PADI time! Diving & Koh Lanta part 1

I'm really falling further and further behind, aren't I!?! Well, it's just a testament to how much fun I'm having. Also, FYI, dinner with friends is immensely more pleasurable than solo dinners - so happy to have reunited with G&V in Sydney! :). Also, warning- this got really long, so I decided to split it into 2 parts.

So, after my fabulous day in Tonsai, I hopped up & enjoyed another cliff side breakfast, then schlepped down to the far end of the beach to catch a long tail out to the "big boat" - the ferry that would take me to Koh Lanta. After getting a bit soaked on the ride out there, and then having some difficulty scrambling up from a teeny boat into a giant one, I then was faced with the delicate issue of finding a good seat in an boat becoming more & more crowded. Out on the back-side of the deck I actually found a spot that was partially shady! I wasn't sure how comfy the ledge was gonna be for 2 hours, but it worked out fine. The ride was beautiful- blue water as far as they eye could see, with small islands popping up out of nowhere - awesome! As we pulled into Lanta, I could tell it was quite a different sort of island. Mostly flat, slowly building to one main peak, which wasn't really too high - no more cliffs in sight. Also, the part of town by the ferry port was a total fishing village- all the buildings were out on stilts above the water- cute! I was able to easily locate my dive center, Go Dive Lanta, which was just down a bit from the port. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, PayPal didn't accept either of my cards for a deposit, so they didn't have a room reserved for me as planned. So, instead, while I filled out paperwork, the nice desk-lady (called "Nutty"!) called around to find me another room. Unfortunately, everything was booked, so we had to walk down the street to a Swedish restaurant that also has a few rooms to rent. A real hotel across the street would be open for my next few nights, but for this first night- basic room w/shared bath would have to do! It had a lovely view over the water, and air-con, so what else do you really need?

So, after dropping my stuff off, lunching, & finalizing arrangements with the hotel across the way (called Lanta Smile- cute!), I went back to Go Dive to try on equipment & get my homework assignment for the night. Um, it was 175 pages of reading! Eesh! Luckily, it was easy reading, and you could go faster by working off the chapter-end quizzes too. Plus, I went back to my Swedish restaurant who had the cutest view over the water. It also featured one of the greatest mixes of all time: Careless Whispers, Hero (by Mariah of course), My Heart Will Go On, I will Always Love you, Groovy Kind Of Love, How Do I..., some Michael Bolton, ect. Now, I know all the songs on this mix, b/c unfortunately it was one of only TWO mixes they had, but they were only playing this one on that day (strangely only the Nora Jones one every other day), and sometimes songs repeated multiple times. After a while, I couldn't take it anymore, plus the sun was no longer going to hurt my burned back, so I moved over to the basically deserted beach at the end of the island (in front of my next hotel). Turns put that was a magical spot for sunset too- yay! A quick dinner at one of the seafood joints along the water, and then bedtime- first dive education started 8am next day!

There was actually a cute coffee/sandwich shop just across from Go Dive, so I had my breakfast there, while also spying on the goings-on in the office. I was a bit nervous, to be honest, but 8am came, and I went over & immediately was greeted by my instructor- a Turkish guy named Doga (the G is silent). He's been diving since he was 12, and was super cool, with a big fluffy sun-died fro. I think I did some quizzes & we went over what I'd done the day before, and then loaded up & headed to the pool. First I had to do some embarrassingly simple stuff, like swim with a snorkel on, "skin dive", and tread water. Not wanting to waste any time, we then moved on to assembling the equipment (several times to memorize it), and then suit up and boom- into the water! Of course we started in the shallow end & worked on various skills, and luckily I had a bit of experience breathing through a regulator, so all was going fine. Really, not much to report about the pool stuff... Once you get the basics down, you really just have to get used to doing everything in deep, open water. So, after we were done in the pool, we had lunch & chatted about stuff I needed to work on, but mostly I was apparently a "perfect" student. More homework that afternoon, including watching the cheesy DVD, and then the next morning I nervously made my way down the street to board the boat.

