Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 241 (51)

Koh Tao

Thursday 4th November

Our first day in paradise was eased gradually into focus this morning when our brains slowly started to engage the senses one-by-one. First it was our ears when we were suddenly aware of the sound of the waves a few meters away, and then our eyes began to register the fact that it was now light outside with the tropical sun starting to gently warm up the already tepid air. We had both slept quite well but I was surprised to learn that Sandy was commenting on the heat. Usually, I’m the one that complains about the lack of air-conditioning but I’ve so far found the cabin to be quite comfortable. Yes, it could do with having the A/C unit working but I can’t say that I lost any sleep over it.

During the night, I heard a couple of coconuts fall around the dive resort. There are about a dozen fully laden palm trees dotted around the resort and many of the paths pass right under the drop zones. The coconuts up in the canopies are of varying shades of green through to brown. Small palm shoots are emerging out of the sand every now and then where previously fallen coconut have been able to take root and sprout. I caught myself suddenly looking skyways several times today each time I saw a coconut laying on the ground. Whenever I did this, I changed direction to move away from the drop zone. You never know just when one of these bombs will decide to make a break for the ground and it will not care about doing so if someone just happens to be passing beneath it at the time.

We had a very relaxing breakfast at our now favourite table right next to the beach. Many of the other travellers here are learner divers and small groups of them were huddled together around tables studying with their course material and dive tables. We’ve already been through all of this previously but even we had to do a tiny bit of studying today, as we needed to go through our two SCUBA review sessions this morning. It’s recommended that SCUBA divers that have not dived in the previous twelve months complete a quick, one-day, review course to re-familiarise them with all the procedures and so on. There is a theory and a practical part to the review. The theory part consists of answering a couple of dozen questions with the aid of the SCUBA diving manual. It’s not really a test so much as an opportunity to refresh the memory. For each question that is answered incorrectly, the instructor goes over the relevant material to make sure that it is understood. We were joined this morning by just one other diver, a Canadian that learned to dive a couple of years ago but has only now had the chance to put those new skills to the test. The theory part of the review was all over with inside an hour. We had to leave Sandy’s certificate of health from her doctor with the diving school and both had to sign an indemnity waver but other than that, the whole thing was more of a formality than anything else. We had originally been told that we would complete the practical review in the resort swimming pool but it was later decided best to do this at sea since all three of us could then join the second dive of the afternoon being that we would then already be on the boat.

Although all the necessary dive gear is included in the cost of the diving here, we have our own snorkels, masks and body suits with us. The body suit is an all-covering, flexible, thin, Lycra suit that makes putting on the wetsuit very much easier and helps keep us protected from the sun. We brought these mostly to use when snorkelling as you can very easily lose track of time when having so much fun following the marine life around. Finishing up the day with painfully red skin all over your back can put quite a damper on the day. I decided to shave off my moustache as best I could and took the snorkel and masks into the sea to give it a dry run. With the moustache mostly gone, everything fit perfectly and I was ready for the second part of the review course.

By around lunchtime, we were issued with the requisite diving gear and each given a bag with a number on it to keep everything in. The boat we would be taking out today was docked at the same jetty just a few yards away where we disembarked from the catamaran yesterday. All the compressed air tanks were already aboard and there were about twenty of us altogether going out this afternoon. The boat is quite big and it didn’t feel nearly as crowded as I first feared it would when we climbed aboard. There were about four different groups of divers but it was still just the three of us with our dive instructor so we would receive his full attention. Everything is on one, open deck that is mostly covered so we were at least sheltered from the sometimes-oppressive heat of the tropical sun.

The engines roared briefly as we pulled away from the dock and made our way over to the small cluster of islands just a few hundred yards from the bay. It took no more than about ten minutes to travel this distance and we moored up not far from one of narrow slithers of sand bank that connects two of the small islands right next to Koh Tao. Fortunately, we were to be the first group off the boat and I led our group into the water. It felt really nice to be in the water again with SCUBA equipment strapped to my back. It can be mildly uncomfortable with the restriction of the wetsuit and buoyancy control device clinging to your body with a heavy tank and leads dangling everywhere and the salt water getting up your nose along with the motion of the boat can all conspire to make you nauseous at times but the rewards are so overwhelmingly worth it that we hardly think about the downsides at all anymore. We both took a Cinnarizine each before the dive, although I only remembered to take mine just as the boat was pulling away from the jetty. The waters inside the bay, however, are quite calm and asides form just a little bobbing up and down, there really wasn’t enough motion generated to pose a real threat to begin with anyway. Were there a land bridge between our dive resort and the dive site, we could have walked the stone’s throw distance in about fifteen to twenty minutes or so.

