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WHALE SHARK!!!!

When a Great Dive Becomes AMAZING!!

For me every dive is good, some are great and then there are the amazing dives. It doesn’t have to be that the visibility is astounding, or we see something huge, some of my amazing dives involve seeing my favorite nudibranch or a small octopus. But, if truth be told, there is at least one creature in the oceans that guarantees me a truly incredible and amazing dive, and that is a Whale Shark, the largest fish in the sea.

Sometimes however, it is not easy to get a guest as excited as we are at the prospect of seeing one, seeing their faces turn to utter horror at the words “shark” and “largest”. In fact some instructors have begun altering it to Whale Fish in order to calm the nerves of those who do not know what to expect. But one thing is for sure, no matter who you are, no matter where you are from or how many dives you have had or even how many times you might have seen one of these incredible creatures…. you will be wow’ed!

There are truly no words to explain it when you first see this behemoth of a fish glide right past you. Sometimes it can be mere inches away but you are completely unawares, only to turn and gasp at it’s sheer presence.

Whale shark at Sail Rock

Whale shark at Sail Rock

Past Experiences

I have had the opportunity to dive with whale sharks on multiple occasions thanks to my time diving here in Thailand. But there are 2 occasions that truly stand out.

#1 During my time training as a divemaster I had to return with one guest who had sucked his air faster than his companion, so while the instructor continued with her I began the ascent with him. It was a rare occasion where the visibility meant you could barely see 1meter / 3feet. I gingerly followed along Sail Rock knowing that the boats were “parked” above the chimney which started at 6m/18ft, so I followed the rock at this level keeping the guest close at hand. Suddenly a vertical thermocline created a 2m/6ft, swathe of crystal clear water, rather disorientating to enter after concentrating so hard on finding the chimney. At the precise time I entered from my side, a ginormous, vacuum cleaner type mouth, emerged from the other side. It took me a few milli-seconds to realise it was a whale shark and not something out of a sci-fi horror flick, and quickly hugged the rock in order not to touch it, indicating the guest should do the same. I swear we had to suck in our guts in order for it to get passed, it was that close. At the end of the dive we were the only ones to have seen it, a truly unbelievable experience… it’s not everyday you very nearly french kiss a whale shark.

silhouettes...

silhouettes…

#2 This was the dive that made me realise I might want to pursue becoming an instructor. It was my final dive after completing my Divemaster before leaving the island. We had a group of 6 Spanish and one of them was terribly nervous having quit barely 10min into the first dive. We decided on the 2nd dive that I would remain with her at a shallow depth while the instructor would take the other 5. We remained at barely 6m/18ft for the beginning of the dive until I heard the tell tale banging of tanks indicating something cool, another diver gave the “whale shark” signal and pointed the direction. It was the 4m/12ft, juvenile that had been around the boats for a week or so. Somehow, I just knew where it was heading and began slowly manoeuvring my diver closer and a little deeper till we got to a small pinnacle about 9m/27ft deep. Within seconds of us getting into position the whale shark changed direction and swam directly over us, enjoying the feel of our bubbles on it’s belly. It was so close we could have touched it (which of course we were careful not). After that I could not get her out of the water, she wanted to see everything, experience everything, and near the end even attempted to chase down the whale shark to get closer. She was so happy and excited at the end of the dive attributing the entire phenomenal experience to me… it made me feel fantastic and realise that showing people the undersea world might just be something I wanted to do permanently…

This wasn't our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

This wasn’t our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

Most Recent Encounter

It was nearing the end of September and whale sharks had only been sighted once or twice near Sail Rock, but we knew they were in the area. Most of dives up until this day had been Discover Scubas or courses, not giving me the luxury of diving for fun and being able to look around or carry my gopro. On this day I had an advanced fun diver, so not only was it going to be a fun dive but she did not require tons of attention but instead preferred just a guide.

News of the whale shark quickly spread and we all got in the water excited at the prospect of seeing it. It lived upto it’s reputation and swam above us for half of the first dive at about 14m/ 45ft.

