kicked in around 4am. I only surfaced around 11am and crawled out of bed around noon.

I got myself going by stopping in to a little shop for a cappuccino and a croissant, I rather like this morning (afternoon in today’s case) tradition. The cappuccino definitely made me feel better and my eyes were able to focus better on the subway map I was trying to decipher.

Subway Tickets Get Confusing

After living in Seoul, Korea for 3yrs, with a subway map known to be the most confusing plate of colorful spaghetti of all the world’s subway maps, I figured Rome’s would be easy. Well it turned out not to be the map that was confusing but rather the ticket. I managed to figure out how to buy one from the machine but then spent a good 5min unable to make the automated ticket taker… well take it. I looked exasperated and managed to catch the eye of a lady heading through, she indicated I flip the ticket over… of course it had to be that simple. I had tried every variation except that one. Jet Lag, I blame the jet lag.

Vatican City

Technically speaking while Italy became my 31st country, the Vatican City would make 32. Even though by my own rules I have to spend a night in a country, to do this I would have to sleep under a statue or on a bench, which might be frowned upon. So I am claiming an exception to my rule. (Please note I also claim Scotland and Wales as exceptions, cause they are just too different from England to be lumped together). I have very strict rules and since they are mine, well, guess that means I can bend ’em 🙂 .

I took the subway Metro A to Ottaviano stop and followed the masses in, what I assumed, was the direction of the Vatican. I figured I was heading in the right direction when I started being accosted in multiple languages by tour guides, yup definitely the right direction.

There were so many people, it just blew my mind. We had to line up and go through metal detectors, I kind of wished I could get them to stamp my passport or something.

Hundreds of People


Good To Know

The sight of The Vatican Building took my breathe away. Everywhere you turned you saw stunning architecture, statues and art.


The Obelisk

The Obelisk from Egypt was brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. It originally stood in his circus on a spot to the south of the basilica, close to the present Sacristy.

Sixtus V had Domenico Fontana move it in 1586 to the center of St. Peter’s Square

It is also a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square. The obelisk rests upon four couchant lions, each with two bodies whose tails intertwine. (from: St. Peter’s – The Obelisk)

One of my favorite things were the cardinal points marked on the floor around the obelisk.

St. Peter’s Basilica and Cupola

I decided to head towards the right and follow the signs saying “Cupola”. The entire time I was standing in line I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the wall art and statues and everything… kind of made me wonder what it cost to tell you the truth.

I was debating between the 7 euro to take the elevator or the 5 euro to take the 320 stairs. Right before I got to the pay window, merrily thinking I could take the stairs no problem, I realised it was 7 euros and 515 stairs. 2 euro saved you from 195 stairs. I promptly found 2 more euros and happily paid it. I am sorry feeling as jetlagged and exhausted as I did even 320 stairs were going to be an effort, and they nearly killed me when I finally made it.


My Destination

The first section was only a couple of steps and I was greeted by an up close view of the inside of the Dome itself. Words cannot express how spectacular it was, here are some pics:



It was all going smoothly until a bottleneck at the exit to the next section caused a jam. The area we had to walk on was a narrow elevated, fenced off walk way that ran half the dome. The most annoying part is that the exit was half way along the walk way and instead of spreading out everyone just crammed in on the first half where you entered. Finally pushing myself through the crowd I found myself with ample room to relax and enjoy the other side almost alone, even sitting down and writing in my journal while we waited.

Finally getting through the door to the next section we were greeted by the remaining 300 steps in the form of a vertigo inducing circular staircase. It never seemed to end.

But at the top you forgot how tired you were as you stared out at Rome spread around you as far as the eye could see. The weather was perfect with clear blue sky and only the occasional puffy white cloud. Once again, photos are the only way to do it some justice:

St. Peter’s Piazzo

Rome

Another Side of Rome

Heading back down the winding staircase, I stopped off at the gift shop to pick up and mail some postcards. I also picked up something I could use as a Christmas ornament, a small Olive Wood Rosary. I started this tradition a few years ago, collecting a Christmas ornament from every country, one day, when I have my own place, and my own Christmas tree, I can relive my adventures as I decorate.

Since it was such a nice afternoon, I found an out of the way corner and wrote in my diary and people watched.

Couchsurfing Contacts

Couchsurfing is a fantastic resource for any traveler. You can find free accomodation with locals or offer crash space and meet travelers or, one of my favorites, you can browse the groups section and meet people or post for meet ups.

On this particular occasion I had posted on the Rome group saying that I was traveling and would love to meet up with anyone who wanted to do some touring together. Earlier that day I had got a text from a local, by the name of Alfonso, who offered to meet me and take me on a tour of some ruins on his Vespa…. Alfonso and his vespa… it’s almost TOO Italian. I wanted to look round the Vatican a bit more but after the severe sensory overload that is, the church of St. Peter, I decided to take him up on his offer.


