Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 250 (60)

Koh Lanta

Saturday 13th November

Once again I find myself writing this log entry the following day due to simply being too tired to do anything other than write up some brief notes to help me remember for later just before nodding off.

Today marks the third day, and what would ultimately end up being the last day also, of our diving out of Koh Lanta. Sandy skipped the dive yesterday in favour of resting and relaxing more but muggings here insisted on squeezing in as much diving as possible and went along for another full day out on the boat. Our dive site today is quite a bit farther out to sea than those of the previous couple of days and along with that comes the necessity for the boat to depart earlier than before, which in turn means that we have to get up even earlier than before. I don’t know what it is about this holiday but all too frequently there seems to be a reason for us to have to get up very early in the morning. Can’t a man just sleep in in the morning? It is a holiday after all!

For the most part, I was walking around this morning on autopilot, not really too aware of, and very much unconcerned about, what was going on around me. I wasn’t even fazed by the cross-country hell-ride in the dive resort’s four-by-four and calmly picked myself up off the truck bed floor without even thinking about it when we eventually came to an abrupt halt at the dive shop.

After a while, I became aware of the fact that we were now all on the boat and the man standing on the top deck in front of us all had now stopped talking (he was apparently giving a boat briefing). Breakfast was served and I made a beeline for the toaster, cereals and basket of bananas. My brain started to engage a bit more after I had downed several hearty portions of pretty much everything that was on offer.

I’ve always been a particularly fussy eater and this has always been something of a concern for us with this trip. We are travelling to places far and wide where the available food sources are such that we will often have no other choice than to eat what is there, whether we like the food or not. Of all the aspects of our travelling, this above all else was the one thing that worried me the most. I’m strangely less bothered about being mugged, kidnapped or entering a war zone. I’m finding, however, that although I would still rather eat what is familiar to me, I’ve been experimenting quite adventurously with the food we’ve been coming across and I’ve even managed to add a few more things to the very small list of foods that I will eat willingly. To give an example, I’ve never eaten bananas previously. I’ve always quite liked anything with a banana taste but never really liked the texture of a banana in my mouth. Now, however, I can’t get enough of them. Indeed I’ve eaten more fruits in the past couple of weeks here in Thailand than I have in the past several years, including new fruits that I’ve never eaten before. I’ve also developed a hankering for fresh grapefruit slices. Grapefruit and melon slices are frequently served on dive boats after the dives. For starters, these are readily available here but they also help greatly to remove the taste of salt water from your mouth after a dive. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be a new man at the end of it all and it will be far less bothersome for us to attend dinner evenings with friends.

The trip out to our dive site took us up to and way beyond the dive site from yesterday. In fact, it was a good three and a half hours altogether before we approached the small group of tiny rocks just peering out of the water. This location really is in the middle of nowhere and I have to wonder just how the person who found it to begin with actually did so. We have been fortunate enough to once again secure the same German woman, Moni, as our very own dive master today. It works out well for all concerned, us having our own dive master, since the other people on the boat are nearly all learner divers that are participating in a dive course of some description. They won’t slow us down, nor will we slow them down.

There are always just two dives on a dive trip and the two sites that we are diving today are very close to each other. Moni briefed us on the two locations and went over our plan for which way around the reef to go, our dive profile (what depths we will be at throughout the dive) and so on. When we reached the site, however, there were already a couple of live-aboard boats at our first intended site so we quickly decided to swap the plan and dive the second location first. The boat pulled up and secured itself to the buoy line and we were quickly in the water. Sandy had a ‘shorty’ wetsuit today (the same as a full body wetsuit but with only half the arms and legs covered) and was given an extra weight. The two of these factors combined meant that she had no more problems with buoyancy and was very much more comfortable in the water. So much so, in fact, that she insisted on taking the camera from me a couple of times. She still doesn’t yet have the degree of confidence under the water that I have and still tends to float quite a bit farther from the seabed and corals than do I. As a result, we tend to get the best underwater photography results when I’ve got the camera but she is getting better all the time and her confidence will come.