On the second dive we descended over East Pinnacle, a pinnacle that sits just a few kicks from Sail Rock at approximately 17m/55ft below the surface. We dropped down and started exploring, the only divers at the time. Glancing at something over my shoulder I saw the whale shark suddenly emerge from behind us, he swam around us and descended. We were so excited and when other divers approached I was thrilled to give them the whale shark symbol and, as if on cue, he appeared again circling us and in general making our day.

Selfie with a whale shark.

Selfie with a whale shark.

They are truly phenomenal creatures, the largest I have ever had the honor of swimming near was a juvenile of maybe 5m/16ft, I can’t even begin to imagine an adult of 10m/32ft….

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Island Life… visa runs and final scuba days

Koh Samui Visa Run

Thailand visas are not as easy to get as other countries. Most places I have visited give you a 90 day visa upon entry. Thailand, however will only give you 30 days, unless you apply for a 60 day tourist visa at an embassy out of the country. I had got mine in Seoul, Korea, originally applying for a 90 day education visa. Unfortunately, the letter from the dive school was from my email and it needed to be an original, so I got a 60 day one instead. This meant that I would be 10 days overdue when I flew out, the fine is around 500 baht a day. In comparison I could spend about 2000 baht to get a 1 month extension at the immigration office one island away on Koh Samui. Or take the overnight bus to the border of Malaysia and get a 15 day extension with a possibility of a month. Both cost about the same, but Koh Samui took about half the time.

Taking the 7am ferry meant I was awake before 6am on the road. It was barely light and I arrived to fill up just as the gas station opened. There was little hassle getting on the ferry and it turned out I met 2 of my French neighbors also going for a visa extension.

Early Morning Ferry Ride

Early Morning Ferry Ride

A bunch of us shared a taxi and joined the large group already waiting at the office, which hadn’t even opened yet.
Koh Samui visa run (5)

As soon as the doors barely cracked and the forms were handed out a mad rush ensued. Everyone desperately trying to fill out the forms and give the cash and hand it in hoping they would be done before the last ferry. The estimated pick up time was 20min after the ferry left… this did not look good. Luckily one of the ladies told me to come back in an hour and see if things were ready.
Koh Samui visa run (4)

I popped over to a cafe and ordered some breakfast, another visa runner asked to join me and we ended up chatting about her yoga training and how we both got here. Then we explored the area a little and finally returned. We were in luck and our passports had just been put in the pile. Woohoo! Then it was a mad dash to return to the port as the ferry was due to leave in 30min.

All in all another crazy travel experience. Something I will get lots of practice with when I return.

I am not sure what this means, but I know where to go if I am ever involved in transitional crime...

I am not sure what this means, but I know where to go if I am ever involved in transitional crime…

Final Days of Diving

They say “all good things must end”, and unfortunately my time diving in the tropical waters of Thailand were rapidly coming to the end. I got to assist all the instructors and divemasters at the shop and a number of the freelance guys as well. Marc, Divemaster from Belgium, required someone to play a guest in a video a friend was shooting as a Christmas message to family back home and I got the supreme honor. It was quite awesome as I got a copy and could show it off to my friends and family. It also meant I sat and criticised my swimming techniques, but at least I know what I need to work on now.

On one dive Instructor Ricardo had me brief and lead the dive. The visibility was beyond crap, barely able to see our hands. As we swam along I would stop periodically and have to wait until all 4 divers were almost right on top of me to be sure I hadn’t lost anyone. I had been a little under the weather before the dive and had felt a bit of vertigo so only hoped I wouldn’t get turned around in the muck. As we circled one pinnacle I turned to count and as I turned back and continued round the rock, I just hoped the vertigo hadn’t thrown me off track and leading us in endless circles around the pinnacle instead of the main rock… let’s just say we can laugh about it now… oops! When low visibility and vertigo let you down! On the second dive we had a diver with issues so I ended up taking him back to the ship and Ricardo led the dive through what can only be called pea soup.

All too soon my last dive day arrived. I most likely could have dove the following day as well but after 6 days straight of diving and still packing to go I knew this would be my last, I only hoped it would be good. Boy was I not let down!! The 3 whale sharks, who had been there for 3 days were still in the area. The smallest one continued to loop from the rock to the boats and back, seemingly fascinated by all these strange sea creatures. Ricardo had a group of 6 Spaniards and our new instructor from Holland had an open water. It was decided that I would swim in the water column between the two groups and therefore be ready if anyone needed me. As it turned out one of Ricardo’s found she had issues with breathing and became a little panicked. I took her back and she seemed very upset, luckily a snorkel session with the inquisitive what shark perked her up and I suggested the she swim with me, we would take our time and only go as deep as she was comfortable.

