Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Family Reunion

Who would’ve known when I left this place in April, crying my eyes out at the friends I thought I’d never see again, that we would all end up back here at the same time, just five months later, ready to start it all over. I got back to Koh Tao on Thursday morning, and the Sunshine Divers family reunion has begun. All of the ‘old timers’ are here, with some very much missed exceptions, and we’re all back in the water, starting the fun that the next month will most likely be. I had my sappy goodbyes and many tears with Adam and Sam early last week and am now celebrating new beginnings with the many that have returned while I’ve been away.

But first, the rest of my trip to Bali…incredible!!! We survived the cockfighting chickens and taunts of Balinese police. We took to the sea and managed some beautiful snorkeling and a fantastic shipwreck. More motorbike action was played out and some good food was had. It was a holiday to remember, and I wouldn’t have wanted it with anyone other than my British lads.
After a day of nothing but snorkeling and sunbathing in the blue lagoon in Padangbai, I took a trip up to Tulamben to see the US Liberty shipwreck just off the coast of the island. I did this trip alone, as the boys decided that motorbiking was a better option for them. Just an hour and a half bus ride up the coast brought me to my first ever shore dive to this coral encrusted boat under the sea. It was an interesting feat, donning my scuba gear and powering through the waves and the rocky sea bottom, but fantastic to know that diving can be as easy as getting in the water and just wading out. We dropped down to thirty meters quickly and came up on the gigantic shipwreck that was dragged to this location years ago. The corals were beautiful and the fishes were plentiful. It’s crazy that there, in Indonesia, I can see everything that I get excited about in Koh Tao on just a single dive, whereas in Thailand, I might get to view these things every tenth. Clown triggerfish, Barry the barracuda that was bigger than me, boxfish of all shapes and sizes, these things all exist here every day….and I’m jealous of the divemasters that get to experience this. I did two dives at the wreck, in perfect visibility, and I was sad that they’d be my last in Indonesia, unless I decide to return someday.

I was fortunate that Sam and Adam decided that they’d be heading that way as well, just with their own transportation, so I was able to ride the coastal highway with them after the dives. We made our way back slowly, dodging chickens and dogs for the many hours it took us to get home on the shoddy bikes that they had rented. They’d already had one run in with the police before I joined the caravan, so we were on the lookout for more scams along the way. Apparently in Bali, you need an “international driving license,” a bullshit excuse to extort money out of tourists. They’d already fined the boys $10 each and I’m sure it would’ve been more if we’d stopped when we heard them yelling as we whizzed by on our way home. In Amlapura, there were at least two that shouted out at us as soon as we passed, not because we were doing anything wrong, but only due to our foreign faces. It’s just another harassment that we all could’ve done without on our journeys through the island.
The scenery was gorgeous though with the small bays and inlets along the way. We made it back to town, without any accidents, by early evening to enjoy our last night with all of us together. We feasted on a scrumptious Nasi Campur and had a few drinks at one of the local bars before calling it an early night. We all had some travelling to do the next day.

On Sunday morning, the three of us woke early, had breakfast, and said our goodbyes. Adam headed to Lombok and will then go to New Zealand, and Sam and I needed to get back towards the airport. I was sorry to see Adam go, but his future destinations include Central and South America, easy enough for me to get to when I return to the states. I have no doubt that I’ll see him again sooner than I think. So Sam and I, without our travel planner, made our way to the small town on Jimbaran to get in some more beach time and the best seafood I’ve ever encountered.

There was nothing in the town, absolutely nothing, other than seafood restaurants and some high end resorts. We found a small guesthouse across from the beach and parked ourselves just there for our last two days. It was so refreshing to be able to relax by the sea without being asked to buy sarongs or massages every five seconds. The locals actually came out here to enjoy the sunsets. The men sat in circles and talked about their days while the kids flew kites and played soccer on the beach. The mothers ran around with the little ones, and the few tourists strolled through the sand taking in the breathtaking views. It was so relaxing, almost too relaxing, and very hard to leave.

No matter how hard I tried to resist, I still had to go to the airport and come back to the sweaty grunge that is Bangkok. Sam and I flew up in the afternoon and made our way directly to Khao San Road, the backpacker mecca of the city. We were both knackered after long days of travel and despondent on our last evening as the final goodbye happened early the next morning. It was another sad one, but I’ve been planning on going to England on my way home anyway. I now have yet another friend I’ll be reunited with in another place soon enough.

With the end of my Bali trip came a fresh start on Koh Tao. Camilla flew in Wednesday morning and I was having drinks with her by midday. I bought my ticket back to the island and made the arduous journey down on my own in the evening. I seriously hate doing that trip more than anything at the moment and don’t look forward to ever seeing that bus or boat again. The bus leaves Bangkok around 8:30 at night and drops us at the pier in Chumpohn at 2:30am, where a gaggle of people sit and wait for the next four and a bit hours for the boat, that might leave on time at 7am. Why they do it this way is beyond me. Really people, we do not need to wait that long. Is a bus out of the city at 11pm that difficult to arrange? I made it though, and promoted Sunshine divers the whole way. I managed to reel in a few new students and give myself a course to assist upon returning.

The first morning was productive, no matter how tired I was. I moved into my new apartment, joining the crew on the Orachon balcony, where I now sit in my hammock typing this blog. Samita is back from England and it’s so good to see her. Morgan was here when I arrived, although just to pick up his bike and leave the other night. Manuel arrived today and moved in just down the way, so I’m sure we’re in for a treat when he gets up from a nap later. Our little reunion is going to be a good one.

