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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 ūüėČ . 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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Fearsome Foursome Reunion 0.5

Missing Parties

Well most visitors to the island come for the legendary and infamous Full Moon Parties, most of the locals prefer the more low key, chilled out day after party called The Backyard. I was really excited to go to this, mainly so I could stand with a drink in my hand and watch the Full Moon revelers attempting to walk upright off the beach… Unfortunately my mystery illness meant I would spend the day in my hammock, which in itself is never a bad thing, but the party had sounded fun. At least it comes around every month.

My couchsurfer, Stephanie (France), went with my neighbor, Cesar (Brazil), to meet up with my instructor Ricardo (Chile), it’s a regular old United Nations Party just with better music and more booze.

After a few hours napping and killing mozzies (mosquitoes) in the hammock I decided to attempt to save money and do my laundry by hand. I grabbed my bucket that is kept filled with water to flush the loo, and my little packet of Tide Wash Powder. I scrubbed and soaked and squeezed and sweated and finally got it all hung out. I stood back to appreciate my work and immediately decided paying the whopping $1.50 to $3 to have it done was well worth it. Not only did it come back extra clean on the same day, it was also folded and dry… this batch of laundry would end up taking 3 days to get almost dry, got to love living in a humid climate.

Reunions

For those of you who remember my adventures on Seaventures Dive Rig in Borneo you would remember the crazy Swiss member of our Fearsome Foursome group that all dove together. Urs, hearing I was training to be a divemaster on Koh Phangan, decided to make that spot his stop during a SE Asia trip.

So after exhausting myself with laundry, I decided to go find him, he had messaged me saying he was staying at Malibu Resort which was right round the corner, literally. After wandering around the property for a bit I found him at the restaurant overlooking a rather stunning and well raked beach. We caught up on each other’s adventures over the last year and had a drink. Since he had already eaten dinner I decided to pop over to a local place for their Pineapple Burger and fries, highly recommended by Ricardo. We planned to meet at the shop where I would get Urs all set to dive in the morning. Before I left he handed me over a bag… while still in Bangkok he had asked if he could bring me something and, due to the lack of any kind of semi decent chocolate, asked for a large bar. Inside the bag was heaven in it’s purest form!!!!

Heaven Does Exist in Paradise...and it's in my freezer!

Heaven Does Exist in Paradise…and it’s in my freezer!

A Rainstorm Be A Coming

At 2 Brother’s Restaurant I was the only customer as it was still quite early. I ordered my burger and fries and enjoyed my snickers and coconut milkshake while watching an insane looking cloud head my way.

Snickers and Coconut shake on the beach

Snickers and Coconut shake on the beach

Storm Rolling In

Storm Rolling In

As I watched this ominous gigantic apparition of a cloud roll over the mountain towards Chaloklum town, I opted to take my food to go and enjoy it in my hammock at home. Making it just in time, so I thought, I reclined in my hammock and began to dig in. Unfortunately I discovered as hungry as I was I just couldn’t eat this delicious looking meal in front of me. So with a cup of tea I sat and waited to watch my favorite nature show, the arrival of a storm… unfortunately it seems as if someone gave the wrong preview as it barely dribbled, but it was still intense watching the mammoth cloud move overhead.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Teaching Open Waters…

Assisting 

Over the next 3 days we have a group of 4 open water students. Padi Open Water is the first level of certification that allows you to dive without having to take any basic skills courses each time you want to dive.

We had 3 from France and 1 from England. Andy and Carol had 4 from England and we all knew theirs was going to be a “fun” group when we saw one of the lads chugging down SangSum, Thai whiskey, at 8am in the morning. Well I guess they are here for the Full Moon Party. Ours on the other hand were perfect students. No worries what so ever. They got through the 3 hrs of theory and then we had a further 3hrs in the pool doing skills.

I am fairly certain I start absorbing the pool water after 10min as I needed to pee so many times it was ridiculous. The pool water was a good temperature until you have been sitting at the bottom of it for 2hrs and then it starts getting a bit chilly. By the end of the pool session, we were all completely water logged and shivering.

Jungle Island Fever????

Returning home and having a wonderfully refreshing shower or rather dribble (no water pressure), I lay down and pretty much felt like my skin was on fire. I didn’t have a fever, but my skin was almost radiating heat and yet I felt cold. I had felt tired before and a little hot but this was taking on a life of it’s own.

Also I was developing little red dots all over my body. Not like the humidity induced rash that lasted for months after living in the Amazon, but more of subtle, yet disturbing, rash. It wasn’t itchy though, which might have meant it was the dengue rash. Of course everyone still insisted it was the Dengue rash which didn’t help my sanity.