We descended very slowly to about 6m, she held onto my arm as we swam along and I would give her the “ok” sign every so often and wait for her response of “ok” in return. After about 10min we heard the signal from Marc and he indicated that a whale shark was in the area. I realised it was the smaller one and for some reason I just knew where he was going to head towards. I slowly manuevered her towards a smaller pinnacle a little away from the main rock and we reached 9m. As we got in position the whale shark did exactly what I hoped for, he turned and swam right for us passing above our heads with just inches to spare. We could have put our hands up and touched him (but this is strictly forbidden). It was dream like and I still get chills when I think about that encounter. Afterwards it became apparent that my diver was thoroughly enjoying herself and there was no way she wanted to get out of the water. We reached the point on the rock that would be our spot to surface and spent a good 15min just looking at what we could find on the rock. I showed her fish, and anemones, and chrsitmas tree worms (her favorite). After the dive and on the way home all I heard was a torrent of Spanish interspersed with “KATHY” and “Whale Shark”… It made my day if not my entire time on the island to have a diver enjoy a dive so much. It also made me realise how much I enjoy this job and maybe just maybe this is something I could see myself doing in the future….

This wasn't our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

This wasn’t our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

 
 

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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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Diving, diving, diving…

Have been in Thailand for a week now and am loving it. Love the sounds of the birds and insects (except the mosquitoes) all day and all night, the frogs pretty much put on a rock concert after the sun goes down. I forgot how much I missed that living in Oregon.

I usually get to the shop around 7am and start helping get gear set up and sorted. I asked one of the instructors, Andy from Germany with years and years of experience in almost all realms of diving, what he suspected was wrong with my camera. He reckons it might be the moisture as anything electronic doesn’t survive long in the humidity. His suggestion was to buy a bag of rice and stick it inside, try and suck out the moisture and see if there is an improvement.

However, another friend in Australia who does underwater photography fears that it might have been the pressure in the airplane when I checked the camera in my bag, and the sensor might be shot. Mmmmmmm, what to do. Just have to wait and see.

Kittens

When I arrived Momma cat had a litter of 4 kittens about a week old and now they are almost qualifying as real cats. Momma has brought them down from her hiding place and they are super cute, endless entertainment as you watch them learn and grow.

Ginger and Spot

Ginger and Spot

Shy girl peeping from behind.

Shy girl peeping from behind.

Momma Cat, note her left eye it is blue and brown.

Momma Cat, note her left eye it is blue and brown.

Diving With Gem

Gem is a Thai instructor at the shop and I got to dive with her and a student doing his open water course. Gem insisted that I cut my weights down and by the 2nd dive I had gone from 6.4 to 3.2Kg. I realised that diving in cold water you tend to control your bouyancy with your BCD (the jacket that inflates) vs your breathing like you do in warm water. It is a whole new set of skills to learn.

She also has impeccable hand signals, very clear and precise, will have to try pick up some tips from her in that regard.

As we were going down the float line we saw a whale shark, incredible as always! Later nearer the end of the dive we heard a very excited diver making noises, and turned to see another whale shark in the distance. It’s almost as awe inspiring to see them at a distance as it is to see them up close.

On the second dive I literally looked a whale shark in the eye, time seemed to slow and I felt captivated by what ever intelligence there was in there. The spell was broken when I was kind of muscled out of the way by another diver trying to follow it. Seeing whale sharks tends to make certain folks oblivious to everyone else. Unfortunately our student was low on air and we had to surface so we weren’t able to follow him.