So I’m back in the routine again. I just finished the open water course with the new students. I got to do my first paid job yesterday afternoon in the pool. The money isn’t much, but it was great to finally take on a student on my own. I’ve started muay thai, thai boxing, that will keep me sore, but hopefully get me in shape. I’ve signed up for twelve sessions, and I’m going to try to keep it up every other day until my visa runs out at the end of this month. I know I’ve said over and over in the past year that it’s all ending, but this time I think I mean it. My visa will expire on the 29th and I need to start making plans for a new life. I’ve been looking at plane tickets home and am talking of working on my resume. My one year anniversary of travel is this week, and that’s a long time to be on the road. No matter how much I’ll miss it, I think I’m ready to have a life again and use these experiences to better it. I will still be diving, I will still be traveling, but hopefully will be able to reacquaint myself with a normal life somewhere in the middle. Everything happens for a reason, and it will always work out the way that it’s supposed to. We’ll see where I end up when the new era of my life begins, but for now, I’ll enjoy what I’ve got left right where I am.

*** Pictures to be posted in the next couple of days***

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Vacation from my Vacation

Five days ago, I jumped off a boat off the coast of Indonesia and began a day that I will not forget for quite some time. Covered in full scuba gear, I held on to a piece of bamboo and stuck my head in the water to see what lied beneath. I was shocked to see a landscape of healthy, colorful corals and fishes just meters below my fins, sweeping past me in a current that was undetectable to me on the surface. Excited and anxious, I looked up and screamed that I was ready to go and within moments, the group of us deflated our BCDs, dropped under and were taken away by the power of the sea. We swam through water that blew into us with hurricane force and over a ridge into a bottomless valley of reef and sea life that was whizzing by us as we let the current take us. After 5 minutes of the dive, I looked at my computer and saw that we had hit 41 meters below the surface, the deepest I’ve ever been. Below me, 2 meter bull stingrays were squaring off like they were getting ready for a duel, lengthy sea snakes slithered in and out of rocks to my left, giant blue puffer fish and marbled grouper eased through the waters surrounding me and thousands of brilliant fishes swarmed in every direction. I took all of this in as I tumbled into this deep blue oblivion for 33 minutes. It was the closest to skydiving that I will ever be. The water was crystal clear and warm, and therefore went unnoticed. As far as I was concerned, I was gliding along the surface of the moon. All of this, and I was back on the island of Nusa Lombongan by 9am prepping for two more mind blowing dives that would occur that day.

Dive to Blue Corner

I’ve been back in Asia for over a month now, and I finally feel like there is something to write about. Sorry for all of you that it had to be about diving. The four meter manta ray that I swam with and the three meter mola mola (sunfish) that I encountered later that day as I swam through a seemingly infinite abyss made me feel like the luckiest person alive and I just had to get it on paper (or internet, whatever).

So, as you can tell, I’m not in Thailand at the moment. I’ve decided to take a holiday, which brought me to the islands off of Bali, Indonesia. After a full month in Koh Tao, I figured it was time to see something else in Asia. In July, I made my way from the States back to Bangkok and then down to Koh Tao to restart my life on the Rock. The transition was seamless. I stepped off the boat and onto the pier in Mae Haad, taxied myself directly to the shop and was reunited with Sunshine Divers within a half hour of my arrival. I found a cheap bungalow and a motorbike and was back in the pool assisting a course by 1pm that first day.

Back to Koh Tao

The island is incredibly busy during July and August with most of Europe, mainly Holland and Germany, on seemingly permanent holiday. With only a few DMTs left, and most of them infected with some illness or another, I was easily assisting on as many courses as I pleased. Within the first week, I’d already completed four different programs and was well on my way to finishing what was left of my divemaster. I had my good friend, Adam, back with me and living just a couple of bungalows down. A few of the old DMTs were still working on who knows what after my three months away. I missed my girls and my roommate from my last trip, but have kept in such great touch that I knew I would see them soon enough. Island life was still the same. Snorkeling, diving, studying and a bit of partying in the evenings still prevailed and the real world of work and obligations slowly drifted away into the back of my mind.

I am a PADI Divemaster now. Yes, a professional scuba diver. Hello, I’m number 275322, how are you today? With Adam’s departure from the island becoming closer and closer, I decided it was time to finish with the people that I started with and went through the snorkeltest ritual with four of my fellow divers. It was a Hawaiian themed night of ridiculousness and debauchery. We were tormented with toothpaste and fingernail polish, shaving cream and the not-so-clear water of the Bans upper pool. A hazing that needed to happen, our snorkeltest was a night to remember…. Or not, depending on if you were able to drink the full bucket (not me, I think I got one gulp down before spitting the rest of the Sangsome Coke mixture out, probably the best move I made that evening).




The rest of the month in Koh Tao was pretty much the same. I still kept myself busy with diving and courses. I managed to get a wicked ear infection which kept me out of the water for almost a week at one point. Annoying as it was, Adam had a friend come out to the island and we found many other amusing activities to do. I was actually able to explore and have pool and beach days that I never enjoyed before. Showing people around an island that I’ve completely fallen for is one of the best ways to pass the time.

Exploring Tanote Bay

So with Adam and his friend, Sam, leaving early in August to travel through Indonesia, I started to get itchy feet again. I need to be in Koh Tao in September as some of my girls are coming back and I so want to see them. But a vacation to Bali with two of my favorite Brits didn’t seem completely out of the question. A day or two before their departure, I bought a round trip ticket to Denpasar so that I could join them for a couple of weeks in a place that I’ve always wanted to see. I let them have their boy time for ten days while I kept myself occupied in Koh Tao, and then made the 24 hour journey to Bangkok and finally, Bali. They met me at the airport and we’ve been seeing the sights on this beautiful island since last week.