Luckily Laura, from the animal shelter, recommended I start pretty much bathing in baby powder and to get some of the prickly heat powder. This seemed to help the rash quite significantly, so I think it is just my body adjusting to seeing sun for the first time in years and living in a tropical location.
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Warning on the Prickly Heat powder, it is like powdered air conditioning and feels fantastic unless you get it near any sensitive areas… trust me

First Dive For Students

While conditions up top were glorious with clear blue sky and no clouds, the vis turned out to be so so, maybe only 5meters. With the full moon and it’s party, the coral also spawns and the currents change causing a significant decrease in vis.

The French boys had a friend with them who was already certified, so she buddied with me on the dive. Yuko hadn’t been diving in over 4yrs and had only dove during her course, she realised she most likely should have done a refresher as we did our giant stride into the water. Oh well, too late now, just going to have to keep my eye on her. At the surface we prepared to go down, the first thing being to clean your mask using spit. This might seem gross, but for some reason the enzymes in your saliva keep the mask from fogging, and apparently boy saliva is the best. Then Ricardo said a line I will never forget, “Remember, the greener the cleaner”. At this the Frenchies got right into that and we could hear them hocking a loogey from the other side of the rock. It might seem disgusting but none of their masks fogged.
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The dive itself was ok, and the boys all thought it was wonderful. But seeing the rock in much better conditions, it wasn’t much fun for us and at one point I almost lost the group as they went round a corner and mingled with another group. On clear days you can see 20 – 30 meters no problem, so 5 meters is rather limiting. At the end of the dive Yuko and I still had a lot of air so Ricardo indicated that we should keep diving as he took the boys up. But Yuko decided she wanted to return as well. Unfortunately as we surfaced we realised we had been caught in a current and towed around the back side of the rock, it was almost impossible to swim against so we dropped back down to 5meters and I pretty much pulled her back to the boat. Talk about tired diver at the end of it.

First Couchsurfer

Returning back to the shop the group was thrilled that they had seen a whale shark on the second dive, making the bad visibility of not much importance. Andy and Carol’s group had unfortunately proved to be what we all feared, the one drinking SanSom the day before had panicked at about 2 meters and Carol had to bring him back. He ended up quitting the course and just recovering from his hangover while the rest completed the last pool session after returning.

I had a couchsurfer waiting for me when I returned. Stephanie was from France and would be my first surfer to stay with me. For those of you who are not aware of couchrsurfing, it is an online community which allows people around the world to post profiles and then stay with others who live in a place they are visiting. There is no cost and there is no obligation to host. In most cases the surfer usually contributes something to the house or buys the host dinner. It is a great way to meet people and I have hosted and surfed all over the world.

Since the boys in our group still had to do a pool session, I sorted their equipment and then took Stephanie to my bungalow. In most cases the host would have a couch or spare bed, but I had a floor or a hammock, Stephanie didn’t mind. Then we went to meet Yuko who had some time to waste while her friends finished their skills. We walked around Chaloklum and then I took them to have banana balls in chocolate sauce. Always a good way to end an afternoon.

French Cuisine

Stephanie and I decided to drive down the coast a bit to watch the sunset, it was glorious.

Sunset

Sunset

Since I wasn’t comfortable driving on the coast road yet, I sat behind Stephanie on the bike she had rented. On the way back there was one spot where we wobbled a little but thankfully she was able to keep the bike upright.

Back at home I took her over to meet my multiple French neighbors. They all rattled away in French and I just smiled and nodded, still not feeling 100% these days especially after the exhausting dives. Next thing I knew we were both invited to have dinner. Sophie and Frank, long termers, always had dinner parties and Sophie was a phenomenal cook, I nearly crashed my bike once driving past as it smelled so good. The food was incredible, and with the limited resources on the island, it was downright incredible. We had rolled pork with bacon and scalloped potatoes and sticky apple cake for dessert. The food was perfect, the company was great (even in French) and yet I was feeling very run down and could feel my fever like non fever coming on. Sophie insisted I have a small piece of the cake before going home. I passed out at home feeling less than miserable. Could this be a sun allergy???

Last Open Water Dives

Waking in the morning I felt fine, no problems. It probably helped that I had had such good food the night before. It’s weird how this “illness” only seems to hit me in the evenings.

Today was full moon day and so the vis was not any improved. But when you have a great group not much can spoil a good day of diving. Carol and Andy had a slightly better day with only 3, the 1 no show most likely nursing another hangover. Our only issue was on the 2nd dive the one guy had some ear trouble, not being able to equalise and so I took him back to the boat. Ricardo managed to take him back out for a short dive and get him deep enough to pass the last 2 skills.

