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End of Day 21 and Day 22 – Something Fishy Going On (Scuba Liveaboard 1)

March 25, 2010

Dateline: Khao Lak, Thailand and the surrounding Similan Islands- Evening of Monday, March 22 through Tuesday March, 23, 2010

To read the excuse-filled introduction to this entry, click here.

18:04 – I’ve been sitting in the dive shop for the last 4 hours watching people roll in and out. In that time I’ve read ¼ of a book, taken pictures of snack food for the previous day’s entry, and looked very local. I’m not sure any of the divers that have walked into the shop recognize me as a fellow customer.

18:22 –A dreadlocked Spanish guy just took me and another dude to get fitted for scuba gear– BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), fins, and wetsuit. The first wetsuit felt like it was trying to cleave me it two from my ass cheeks. I opted for a larger size. The fitting had me (incoming pun!) briefly in my underwear in a semi-public area. This made me mildly uncomfortable. Public nudity’s never been my thing.

18:29 – More divers coming in. I see White people.

18:35 – I decide to leave my big backpack in the dive office and repack a smaller bag for the boat. I don’t want to be the ugly American that takes up too much space.

18:59 – I’ve repacked my small bag four times. Every time I think I’m done I realize that I’ve left something in the big bag. That means I’ve repacked each bag at least four times. All this in the middle of a busy dive shop. Remind me never to be homeless. If I have to do this thing on the street, I’d get shivved and robbed and not notice until I came to in the hospital.

19:45 – We finally load up to go to the pier.

20:05 – I’m looking at the boat. It looks small. In the dark it looks like an oversized dinghy. For the next four days it will house 22 divers, 6 guides, 4 dive boys, 1 cook, 1 cook’s assistant, and a captain. We’re going to get to know each other pretty well.

20:40 – I haven’t said a word to anyone. I don’t know if anyone knows that I speak English. Actually, nobody’s said much of anything. I think everyone’s tired. I do see a group of four Chinese-looking people. I am not alone.

21:00 – Torsten, the Belgian trip leader, is briefing us about the boat and dive procedures. We’re going to dive three or four times a day. Two days we’ll have a night dive. We’ll be broken into groups of about four divers to one guide.

We review rules about throwing away trash, paying for soda and beer, and renting dive computers. The rules about water interest me the most: Conserve the freshwater, otherwise we won’t have flush toilets on the last day. Don’t put toilet paper in the toilet, otherwise the onboard septic tank will clog up and we won’t have flush toilets on the last day. These rules seem even more important than The Most Important Rule in Scuba (“Never hold your breath”) which, if violated, can explode your lungs. Thirty-five people doing their business over the side of the boat sounds like a fate worse then death.

21:30 – We’ve been assigned rooms. I’m with three other guys. Christoffer (pronounced: Cris-STOFF-er) a big, tanned Swede, Michel a soft spoken Dutch man, and Dominick a long haired, bearded American.

The room is 7 by 6.5 feet wide with two bunk beds. I get a top bunk. This is like summer camp, but with less space and more body hair.

21:44 – Topside now. We’ve been broken up into our dive groups. Turns out the dreadlocked Spanish guy is Rubi, my guide. Christoffer is in my group. We’re joined by a tattooed and pierced Scandinavian couple. Ozzie is Norwegian and her boyfriend Robin is Swedish. Christoffer, Ozzie, and Robin can all communicate in Swedish. I cannot. It’s like being the fourth wheel on a lingual ménage trios.

22:01 – I can feel the seasickness, even though (because?) it’s dark out. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the lights on the dock and notice that they’re swaying. It’s giving me a headache. Torsten offered us seasickness pills, but I’ll be damned if I’m the first to cry uncle. I’m going to tough it out.

22:12 – We’re underway. As the boat pulled out of the harbor, the bow erupted in fireworks. Torsten said the Thai people on the boat are superstitious and have a shrine up front. I assume that the fireworks display has something to do with that. I’m all for superstitions that encourage detonating explosives.

22:50 – Time to crash out. The boat’s still chugging to our morning dive spot. I bid adieu to Ozzie and Robin. Christoffer bailed about half an hour ago. First dive is at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

02:40 – I’m awake because the boat stopped. Also, because the other side of my pillow is soaked. Not all of my pillow, just the side that’s not touching my head. Did I sweat and flip the pillow over just before I woke? Did I drool on the bed, then cover it with my pillow? Did I spill something? Very weird since the room is air conditioned and my hair is dry. And because I never drool. Never. Ever. Not even once.