Indonesia is different. In Kuta, there is McDonalds, KFC, Billabong shops and all of the amenities that I don’t have on my 7km long island in Thailand. The people are friendly, albeit annoyingly in your face 24/7. “You want motorbike?” You need massage?” You need dart gun? I give you sunset price!” Really?! Learn your market people! No, I do not want a dart gun while lounging on a beautiful beach in Bali! Yes, this occurred. A strange man with scary looking weapons came up to us on the beach while we were watching a picture perfect sunset, blew a dart into his flip flop and stared at us for five minutes while we DIDN’T contemplate his offer. A form of seller’s intimidation? I don’t know…it didn’t work.

Balinese Sunset

Seller's Intimidation

Our first couple nights in Kuta were a bit rough. We were harassed into a dodgy room that someone may have died in not long ago after soiling the bed and writing all over the walls. It was “cheap cheap,” and that’s what we had asked for. There was a chicken outside that I would’ve happily given up my vegetarian ways for as it crowed every 15 seconds from midnight until 8am both nights. The dogs found entertainment in barking at it, taking up the few moments of silence that we were allowed. All of this was going on ten feet from our room while we listened to the mosquitoes buzzing in our ears. The lights were turned on multiple times during the night to kill the blood-swollen bugs, leaving further evidence of carnage in our already filthy abode. Even a night out of drinking Arak (while watching the four million Aussie tourists dance in foam…LOL!!!!) couldn’t help us sleep in that god forsaken place. Two nights was enough, we made our way to the island of Nusa Lombongan for a little bit of rest and relaxation.

Boat to Nusa Lombongan

We got to the island after a short taxi and a freakish boat ride. The swells in the ocean here are beyond my imagination. Apparently some of the deepest water in the world resides just off the coast of Indonesia, bringing on huge waves and temperamental weather. We braved the high seas and found a quaint, bi-level bungalow for the three of us to enjoy for a while. We did the aforementioned dives. We rented motorbikes and tooled around the islands in search of perfect swimming beaches and snorkeling. Unfortunately, with the currents and tides, snorkeling and swimming wasn’t possible. But kayaking through mangroves and taking in spectacular views of the power of the sea from cliffs of jagged rock was manageable.

Bungalow on Nusa Lombongan

Kayaking through mangroves



Power of the sea

The blue lagoon

After three days of fun in the sun, a trip back to the mainland, well main island, was in order. Two days ago we hopped a most gigantic barge to the quaint town of Padangbai, where it seems we will reside until the end of this holiday. It’s a bit more lively than the quiet little island we’d been spending a fortune on. There are quite a few tourists, dive shops advertising the Liberty wreck up the coast, and about a million chickens that woke me up an hour or so ago. These poor birds sit in wicker cages lined in a row all day and just scream in torment about their miserable lives. They’re ready for the cock fights, the ones that will take place each day somewhere not in my direct vicinity. While I was taking photos of this awe inspiring sight yesterday, I was given an offer to watch them train, I politely declined.

Boat to Padangbai

Cockfighting chickens

Despite my first assumptions about Bali, this island is very big, with proper motorways that you can drive through the landscapes of rice fields and coast lines. Yesterday we rented motorbikes and took the island by storm, with only a few death defying hiccups along the way. With scooter rental here, you get a helmet, something unheard of in Koh Tao. Even with my improved skills on two wheels, I was pleased to be wearing it as I ran head on into Adam when he stopped unexpectedly on the side of the road. I had heard a beep behind me and turned my head during the two seconds that he decided to lay on his brakes to take in a view. When my vision turned forward he was right in front of me and the brakes on my bike couldn’t slow at such a short distance. I hit his bike from the side, nearly sending him down the cliff and into the rice fields and river below. Sam was in front of us, heard the commotion and ran to us to find me lying face down and both bikes flipped, but still running. We came away from the scene without a scratch on either of us, just a little shaken at what could’ve occurred.

Balinese rice fields

Scene of the accident

The rest of the day was gorgeous. The sun was shining as we flew down the smooth, curving roads through endless palm trees and fields of green. I thought a lot about my dad and how much he would’ve loved taking his bike up and down those winding mountains and to the coastlines filled with black, volcanic sand. We stopped in a small town and had some lunch before making our way to an empty, hidden beach for a late afternoon swim. The surf was overwhelming and I neglected to bring my bathing suit, so I was rudely awakened when I jumped in with my dress on and pushed quickly under the surge. Probably not the smartest thing I did yesterday as we almost needed a rescue diver to get me out of it. So with a handmade sarong dress and a bit of a hurt ego, we made our way back to Padangbai for a dinner of fresh fish and some card play. We ended the evening with local drinks and a live Balinese band.

Volcanic Beach

Today, I was rudely awoken by the cock fighting chickens directly to my left. It’s almost 9am now and Adam’s already made his way down to the Blue Lagoon for some incredible snorkeling. Apparently he went down the other day and was able to play with a giant green turtle, something I’m hoping to see when I finish my morning errands. It’s going to be a day at the beach. No motorbikes, no touring around, just relaxing with a good book in the hot, equatorial sun. I’m hoping to get my last two Indonesian dives in tomorrow. I need to be under these crystal clear waters at least one more time before heading back to Koh Tao. I’ll have to say goodbye to Adam again on Sunday or Monday and slowly make my way back to Bangkok. Sam’s flight back to England is from there, so we’ll make the journey together. Then I’m getting one of my girls back. Camilla is flying in from Denmark just an hour after Sam flies out next week. I’ll reunite with her and we’ll return to Koh Tao together. And when I step foot on my island paradise I’ll get one last bit of excitement as my old roommate from the last trip, one of my favorite British ladies, Sam, will be there to greet me. The next few weeks are going to be one for the record books. Even with sad goodbyes I have looming in my future, I’ve got some good times to look forward to very soon.

****Due to extremely slow internet and my impatience I'll post more (and better) photos up later

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And the story continues...