I was all ready to begin submerging when our dive instructor told us that we had to first swim a distance of about two hundred meters or so to reach the shallows where our dive review would take place. This was quite a surprise to all of us and the fact that we had to swim against the current made it quite a strenuous exercise, which took us the better part of fifteen minutes to complete. It would have been very much less effort to submerge and travel this distance beneath the surface of the water but our dive instructor told me that he was not allowed to let us SCUBA dive without first observing that we were proficient at the necessary skills the review was supposed to cover. I can quite understand this but I would still have preferred to swim beneath the waves as opposed to fighting them.

We all made it to the shallows and submerged to about five meters, where we spent the next forty-five minutes or so kneeling on the bottom of the seabed and repeating the various exercises the instructor was demonstrating. Amongst other things, we had to demonstrate that we could remove and replace our regulator, clear our masks, breath through a constantly blowing regulator, simulating the scenario of it being defective and rapidly losing air, remove our dive gear and put it back on again whilst under the water and maintain neutral buoyancy simply by inhaling and exhaling at the correct rate. With the two of us already having our Advanced Open Water certification, it was all quite straight forward and, once again, more a formality than anything else. Still, it was a necessary evil that was no over and done with and we can now continue to participate in all the diving we can tolerate for the remainder of our trip.

After it was all over with, we were allowed to SCUBA dive back to the boat and this was very much easier than was the swim over to the shallows to begin with. Back in the boat, we waited just a short while for all the other groups to return from their diving activities and after a half hour rest, the ship’s mate released us from our tether and we circled around the island to the other side of the sand bank, which by now had all but been submerged by the change in the tide, to where we would commence the second and final dive of the afternoon. The boat sets out twice a day with two dives in the morning and two dives in the afternoon. Just as it starts to get dark, it sails one final time for a night dive, something that I’m particularly looking forward to.

For this our first fun dive, we would be joining a group of four other divers lead by a different dive master. All of the dive masters, instructors and diving staff here are western foreigners. The boat, restaurant and cleaning staff are all locals. With little delay, we were all swiftly in the water and submerging through some quite murky waters and off we swam, following the dive master to see what we could see. There had been a sighting of a small whale shark here just a couple of days ago and I was certainly on the lookout for this but we were quite so lucky. We did get to see a resident turtle that was quite happily munching away at crustaceans and soft corals on the side of a rock face, as well as a whole host of other fish and marine wildlife. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly spectacular dive sight. It was probably on a par with Pompano Beach, Florida or Sodwana Bay, South Africa. I think the poor visibility contributed to this. It was nevertheless a very good dive and well worth the effort. We are hoping that the visibility will be much better at the next dive sight that we plan to visit the day after tomorrow. We have to dive at least every other day to maintain the cheap room rate here at the dive resort so we’ve decided to stagger our day dives at intervals of every other day. Tomorrow we will explore the island some more and I will participate in the night dive. That should give us our best glimpse yet of just what our underwater photography equipment is really capable of.

Once the last remaining stragglers were back aboard, we idled back to the jetty and unloaded the gear to be cleaned and put back into the storeroom. We were fortunately spared the burden of having to deal with moving the heavy and cumbersome tanks onto and off the boat. This is taken care of by the boat staff. Immediately after everything was put away and we cleaned off the salt water from ourselves and our own diving gear, we sat in the restaurant with the dive master to go over completing our dive logbooks. With nearly thirty dives to my name now, I’ve almost completed twenty hours of total bottom time. Sandy opted out of a couple of dives in the Red Sea when we were in Egypt and so has slightly less in her logbook than do I.

Diving can be energy sapping and certainly stimulates the appetite. Once we were back into dry clothes, although for me that meant walking around for a bit until my wet clothes were mostly dry, the Dutch girl we met on the way here joined us in a brief taxi ride into the next town to get a bite to eat at a recommended restaurant there. Just like the small town here, it really isn’t much more than a few commercial outlets (internet cafés, restaurants, dive shops and such) along one or two short stretches of narrow road. The meal was quite nice in the end and since food is practically the only thing for us to spend money on whilst here, other than diving and our accommodation, we remain able to keep our outgoings to an absolute minimum. After the meal, we decided to cover by foot the Kilometre or two back to our dive resort, to walk off the calories, with the aid of our flashlights and headlamps. That sapped enough more energy out of us to send us quickly to sleep after hitting the pillow – except for me, of course, as I spent the next hour or two writing up today’s events, just like every other day so far.