Coconuts and Monkeys

Back at the shop I got a fright when coconuts started dropping from the trees. John said that the monkey was up there picking the ripe ones. I was about to tell him it’s not nice to say something like that just because a guy can climb a coconut palm, when I looked up…

monkey picking coconuts

monkey picking coconuts

The trainer

The trainer

Apparently, monkeys are trained to climb up and pick ripe coconuts which are then taken away and sold or used. It certainly is a great way of preventing more coconut related injuries, they are really quite hazardous to your health unless mixed with alcohol…

Driving…kind of

Managed to putt-a-putt to the 7-11 about a minute down the road for everyone else, about 3min for me. Am starting to get the hang of the bike and might even have some freedom at some point. Woohoo!

After packing my bags I went for a shower and nearly had a heart attack as I discovered I had a shower mate, who seemed to want to hang out and watch.

Shower mate, about 30cm/1ft long

Shower mate, about 30cm/1ft long

and soooo handsome!

and soooo handsome!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Whale Shark Ahead!!!

Boat Dives

My 2nd day out on the boat. Glorious sunny weather, getting a nice tan but must be careful not to have it be a burn. Today I was diving with Dive Master Marc, he had a scuba tune up student. A tune up is when a diver has been away from diving for a certain amount of time and needs a refresher course.

Marc is one of those divers who must have been born in the water, ridiculously comfortable in it and will often just jump in before the boat has stopped moving. He is also a bit like a bear in the sense that lifting tanks that take all my strength are like a feather for him, 2 at a time no worries! However, I do have to be careful as I got hit in the head a couple of times by his fins…As far as our customer went, he did really well, except for a minor panic attack when his mask filled with water.

On our second dive I saw something that is considered one of, if not the, Holy Grail of diving, a whale shark. It was beautiful, magnificent and fabulous all at the same time. About 5m/16.4ft long. We had heard they were there after the first dive, so went looking for them on the second. We went out to one of the pinnacles where it had been and hung around looking at tons and tons of fish. Whale sharks eat plankton and the water was thick with it, perfect conditions. But no luck, so we turned around and headed back, just as the whale shark was heading towards us. Blew my mind, but our customer was low on air so we had to head to the surface… incredible, just incredible.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Devlin – fellow dive master

And He Shall Be Named: Alex Whaleshark

One of the recently certified dive masters on our boat couldn’t help himself and touched the whale shark. I was on the surface when a whole stream of divers heading back to their boat started yelling at him. Later in the video you can see the exact moment he touched it, as everyone started yelling underwater. He literally got shunned by the community. Here is the video: Don’t Touch The Whale Shark

There is a reason for this. One of the golden rules of diving is DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING! Take only pictures leave only bubbles… If every diver started touching and riding the whale sharks they may stop coming and on a more serious note, the oils in our hands could cause a skin infection when it comes in contact with them. However, I do understand why, the shark is so amazing that you almost can’t stop yourself wanting to touch it.

All in all a superb day of diving, despite getting a tad sunburnt and smacking my shin on the boat steps twice while trying to get out.

Dinner was at 2 Brothers Restaurant and their famous 2 brothers Pad Thai and snickers/coconut shake. Yummy and soo much. The pad thai had seafood in it, which I am not a huge fan of, but the rest was yummy.

Catch Up Day

Next day was a no work day, so spent it catching up with things. Diary, blog, tried to study my dive master books. Did some training on my bike, Lucy Liu, and Gem (Thai dive instructor and owner of the bike) got me a lower seat and gave me some tips. Seriously, my legs are so dang short.

Later that evening I went with Carol to Tong Sala, the main town, sitting behind her on her bike. We went to the scuba shop and I picked up a dry bag to carry my stuff on the boat.

Back at home it was an exciting afternoon of cleaning and packing away and sorting stuff to move to my new bungalow. Carol had introduced me to green curry ramen so had that for lunch and cornflakes for dinner.

Later I chatted with Ricardo’s girlfriend, Sara, she said it looked like Ricardo had dengue fever, also known as break bone fever, cause that’s what it feels like. I was leaning towards it being the infection from his bug bite on his toe that had hit the bloodstream, but either way he was very sick. Koh Phangan is a hot spot for Dengue and Chaloklum is the hot spot of the hot spot, so break out your mozzy (mosquito) repellent when you get here.

All is well, and enjoying the island so far.. unfortunately discovered the 2nd hand camera I bought for my underwater housing has issues and the screen is blank. What a bugger….