It has been almost a month since my last blog, so for those of you still checking, I'm so sorry to disappoint. The thought that I need to keep it going has crept into my head quite a bit in the last few weeks. I've slowly tormented myself up until now...so here I sit; ready to type. I have made it back to the "real" world. I have seen most of my family and friends, found employment and semi-reliable trasportation, and celebrated the scariest of all birthdays thus far. It is the summer of my 30th year, and I've found myself back in the beautiful humidity of Michigan.

From Christchurch, I did yet another transpacific flight and made my way back to San Francisco to visit my old life for a week. It was so wonderful to see everyone there and enjoy the spectacular views of the bay. Although, it was a bit of a shock for me after four months away. The frugal living I've been doing has definitely ingrained itself into my head. In the six days I was there, I only made it out a couple of times. Knowing that I would spend money every time I left the house kept me humbled on the couch for a lot of my time. I was able to be productive in the end of it all though, as I cleaned out the majority of things from my good friend's garage. If I have to be in the states for over two months, I want everything in one place. I bought a cheap (and enormous!) bag from the flea market and filled with 50 pounds worth of things to take with me to Michigan. The rest of it went to Good Will...I hope someone can find comfort in the things that I used to treasure.

Me and my ginormous bag made it to the airport and I was quite a sight getting to the checkin counter at SFO. Luckily I was able to arrange a ride, and thank goodness it was hours before my flight. I stood on the curb and weighed my bag and found that it was eight pounds over, causing me to throw out and rearrange things with everyone and their small, compact suitcases laughing at this ridiculous traveler trying to get a bag larger a person into the airport. In the end of it all, I got the bag at the EXACT weight required and carried on two overstuffed backpacks, one complete with scuba fins sticking out, which the security people had a heyday with. It was not a day of travel that I'd like to repeat anytime soon, but something tells me I probably will at some point in the next year of my life.

Since I left for Europe last September, I've had "B Day" in my head and the date was May 8, 2010. It was the day that I had to Be Back for my Best friend's Bridal shower. There was a point or two, especially when in Thailand, that I just wasn't sure if I would be able to make it...but I did, and three days early to boot! I arrived in Michigan on May 5th and took off running.

After two long weeks of sitting on couches in New Zealand and San Francisco, I was ready to be productive. Getting to Michigan was the time that I would be able to look for a job, work with Kelly on her wedding and see my family and friends (i.e leading a normal life). All of this being possible because I have a definitive plan (the only real one I've had in a long time) to be here for more than two months.

After my arrival, the turn of events went something like this:

May 5th: Arrival and reunion with Debbie in Ann Arbor
May 6th: Transported to Royal Oak (with monster bag in tow). Purchased vehicle (push bike).
May 7th: Job search began
May 8th: B Day -- Bridal Shower
May 11th: Job hunt resumed
May 12th: Job acquired, start date: May 17th

I have to say, I might just be the luckiest person in the world. Whenever anyone has questioned me about how I will get by after all of this ridiculousness, I always say "it will all work out the way that it's supposed to" or "it will all fall into place." I read the book, The Secret, once. It's all about the benefits of positive thinking and visualizing your goals. I thought it was a crock then, and I still kind of do, but something in that realm of thought seems to be working in my favor. I stepped foot into a state with double digit unemployment and zero percent of the population without a car and managed to procure employment in less than a week. To top it all off, my resume looked something like this:

March 2010 - May 2010
Divemaster Trainee, Koh Tao, Thailand

November 2009 -December 2009
Customer Service, La Brisa Loca Hostel, Santa Marta, Colombia

September 2005 - September 2009
Asst. Operations Manager, Credit Suisse, San Francisco, California

Yes, I actually put that on my applications. I had two interviews at an upscale restaurant three miles from my new abode and I got the job with my stunning personality. I work all day shifts, which is so nice considering the bike rides home at 3am would've been rough (but I would've done it). Last week I trained for five days, and today was my first being out on the floor on my own. I made my first little bit of money that now resides in my wallet. It's nice to see some positives in the bank after eight months of withdrawing money from the ATM. I'll be working almost every weekend while I am here, so I've had to prioritize my time. I will get all of the days off I need for the wedding festivities. But things like concerts, up north weekends and my birthday all needed to be taken off the list. These were hard decisions, but made for very good reasons.

Just before my first day of work, I wandered into the scuba store that I've been eyeing since my arrival. They were having a sale and I needed a dive computer. That is the only thing I wanted when I walked in on that fateful Sunday. I stepped into the store and immediately got consumed by conversations about diving and gear. There was a video of a whale shark showing on the flat screen against the back wall. There were wetsuits, BCDs and regulators that I could touch and play with. Basically, it was full of so many things that I miss about being in Koh Tao. I was there for an adrenaline-filled hour and a half and walked out with a costly new set of scuba gear. I now have everything I need with the exception of wetsuit and tank. Both of those can be purchased anywhere in the world. The conditions that I could be diving in vary too much for me to make those kind of investments now. So there is my reasoning behind missing out on some of the finer things during Michigan summer, I need to make that money back asap.

Speaking of finer things....It has finally happened. I've turned the dirty thirty. Last Friday night, it was celebrated the low key (well, kind of) way. I had to work on Friday afternoon and then again at 7:30am Saturday morning, so a rockin' night out on the town could not be had. Kelly planned a sushi happy hour to be followed by drinks at my favorite local dive. What I thought would be just three of us that evening turned out to include a few more that I have not seen in too many years. Although some of them weren't aware it was my birthday until a few minutes in, it was still a festive evening and I had such a great time. I was supposed to be home and in bed by 11pm at the latest and only fudged that by making it to a taxi at 11:30. I fell asleep quickly and felt on my game for a nine hour day of work on Saturday. It was the perfect way to ring in a new decade. I was so happy to see everyone there.