Stop looking at me like that.

05:52 – I’m awake again. This is ridiculous. Maybe I’m amped to dive? Maybe I’m nervous? I went to the bathroom, downed some water, and stared out into the black ocean. The boat’s swaying. I can tell only because the lights of distant fishing boat are swaying. I feel slightly seasick. I think I’ll head back down to my bunk and try to get a few more minutes sleep before wake up call.

7:00 – “Waaaaake up calllllllll!!!” One of the guides is walking the hall, pounding on doors to get us up. I’m only half asleep. I wonder if I’m ever going to get a good night’s rest on this boat.

7:08 – No seasickness! I even eat some fruit and toast for pre-breakfast.

8:00 – We’ve been briefed about our first dive by a British girl. She’s cute to the extent you can be 5’10” and still considered “cute.” Cute Brit explains that this is mostly a “check dive” to make sure we remember how to breath underwater. No problem. I learned how only a week ago– everything’s still fresh.

8:10 – Robin, Ozzie, Christoffer, Rubi, and I are part of the second wave of divers to hit the water. We pulled on our wetsuits and other gear. The suit’s a lot tighter than I remember it being in the shop. Also, it’s a lot more turquoise. I slip into my 80’s aerobic outfit. Everyone else is in Navy Seal black. Guess I’m just lucky.

8:48 – We’re only down for 38 minutes. To make up for it, we hit 30 meters (nearly 100 feet). We saw an octopus. Also, none of us died. The check dive is a success.

9:30 – I presume this is going to be our rhythm for the trip. We got up, ate a light pre-breakfast, had a dive briefing, then dove. We just finished up our breakfast-breakfast. Half the boat is now sleeping off their meal waiting for the next dive to start. We have to wait a couple of hours between each dive to let the nitrogen diffuse out of our blood. Gotta exorcise those nitrogen demons.

10:00 –I decided to do my deep water certification so I just met with Rubi to go over deep water diving. Diving in deep water apparently messes with your head. It’s sort of like being drunk. Your reaction time gets slower and you have a harder time thinking. To test this, Rubi made me do some mental exercises on the boat. First he held up a certain number of fingers and I had to hold up my fingers so that all our fingers added up to 11. Then he had me point to a bunch of scrambled numbers in sequence, 1 through 20. I suck at this kind of thing. I felt clumsy and slow. When I’m under 30 meters (100 feet) of water, I’ll probably feel even slower.

11:00 – Dive briefing. Not the Cute Brit, just some dude. This time we dive for real.

11:30 – My group was in the first wave. I guess we’re alternating throughout the trip. I squeezed into my sexy neon Jane Fonda outfit. The dive boys helped me with my fins. One was particularly friendly. He kept grabbing at my boobs and smiling. I did what came natural and grabbed his boobs back. He laughed and rubbed my chest. I laughed and rubbed his chest back. Gladly, he did not escalate. It’s a game of chicken I might ultimately have lost.

11:40 – The dive five-some is now 25 meters (82 feet) underwater. Rubi and I break off to do our deep water tests. We swim down to 30 meters (100 feet) and try to settle on the sand to do our exercises. Problem. We’re on a down slope and there’s a current sweeping us deeper. We’re being dragged to the bottom of the ocean. I dig my knees into the sand, Rubi grabs me by the BCD, and we practically lay down next to each other. It’s like being in a really strong wind. We’re barely hanging on.

He holds up his fingers, I hold mine back up. That was fast. When he holds out the card of scrambled numbers. I fly through the set, pointing as fast as I can. I’m way faster underwater than on land. Fear of being swept into the abyss has focused me. Either that or I just think better when I’m drunk.

Once it’s over, we kick our way back up as fast as we can. We dove 1.5 m deeper than we planned because of the current. We would have gone to 100m if we hadn’t been careful. I love diving.

12:16 – Just finished our dive. We saw a frog fish which looked exactly like coral until you got real close and noticed the eye.

We also encountered some funky current when we dropped between some rocks. Rubi called it a “washing machine.” I called it “fun.” It was strangely beautiful to see our group being swept back and forth through the rocks, in unison, whether we wanted to or not. It was like we were all choreographed dancers. Nothing like the ocean to remind you that that the universe is big and powerful and that you’re just along for the ride.

