Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 242 (52)

Koh Tao

Friday 5th November

Yet another slow day in paradise greeted us this morning and we took our time getting up and active with a leisurely breakfast by the sea. Other than this evening’s night dive for me, we had no dives planned for today so we thought we’d check out some of the snorkelling here around the island today. There is a site on the South end of the island that is supposed to be a very common hangout for some small sharks. So much so, in fact, that it’s called Shark Bay as a result. We’ve heard varying tales from other people on the island about their luck with seeing sharks, octopuses and so on, so we just had to take a look for ourselves.

Locals with pick-up trucks are stationed all over the island, sitting around waiting for foreigners like us to have the need to move from A to B and it wasn’t long before we found one of them and arranged our five minute ride for the going rate of 50B (€0,96) per person. For some reason the price is always per person here on the island.

The beach that we were looking for was just a couple of minutes' walk from where the road terminated and we had to first pass through a minefield of coconut trees before getting to it. The bay is very secluded with a concave beach of nearly white sand no more than about three to five meters deep and about two hundred meters from one end curved end to the other. The water seemed quite clear but turned out to be very murky. It’s become clear that all the waters around Koh Tao are very murky at the moment. It’s the onset of the monsoon season here and there is lots of plankton in the water. This is both a curse and a blessing in that the visibility is very poor but there is much more likelihood of finding whale sharks looking to feed off the plankton rich waters. We both tried to snorkel for a bit but Sandy wasn’t particularly comfortable with the fact that she could not simply stand up in the deep water and ended up electing to sit on the beach whilst I spent a good hour or more floating around the bay on the surface of the water looking for anything and everything. I never saw any sharks today but the opportunity did give me a chance to test out the camera underwater. Although the visibility was not too good, it did clear up a bit, the farther out I went, and with a quick dive under the water from time to time, I was able to get a few decent shots. This camera is very much better than the one we had on the previous trip so I’m quite pleased about that.

Matt, the guy back in Bangkok that sold me the package, recommended a spa here on the island where they spend several hours pampering their guests for a very reasonable price. We had thought we’d found this place in the town where our dive resort was but there was a sign up stating that it was closed for refurbishment. We found out today that this was just an office and that the actual spa itself is located right here in Shark’s Bay. We went in search of it after I finished snorkelling and eventually found it located half way up an extremely steep incline, perched near the top of one of the island’s peaks. The strenuous climb to the top really sapped the energy from the both of us and we were both bitterly disappointed to finally get to the top only to see the very same ‘closed for refurbishment’ sign hanging there too. They did have a half a dozen gibbons playing around in a long cage at the resort and I was unfortunate enough to stray a little too close to the fence and received a swipe on the head from one of the cheeky monkeys for my troubles.

After a brief rest to take on more water and oxygen from the strenuous climb, we slowly made our way back down the treacherous incline again. There was a bit of sand scattered on the incline from where the refurbishment work was going on and Sandy slipped three times altogether. On the third fall, she grazed her knee and we had to crack open the small medical kit that we fortunately had with us today. There are a few nearly deserted bars right on the beach and we found one to sit and rest at whilst tending to Sandy’s wound. I bought a large bottle of water from the very old man there. After he saw Sandy’s knee and our attempts to clean the wound, he walked over to an aloe vera plant, cut off half a leaf, sliced it open and told Sandy to rub the sap onto her knee, which she did. He then found what looked like a small, round, lime fruit, sliced it open and told Sandy that this was also good for the wound but it might sting a bit. Not content to stop there, he then found a scuttle fish bone lying on the beach, broke a piece off from it and started to grind it into a powder, saying that this too would help stop the bleeding. I felt quite inadequate with my pathetic little band aid and antiseptic wipe and we were both quite impressed with the relative ease at which this man was able to pick up a few local ingredients at hand to address our minor emergency. Whether or not these things helped ease Sandy’s pain or actually did anything for the wound, I don’t know, but it certainly did wonders to cheer Sandy up a bit. She sat for a while to rest some more and I had another attempt at finding the elusive sharks but, alas, they must be elsewhere today. It didn’t take us long to find another snoozing pick-up truck driver lying in his cab when we got back to the main road. Our return journey was just 40B (€0,77) each this time.