One of the best groups I had during the whole 3mths odd I was there.
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Sunsets and Wipeouts

That evening we decided to go try find a place Stephanie had hear about called Amsterdam. It was meant to have the best views of the sunset. We didn’t find it but we did find another place with a stunning view and an infinity pool, wish I had brought my swimsuit. Also outrageous prices so we could only afford one drink.

Sunset and Infinity Pools

Sunset and Infinity Pools

Stephanie and Me

Stephanie and Me

On the way home we were going at a nice pace, not speeding but also not going too slow, which is also rather dangerous. Steph had had a bad fall in Bali and she had just uttered the sentence “I don’t want to fall again like Bali” when, Murphy’s Law, we hit that same patch of loose gravel we wobbled on yesterday. We hit it at just the wrong angle and in her effort to slow the bike, Steph grabbed both the front and back brakes, causing the bike to lock and us to slide. Thankfully we only had a few scrapes, nothing too serious. Although we were both rather shaken. 2 people drove past us and one English chap going in the opposite direction, stopped, looked us over and deciding we were ok, uttered this oh so helpful sentence: “try to be more careful!”. Well ya think we were not being careful??? Then he drove off. So much gallantry and knights’ in shining helmets…

Back home we treated our wounds and headed to the Italian restaurant for a friends farewell. I decided to drive my own bike, as I felt more secure having control. We had no issues driving their and back, a few good laughs with everyone and sharing stories about accidents and injuries. Apparently that corner has caused a few broken arms and legs, so we got off lightly.

Handmade to Order Taglietelle with Homemade Bolognaise Sauce

Handmade to Order Taglietelle with Homemade Bolognaise Sauce

It was a great 3 days, but still feeling a bit under the weather and now rather shaken after the slide out, I headed home to bed, Stephanie following later to her spot on the floor.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Briefing, Leading and Discovering

Kathy Will Lead….

It’s been 3 days without any diving due to weather, and I am seriously starting to get itchy feet, both literally (due to all the rain and wet, but don’t worry got a cream for that) and figuratively. I woke up to a glorious sunrise over the coconut palms right outside my window and knew it would be a diving day.¬†

Ricardo and I had a couple from Turkey and they were great folks. Very chatty and talkative about diving and all the places they had been. Right as we settled down for the briefing Ricardo informed that I would be explaining the dive and …. leading it. Well that was news to me!¬†

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I think I did ok for leading my first dive. The main problem was that my dive briefing was too brief and my guiding was too fast. It felt like I was going really slowly and showing them small things like nudibranchs and such. Ricardo had told me to look for the frogfish and so was trying to remember was crevice he hid in. Eventually we found the right one but the frogfish wasn’t there, possibly moved away because of all the paparazzi. Ricardo then felt I was too concerned about it and missed the area where the bull sharks hang out. Usually we get to that spot and hang out for a few minutes to see if any of them surface above the 18m murky layer, all rather intimidating. The real reason I missed it was because I didn’t even know I was in the spot of the rock, I thought I was on the other side… got to dive it a lot more to memorize where all the critters hang out.¬†

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Frogfish – courtesy of Ricardo Gonzalez, Padi Instructor

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Nudibranch – Courtesy of Michael Devlin, Padi Divemaster

All in all the couple were thrilled with the dive, ¬†and that is the most important thing. So I think I “done a good job” for my first time leading, but I do need to slow down.

Discovering Scuba

When we returned to the shop we were introduced to Michael who was waiting to do the pool session of the Discover Scuba program. This is for people who have never done scuba diving before and want to give it a try before committing to a full course. We do a 4 basic skills in the pool, or at the dive site, and then take them on 2 dives. I have never seen anyone so excited to get in the pool. It made the session great fun for us to as Michael was eager to learn. 

Diving with him the next day at Sail Rock was brilliant, a really good student. He was in heaven and we had a really good group on the boat. With the full moon party just around the corner it also meant the boat was quite full. We say the island breathes at Full Moon, as the population expands and the contracts the next day. 

Floating Around

One of the skills needed for the divemaster course is a 15minute float with the last 3minutes having your hands out of the water. It was a blisteringly hot day, and you could almost feel yourself cooking, but we managed to make it through. At one point the very slight current pushed us towards the toilets’ exit point and we got permission to push off and float to the back of the boat. The guys on the boat behind us were making fishing motions, and each guy was deciding which one of us they wanted to catch, seriously can they not see us looking at them… boys! Raising our hands out of the water was surprisingly difficult, who would have thunk….

