Day 5, 13 November
It’s dive day and that is an exciting prospect. We have breakfast at the New Heaven Café – honey and mango shakes with pancakes. It’s just across the (dirt) road from Davy Jones Locker (DJL) and we report for our Discover Scuba Diving course promptly at 10am.
A lovely Irish girl named Fiona is our instructor and it starts with a few basic theory points before we strap on the tanks and descend into the adjacent pool. I’ve never done this before and while the idea of caving is my worst claustrophobic nightmare, I have yet to see how I handle diving. Bruce, Han and I stand facing Fiona and slowly descend into the shallow pool water. It’s a total mind trip to now ‘breathe underwater’ and you essentially give yourself lock jaw from biting into the mouthpiece. My breathing is way too fast and within seconds I am getting dizzy, slightly panicky, and indicate that I need to resurface. Bleak. My overachiever side comes out as I refuse to fail at this! Bruce and Han are nailing it. But Fiona is amazing and incredibly patient. We go down again and she shows me her slower rhythm of breathing with hand gestures drawing toward and away from her chest. I follow her example and soon enough I’m okay. A little lightheaded still, but coping. We come up to celebrate, but more so to move on to the next thing: practicing removing the mouthpiece and putting it back. (In case you’re down there and a giant turtle makes your jaw drop. It happens).
Again I take a while to get the breathing right so the star pupils finish before me, but Fiona stays and waits until I’m ready and capable. Have I mentioned she’s amazing?
And that’s it. We’ve graduated from pool dive school and next up is the real deal. We get flippers and help carry bottles and everything else down to the beach. Bruce is approached by Silja, a blonde Norwegian photographer who offers to dive with us so that we can get pictures of the experience. It comes at a price but I am totally for capturing this. Divers, especially first timers, are not allowed GoPro’s. You have enough to worry about! It’s quite an ordeal to get everyone on longboats and then onto the bigger boats to finally stop off at Twin Peaks dive site. Debbie is more experienced so she gets to dive with the other PADI people. A guy called Chris is our dive master, and Fiona asked another guy to join and ‘keep an eye on me’. Ha, the problem child that might panic. Yet I know they see their fair share of disastrous first-timers having a mare. Safety first!
Thailand diving is naturally wetsuit free. You’d boil in the 30 degree water. We get a pep talk on the boat, then suit up and jump in. Making my way down the anchored rope, I blow on my nose to equalise every half meter or so. So far so good. It’s slightly murky but we’re told that visibility is actually better than yesterday. It’s about 5-7m. The deepest we go in this 30-40 minute dive is 11-12m. Thankfully I am well-rehearsed in my slow breathing pattern.
Diving is quiet. All you hear is the sound of your own Darth Vader-like inhaling and the release of bubbles from the mouthpiece as you exhale. You signal with the universal hand gestures. The most confusing is that ‘ok’ is not the thumbs up like we’re used to. Your sense of space is thrown too as you find yourself swimming above your friends (wondering where they went!). At first I’m fixated on following Chris. We must watch him all the time. He is the leader. But then you remember, ‘oh wait, I’m down here to look at fish and coral!’ and you start doing both. It’s a total wonderland down there. Tropical creatures of every shape, size and colour flit around you – pure magic! The parrot fish are spectacularly colourful. Silja snaps away as we take all of it in. I am loving diving.
I have no concept of how far away we ventured, but the first dive is over and we’re back on the boat for a breather. Chris whips out a booklet with fish pictures and shows us what we saw. We all get high fives and metaphorical gold stars for rocking that first dive. No really, go on. How good was I? We wave to Debbie who is also swimming back. There’s no question about it – we’re keen for a second dive. It’s an additional 1000B, but it’s only like R300 and totally worth it. Dive two is filled with more excitement than nerves and I definitely feel more relaxed and in control. I start exploring and enjoying the surrounds immediately. Apart from some uncomfortable but not unbearable earache and a slightly foggy dive mask (the worst!), it’s a fantastic experience. The pictures prove it too.
Silja highly recommends we go to Lung Pae in Hat Mae for dinner and the kind folks at DJL phone and organise a lift there for us. It’s on the back of a bakkie and there are some bumpy steep roads to get us there. Certainly an adventure! It’s already dark by the time we are seated so unfortunately we miss out on the spectacular view from this elevation. A lightning storm flashes in the distance.
Tonight’s dinner is a special birthday treat for me and Debbie from Bruce and Han. They say we can order anything we like! Pina Colada and Duck Red Curry for me. What a treat. It’s so good to be here with these friends. We had been anticipating this holiday for months and we are revelling in the fact that every day is just better than the last. And we’re not even halfway.
We share the ride back to Sairee Beach with a few other passengers. The one Thai girl suddenly takes out her phone, finds something, and turns it to show us a photo, all the while exclaiming to Bruce and Han: ‘Look! It’s you! It’s you!’. No ways. She took a photo of them on the beach last night releasing lanterns and here we are again in the same place! It’s a small island, I know, but there are hundreds of people here and the mere fact that she recognises them… Anyway, it’s a magical, unlikely, laughter-filled moment.
The beachfront is alive and humming with activity, exactly like last night. I ponder how much kerosene has soaked into these sands … We may not be playing with fire, but we have our own fun with some torches and long camera exposures.
Credit goes to Bruce and Silja for some of this post’s photos. To be fair, Bruce’s pictures are in my other posts too …