Again, wanting to get business out of the way first, Doga had me take my final quizzes & exam, so that all the theory was complete. As we headed out to the Phi Phi national park, I found out one other diver was getting a refresher course, so he would me with me, and then there were 3-4 others who would be diving with another instructor. Very international group, and everyone was really nice. We pulled up to the farthest island from the main island of Phi Phi where people stay (it's all gorgeous) & I assembled my gear (while teaching the refresher guy, under Doga's patient supervision), and then was explained how to actually get into the water. This was basically: hold on to your mask & regulator, then step off the boat. Eeeek! Needless to say, I was nervous, even though my vest (called a Buoyancy Control Device, or BCD) was all blown up, so I knew I would float, and I knew I could breath through the regulator. But that first step is certainly worthy of a deep breath!

So, then, down we went! I had some trouble with my ears (mostly the left one), but I just kept plugging my nose & finally the air released. Though apparently I wasn't doing everything perfectly, and Doga actually even got a bit frustrated with me, it was awesome. He was holding my arm a lot of the time, to guide me, keep me at a certain depth, and probably to reassure me, and at one point, he pinched me hard and absolutely took off. Now, everything you do in scuba is supposed to be slow, so I knew something cool had to be over there, and surely enough, by the time I caught up a shark was moseying away from us! Apparently it was a black-tipped shark, and even Doga hadn't seen one yet. Very cool. Mostly it was super cool to be swimming amongst the fish & coral, along walls & canyons. Amazing. All too soon we had to go up, where I learned several things: 1) I apparently have/was having sinus issues (I now know my sister could NEVER dive), and 2) I may have been a perfect student up to that point, but I had disappointed my teacher. :(. Yeah, I did not have the buoyancy thing down, and so I wasn't staying horizontal. Oops.

After munching on some fruit during our mandatory rest/surface item, and chewing over having disappointed a teacher (the horrors, I know, but it bothers me!!), it was time for our next dive. Doga let the refresher guy go with the advanced divers so he could focus more on me, and the professional photographer was going to be diving with us at the start. So, again, some ear issues at the start (thanks partially clogged sinus passages!), and then we started the dive with some emergency ascent skills. Again, for whatever reason, I was all panicky & weird, and even accidentally dropped my weight belt somehow at one point. Eventually, Doga got so frustrated & decided I was close enough, that we went on with the dive. This time we were at a reef that barely even shows up on the surface, but below it's amazing. Also, perhaps because the camera guy was around, I had to work on being still, & maintaining my depth, and/or lowering myself to get into position - all good things to practice. Pretty soon, we spotted another shark- this one was a sleeping leopard shark, down at the bottom. So we slowly swam around to get in position & got all kinds of awesome shots with it. Soo frigging cool, and not at all scary (you could tell this one was not harmful at all, even if they hadn't already said that before the dive). We finally left him behind & saw all kinds of great stuff. Again- it was like I was in a Disney creation, except it was real! Also, I was definitely getting the hang of diving! Something Doga definitely let me know when we surfaced: I was back to his perfect student again - yay!

Buzzed after this dive, we all chatted about all the cool stuff we'd seen, and enjoyed the spread of Thai food that miraculously appeared from below deck. Of course I also learned the procedures for washing & packing up your gear, and we went over what all I'd learned that day. My left ear was still clogged, but everyone assured me that was normal. What nobody warned me about was just how wiped out I was going to be! We got back around 3:30, and I honestly barely got myself in the shower & out for some dinner. I was exhausted, and totally land-sick, and worried about my ear. Luckily, I had my fabu new room to chill out in, complete with a decent selection of English channels & nice views as well.

With that, I'll break for part two! Attached are a few photos (oh, but I did purchase the photog's cd, so eventually I'll have some amazing shots of me with a shark, schools of fish, and other cool stuff!). :)