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Coral Bay – Day 165 to 169

22nd June to 26th June 2011

Day 15
MANTA RAY, WHALES, SHARKS and DUGONGS! OH MY!

Today there was a chance I might be able to get out on a full day Nature Tour which included manta snorkeling. Dragging myself out of bed at 8am I checked in at reception and found out that yes the tour was going and yes they could squeeze me on free of charge. Absolutely brilliant! If I got to see a manta ray, besides being downright cool, it also meant I could rationalize spending $18 on a pair of silver earrings shaped like mantas. Woohoo

The timing was also perfect, allowing me to return just in time to do my chores of 3pm kitchen and bathroom clean and 4pm vacuum. the boat I was going on was called the “Ningaloo”, very appropriate as Coral Bay is surrounded by the Ningaloo Coral Reef. The Bayview caravan park (who also own the hostel) run it and it usually costs around $150 and includes some snacks. At the front desk I discovered a fairly hungover Sandra, French girl from the bakery, was also hoping to get on the tour.

At the dock as we loaded the boat someone yelled out that they could see “Merv”. Merv is a 400kg grouper that lives under the jetty. In truth he is now a she and is called Mervette (groupers are prone to hermaphrodism). When I first looked over the jetty I saw a huge fish, then I realised that was just her fin, she is bloody blooming massive. I am sure if whale shark groups don’t see any she could quite easily double as one. She must have been over 2m long.

Heading out into the bay we turned left and went quite close to the outer reef. Here we had our first of three snorkel spots. The coral and fish were incredible, truly spectacular. We were warned not to swim towards the white wall that were the waves crashing on the outer reef, as, if we made it through, it was a one way ticket to the African coast.

Next stop was a 20min ride to the headland where I had walked to in previous days.

To ensure that we don’t spend hours boating around the area looking for the manta rays that live there year round, the company sends up a spotter plane. They tell the tourists it is strictly to find the mantas and save time, what they fail to mention is that they also spot tiger sharks and ensure that none come closer than 200m to us snorkeling.

Separating us into 2 groups we prepared to enter the water as soon as we found the manta. Since I was in group 2 I went to the front of the boat to help spot. Suddenly I say this dark shape turn white and knew I had seen the manta doing a feeding roll. It was enormous! Group 1 jumped in and my group prepared. When it was our turn we quickly slipped into the water and swam towards the deck hand who was following the manta while the others were picked up by the boat. Swimming over we realised the manta was almost 3m long from wing tip to wing tip and was right below us. It was so majestic as it literally “flew” through the water. Without warning it suddenly flipped over backwards and appeared to be coming straight at me. But was simply starting a feeding roll. Truly spectacular!



Once I got back on the boat I just sat and thought about the magnificent creature I had the honor of swimming with.

Then it was off to do look for whales. We were lucky enough to come across a humpback with a newborn. They were beautiful. We followed them for about half an hour and then headed off for our 3rd and last snorkel spot, the shark cleaning station. Due to the location of the station the boat had to anchor a bit of a swim away, guess that just made us easier to catch if we came across a hungry shark.

At the cleaning station we saw a number of grey reef sharks and apparently a bronze whaler (bronzy). Bronzies are also known to be a little on the meaner side and that might have been why we suddenly turned around and headed back, but not before we saw “Tripod”. A turtle with only three flippers who likes to hang out at the feeding station – possible explanation to the missing flipper.

After a truly spectacular day with yummy snacks and great company we headed back to shore just in time for me to start my chores of 3pm kitchen and bathroom cleaning. That evening was burger night and I excitedly got my burger, with an egg, and settled down to enjoy. Unfortunately, due to the long day in the sun and forgetting to drink water, I was completely exhausted and headed to bed at 8pm.

Day 16

Didn’t do much today, just relaxed, still felt a bit rough from the full on day before. JP and Carole, my fellow Oompah Loompahs, were leaving today but had commissioned a total of 10 bracelets from me, so I spent most of the morning doing those. Then did my chores and read my book.

Eik and Alex had caught fish so we had a fish fry with potato wedges and zucchini, yummy yummy!

Day 17
Shaving Day!