13:00 – Lunch is served by our Thai ladyboy cook. He’s definitely a ladyboy because everyone on the dive staff has said he’s a ladyboy and he looks like one. We met each other last night and, per normal, he mistook me for a Thai. In fact, he said he saw me hanging around the office all yesterday and thought I was working there. Nope, I’m just the only brown person on this trip (the Chinese are deathly pale). If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he had a thing for me.

Luckily, he did not rub my chest.

14:00 – More napping. The boat’s headed away from the Similan Islands to Koh Bon. We won’t have our third dive until 4 p.m.

I take this time to write up my dive logbook. It’s like being a dive accountant. Recording bottom times, max depths, entry times, surface times. You also write down the cool stuff you saw, which makes me feel like a birdwatcher. I guess that makes it better? Anoraks, I tell you.

15:46 – Dive briefing. We’re going to a place called Anita’s Reef near Koh Tachai. The Cute Brit just reminded everyone on the boat that we have to put all our organic trash in a special bin which gets tossed overboard. “Otherwise, it’ll stink up the whole boat, yeah?” Since she is Cute and not Hideous, and because she has a British accent, it comes off as exasperated but polite. Otherwise, I’d think she was pissed.

It’s hard to see why since this is the first time on a liveaboard for most people and we’re still learning the rules. Also, not everyone has a firm grip on the English language (see the Russian and Chinese people).

16:00 – We’re in the water. End up seeing weird things like a flying gurnard (which is a fish that flaps along the ocean floor using fan like wings) and a longnose hawkfish. Rubi found a few nudi branches, which are a soft-bodied, shell-less sea creatures no longer than a few centimeters. They are colorful and pretty, but tiny. Per normal, Rubi spends most of his time searching for them and other sea life in the reef’s crevices.

Also, Chinese tourists are Chinese tourists, even under water. On this trip, there are four of them. Every single one has either an underwater still or video camera. I just watched them conduct a heavy assault on a little reef bonny. It’s silent underwater, but I could almost hear them, shutters clicking away, chattering away as they gesture and point.

16:58 – Back on deck. Perhaps my wetsuit’s too tight. Maybe it’s because I’m wearing boardshorts underneath. Regardless, after every dive I get to look down and discover what novel configuration my left testicle, right testicle, and penis are in.

Presently, it looks like someone’s shaken a satchel with a battery and two marbles. Very big marbles and a large battery. Very large. Gigantic. Despite the cold water. Stop looking at me like that.

17:05 – Cute Brit just yelled at Christoffer and me. Our room is closest on the hall to the dive deck. We were standing in it, hanging out. She busted in and said, “You guys have to dry off before coming in here, otherwise someone’s going to slip and break their necks, yeah?”

Then she muttered her way down the rest of the hall, mopping up water as she went. Christoffer and I mumbled something about being sorry. He rolled his eyes.

Cute Brit has become considerably less cute. Look, lady, we couldn’t have soaked the whole hallway because our room is closest to the exit. You can’t just yell at us because we happen to be the ones with our door open.

Your bitterness has earned you a new title. In the spirit of ocean vessels, I dub thee “PMS Britannia.” I feel like I’m being generous since I’ve decided to attribute her demeanor to circumstances, not a character flaw. I’m nice like that.

17:15 – Rubi and I just reviewed how to navigate underwater with a compass. This is for my deep water certification. In a few minutes, we’re going to do a shallow dive to test my skills. Navigating underwater is like hunting for buried pirate treasure. 25 kicks north, turn right 90 degrees, 20 kicks east, turn right 90 degrees, 25 kicks south, turn right 90 degrees, 20 kicks west, stop! Starting point reached. Your booty: the boat picks you up at the exit point and you get to be alive.

I hope I pass. Counting is hard. Anything past “three” and I start getting bored. “One. Two. Threeeeee. . .look, a fish! Uhhhh. . .twelve?”

17:30 – Bonus dive! While the rest of the dive customers had some beach time, a gaggle of guides and I suited up for a dive. Rubi and I did our navigation thing (I passed) and the rest just explored the reef. When Rubi and I finished, we swam around for a bit at 12 meters.

He stuck his head into crevices looking for small wildlife. I enjoyed the sensation of flying.

At one point, PMS Britannia ran into the back of my fins. I asked if she was okay (I think) by raising an open hand. She apologized (I think) by putting her hands together. Now that I think about it, my gesture could have been interpreted as, “You’re all up on me, back off!” We might be almost even.

