16 June 2024

Scaling the heights and plumbing the depths…

Weather here has changed a lot since I last wrote (where do the days and weeks go?). We are now well into the rainy season and will be for a good few months. It means that the remorseless heat has stopped and it rains a lot. And I mean, a LOT; the heavens open and the thunder and lightening cracks and flashes excitingly. I understand now why the local gods look so fierce; nature is very scary over here. Impressed how the early Buddhist teachers turned them into guardians of the teachings instead of annihilating them, as happened in Europe. They must have been giants of men.

So far, it usually rains during the night and is sunny during the day with a few days of heavy rain every now and again. Today was sunny for most of the day with a brief shower at around noon. I went out for a swim in the surf just after the rain stopped and while the sky was a bit overcast. I thought it would be dullish for a hour or so but the sun came out just as I left. I ended up getting my head sunburnt because I forgot my sunblock. It’s not too bad though, just a darkish pink instead of a worrying purple. I was on my scooter at the time and its very easy, for me, to underestimate the strength of the sun when zooming along with my long golden tresses waving in the wind (just made up that last bit, in case you’re wondering).

I took up scuba diving a month or so ago. It was partially to help me de-stress from work by doing something completely different to addiction treatment and the dark forces loose in a rehab. I’m also interested in marine ecology and had a saltwater reef aquarium when I lived in Bristol. I loved looking at my little world of corals and invertebrates and wondering what it would be like to be actually swimming with them in their natural habitat. I was walking past a diving school and on a whim, went in to enquire how I might go about learning to dive. The school is a PADI five star one and I got chatting with the guy who owned it. He is an Englishman called Mike who has been here in Koh Chang for years. I trusted him and before I had time to think too much about it, I signed on the dotted line and paid a deposit.

The first day was half spent at the school learning the technical basics and the other half was in what seemed a very deep pool putting the theory into practice. I had one moment of blind panic where I was standing at the edge of what looked like the Grand Canyon, it was really just a regular little pool, with a ton of metal tank on my back and steel weights around my waist as well as a wetsuit, buoyancy jacket, goggles, flippers, yards of mysterious tubes, strange breathing things to stick in my gob. “Jump” said Mike. “Are you fecking mad” I said to myself ” I’ll sink to the bottom like a stone and drown terribly and be no more”. “Jump, jump” Mike said again and as I trusted him, I did. I was more hippopotemous that dolphin, it must be said. Strangely enough, I did not sink and bobbed around on the surface; my first experience of neutral buoyancy. What a blast.

We went through the different procedures I had to demonstrate competence in before I could go into the open sea. Most of them went ok although I struggled with a few but this was more down to my learning style than difficulties I had with the procedures. I usually learn by doing and making mistakes and then correcting my mistakes. The scariest technique was when Mike turned off the air in my tank to demonstrate an emergency out of air situation. I assumed I would panic but I didn’t. Indeed the opposite happened. I remained very calm and exaggerated all the moves I needed to make to use of the emergency air supply. This did my confidence no end of good.

A few days later, I did my first open water dive. As I am not yet certificated I was only allowed to dive to 12 metres but that’s pretty deep for some one who has never dived before. Our first dive was just over an old battleship sunk by the Thai navy for use as a diving attraction. It was in about 40 metres of water so I could only swin over it at the level of the crow’s nest. It was very exciting seeing the other divers deep below swimming around. There was an astonishing number of fish darting around as well. Later on, we moved to a different area and went diving in a coral reef. It probably wasn’t as good as he Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia but it was stunning for me nevertheless. So many fish and so many colours. Admittedly, most of my time was spent trying to master swimming and buoyancy but I still had a great time. For a few seconds when every thing seemed to click into place and I didn’t have to think too hard, it felt magnificent.

Unfortunately, I swallowed too much seawater and felt squeamish and didn’t do the final dive of the day. I have to do another day and a half to get certified and can then decend to 30 metres.

Makes a difference to the last adventurous thing I did: transversing Great Gable in the Lake District last Christmas.

Please feel free to comment so I don’t thing I’m forgotten!

More soon about growing old disgracefully….

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