Ear Issues 

When we returned to the shop one of the customers, a girl from Spain, was having severe ear pain. She didn’t get much assistance from her dive guide and so I stepped in with Ricardo to calm her down as she was verging on hysterical. I soaked a cloth in hot water and had her hold it to her ear, which seemed to help the pain a bit. Ricardo suspected it was inflammation in the ear canal from trying to equalize too hard, and recommended she go home take an ibuprofen and get some sleep. It is true she was a bit of a high maintenance gal but sometimes you just got to go the extra step, especially when telling them to stop whining doesn’t seem to help. We had mentioned that Ricardo’s band would be playing in Haad Salad at the Sunset Bar and they said they may try to come.¬†

Heat Exhaustion and Music

Carol, the other divemaster trainee, and her boyfriend Pom, were going to come with me to watch the band. But when they showed Carol looked terrible. She was cold and clammy and nautious and had a terrible headache. I recognized heat exhaustion immediately, even though she argued with me saying she was a nurse… I ignored her and made her drink rehydration salts and go under a cold shower. She insisted Pom take me to watch the band and said she would be fine. He was super sweet and drove me all the way there and then walked me right to the bar, insisting I call him if I needed a ride back. I was getting better on the motorcycle but driving that road at night was a no go for me.¬†

The concert was excellent and very relaxing. Michael our Discover Scuba and the couple with the ear issue showed up and we all chilled out, chatted and drank mojitos. A good end to the day. Michael gave me a ride home, he spent a lot of time in Paris and grew up riding motorbikes, so he had no issues with the road. 

All in all a fantastic couple of days… I think I could definitely enjoy this life!

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A New Bungalow to Call Home!

So Much To See

The night before I had packed my bags so that I could move immediately after the dive. Waking up at 6.18am, always about 10min before my alarm, I made it to the shop by 7.10am. Amazing how easy it is for me to wake up early here…never seems to work this way as home.

The boat was fairly full but it was a good group and we all sat upstairs and chatted about different adventures and so on. On the way there was a large, rather chewed up, what we assume was a shark carcass, floating in the water… A little unnerving if I may say so.

The dive was phenomenal as usual. Whale shark right at the beginning coming really close, and circling the rock meant we got to see it at least 3 more times. We also saw a rather intimidating bull shark that did a little detour near us. But at least they appear “friendly” here.

I was diving with Gem, Thai instructor, and she was really working with me to cut my weights down. Usually I dive with lots of weight in cold water because of the wetsuit, and it’s just a habit I have got into. I started with 6.4kg and cut it down to 3.2kg. But Gem wanted me to try cut it down more. I attempted 2.4kg but near the end of the dive with an empty, and now more buoyant tank, Gem had to give me another weight to keep me stable during our 3min at 5m safety stop. So I think I will stick to 3.2kg for now. Plus being a little heavy and allowing me the safety net of always having some air in my BCD to release and stay down, makes me feel more comfortable.

Ear Issues and Whales

I had been having issues with my left ear not being able to equalize it completely. It hadn’t started hurting but there was a definite threat that it might. SO I decided to skip the 2nd dive, I had already seen so much and it was such a nice day anyway. As I was relaxing on the top deck I spotted a minke whale surfacing not to far away. I yelled out “Whale!!” and everyone who was at the surface said, “whale shark? Where?”.
My reply, “no, a whale whale, as in a whale.”
Theirs, “a whale shark or a whale?”
Me, “A whale!! I think it’s a Minke whale, surfacing just over there”.

All rather amusing. I felt very happy that at least I had seen something cool and didn’t have to feel bad about missing the 2nd dive. As everyone came out of the water, I excitedly said, “I saw a Minke Whale surface nearby”. Their reply, “We saw a 9m whale shark, it looked like a submarine!”. Well that deflated my enthusiasm, dang it and I thought the 6m one was huge.

My New Home Away From Home

Making it back to the shop and cleaning all the equipment, it was time to make a quick change and move to my new place. I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get settled in. Located just 1min by motorbike from the shop it was in a quieter part of town and also had a lot more room, wifi, a kitchen and hot water.

PeeOng Bungalows #2

PeeOng Bungalows #2

My Porch

My Porch

My Main Room

My Main Room

My Bathroom

My Bathroom

My home away from home, now all I need is a cat… oh wait please meet the bungalow cats that share their time among all of the bungalows in my “neighborhood”.

Please Meet Felix and Zed

Please Meet Felix and Zed

Ahhh that's better!

Ahhh that’s better!

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Thailand, Travel

 

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