Back at the dive resort, I turned my attention to this evening’s night dive, which Sandy has elected to forgo. It would be the first time with the new strobe attached to the camera and I wanted to inquire about going out with my own dive master so that my attention could be granted fully to the underwater photography, and without having to disrupt the progress of the dive for the other participants. I was quite prepared to pay for this privilege but one of the dive masters was quite happy to oblige at no extra cost.

There would be little option to do so after the dive so we went for dinner before I had to get ready. We went back to the Safety Stop pub just a few yards up the beach that we went to the other day and once again enjoyed the food there. We paid 425B (€8,17) for Sandy’s egg salad sandwich and my steak, along with drinks and everything else. We are at last getting much better at remembering to take our doxycycline anti-malaria tablets now and have settled into the routine of taking them with our last meal of the day. Apparently, we are supposed to take them at the same time every day but up till now, we’ve only taken them after one of us remembers to do so and the timing had been quite erratic.

There’s actually quite a bit of preparation with setting up the camera for underwater photography so we took care of this right after dinner. All the O-rings have to be removed, cleaned and re-greased. The camera battery needs to be fully charged and new batteries need to be put into the strobe. There’s also a little infrared shield that needs to be mounted onto the camera’s flash. The idea is that this will effectively stop the camera’s flash from interfering with the function of the strobe but it allows just enough light through at the right frequency to send a pulse of light through a receiver and along a fibre-optic cable to the strobe. This is the trigger mechanism that allows the strobe to fire at the same moment that the camera’s flash does.

With the camera and strobe working well together, I collected my bag of gear that the dive master had previously packed and we set off for the boat. It was nearly dark by the time the boat reached the same dive site that we dived at the other day when we completed our dive review. My dive master went over all the procedures and we reviewed hand signals and so on before entering the water. Everyone that participates on a night dive must take with them a flashlight but I found it very difficult to hold mine in my right hand with the camera. Technically, the left hand must remain free so as to operate the buoyancy control device but I had to use my left hand to hold the camera strobe arm. Fortunately, the strobe also has a flashlight built in. This is to assist the camera with focussing but turned out to be no less bright than the flashlights that everybody else was using. After the first few minutes of awkwardness, my dive master decided to relief me of my redundant flashlight as it was just getting in the way. I felt much more comfortable after this but I will have to keep a flashlight with me on successive night dives since the strobes internal flashlight goes out for a few seconds after each firing, whilst it re-charges the capacitors. For the next dive, I will take the flashlight along but will keep it tucked into my body suit so it’s there if I need it.

The visibility was even worse than before during the night dive and was less than a meter at times. I was able to get some very nice photos but the inability to look around for a good subject meant that I could really only photograph whatever was immediately in front of me. The strobe fires an exceedingly bright flash of light and makes for very much better photography than did the previous camera. All the other divers at the dive sight commented on the brightness of the light.

We surfaced after about forty minutes of bottom time and emerged into the pitch black of the night with the stars out in full force. There is very little light pollution here and the heavens really do open up at night as a result. Once we were all back on the boat, we packed our gear away and I was looking forward to studying all the underwater photos from the day on the laptop. Back at the hut, I quickly filled in my logbook, cleaned up all the equipment and downloaded everything from the memory card. All in all, I’m very pleased with the performance of both the camera and the strobe. If all the dive sites around the island remain this murky, however, we may very well decide to leave here earlier than expected to try to find clearer waters over on the West coast. We have to make our way there anyway for our live-aboard in about ten days' time and we will have completed almost all the dives we’ve so far paid for by the day after tomorrow so it isn’t like we’re missing out on anything. Tomorrow’s early morning dive is a much deeper dive that is farther out and this holds the promise of clearer waters. We shall see.