Today is the day! Everyone keeps asking me if I am nervous, or if I want to back out or if I am going to run off to Denham with the money… I wasn’t feeling nervous, till people asked me. I had no choice now after over $1000 raised so no backing out. And running off with the money…I wouldn’t be allowed home if I did that.

A photo blog will be up next so stay tuned to this page.

Day 18

Waking up with a lot less hair than I started with is an interesting experience. It also turned out to be the crappiest day since I had arrived, grey and rainy. In fact it was more like rain with the occasional downpour. This meant bed sounded good and I didn’t move until later in the morning. Did my chores, had my hair trimmed up and so it looks more like a number 2 and then hung out with Carolin. We had a bingo night at the hostel and I won a free bag of chips, just what I wanted for the bus trip tomorrow. So much for taking photos and doing a final lap of Coral Bay.

Day 19
Red Earth Tours

Got up at 8am to a beautiful clear day with not a cloud in the sky. Go figure. Went over to say goodbye to Carolin and Sandra at the bakery and pick up a pastry and cup of coffee for breakfast. After many farewells and hugs I boarded the bus to Perth with Red Earth Tours. Today would be 7hrs of driving but first we stopped at the sign announcing you have crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn.

On to the city of Northhampton where we stayed at the Old Convent (a 100yr old convent now turned hostel). As a beautiful sunset started there were tons of birds heading into the trees to roost.


Dinner was fish and chips, after which we all sat and watched Master Chef Australia and the Mentalist. Then time for bed as there was a 6am start the next day.

I shall miss Coral Bay, it is definately a place where time seems to stop and life involves beach and beer, or cider in my case. It is filled with great people and stunning scenery. But, as much as I hate to admit it, it is time to move on and discover more adventures.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2011 in Australia, RTW, Travel

 

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Coral Bay – Day 151 to 157

8th of June to 14th of June 2011

Coral Bay – week 1
Day 1

Arrived at 11.30pm, went to bed.

Day 2

For some obscure reason I woke up at 6am, managed to lay in bed till 6.30am then decided to get up and head to the beach to check it out.
After looking at the local map to orient myself I left the front door of the hostel and turned left heading over the sand dunes that would obviously lead me to the pristine beach I had seen in the pictures. As the kitchen had been closed I had been unable to get a cup of coffee (thats my excuse and I am sticking to it), and so, when somewhere in the far reaches of my mind the fact that I was walking towards sunrise on the west coast of Australia looking for the beach seemed strangely wrong, I didn’t react. After about 15min of walking, cresting the final sand dune and I came across… a road??? I turned around very confused only to see the ocean behind me towards the west, where it should be,
since the sun rises in the east, even in Australia.

Mentally kicking myself in the rear I headed in the correct direction and was speechless when I finally walked onto the beach. There wasn’t a breath of wind, the bay was completely still, the water was a shocking
turquoise blue and there were fish everywhere in the shallows, I waded in upto my ankles and was suprised to see at least 4 stingrays sitting right in front of me. Flashbacks of my friend getting stung in Ecuador and the crocodile hunter made me retreat fairly quickly. But I had no need to worry as these rays are used to tourists and usually get out of the way when people intrude on their personal space.

Back at the hostel the kitchen had opened and I made myself a quick mug of coffee, sugarless as I had not had the chance to buy some. Then I reported to reception to complete check in and get my duties for the day as Oompah Loompah designation 23. The deal with hostel was in return for 2hrs of cleaning I received free accommodation. Not a bad deal if you ask me. My chore for the day was cleaning one of the empty rooms. This involved a whole list of things including: cleaning the skirting boards, air conditioner filters, windows, wiping down mattresses, vacuuming and more. It felt strangely good to do house cleaning…. maybe I have been on the road too long????

Liezy and Kazuki decided to head to Exmouth. Kazuki to see his friend and Liezy to do a whale shark tour. The whale sharks had started
early and had already moved up north. I called Greyhound for Kazuki to see about the mix up of his ticket and listened to the lady talk for over 10minutes without saying much of anything. Then we made them a sign and they headed out to hitch hike the 2 hr trip north.