The visibility with the first dive site was just as good as with those over the previous couple of days and we didn’t have to go far beneath the surface before the entire reef opened up right in front of us. It wasn’t completely clear water but still very much better than over on Koh Tao and it was a very enjoyable dive for it. It wasn’t long into the dive before we were given a real treat. A couple of huge cuttlefish were mating. It lasted for just a minute or two before they untwined from each other and I don’t know if it was the presence of myself and the videographer trying to get close that perhaps disturbed them but one of them did seem to give us rather a peculiar look through one of its slit eyes. I’m sure he, or she, was thinking something along the lines of: ‘What the bloody hell do you think you two are looking at? Can’t a cuttlefish get any privacy here?’

I was getting a bit confused with the camera this time and kept trying to set the white balance. With the external strobe, of course, there is no need to set the white balance but I kept getting confused about this and wasted a lot of shots as a result. Still, the nice thing about digital is that you can waste lots of shots and it doesn’t cost you anything, other than lost time. We would take over two hundred and fifty underwater shots between us before the day was out. What was also latter apparent was that the strobe was not facing fully forwards for much of the time and as a result, some of the photos are nicely coloured on one side but less so on the other.

A good dive is one where the dive profile is not too erratic. A good dive is one where you glide effortlessly through the water. A good dive is one where you are not using too much air and can maximise your bottom time as a result. And then there is the way that I dive with the camera. When I have the camera in my hand, my dive profile is frequently erratic, I move sluggishly through the water and usually end up exhausting most of my air supply long before anyone else. It’s not that I’m a bad diver, it’s just that I’m constantly looking for that good shot with the camera and constantly find myself moving through the water in a zigzag motion from one good photo opportunity to the next. What usually happens on dives where I have the camera is that the dive master or somebody else ahead will spot something that they think is worth photographing and they will motion me over to come and see it. I’m also constantly seeing things myself just over the next ridge or down below that I think is worthy of closer inspection, and race of for it accordingly. Typically, the dive master wants to know when the divers in the group are down to one hundred bar of pressure on their gauges so that they can plan the rest of the dive based on how fast the divers are going through their air. By the time the first person gets down to fifty bar, this is the point at which the dive master will typically give the signal for everybody to assemble and ascend to a depth of five meters for a three-minute safety stop. Technically speaking, all of our dives are well within the no-decompression safety limits and so a three-minute safety stop at five-meters is not strictly necessary. It is, however, always good practice to include this safety stop anyway. I signalled to Moni that I was at fifty bar on my gauge and although she did motion for me to reduce my depth, was quite happy for us to continue for a little longer. I eventually went down to thirty bar, however, and when I conveyed this, she gave the three-minute five-meter safety stop sign and when we reached this depth, she gave me her backup regulator so that I could continue to breathe from her tank. It’s apparently not good for the tanks to go down below twenty bar of pressure. If moisture gets into the tank, it can lead to corrosion. If we had been novice divers, I doubt very much that she would have allowed the dive to continue for those extra few minutes.

We had had high hopes of seeing manta rays here at this dive location but even though we swam over some open seabed a couple of times looking for them, alas, we didn’t see any large beasts on this occasion again. The whale sharks, leopard sharks, manta rays and other large beasts of the ocean still elude us – for now. Still, plenty more fish in the sea.