17:55 – On deck again. The frank has somehow sunk below the beans. I try not find this disturbing.

18:55 – Dive briefing for our night dive. Torsten this time. He talked about being disoriented in the black water. How to use a flashlight (never turn it off because it might not go back on, don’t point it at someone’s eyes, if you want it to be dark then point the torch into your chest). He also said that we shouldn’t be surprised if we saw barracudas sitting on our shoulders and using the light to hunt. This sounds cool. This also sounds terrifying. Barracudas are not friendly, mostly. Unless you count Sarah “Barracuda” Palin. She’s loveable and huggable and cuddly.

19:10 – In the dark water. There is no up, there is no down, there is only lit and unlit. Off in the distance, you can see hazy beams of light from the other divers. Your dive group’s lights are brightest of all. Since you’re more sense deprived than during the day, your breathing sounds louder. It’s like being in an Alien movie.

It’s also strange because you can only see what’s illuminated by your light. The water restricts the beam more than air so your focus is narrower. I occasionally got the feeling that something was right behind my head or that I was about to drift into something. I started to shine the light behind me every once in a while so I could memorize the terrain and be sure I wasn’t going to hit something.

Surprisingly, the colors underwater look better at night. During the day, more and more of the sun’s rays are blocked the deeper you go. Colors slowly disappear—first red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, then purple (the order of the colors of the rainbow). At a certain point, it looks like the ocean is just black and white with blue and purple tints.

At night, though, your flashlight illuminates sea life. There’s not enough water between the light bulb and the object to screw up the colors for your eye. Also, everything is against the black background of the ocean. Everything, therefore, seems more vivid.

The whole thing was a trip. Too bad we didn’t see any barracudas.

19:40 – Back on the boat. Arranged as a semicolon. Definitely a semicolon. Strangely, there is no pain. A good thing?

19:50 – Since we’ve finished our last dive, everyone’s outside the four bathrooms to grab a shower. I opt to read upstairs and wait for the crowd to finish up.

20:10 – I grab my towel and start hunting for an open shower stall.

20:11 – Wow. I just saw a Chinese girl naked. Admittedly, this is nothing new. I’ve seen nude Chinese women before. This one, however, did not favor my attention. This one screamed, which was different. I was pulling on bathroom doors to find a free shower. One flew open. Cue screaming naked Chinese girl. I slammed the door and waited for another room to open. It happened so fast I didn’t even have the chance to apologize. It’s not my fault, really. The door wasn’t just unlocked it was actually swinging open.

20:22 – Dinner is served. I can see the Chinese girl berating a dive boy in Chinese. Her friend is helping translate. I hear the words, “door open.” I decide not to talk to the girl or ever bring up The Encounter. Just let it be. No big deal, really. I think she’s embarrassed. The best way to diffuse the embarrassment is probably to pretend like nothing happened.

Better than me walking up shyly and saying, “I’m so sorry I walked in on you 10 minutes ago and saw you totally freakin’ naked with no clothes on or anything. Don’t worry. No big deal. It was unintentional. Your nudity is nothing to be ashamed of. It was just a glimpse really. So sorry. I apologize. Please excuse my mistake. I will erase the image of your nude form from my mind forever. Bbbzzzt. . . .See, it’s like it never happened! Your naked flesh was not memorable to me at all! Let us laugh about this. Hahahahaha!”

Silence. A much better alternative.

21:03 – Everyone’s reviewing the day’s dives. People are thumbing through picture books identifying what they saw and jotting it in their dive logs. They’re flipping through their computers recording bottom times and depths. This is so weird.

22:25 – We’re like old people. Everyone is heading off to bed. Diving is making me like a geriatric birdwatcher. I don’t think I mind. To bed. Gotta rest up for another 8 a.m. dive.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures in today’s gallery. Just a slideshow of the ones above, bigger and better.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. tutz permalink
    August 17, 2010 12:27 am

    The touching of boobs really captured my attention.. hahahaha! Nice one!

    Tutz like the Cute Brit a.k.a PMS Britannia and the naked Chinese Girl… =)

    Uhmmn… the nude Chinese women you’ve seen… is this real? =P

  2. tutz permalink
    August 19, 2010 1:16 am

    No doubt about that… Sir! =)

    Just that… I’m quite amazed that things like that seems normal to people like you..

    -ignorant pinay!

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