Since then, it has been work, work, work. I was at the restaurant all weekend and then did some computer work for my old boss yesterday. The weather has gotten hot here and the humidity is kicking. It's finally summer and I'm spending too much time indoors, but it's all for the cause of getting back to Thailand.

On a better note, I went into the shop to pick up my new gear last night and got some exciting opportunities out of it! First off, my new BCD and regulator are beautiful. They're so fresh and new, I just love them. I'm scheduled to head to the pool tonight to test them out and see if I like some of the features they gave me. It's a little different than the kits that I've been working with, so I'm a little on edge about whether I want all of this high tech stuff. Either way, it won't be difficult for me to change things around. While I was there chatting things up with the owner and his wife, he asked me if I'd be interested in assisting on his Open Water course on Thursday night. It's only a pool session, but it's exactly what I've been doing in Thailand. He's an SSI instructor, and I'm PADI certified, so it will be wonderful to see the way that the other half works. They're essentially the same program, but they teach different techniques to their students. Although I'm doing it for free, it's something that I love. I am so stoked about this opportunity and I'm hoping to make a good impression so that I can do more during my stay in Michigan.

There is the last month for me in a nutshell. It's been busy, but I've made it through without too much hassle. My laid back mentality seems to be keeping me sane at the moment. June is going to get tough with bachelorette parties and upcoming weddings, but it will all be so much fun as it's happening! There are still so many people that I need and want to see. There are some gorgeous Michigan summer days to be enjoyed. It's all still part of the adventure. I refuse to let the story end here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

World by Carey Wrap Up

When I touch down in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, I will have been gone for 232 days. I will have taken 31 flights, crossed in and out of 18 countries and rode an uncountable number of buses, trains, boats and cars to get to and around four different continents. I have seen white sandy beaches and the what lies beneath the deep blue seas. I have climbed small mountains and walked into seemingly endless deserts. While doing all of this, I have made more friends than anyone can ask for in a lifetime; people that have touched my heart in so many ways that I will never, ever be able to forget. This has been the trip of my dreams. Although the journey will continue in a few short months, the original holiday (ever-expanding as it was) is ending when I leave Christchurch tomorrow.

I arrived in New Zealand last week to find better than average weather. I took the bus in from the airport and met Amanda in the square on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I quickly made my way to her house for some much needed rest and relaxation and I really haven't left it since. The weather turned sour after the first two days and I've been wrapped up in a blanket on the couch to keep warm. The initial reaction to leaving Koh Tao still hadn't left me. It felt like a blur from there to here. I've gotten over the shock of it at this moment, but with the gloomy clouds I'm looking at in the window, it's hard not to keep thinking of where I was just a week ago.

It's been really great catching up with Amanda though. We've had some good girl time that we didn't on my last visit. We've stayed in each night, playing cards and talking about what has happened in the last two months. I've shown her the pictures and told the stories that make me smile. She seems to be doing really good as well. Her and Neil have gotten the cutest new dog, Eddie, and he's been the center of our attention. I've found myself more enthused with Neil's fish tanks than ever before. It's been a great week with no big highlights. My body needed to catch up after eight months of constant movement and Amanda provided me with that luxury.

Yesterday, she decided to play hooky from work and we actually made it out of the house for a quick trip to the aquarium, one of the few things I haven't seen in Christchurch. I was starting to feel a bit under the weather as we went to lunch, and funny enough, I had Thai noodle soup to soothe my sore throat. You'd be surprised actually...Thai food tastes pretty much the same anywhere you get it...there are just more options when you're actually in Thailand. I started to feel my mood deteriorating as we made our way to the aquarium. It was actually quite cool, so we lingered a bit longer than my body could take. I got to see the endangered kiwi birds that they keep there...very weird looking flightless birds. They just happened to be feeding the sharks around that time as well, so we had some light afternoon entertainment. As we were just about to leave, the aches hit my system. I officially have worn myself out. We passed by the clinic on the way to the car, and I just had to go in. The first necessary doctor visit of my trip.

To be fair, Amanda and friends have been bugging me to go to the doctor since I got here. I have a third degree burn on my calf from the motorbike, an unhealing scab on my knee and a small crater on my heel from a blister that just stayed open for more than a month due to using my fins every single day. All looked infected upon my arrival, but I think I've been taking care of them quite well. But the sore, swollen throat was the last straw. I was remembering my bout with strep throat a couple of years ago and how miserable I was for days. I needed antibiotics, so I walked in and asked for some while paying a small fee. I now have meds for the numerous problems my body is facing. After waking up with what I'm sure is an ear infection this morning, I can only hope they work quickly.

So I am sat here on that couch again, on the last day of my eight month adventure. My flight is tomorrow at 4:30pm and I'll arrive in San Francisco three hours before that (I get to time travel tomorrow!). I am wondering about the next couple months and the things that I will do. I am well aware of how the last eight have changed me and my perspective on things, so what will happen in the days to come? I know I should probably find some sort of employment. I know that I have my best friend's weddings to look forward to. And I know that I've got all sorts of budgeting and planning to do before heading back to Thailand. But do I need to plan further than that? There are many discussions that I'm going to have with my family and friends about where this new life is taking me. My eyes have opened now to the world and all of the little things that really matter to me. Now it's time to take all of the pieces of this puzzle and put them together to make up the next year of my life.

I haven't decided yet whether or not I'm going to keep going with the blog. While I'm in the United States, it seems silly, as there are cell phones that will relay the same information. I have to admit that I enjoy doing it though, even in the times that I can't figure out what to write. It's a task that I think about every week or so. I need deadlines and structure and my blog is really the only thing that gives me those at the moment. I do plan on going through and editing the 50 posts that I've put up since September. It was fun to have pictures for everyone to see during New Zealand and Thailand, so I'll go back through South America and Europe and do the same. I'm also very aware of the copious amount of spelling and grammatical errors that I made while rushing to save money in internet cafes. Since I quit my personal journal about three weeks in, this is my diary, and I need to get this cherished possession up to par. Just another project of the many that I have when I get home.

