Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thailand -- Ko Phi Phi

I've been feeling generally anti-writing lately. It's been sort of a struggle to keep up with this, hence the more sporadic posting, but it's actually kind of important to me to keep writing, so here we go. Also, I can smell my dinner cooking and it's driving me nuts -- I'm frickin starving... so I'm trying to distract myself and quell the hungry noises emanating from my tummy. Round 4. Ding.

I got sunburnt as hell on the ferry ride over to Ko Phi Phi! I guess it was pretty dumb to sit on the top deck, you know, in the sun... with a sleeveless shirt on and no sunblock. I didn't think it would be that bad... I had my towel draped over me and I wasn't really feeling too much sun, so I made the asinine assumption that it would all be ok. I guess what I forgot is that we're on the water, not to mention about 5 degrees north of the Equator... (actually, I just checked -- it's 7, not 5).

Alright... dinner's over, dishes are washed, and I'm wearing underwear. That's a pretty successful night, in my book. Now, further up and further in...

So the sunburn was pretty bad, but I've had worse... the first day I went directly to Moskito, the dive shop where I was staying, to check in and dump my bag. I took a quick walk around Phi Phi Town, which doesn't take long at all... this is a place with maybe 20 streets and no motorized vehicles of any kind, which totally adds to that whole "tropical paradise" feeling. The only thing you have to watch out for is the handcarts and bicycles that the locals use all over the place. You usually get some kind of warning, in most cases, it's a handy verbal one: "Beep beep beep beep!" That means get the hell out the way or I'll run your white ass down in Thai. No, seriously. I looked it up. It was bloody hot though, so after getting the lay of the land and seeing a couple beaches, I headed back to the dive shop for a little siesta time. It turns out that most of the divers and employees spend all their non-diving time hanging out at the dive shop and talking about diving, so I ended up hanging out with a group of Americans who'd been there for a few weeks and getting some pointers as to local hotspots. There aren't many, really... I mean, it's a small place. I had some dinner at Lemongrass, this nice little restaurant across the street from the shop. And by "across the street," I actually mean about 8 feet away, and local etiquette seems to dictate that you don't really wear shoes for such meager crossings. So, barefoot and well-fed on green curry chicken, I walked down to the little store and picked up some beer and then sat and chatted with the divers for a while. They invited me to join them to watch the video of their dive, so I went along, curious to see what I'd gotten myself into. The video was amazing! Yas, this Japanese chick, has some awesome equipment, not to mention a whole host of editing skillz... they had sharks, a seahorse, and 3 ghost pipe fish, which meant nothing to me apart from looking really cool, but the divers were in ecstacies watching... apparently they're pretty rare and Yas had gotten some exceptional shots. Next, it was off to Carlito's beach bar, for awesome cocktails (I'm just guessing really, but I think rum, coconut milk, chile, lemongrass and ... some sort of juice. I mean, wow...) All courtesy of Rob, who'd just had a nice payday and insisted on hooking me up! Thanks buddy! We drank, watched the firedancers for a while, chatted up the waitress, a hot little Swedish girl! Yowza... :) There are lots and lots of Swedes on Phi Phi -- it's a little strange, it's like their own little tropical playground. I mean, they're all nice folks, so no worries, just a bit odd. Then it was shots of some Italian liquor with the owner (Carlito? Perhaps....) and then off to Tiger Bar. More beers, people coming and going, dancing and drinking, laughing and crying... well, not so much, but you know. Finally headed out about 3, I think. After all, I had diving school at 9 the next morning -- I needed to be fresh! =)

Morning comes, I shower up and it's off to work I go! Well, not so much work, but studying, anyway. Reading a book, watching some DVD's and taking quizzes. But before I go on, a note about the shower situation in Thailand. They don't do the whole "heated" water thing there. I mean, it's not a big deal; it's really warm there, and the water is by no means uncomfortable. It's just strange to realize how much you take for granted sometimes. I didn't have a hot shower for 2 weeks... but I gotta say, there's something invigorating about that cool shower in the morning, and refreshing after a day spent in the sun and diving in the ocean. It's actually quite nice. OK, moving on. After a morning of book learning and a lunch of pad thai, we started the practical stuff in the afternoon. Walter, my dive instructor, showed us all the gear, how to put it together, how to test it all and make sure it's working, and how to take it apart. Then it was our turn. "Our," in this case, is Greg and I. Greg's an insurance broker from Brussels, and travelling with his adorable Belgian girlfriend, Emilie. She was supposed to be diving with him, but she got scared and bailed... I tihnk he was a little bitter at having to do this whole class with me instead of his girl, but who could blame him? Poor guy...

So, we got everything prepared. Not without a little difficulty -- there are several steps which after you've done it wrong and see why you have to do things in a certain order, seem like common sense. At first though, it's all a bit trial and error. Then we took everything apart. Then put it together again. And took it apart again. Then put it together again, and so on... When it was finally starting to feel fairly natural, Walter stopped us, told us to leave everything on, we were going to the beach! Time to actually dive in (or in this case, walk in) and, you know, breathe underwater! I was really excited, but anxious, nervous, and jittery would also be good adjectives to use here.

So, geared up and ready to bounce, we grabbed our masks and fins and strolled to the beach. Let me just say that a canister filled with 200 bars of compressed air, along with a BCD (buoyance control device) and wetsuit is really quite heavy, and not at all pleasant to go walking through the streets in, dodging carts and tourists and bicycles and shit along the way. But we made it, trudged down through the sand and headed out into the water. And then everything went wrong! But I'll save that for next time... a little suspense never hurt nobody.

Well, sorry, but I just can't do it. I don't want you all worrying yourselves into a frenzy, so I'll admit that I lied. Nothing went wrong. At least, nothing, you know, life-threatening... Cue the scary music! Cue it!

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