Friends (written yesterday)

Pics are up!

http://picasaweb.google.com/anitalgray/ThailandBeachesAndDivingApril2010#

I’ve also uploaded a bunch of videos as well from the entire trip:

http://picasaweb.google.com/anitalgray/MoviesFromThailandCambodiaAndNepal#



So I made it back to the States, and right now I am curled up on the sofa at my friend Jessica’s house in Berkeley as she is trying to get her 9 month old baby down for a nap. I’m trying hard to tell my body that its not the middle of the night, so finishing off my blog before I head to the airport for my flight to Seattle made a lot of sense.


So I left you on the afternoon in Phuket when I was on cloud nine because not only had I found a liveaboard boat to go diving on, but Mark was able to come with me too! After giddily packing and storing my larger bag, I raced back to the dive shop in time for our transfer north to meet the boat. I met Mark there, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief…I didn’t want to let myself believe that he was going to come along until I actually saw him there. He was grinning from ear to ear, as was I, we were both just dumbfounded by the number of things that had to line up in order for this to happen. Plus, we’d both gotten such a good last-minute price that we felt almost guilty, especially since we were essentially kicking one of the dive guides out of his cabin. I was especially glad for Mark to get to see the Similan Islands before the season ended, but also just for him to experience some fun diving after having dived for “work” so much lately.


The drive was a good couple of hours and Mark and I talked and kissed like honeymooners. Some of the new group asked him how we knew each other, and after he mentioned we’d only met a few days ago, they looked at us incredulously. I really admire Mark’s directness, he is direct the way I am direct. I think that’s what immediately attracted me to him, especially when you consider his approach that day on the beach. He is also wickedly funny, and great to talk to. In the evenings on the boat, we’d often just lie on the bed listening to Mark’s music and tell each other stories…he’d have me in stitches. We both share the notion of a “traditional” life being extremely overrated- I really admire his ability to set his mind to wanting to do something (like learn to dive and go straight to a divemaster qualification during four months in Thailand) that others would scoff at, and just go do it. I am very similar and I think subsequently we understood one another.


The boat itself was quite sizable- 3 decks and about 7 separate living cabins. The first deck housed living areas, kitchen, and dive equipment. Below deck was more cabins and then the second deck had a dining/living area, captain’s area, and our cabin. We got really lucky- every other cabin you simply walked inside and you were immediately met by 2 bunk beds. Our cabin was far more spacious and housed a double bed. We jumped on it like children when we first walked in. The upper deck was a large sunning deck.


I was going to have a really good time. I kept thinking about the SNL skit “I’m on a boat” and smiling.


That evening we set sail after a really good dinner where we chatted with and got to know the other divers- from 13 different countries in total. We were warned that the crossing to the Similans might be a little rough, so I took some seasickness pills.


They weren’t kidding, after a few hours the boat was rocking so hard that I had to lie down, and was eventually able to sleep.


The trip consisted of 3 full days at sea where we completed 4 dives a day. On the last morning we’d do 2 dives before heading back to Phuket. I’ve never done more than 2 dives in one day, so I had some trepidations at how I might react or feel at the end of that many dives. Not that there wasn’t enough surface intervals to have much risk of decompression sickness, but still, I was wondering whether it would take it out of me.


Well, we soon fell into a rhythm with the schedule. Which I’m sure you’ll all agree was extremely stressful. Wake up around 7:30am for coffee and a dive briefing. First dive then a delicious breakfast like banana pancakes and scrambled eggs. Then an hour to sunbathe, read, or nap and our second morning dive followed by an enormous lunch. Follow that with a delicious nap and our third dive of the day. Then the highlight (of my day) was afternoon tea and CAKE followed by either a sunset dive at 5pm or a night dive at 7pm. Then dinner and an evening to socialize, read, chill to music, or sleep.


Sounds difficult, no? It was…..;-)


I certainly didn’t get bored with the dives themselves. In fact, the more I dove (is it dove or dived?) the more I wanted to dive. It had a cumulative effect on me. And I LOVED diving with Mark. Besides the coral being superb, fish being colorful and the water crystal clear, a dive can be often dictated by your dive buddy. Many of the other divers on the trip were photographers and/or the kind of divers who will patiently wait in a line 6 or 7 divers long to get a quick look at a tiny seahorse. Mark and I are both not like that. We like to explore, really swim, and not linger anywhere for too long. I really appreciated that about having him as a partner underwater. Our styles meshed. Also, since he was practically a divemaster, we were given permission to separate from the group and do our own thing. Which usually had us separating from the other divers from the very descent and discovering that we’d covered quite some ground by the time our 50 min/ 50 bar limit was reached. We would often surface and think “Where is the boat?” and it inevitably had to come quite a way to pick us up!