So there it is....that was the world by me and what I chose to do with it! I'll be back in San Francisco in day or two and then in Michigan on the 5th of May. I'm excited to keep up my never-ending summer, as winter is quickly approaching where I sit right now. Do a sun dance for me if I'm coming to see you. My hair is almost blond again and my tan is fading quickly. I'll need to keep up my tropical appearances even during my visit to North America. Kelly and Jen, I can't wait to see you get married! I am so looking forward to celebrating my 30th birthday (yikes!) with my dear friends back home. This is it for now, we'll see where I go from here. Catch you all on the flip side...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I left my heart in Koh Tao...

So this is it, I have left my beautiful island paradise. I am in Bangkok awaiting my flight to New Zealand and from there I will head home. Yesterday I said goodbye to my Koh Tao family. The people from Sunshine have become a part of me and it was the most difficult departure I've had in the eight months that I've been traveling. I can only compare it to the last few days before moving to San Francisco. There were so many laughs amidst uncontrollable tears. I will miss the people and the island more than anyone can imagine. My life there was the best I've ever had it and the memories I made will last my lifetime.

The last week in Koh Tao was an exciting one. Many people have been coming and going. I was not the first or the last. With the first DMT, Mahats leaving just a few days before me, everyone got together and did a DMT underwater photo shoot. We dove at Shark Island and Aow Leuk. The conditions were beautiful and we finally got some shots of all of us together doing what we love. We brought down props and built a human pyramid. There were sword fights and water guns. A bottle of wine was even brought down and drunk at 10 meters (not quite PADI standards, but it was only a sip each....we just needed to see that it could be done). The photos turned out amazing thanks to our beautiful photographer, Alice. Here are a few of them. There will be many more to come later.

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

DMT Photo Shoot

From the DMT shoot, we all just got out diving again. Mahats had his snorkel test last Friday night, complete with scavenger hunt and three legged race. Afterwards, a huge group of up went into Sairee and crashed the DJL pool party. It was a soaking wet night, but a great time for everyone. I think everyone started getting sick after that...there was about that pool that I don't even want to know about.

Mahats Snorkel Test

DJL Pool Party

Then it was down to my last couple of days. I planned my diving so that I could take an afternoon off with everyone to enjoy an afternoon picnic at one of the local beaches. We brought or dive bags full of fins, masks and snorkels, hoping to get in the sea during the afternoon together and made our way down the treacherous road to Aow Leuk. After two people, including myself, skid down one of the roads, we decided to shuttle in on some of the bigger bikes. I'm definitely much better now that I've been driving for a few weeks, but these roads of concrete covered by sand are just too much for me to take.

We got to the most beautiful beach and were almost immediately approached by an insane little Thai man going through our bags and throwing our things around. It was his beach apparently, and he didn't like us bringing in dive bags and food that wasn't purchased from him. He made actions to slap us all and then began karate kicking Adam, screaming for us to leave. We did nothing in retaliation for fear that he might pull out something more that his foot. We left bitching and complaining, swearing no more money would ever be spent there. When we got back and told others about it, we heard that this has happened before. That guy was a nut!

So instead, we made our way to Sairee beach on a much safer road. We went all the way to the north and tucked between some boulders to stay out of the intense sun. We listened to music, some of us swam. All in all, we just generally enjoy one of our last days together. It was worth missing the afternoon dives to be with these beautiful people.

Afternoon picnic

North Sairee

After the picnic, we headed up one of the mountains to Sunset View, a restaurant overlooking all of Sairee. We had our fruit shakes and hoped that the sunset would come out through the clouds, which it didn't. It was a slight disappointment, but gorgeous all the same. From there we did the farewell dinner for Mahats and then I prepped for a day full of diving.

Sairee Bay from Sunset View

My lovely Samita

I did four dives on my last full day in Koh Tao. Unfortunately, the night before I burned my leg on the exhaust pipe of my bike, so keeping it clean and dry was my ultimate goal. It's a wicked burn that wen through at least three layers of skin. My new Koh Tao tattoo, I guess I needed to take something home with me as I've bought no other souvenirs. So I bandaged myself up and got in the water. Our first dive site was Mango Bay, one of my favorites, as there is a HUGE cloud of my wonderful fussilier fish that I just love to go play in. Unfortunately, I was assisting on an open water course, so I wasn't able to sit in the school for too long. But at least I got to see them and say goodbye.

The afternoon dives were beautiful as all of my girls came out and we did two girlie dives at Chumporn and Green Rock. We just swam about and played in more schools of fish. We went down over 30 meters and looked for the bull sharks lurking around us in the sea (we found none...thank god). The fishes were crazy that day and I was sure something big would show itself, but never did. The visibility was stunning and although I had the option for diving the next morning before my boat, after two perfect dives with my very wonderful friends, I knew that was it. I'm done diving in the waters off Koh Tao for the next couple of months.

The girls

My going away night was spectacular. We made it out to the Caberet, Thai lady boy show, one last time...and the best that I've seen. Even the boys joined us this time and we made a night out of it in Sairee afterwards. It was an emotional evening, but nothing compared to the next day, my last.