Later that morning Jason and I helped out a family, mom and 2 kids, unpack her car and watch the kids while she got herself sorted.
She seemed to be in a complete tizz and completely disorganized. She turned out to be a hairdresser and when I expressed interest
she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. In exchange for watching the kids while she went to solicit haircuts, she would split her earnings with me 50/50 and give me a free haircut. Sounded excellent! Jason also helped and after watching the kids for about 2hrs we found ourself earning $50 each. Pretty sweet. The kids however were a handful, ADHD personified, possibly something to do with the amount of junk food she fed them to keep them still. She asked us to do the same thing in the morning, but when morning came she was no where to be seen.

Day 3

Gabriel (France), the long term Oompah Loompah, moved into the long termer’s room, which meant I could move down to the bottom bunk.
Which was fantastic as the bunks didn’t have ladders and I could barely reach the rungs at the end of the bed. It also meant I could finally get some serious cleaning done in the room, it was pretty close to disgusting, having had all boys in the room for the past few weeks.

My duties for the day included: vacuuming the hostel – managed to kill not one, but 2 vacuums! Scrub the picnic tables – excellent
for arm muscles. And close the kitchen at 10pm.

Spent most of my day walking around the town and heading to the beach. It was just superb and took my breath away every time I went for a walk. I went to get a wifi card from the resort and attempted to get some of my blog entries done. But being in the middle of nowhere meant that internet just barely worked and none of the blog entries would load photos, so was forced to write them in notepad and upload them all at once. Internet cost $3 for 30 minutes at the hostel or $10 for 100 minutes to use the wifi at the resort.

One of the staff asked if I was interested in picking up some work and if I was to head over to Reef Cafe and ask for Johnny. He wasn’t there but I spoke to him over the phone and he said he would stop by the hostel the next night and chat to me about everything.

Closing the kitchen that night I had a couple who had just arrived ask if they could quickly make dinner, I said sure and scored a burrito out of it in the process. EXCELLENT!!!

Day 4

Duties for the day:
– Vacuum again, one had been taped together and I managed not to kill it again.
– Morning kitchen clean at 10.30am
– Clean outside of level 1 windows, removing screens. Rather amusing as I couldn’t reach the top of the windows and the screens were not very easy to remove, there was a lot of colorful language used.

Liezy got back that day and said she had had a great trip and seen some beautiful whale sharks. Part of me wishes I had gone too, but $365 was just out of my budget.

When locals come to the hostel bar they need to be signed in by someone staying there. When I was asked I cheekily said, “depends do you have a fishing rod to loan me?”. Graham replied “no, but I have a tour boat and you can get on for free”. DEAL!!! In the end I spent the whole evening with the guys and attempted to say no to the beers bought for me, around 5 in total… I think.

Day 5

Duties for the day:
– 3pm Kitchen and Bathroom clean
– Clean chairs in bar and reception
I had tried to see if the little gift shop would sell some of my bracelets, unfortunately the owner said no. But the girl who I chatted to was very interested and so I headed down to the market area to let her choose colors and designs. Well I was fitting her anklet a lady in the store asked if I would make one for her too. I said sure and we sat and chatted well I put it together. By the end of an hour and a half I had earned $25 and a cup of coffee. I decided not to hunt down Johnny about the job and just start selling bracelets, turned out to be a good move.

Day 6

Duties for the day:
– Kitchen close at 10pm
– Scrub wooden picnic tables
– Wipe outside of doors, this one is the equivalent of doing 50 squats and it hurt the next day.
Orders for bracelets and necklaces have started pouring in and I am making an average of 3 or more a day. Giving me enough money for food and the occasional treat. Have started a habit of buying an apple and a chocolate bar, much to the amusement of the shop staff.

Day 7

Duties for the day:
– Vacuum the hostel
– 3 pm kitchen and bathroom clean
Has been very windy the last few days and not that pleasant on the beach. Mostly hung around the hostel and then headed down to see the sunset, which is always beautiful and often spectacular.

Then a bunch of us headed to happy hour at the pub. Carolin and I started our tradition of sharing a box of chips and having a half price pint of cider.

Back at the hostel the first of the giant jenga competitions began and there were times you feared for your health and well being when the tower threatened to collapse.

All in all a good first week and I can’t wait for the next.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2011 in Australia, RTW, Travel

 

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