I really love that feeling that I first get in the pit of my stomach as I look at my buddy after we’ve first jumped in the water and acknowledge that all is OK and I’m ready to descend. Its such a magical feeling – to know that you’re leaving the world as we know it, and are about to enter the whole other world of this planet’s water. I especially enjoy it right at that moment when the water passes over the level of your mask and you first have to clear your ears to equalize. Then you know its game on. I had to be careful to descend slowly, my ears did present some trouble to me over the course of the five days…I think I was still very congested after my Khumbu cough. And Mark would always float down head first, kicking his way to greater depths where I preferred to just float down nice and easy with my feet first.


I thought about Jennifer a lot on the first few dives. Then I became a lot more confident until not even the night dive unnerved me.


We saw some incredible sea life. We saw moray eels, manta rays, leopard sharks, octopus, as well as a huge variety of fish and coral. My favorite moment was on a dive where Mark and I had typically swam away from the group. We were observing an octopus that had settled on the sea floor and were waiting for it to move again. We were shoulder to shoulder when Mark looked up for a second and then grabbed me fiercely and turned me around to look out towards the “big blue beyond”. In that moment a huge manta ray swam up and over our heads, so close it took my breath away (well, not literally because its really bad to not breathe continually underwater). I think I said “Jesus F$#^&ing Christ” into my regulator. We were super excited and couldn’t help but gloat about it afterwards on the boat, much to the chagrin of the other divers who hadn’t seen it. Some even suggested that perhaps we were mistaken, and since neither of us had a camera, maybe we were making it up? Whatever! They were just jealous.


The night dive was really fun- and it was Mark’s first. Once it was really dark out and we were relying entirely on our flashlights to see underwater, I was mesmerized by the color of the water as the light from the bottom of the boat shone down into the blue underneath. It reminded me a little of diving in the cenotes of Mexico, with different shades of sapphire. So utterly beautiful.


So after four days of diving, I still really hadn’t had enough. It was a little exhausting- by the time dinner was served each night I was pretty pooped and I slept pretty well. I was, however, ready to get back to some air-conditioning. We were both so tired of dripping with sweat 24/7. It wears after a while. I missed the last dive on day 4 as I wanted to have a full 24 hour window left before my flight to Bangkok in the morning. On the night of the 3rd day, the crew informed us that the compressors had broken and so we’d be pulling into a port for the evening. We were all happy for the chance to get on dry land and walked around for a few hours, getting ice cream at the 7-Eleven. Some members of the group had a little too much rum and were hard pressed to get back in the water in the morning…


The following day we returned to Phuket pretty early, around 3:30pm. Mark and I said a quick farewell while I went back to my hotel to collect my bags, but it turned out that Mark’s sister was back in town and he spent the evening with her. Sadly, I didn’t getting the chance to say goodbye, but I have a feeling that I’ll see him again someday.


I was super wiped out by the time I got back to my room. I was supposed to meet up with Allison, my friend from Cali and Semester at Sea that evening. So I showered and packed for tomorrow then waited to hear from her via Facebook… Not hearing from her, I headed out to do some last minute shopping and ended up grabbing a movie for some delightful air-conditioning. Someone who I didn’t recognize had written on my wall that evening, and it wasn’t until around 10pm that night that I realized it was Allison’s friend giving me info on when and how to meet up with them. Was sad about that, but by 10 I was absolutely spent and crashed out pretty hard.


The next morning, I grabbed a cab about 8:30 am to the airport and began my long journey home. I had a four hour layover in Bangkok and a five hour layover in Hong Kong. I finished my book on Buddhism and began reading “Then they killed my father” – a memoir about the Cambodian genocide of the 70’s…not exactly cheerful reading, but gripping nonetheless. Long journeys always make me feel a bit lonely and this was no exception, plus I was missing Mark. Soon, I knew, I’d be in a “different world” in all senses of the world.


And so I am.


I will try to write an epilogue of sorts when I get back home tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my stories as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them!


Much love,

Anita
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