I awoke bright and early with Sam and Camilla and burst into tears at the though of having to leave them later in the day. Adam came over and helped console me as well. We went back to the shop and I got everything out of my file. I said my goodbyes to the instructors I will see in a few months and then made my way back home to pack up my bungalow. There was a lecture in the afternoon which everyone attended, so Sam and I were left to ourselves, just hanging out, waiting for the inevitable. Chris and Sam drove me to the pier to catch my boat and I got a text from the others saying they weren't going to make it. As the boat pulled up and I was just ready to get on, I got a call from Adam telling me not to get on, and the next thing you know, I looked over and five more of my friends were there wanting hugs before I left. Of course there were more tears and getting on that boat was one of the hardest things I've ever done. They all stayed at the pier and watched me cry from the upper deck of the boat until I couldn't see them any longer. I got some beautiful texts from them on my way up to Bangkok last night. I left a piece of my heart with them and I just wish I could go back. In July, some will be there, but others will not be. They have made the last two months the best I could have ever imagined. I'm still tearing up now as I write this blog.

My Sunshine family

The saddest goodbye

Leaving beautiful Koh Tao

So, after six and a half weeks, four pairs of flip flops, three pairs of sunglasses and almost 80 new dives in my logbook, I am back in Bangkok. I made it in at 5am this morning and my flight to New Zealand is at 5:30 tonight. It's going to take me a long time to get over leaving Koh Tao, but the photos and memories will keep me going for a while. I can't wait to go back. I can't wait to see where some of these friendships will lead me. Most of all, I can't wait to tell everyone all about this experience when I get home. See you all very soon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

It's another year here in Thailand as we just celebrated Songkran, Thai new year, two days ago. It's the annual festival of water and life that just happened to be one of the most fun days I've had on the island. As with any new beginning, I've been reflecting on what has happened over the past eight months of my life and what will come of the next. I said a while ago that I hoped to one day wake up with an epiphany as to where my life would head. Although that hasn't happened in the way that I expected, I really believe that I have been moving in a good general direction.

Two years ago, I went to Panama. I remember being worried at that point about swimming in saltwater. I hated the thought of large objects (with big scary teeth) sharing the same space. It scared me, and I recall being quite hesitant to get in the ocean for the first couple of days that I was there. And now... well, apparently I am over that. I get in the water each day and dive to depths of 30 meters or more staring at the fishes and exploring new frontiers. I am completing my divemaster, which will make me a professional at being under the sea. It's a crazy turn of events that just brings on so many more questions. How far do I take this? How much more money should I invest? What will I do with it once it is complete? And more importantly, when will it be finished? I have a lot of decisions to make as I return back to the states in two weeks. Although I'm not ready for this to end at the moment, I'm welcoming the break to give me a sense of reality for a little while. Knowing that I have a ticket back to Thailand in July makes it a lot more bearable as well.

I did my second Burma run last week and hopefully it will be my last. It's very simple to do, but the sixteen hours of buses and smelly boats isn't really an ideal way to spend a night and day. I still got the butterflies in my stomach when I saw Koh Tao in the distance that afternoon. It makes me wonder how it will be when I return the summer. I'm going to be like a kid at Christmas jumping around the boat; ready to play with all of the toys on Koh Tao again. Upon my return, things were still the same. Sam was still gone, and I got back to my routine of four dives per day. We get up early, dive, have lunch, dive some more, and then find the time to get some games of cricket and whatever other sport is available in the steamy evenings.

Beach cricket

Low and behold, one day I went out on the boat, as usual, only to return to the dive shop and find Sam sitting there waiting for me. She had just texted the day before to tell me that she'd be elephant trekking near Bangkok and that she'd make her plans soon, so I was quite shocked to find her back on the island ready to hang out for another week or so. She also happened to show up on a planned girls night out, so it was the perfect celebration of her return.

The cat came back...

Since then, it's been business as usual. She decided to do her open water course, so I've gotten to dive with her, finally. It's so hard when people here aren't partaking in the underwater fun. You come back in the afternoon filled with excitement about what you've just seen, and they have no idea what you are talking about! With the visibility better than I've ever seen and the water bordering on 30 degrees, we had some perfect dives and I got to show her what it was all about. Of course, she was a natural and loved every minute.

The last day of Sam's course just happened to be Songkran. I've been hearing about it for ages, but really had no idea what to expect, other than to be drenched all day. Thai new year is celebrated with buckets and squirt guns, hoses and barrels. After coming up from our final morning dive, the boat turned to chaos. It all started with Natalie hatching a plan to get another DMT into the water. As she pointed to some non-existent fishes in the water, Adam leaned over the boat just enough for me to push him out. Then the boat boys came into play and dumped a huge bucket over the captain. The DMTs were running around like mad filling water bottles and splashing them around. A huge hose was brought out and they proceeded to spray other boats that were tied up to us. It was the best morning I've ever had on the boat. Everyone was high on life and covered in foam and water.

Boat water party

Boat Water Party


From there, we were wisked away in the dive taxi back down to Chalok bay. Our taxis here are open pickup trucks, so when we arrived at Bans to hop on, we were in shock to see the amount of people out on the road. This island has one main "road" so everybody who's anybody was out on it. Either standing on the sides spraying water, or in a car or motorbike ready to get splashed around every corner. It was like a parade. This island was just one big water theme park, and there's no way to leave.

After returning to the shop and cleaning our gear (and Sam getting thrown in the BCD cleaning bucket), I desperately had to go to the clinic. I had fallen a few days prior and had a small scrape on my knee. This wound turned into a yellow infected mess within a day as things just do not heal here. You'd think that saltwater each day would help, but with all of the reefs and coral in the area, the water is just filled with bacteria. A cut or scrape can take over a month to heal. You go to the clinic and the only thing they tell you is to stop diving....which is just not a viable option at the moment. I went in and the women proceeded to penetrate my knee with tweezers and a needle. If any of you know me well, I am not a good patient. I was very happy when this was over and I was able to resume the Songkran activities.