A Little Splash of Holy Water

Vatican Guard – You Have to be a Real Man to Wear These Colors

Vespa Tour with Alfonso

I met Alfonso at one of the metro subway stops. I had to wait for him outside a burger king or mcdonald’s or something and kept seeing these guys walking up and wondering if that was him, since I had no idea what he looked like. Some people would think I was crazy for meeting a guy I have never met or even spoken to and going on a tour with him. These people may say “who knows what his intentions are…”. But, some days you have to trust and go with it, some of the best experiences are made that way. Eventually this, very Roman, good looking guy walked up and made a call…my phone rang. Alfonso took to me to grab some lunch and insisted on paying. He also explained, apologizing profusely, that he was just on his lunch break and had to work till 7.30pm or they would fire him. So I gobbled up my sandwich quickly.

Alfonso and his Big Bike, not the Vespa

We chatted a bit and he talked about visiting Thailand, which then became talk about the sex trade in Thailand, and how he would never pay for it, as it wouldn’t be the same, and how he had met a girl who was a worker (but not in that sense) and they had hung out… I just sipped my coffee and watched this rather bemusing hole being dug deeper. Some people may have taken offense to where the conversation headed within the first 5minutes, but I could tell it was innocent.

There was a bit of a lull in the conversation and then he asked if I wanted coffee. I asked if he didn’t have to get back to work soon, he figured coffee would be ok, just a few minutes late is no problem.

Then he decided since he was running 5 minutes late he may as well just take me on a quick tour of some of the local archaeological sites he was working on. He was trained as an achaeologist and turned out to be an endless source of historical facts. As we whizzed past one site after the other he gave me a rough run down of their history, you could tell he was loving being able to tell these things to a receptive audience. It also turned out he used to race bikes and that little vespa sure could whip in between the cars and trucks at top speed. I think I spent a lot of the tour gripping onto him for dear life with my eyes closed. But when I opened them the sites he took me to were spectacular, unfortunately we never got off the bike, so I didn’t get any pics.

The Shifting Hand…

About 15min into his tour he started shifting my left hand from his waist to his hip. I kept shifting it up he kept shifting it down. I kept thinking to myself, “if I feel anything enthusiastic I am going to injure him”. After almost an hour of the shifting back and forth he stopped to show me another site and also explained that he had injured his ribs in football/soccer practice. Hahahahha oops, and here I was almost breaking his ribs with my death grip.

In the end he dropped me off at Kate’s house at 6.30pm, so much for his day at work. When I asked, he simply said that he was already late and they would get over it. We said cheers and he said maybe we can get together again for dinner.

What a ride, literally, you don’t get any more Italian than that afternoon!!!

Meeting My Crazy Seatmates

I had about 30min to rush back to the house and get changed to go meet the 2 crazy girls who had sat next to me on the flight. We were meeting at the famous Spanish Steps for dinner.

It was great to see them again and they told me all about their adventures thus far. From the exhaustingly long day at the Vatican and Museum where they saw the Pope, to being picked up by a rather drunk priest who invited them to a Bishop’s Ordination, not usually for public viewing. They nearly fell off their chairs when I told them about Alfonso and my Vespa tour. Got to love the experiences you have while traveling!!

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Italy, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Gold Coast – Day 177 to 181

4th July to 8th July 2011

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital

On the suggestion of Chris, I contacted the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary concerning volunteer opportunities. I was almost immediately offered a position at the wildlife hospital if I could commit to the 2 week minimum. Checking my calender I worked out that the two weeks would just barely fit into my schedule and promptly agreed. Monday was to be my first day and I was thrown in shortly after arriving, they almost forgot to give us a tour of the facility. Along with me were two new volunteers, Hamish and Collette were doing a two week practicum for vet school.

Some of my first duties were to follow Jess in the cleaning of cages and preparation of medication. At first glance there were mostly birds, but with some scuffling of papers under the bird cages I discovered my first echidna, Snorky. So named because one of his nostrils had grown over and he constantly made a snorky sound.

Snorky

Other than cleaning cages, I was taught how to medicate birds, how to handle the echidnas and medicate them and was also monitoring animals during surgery and examinations.

Duck monitoring

At the end of day one I headed to meet with my host for the week, a very cool journalist by the name of Kate. I was so exhausted that I could barely move, but after a hot bath the feeling returned to my legs… standing all day in the work force was never my cup of tea. Kate turned out to be a fantastic host and also about to leave on a monumental year long trip, to Europe. It was great talking to her about travel and writing and getting ideas and advice.

Day two started much the same with lots of cleaning and monitoring and standing. Only this time I had been put in charge of force feeding the Kookaburrahs. Tash, our head nurse, had showed me how to do it the day before and had then passed the responsibility to me. With 4 birds in the hospital this could take a while. Kookaburrahs are renowned for not eating by themselves while in hospital and so force feeding was required. This meant shaping balls of meat into worm like shapes and then shoving it as far down the birds throat as you could. I ended up being quite good at it.