We were first in the water and first out – although with my air consumption, we might have been first out even if we were last in. It took a while for the rest of the compliment of today’s trip to surface and when everybody was finally aboard, lunch was served. Even though I’m getting more adventurous with different foods, I still draw the line at cheese and didn’t find the pizza to look too appealing. Fortunately, the area immediately surrounding the rocks sticking up out of the water was prime snorkelling terrain so with the permission of the boat master, I donned my snorkel, mask and fins and dived in. I can’t remember how much water I swallowed before I remembered that I wasn’t diving but I did eventually manage to compose myself and swam over to the rocks. There wasn’t really too much in the way of corals just beneath the surface by the rocks. I think this is due to the tides. The corals were there but deeper than I a depth to which I could submerge comfortably without drowning myself. I was able to get a good look at some nice fish and after a few minutes, I was given a real treat. I spotted an octopus moving gracefully across the rock surface. I near choked with excitement and was particularly pleased with my forethought to bring the camera and strobe along with me. The octopus was good enough to remain in the same spot for a while and I dipped several times to get nearly close enough to actually touch it – although touching any marine life is a strict no-no and it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to actually do so. I was able to take quite a few snaps at the magnificent animal, although only one or two actually came out very well. I must have spent the better part of half an hour simply drifting on the surface with my head beneath the water, just observing its behaviour. I saw it change colour and texture several times and even watched it move across the rock, fanning its tentacles out to smother an area of the rock as it foraged for food. It was a real treat. I kept trying to attract the attention of other divers to come and see for themselves but it was very frustrating to try to get their attention when they persistently refused to look in my direction and above them. I did so eventually, however, and they all showed their appreciation for my efforts.

After a while, the octopus slipped far enough beneath the surface for it to be impractical for me to dive down to see it and with little else interesting enough to keep my attention, I swam the twenty meters or so back to the boat. It wasn’t long after this that the boat pulled over to our second dive site, not a hundred meters from where we were moored. The second dive site was just as nice as the first but nothing quite so spectacular as a couple of mating cuttlefish or an octopus. It was, nevertheless, a very enjoyable dive and I darted around looking for good photo opportunities whenever I had the camera. Once again, I finished the dive at the three-minute five-meter safety stop breathing from my dive master’s tank. There was a bit of a current and we had to hold onto the buoy line whilst we sat out the three minutes. The line rubbed against my wrist and I felt some tingling pain that was quite irritating. I couldn’t see that anything had pierced my skin and during the ride back, several of us talked about what might have been the cause of the irritation, which subsided after about thirty minutes or more. One of the dive masters on the boat thought it might have been a chemical reaction with the tiny, near invisible, corals growing on the buoy line. Whatever it was, I will be more mindful of what I grab hold of from here on.

With an expected three and a half hour trip back, the captain was eager to get underway so that we reached port before dusk. The waters were very calm on the way back and we spent much of the time moving around and chatting with the divers and dive masters. One of the dive masters showed me some features of our dive computers that we’ve not yet used, which I found particularly useful. One thing that is starting to become very clear is just how fortunate we are to be diving at all the dive locations that we will be passing though on this trip. By the time we are back in Europe, we will have dived in Thailand, Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, The Galapagos Islands, the Florida Keys and Mexico – with possibly more besides.

Diving amongst us every day for the past few days has been a videographer that has been capturing the divers and the marine life that’s been around on the dives. At the end of each day, the divers can purchase a DVD presentation of their experiences. I had asked if it would be possible to string together a longer presentation from the footage of the past three days with a strong emphasis on just the two of us. This was possible for a just a little more money so I asked the videographer to go ahead and do this for us. On the way back from the third dive, however, she told me that it would now be nearly double the original cost. This was outside of our budget so we will forego this luxury this time around. Hopefully, there will be other opportunities as we move around the planet. I had also been thinking of diving again tomorrow but we were both now so very tired and we still have the intensive diving of the live-aboard over on the Similan Islands in a couple of days so we decided against this in the end. It’s been a fabulous three days of diving and best left at that.

As the truck swerved its way down the length of the island, we slowly bid a fond farewell to those other divers that we met and befriended over the past few days, as they were one-by-one dropped off, sometimes literally, at their respective resorts. We said goodbye to the remaining few when it was our turn and staggered back to our room. Although the sun had now dipped completely below the horizon, we still enjoyed another nice meal sitting by the beach. It was by now quite a bit later than we would normally be up and about and we discovered that our resort was having a fresh fish barbeque on the beach. They do this every night apparently so I may try out some more fish tomorrow evening.

There was just enough time and energy left for a quick visit to the Internet café before it was off to bed to write up the day’s events. I was so tired that I had to content myself with simply writing down my notes. With nothing left for us to do over the next couple of days before we have to head to Ko Lak to catch our live-aboard, there will be plenty of time tomorrow, to complete the log – which there was.