With a cleaned out and bandaged knee, we went to diving village for an afternoon fiesta, complete with squirt guns. We had snipers in the trees shooting people in the nearby road. It was the best way to spend a hot afternoon in Koh Tao.

Sunshine crew

From there, things just got better for the next eight or so hours. We made our way into Sairee village for dinner and water warfare and then to the beach for a beautiful sunset. We danced the night away as we were sprayed with water hoses. The evening was one I will not forget anytime soon.

Chaos on the street

Sairee Beach Songkran

Being wet for more than eighteen hours has caused problems with almost everyone I've seen in the past day. Bumpy rashes and minor bruises are rampant on this island at the moment. Yesterday morning was spent being dry and the afternoon was meant for diving. We went out to Chumporn Pinnacle yesterday and got to take in a cloud of fusilier fish and even had a shark spotting (I did not see them but my fellow divers did..and I'm ok with that). Last night, all craving western delicacies, we went out for Mexican food in Mae Haad. An expensive evening of food, but oh so good on one of my last few days here.

Today Sam is planning her escape again. She will be back, but by that time, I will be gone. I've only got five days left before returning to New Zealand. It's going to be really hard to leave, but I think I'll be able to cope...although I'm sure there will be tears. The last two months here have opened my eyes to what else is out there. It is an era that will always be remembered and I am so fortunate to have had this time. I can't wait to get home and tell everyone about it. And hey, anyone is welcome to join me when I come back in July. A little time in paradise never hurt anybody.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

They come and they go...

The thing about island life is seeing people come and go. There are so many sad goodbyes and hopes to see eachother again. After being here for over a month, I've grown used to the people around me. It's like I've known them all for years. We've all had this incredible experience together and then it's over far too quickly. For me, the time is coming very, very soon. Just a couple weeks left in this tropical paradise. Time to make the most of the time that I have left (as if I haven't been doing that already).

Sam left me yesterday. We've now known eachother in Peru, Colombia, New Zealand and Thailand. Each time we meet up, we know when the next reunion will be. When she left yesterday morning, we didn't have any particular "later" to discuss. She may come back to the island, but by that time, I will be gone. So it sounds like I need to go to England sooner or later. My time with her was too amazing to say it will never happen again.

Last week, I wrote from Koh Phangan, the full moon party. For those of you with grand ideas of what it's supposed to be like, you may not want to read further. It was great because I had that time with an awesome friend, but other than that, eh...I could've had just as much fun staying here and going out in Sairee Beach.

I expected a DJ and dancing the night away with thousands of others on a beautiful beach. There were definitely DJs and dancing, but the beach was just so-so and the thousands of others were just very, very drunk. Haad Rin beach was nice, but not as good as we have it here in Koh Tao. The beach was a bit dirty and just filled from wall to wall with bars. There were people everywhere and medical facilities between each of the hundreds of bucket stands. It was all pretty funny to watch as we got there at 5pm and somehow managed to stick around for the chaos at 5am. We danced to bad pop songs, drank a couple of buckets, we made a few new friends, and I lost yet another pair of sunglasses to the sea. When we hopped in a cab to go back to our luxurious bungalow, Sam and I both looked at eachother and said that we just wanted to go back to Koh Tao. It was a good experience to have once. It wasn't all bad as Sam and I had a blast together. I can say that I did it, but I probably won't be going back.

Utopian bungalow

Our bungalow

Before the party began

Full Moon with Sam

Full Moon party

Neither of us felt all that well on the catamaran back to our island. We craved McDonald's and just wanted to relax when we returned home. And that's exactly what we did. Since the full moon, there's been a lot of hanging out, some movies and a bar night thrown in there somewhere. I've been on a diving binge with my new gear and have gotten to hang with Sam and my gang of DMTs in between all of that.

I've been averaging four dives per day for the last week. As a DMT, you get all of the diving you want. With the visibility under the water getting better and better, I just can't help myself, I'm addicted. I recently got to assist an advanced course. I've been out leading fun divers. I'm finally getting the hang of all of the dive sites and am actually making it back to the boat each time without getting lost. All in good time; I know it will just keep getting better from here.


Rash vest buddies

Beautiful Day

There was a whale shark spotting on White Rock four days ago, and I had just been diving at that site an hour before. I had done two dives that morning and was on the afternoon boat out to a deep pinnacle in the ocean when we heard the news. We could see the dive site in the distance and the captain was going to give us five minutes of snorkeling with it if we could find it. The boat started to buzz with excitement as everyone grabbed their masks and fins while the boat creeped toward the site. We all stood on the edge of the deck looking out into the deep and although one person on the boat saw it's fin breach, we never found it and never got to swim with this gorgeous creature. Apparently they are attracted to the coral spawning that happens once a year around this time. I will continue my routine of four dives a day until I see it. I swear it will show itself at some point while I'm here.

So that's it. There's not a whole lot going on other than that. I have to go to Burma again tomorrow night for my final visa run before I fly back to New Zealand. From then, there are just a few more leaving and then it will be me. It's amazing how time flies when you're having fun.

On a final note....I've finally gotten some underwater photos!!! I put some of them from the boat above, but I've been dying to snag a friend's underwater camera for weeks...and I finally got to yesterday. Here are some of the things that I get to see everyday under the waters surrounding Koh Tao.

This is my nemesis...the triggerfish. I got attacked by two the other day and it took a nice bite of my fin. I hate them, and of course was surrounded by eight of them on my morning dive today...




There is a nest of clownfish on the divesite at Twins. Luckily, I get to visit my little Nemo friends almost everyday....

I heart Clownfish

It's like swimming in a giant aquarium...

Fishes a Twin Pinnacles

And the anenome fish in their little houses....very cute as well....

Anenome Fish

And then there's me, just swimming around everyday...