Yes my finger is down its throat

We also had a flying fox come in. Due to diseases including rabies, it was only handled by the vet and experienced staff. We were also concerned about a recent breakout of Hendra Virus in the area. Spread by bats droppings in water sources for horses and then to humans the disease manifests very quickly and is often deadly. Luckily we had no horses in the clinic so were not concerned about catching it, still made us nervous and we needed to test the bat for the disease.

Due to monitoring a bandicoot (similar to large shrew) surgery I only got to force feeding the kookaburrahs at 4.30pm, we finish at 5pm. Luckily I was down to 3 as one had been released. But it still took me a lot longer and with cleaning we only got out after 5.30pm.

Day three saw a new head nurse, Shelley, who was fantastic and let me medicate the birds without checking on me. Tash had done a great job teaching me, and so had no problem drawing up correct meds and squirting them down the throats of birds such as Cuckoo Shrikes, Fantailed Cuckoos, finches, King Quail and Crested Pigeons.

the punk rockers of pigeons

We also had a young wallaby come in and tiny baby possum. The wallaby had been caught on a fence and had an injury to its foot. The possum baby had possibly been found after its mother was hit by a car.

Wednesday continued on the coat tails of Tuesday and had us out late again. During the afternoon while preparing the little bandicoot for surgery to debrade the area around a wound caused by an abscess after a cat attack, we noticed he did appear to be as active as he usually was. We put him on oxygen and I watched his progress. Just as a large group of visitors came to peer through the windows of the hospital (we are on exhibit as well) I realised the bandicoot had stopped breathing. Erina, our vet, gave him a shot of adrenalin and we tubed him in an attempt to save his life. Unfortunately, he had given up the ghost and moved on to happier pastures, most likely without cats. Since the public was watching we had to be very careful how we handled him and had to cradle him as if he were still with us. What a day that was.

That night Kate and I went to the local suf pub to watch “State of Origin”, a very big rugby game between New South Wales and Queensland teams. We met up with some of her friends and enjoyed a few drinks. The game started with what appeared to be a walk over by Queensland, but in the second half New South Wales put up a heck of a fight. It was a great night.

Thursday saw Shelley and I well on top of everything and without any emergencies we were done by 4.30pm. 2 More kookaburrahs had also been transferred out to foster care (animals go to foster care for a few days before being released). Leaving me with my favorite, who I had dubbed Hamish after the vet student (they both gave me very sarcastic looks). Kookaburrah Hamish had leg issues and was unable to perch. In fact he seemed to have no strength in his legs whatsoever, which was very concerning.

Friday turned out to be a really really slow day. I focused on laundry and didn’t even get round to cleaning a cage let alone medicating an animal. Shelley and I decided to make it a half day for me and I called Chris who said he would pick me up at 1pm. Of course, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, just before 1pm we had a koala come in. After x-rays we discovered he had broken his pelvis, the person who brought it in thought he may have fallen from the tree, the local term for that is a “Drop Bear”. As I was walking through the door we had a possum come in as well. Oh well, thats how it goes and there were so many vet students and nurses on duty I would most likely have been in the way.

It was a fantastic experience and would do it again in a heart beat. I now also have a special place in my heart for Kookaburrahs.

Some interesting cases
Duck
We had a duck come in with severe motor and neurological issues. He was unable to stand or balance and was constantly throwing his head around in spastic movements.
We x-rayed him to find no visible fractures or injuries.
We gave him charcoal in case he had ingested something with no apparent improvement.
We gave him anti-seizure medication, again with no improvement.
After a full week of monitoring him and unable to think of anything else we were forced to euthanise. After a necropsy, we discovered his right ear had been full of a waxy buildup, but we are unsure if the 2 issues were related.

Bandicoot
The bandicoot had been in the hospital for almost 2 weeks before he past away. He had been attacked by a cat and was bordering on frankenstein with all the stitches. Our biggest concern was the large wound on his right hip, after the initial attack this area had abscessed and we were continually forced to debrade and cut out dead tissue. Apparently this species is known to have tissue turn necrotic after a cat bite. Erina would use honey on the wound to help with infection and special algae patches to cover it. We did all we could and we were all sorry when we were unable to save him.

Hamish the Kookaburrah
Of the 5 kookaburrahs that came in 3 made it into foster care. 1 died unexpectantly and the 5th was Hamish. He appeared to have spinal injuries as he was unable to perch or use his feet but there were no definate injuries to be seen on x-rays. After 5 days with no improvement and without the hope of him eating on his own and therefore living an ok life in captivity we were forced to euthanise him on my last day. However, due to his spectacular plummage we were able to save his tail and wings to be use for grafting purposes onto kookaburrahs that might need them, so you see even animals are organ donors, or would that be plummage donors.

"Hamish"

Koala
The koala that came in on my last day had severe internal bleeding and a broken pelvis. He was transferred to the Australia Zoo (of Steve Erwin fame) where we hoped he might be able to get the care and surgeries he would require.

the Drop Bear

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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